Persona 3 Extravaganza

Apparently I’ve made a habit of playing a new Persona game every summer. In 2017, it was Persona 5, 2018 saw Persona 4: Golden, and this summer I finally got around to playing Persona 3 Portable. Part of this newly formed annual tradition is practical. Persona games are not short, and I really don’t like taking breaks in the midst of big games when work starts to pile up, so summer is the best time to really dig in and enjoy games like this. Aside from that, it’s actually become something kind of special for me. I’ve mentioned previously that I somehow, at some point, started getting seasonal summer depression every year. So having a game from a series that I’ve grown to love to distract me, even for just a couple of weeks, and one that imprints itself onto my memory in such a warm and magical way that only the best kinds of video games can, has become invaluable to me. Even though I ran out and bought the PlayStation 2 versions of Persona 3 and Persona 4 when I fell in love with Persona 5, I ended up choosing the PS Vita version of P4: Golden and the PSP entry of Persona 3, because in both cases I’d read that slight improvements had been made to things like combat that appealed to me.

IMG_1945

Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by how good P4: Golden looked on my big HDTV. The scaling on the PS Vita software must be great, because I didn’t see nearly the kind of mud or aliasing that I’d expected to, given that it was designed for a screen the size of a medium cell phone. P3 Portable, on the other hand, looked pretty ugly when I first booted it up. And, well, the next several times I played it as well. Not that I was surprised. It was made almost twenty years ago for a four inch, low res screen. But even in terms of artwork and design, I was initially struck by how much… simpler this game was, compared to P4 and P5? ‘Simple’ is not the right word, but I could see early on in the game that many of the design elements (like the fluid menu screens, use of a primary color theme, etc.) were present but perhaps not as polished or iterated upon/layered as they would become in later installments.

IMG_1923

I’m sounding very negative for a game that I started this blog out implying that I liked very much, but my initial impressions were indeed somewhat muted by the lack of polish and the technical limitations. Speaking of technical limitations, even though I played this version on my PSTV, apparently the screenshot function doesn’t work for PSP ports, so I ended up using my phone to take pictures of my TV. So I apologize for any centering or blur issues, even though in many cases the pictures I took made things like fonts look softer and less jagged. Anyway, I want to say that all of these thoughts about how graphically inferior the game looked lasted a fairly short time. After getting into the story, and probably getting used to the visuals, I virtually forgot about the issue. Character, background, and creature designs were very familiar, so after a while the outdated graphics just didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game.

IMG_2051

And enjoy the game I did – maybe not as much as P4 and P5, but the same emotional pull snagged me in this entry as well. There are a lot of things to like about these games, but I think it’s the cast of characters and the relationships you build with them that draws me in the most. I’ve said before that my absolute favorite games are the ones that stick with me when I stop playing them – the kind that I find myself absent-mindedly imagining myself living in when I close my eyes to go to sleep. The worlds of the Persona games are rich and colorful and vibrant, but without the many characters that inhabit them, they are lonely and dull places to fantasize about. P3’s cast isn’t my favorite, but there are some absolute standouts, like Aigis, Ms. Toriumi, Chidori, and, even though he doesn’t speak, Koromaru. These and other characters have such interesting and unique backgrounds and side-stories that they really bring the world to life. And, of course, one of my favorite features of these games is the romance system. Although, I, uh, I have a bit of a confession to make:

Love 1Love 2Love 3Love 4Love 5Love 8Love 7Love 6

Okay, hold on, I know I look bad here, but let me explain. P3 doesn’t allow you to max out romanceable character’s social links without, well, romancing them, and not only did I want to max everyone, I also wanted to see every relationship play out for research. No, seriously! The Persona games are going to play a central role in my dissertation so I wanted to document the end of each relationship. But, you know what? Judge if you want, but I had a lot of fun dating everyone. There were a lot of fun ladies in this entry! And, as Chihiro will remind you:

