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Played Out: Persona 3

With my Minnesota moderators distracted by playoff baseball, it’s prime time for me to draw upon my Blogulator roots. Video games, anime… oh yes. This is sure to rattle the chains of the higher ups, who are more concerned with spilling beer over their double-breasted ballgirls than the fine arts of samurai and demon-summoning. Who has a better batting average? Joe Mauer or the Devil? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Seriously, though, I haven’t really “reviewed” or talked about games at all here for a while. It’s not that I notice or particularly care about audience disinterest so much as it is uncertainty over how to add my opinion into the swirling, critical mass of video game discourse already spilling over the internet. Until I figure out how to turn me playing