Love End

So. Yeah. Take that. Anyway, the first woman I saw was Mitsuru, and with her red hair and motorcycle, I was convinced that she would be the one I would fall for. But after talking to her for a while, she seemed very stiff and all-business, and I couldn’t seem to break through the walls she had put up to keep people at bay. So my first girlfriend was Chihiro, and I actually thought she might be my Ultimate Boo, too, because she was so shy and nerdy and kind and pretty. Alas, it wasn’t to be. I was also very keen on Aigis, and she is definitely Ultimate Boo Number Two, but the universe has a way of bringing things full circle sometimes, so of course I ended up totally falling for Mitsuru after all. Sure, she was all work and no play early on, but once I got closer to her and saw a peek behind the curtain of her life, it made perfect sense, and I grew to admire that about her. She wasn’t a robot (no offense, Aigis!), though. She was sensitive, passionate, fierce, and a freaking genius. Oh, and drop dead gorgeous, with her crimson hair, high boots, and perfect face.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190530034908

Okay, I’m letting the romance dominate this discussion, but a quick final note about the cast of characters. Playing these games in reverse order ended up producing exciting ‘cameos’ from characters in later games. The beach scenes were funny enough on their own, but I was literally laughing out loud when I saw Ms. Kashiwagi from Persona 4, because I knew what was coming. Obviously her appearance in P4 was more like a real cameo, but still. It was hilarious. And holy crap, President Tanaka is a dick.

IMG_2033IMG_1983

P4 and P5 obviously had lots of religious and cultural design elements from other nations/religions, especially in the designs of the shadows. I always thought the idea of essentially summoning Christian characters such as Satan and Lucifer to fight for you was interesting and potentially provocative, depending on who you asked. So I was especially surprised and, to be honest, tickled, to see some incredibly blatant Christian symbolism in P3, far more than in the other two games. You can still summon Satan and Lucifer to fight for you, but this time one of the primary antagonists bears a striking resemblance to certain depictions of Jesus, halo and all. And at a certain point your entire party is crucified. Add this to the fact that your characters have to commit mock-suicide in order to summon their personas, and I am totally blown away by the lack of controversy surrounding this game. I guess it was niche enough to escape any serious mainstream attention. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. I shudder to think of how the rest of the series might have played out if the original P3 had been legitimately censored or boycotted.

Christianity 2Christianity

I haven’t been all that careful with spoilers here, but I’m usually pretty adamant about not being too explicit in explaining things so that I don’t spoil too much. But I can’t respond to the ending of the game without spoiling it in some sense. So, if you are concerned about that, skip ahead a bit. I’m not here to analyze it or anything, but I will say that it kind of fucked me up. I mean, the main character’s fate is technically implied, not explicitly spelled out, but it’s pretty clear that I died a slow, gradual death. Not only that, I did so in Aigis’s lap, just as she concluded her long internal journey of understanding her humanity and the fact that she will outlive me. I was happy to have the opportunity to run around and see my friends before the end, but of course many of them noted that I looked sick, which was hint enough to me that I was on the way out. Ugh, It was rough.

IMG_2238

So once again I found myself completely immersed in and in love with a Persona game. I will eventually go back and play the first two games in the series, even though I hear they aren’t quite the same as the most recent three. Although I played through both P4 and P5 more than once, I don’t have time to play through P3 a second time, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to check out the female protagonist and how her story is, apparently, somewhat different than her male counterpart’s. Maybe I’ll have time again someday. Until then, I have other games to fill my time, like…

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190604230013

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight! I told you this was a Persona 3 extravaganza! I bought this game when it came out, but I didn’t want to play it until I played Persona 3 proper. When I first played Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, I was so enamored with the beautiful, crisp, high definition character models of my beloved P5 cast, and the original P5 was released less than two years earlier, meaning the leap in graphical fidelity wasn’t exactly huge. So imagine my response going immediately from the antiquated, twenty year-old P3 Portable to the same kind of glittering, gorgeous renditions of my now-also-beloved P3 cast.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190604215014

My thoughts about this game are very similar to my thoughts about P5: DiS, because, well, the games were made in tandem and follow the same exact formula. I’m not complaining. It was a beautiful, fun extension of my time with these characters that I love. Most of the original P3 voice actors returned, and many of them sounded exactly the same, so it was an overload of sensory exhilaration. The gameplay itself is fairly basic but fun enough, and I love the attention to detail with the fun costumes, accessories, and levels, but the heart of the experience is seeing the cast interact with one another, their reaction to Elizabeth, and exploring their individual rooms.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190603065204Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190531003344

So I don’t have much else to say about the game other than that I had a lot of fun and , thus, ended up getting the platinum trophy for it, but I will repeat something that I said about P5: DiS. Seeing the care that went into developing these great new character models and levels, and the willingness to hire returning voice actors, made me wonder if Atlus would go through all of this work just for these dancing games. Creating assets that can be used and reused is becoming pretty common practice in the industry because it saves so much development time and money, and it’s hard not to wonder if P5: DiS’s character models will end up in Persona 5 Royal, so is it that much of a stretch to think that there will be some kind of new version or reboot or spinoff of Persona 3? Maybe, maybe not, I suppose. But I for one would welcome a return to Gekkoukan High, Paulownia Mall, and anywhere Mitsuru wants to take me on a date. Because she’s gonna be my sugar momma. Don’t @ me, as they say.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190605013348

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190604041216Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190601012958Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190603064336Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190605003544Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190604232705Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight_20190604220455

So Much Funky Persona Goodness

I’ve shared my love for Persona 4 and Persona 5 in previous blogs, so it probably comes as little surprise that as soon as Atlus announced that Persona 3 and Persona 5 dancing games were not only coming out late in 2018, but would be offered in a limited edition bundle that included a digital version of the Persona 4 dancing game for the PS4 (for the first time), I immediately pre-ordered it. I played through P4 (Dancing All Night) and P5 (Dancing in Starlight) recently so I just wanted to jot down some thoughts because I’ve been playing a lot of games and am getting behind on writing about them.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night_20190103095123

I played Dancing All Night first, because I had more recently played Persona 4 and it was the first of the Persona dancing games. I said in my blog about P4 that it is funnier than P5, and that humor made a welcome return in Dancing All Night. There was a surprising amount of story and dialogue in this game, and though the writing was generally less developed and punchy than it was in the core game, there were still several scenes that made me burst out laughing.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night_20190103163309

Persona 4: Dancing All Night_20190104044641

The gameplay was pretty standard. It was simple enough to get into and appropriately challenging at times, even if sometimes there seemed like there was way too much going on at once to really see the prompts. I also find it impossible to watch the dancers while I’m playing, but thankfully they have a replay mode where you can watch a perfect version of a song. And it was a small thing, but I liked that you could dress your characters up in various outfits.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night_20190103162105

I realized immediately that Rise’s (P4 bae) voice actor had changed, but I was happily surprised when I saw the character was now voiced by Ashly Burch, who I think is great. I was even happier with the introduction of Kanami Mashita. When I’d heard that there was a new character, I worried about how they would fit into such a fun cast with established chemistry, but Kanami totally fits right in. She’s cute, funny, and I like that she represents a totally different kind of idol than Rise. It’s too bad she wasn’t in Persona 4: Golden or I might have had a harder time deciding who to romance.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night_20190104024326

So, overall, I loved Dancing All Night. The remixed P4 songs were great and I liked the stylish slight redesigns of the characters. Did the story drag on a little too long? Sure. But what I actually appreciated about that was that it just offered more opportunities to see the characters interact and talk, and that’s really what these games seem to be about: getting more time with your favorite characters. So this didn’t feel like a shoddy side-story, it really did feel to me like an expansion of the P4 universe that I already loved so much.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night_20190103142852

Persona 4: Dancing All Night_20190102142058
I did wish there was more Margaret, though.

And if I loved the Persona 4 universe, I was head over heels for the world of Persona 5. The gameplay is virtually identical in Dancing All Night and Dancing in Starlight, so the thing that stood out the most to me was the graphics. P5 was a gorgeous, stylish game, but you can kind of tell it was originally developed for the PS3 when you look at the character models and environments. They’re well designed, but they’re also fairly low in detail and sharpness. It didn’t bother me at all when I played it, but as soon as Dancing in Starlight loaded up and I saw the new, crisp, beautiful versions of the P5 crew, I was (unreasonably) overjoyed.

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight_20190106052810

Not only did the characters themselves get a graphical facelift, many of the environments they dance in are 3D, high def versions of locations from the original game. They also added detailed, explorable bedrooms for each of the characters. This is all very exciting not just because it’s a prettier version of art I already liked looking at, but because of the possible implications that it has for a re-release, like Atlus did with Persona 4: Golden. In fact, not long after this game was released they announced P5R and said nothing other than the fact that we would have to wait until March to learn more. I keep seeing the weirdest rumors about what this project will be (Persona 5 Racing? Really?), but I think it’s going to be Persona 5: Ruby. Yellow was the primary thematic color of Persona 4, so when they revamped it for re-release the new subtitle was the more valuable, flashy name for its primary color. With red being P5’s primary thematic color, ruby would be the parallel if they were going for a consistent naming convention, which we see that they like because of the similar subtitles for all of the dancing games.

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight_20190106155339
Ann’s room, if you couldn’t tell

Regardless of the subtitle, my whole point was that these new character models and environments (and the ability to interact with rooms and characters in both first-person and virtual reality) make me wonder if they are recreating all of the assets for a P5 re-release in tandem, and we can look forward to an even more breathtakingly beautiful version of the game, one where we can actually explore the streets, buildings, and environments from a variety of perspectives – and maybe in VR! That is too exciting to consider.

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight_20190105141856

As with Dancing All Night, I like that you can collect a bunch of costumes for the characters, and I really liked some of the remixes of these songs. I did think the playlist was a little short, but they offer several free downloadable songs, and I went ahead and bought a live version of “Whims of Fate” (favorite track from the P5 soundtrack) and a song from P4.

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight_20190106144722

While the writing in Dancing All Night seemed a little weaker than that of its original game, I thought the writing and dialogue in Dancing in Starlight was actually a little sharper and more natural than some of P5’s. I loved that the twins played such a big role, and almost every one of  their scenes was hilarious. But in general, as with Dancing All Night, I was just so happy to have an opportunity to revisit the world and characters that I love so much from Persona 5. I’m waiting to play Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight until I finally get around to actually playing Persona 3, but all of this Persona activity, along with the remake of Atlus’s Catherine gives me such high hopes that we’ll see a new version of P5 for PlayStation 4 and Switch a lot sooner than I might have once expected.

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight_20190105122407

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight_20190106162833

Making Memories with Persona 4 Golden

As I wrote previously, I absolutely loved Persona 5. I’d been interested in the series for a long time, so I was happy to be rewarded by such an excellent entry into the franchise. It was the kind of game that I just didn’t want to be done with, so I ended up beating it almost three full times in order to get the platinum trophy for it. Beyond that, I ended up buying both Persona 3 and Persona 4 for the PS2, since they were pretty cheap online, and later I bought a PlayStation Vita and Persona 4 Golden because I’d heard that it was also quite excellent. I finally got around to playing the latter recently, so I wanted to put some of my thoughts about it down in writing.

Persona 4a

I have to say, I was a bit nervous before actually sitting down to play it. Persona 5 has a lot of systems, which is probably part of the reason they take their time in teaching you those systems in the early hours of the game. Atlus does a great job with it, and before I knew it I felt like a master at the weakness/affinity-based combat system, but I worried that P4G might not be quite so refined in its tutorials, being eight years older than its sequel (the original P4, anyway). I needn’t have worried, as P4G was very much like P5 in almost every aspect, tutorials and combat included.

When I say they are similar, I really mean it. One of the games is about a young high school kid who stays with his stern (but later loving) male guardian who has a young daughter whose mother was hit and killed by a car, and you learn that you have the ability to travel to an alternate dimension and use shadows, and with the help of a colorful cast of classmates and townsfolk, you save people from that shadow dimension and kill a god. The other game is about [copy and paste that whole thing here].

Persona 4d

The two being so similar isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though interesting, the premise of the game is not at the top of the list of things I loved about either game. There are some small changes in mechanics that make P5 an arguably better game, but the combat is virtually the same in each, and I loved fighting in both of them. I usually hate games that force you to change up your skills and attacks in order to exploit enemy weaknesses (sometimes I just wanna mindlessly bash away at things, okay?), but somehow these two games turned that concept into a well-coordinated dance. I very much enjoyed sizing up each group of enemies, thinking about what abilities each of my party members had, and then figuring out who to attack with, who to buff with, etc. In most RPGs, when I win a battle I feel strong. In these games, I felt smart.

Persona 4b

More important than the combat, I think, is the cast of characters and the relationships you form with them. So much of these games centers on finding people, learning about them, and establishing a deeper bond with them. The dating in P4 is a little less engaging than it is in P5, but I still liked having it as an option. In my first playthrough I dated Yukiko. She is smart, introspective, industrious, and has that kind of elegant traditional Japanese thing going on. I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to abandon my quest to win her heart when Rise came into my life, though. She is fun, flirty, ambitious, and very cute. I was in too deep with Yukiko, though, so I saved Rise for my second game. I was very close to picking Marie, too, though, and she would have definitely been my next lady if I were to play it a third time. None of them held a candle to Ann from P5, but I did like those three ladies a lot.

Persona 4f
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXK3a6vaSVI

You know who else I liked? Kanji. If there’s an area that P4 beats out P5 in, it might be humor. P4 is a very funny game, and I found myself laughing out loud several times, which is pretty uncommon for me. My typical reaction to humor in games is a chuckle or maybe a conservative “heh” or a “ha” or two strung together. Not so with P4. I found myself having to stop and just laugh at certain scenes, even on my second playthrough. Kanji was the source of much of that laughter. He and Naoto are also super interesting for how they’re used to look at issues of gender and sexuality in games. I wish Atlus had gone further with them, though, because it seems like they wanted to make Kanji gay and Naoto gender non-conforming but pulled back at the last second and had them be semi-closeted or confused rather than forsake their feelings. The point of the shadows in this game is that they represent a part of you that you repress, and in defeating them you admit that they are just as much a part of you as the “real” version. So, given that Kanji’s shadow is gay, that means that he is either gay or bi in the real world, but after defeating his shadow he continues to act like he’s totally, definitely “not like that,” which seems weird. And Naoto eventually reveals that she presents as male because of societal expectations, but even after being outed as a woman she asks that they continue to treat her as a male and still presents as male (until the epilogue, anyway). So I think they could have done a little more to make those two characters definitively different, but they were still interesting and unique characters that are not commonly found in games.

Persona 4

The art style and soundtrack are also very good, as they are in P5. I like the red/black/white theme of P5 more than the yellow/green theme in P4, but they share a lot of the same visual flare and attention to the most minute of details. This ended up being a lot more clinical than I’d intended, but sometimes it’s hard to convey why the magical cocktail of ingredients in any given game is so delicious and intoxicating. Persona 4 made me happy. At the end of P4 and P5 your new friends speak to you about leaving and there’s a kind of bittersweet thing going on, because you all revel in the good times you had but lament the fact that it’s all over and you have to leave them behind. It seems like a purposeful design choice, because as a player I was going through the same thing. I was sad to finish both of these games, even though I’d spent dozens and dozens of hours with them. I wished I could have stayed, just as my character did, but I had to move on. I console myself by reminding myself that there are three more mainline Persona games I have yet to play, so maybe I’ll do one each summer for the next few years, and by the time I’m done with them there will be a fresh, new Persona game to steal my heart.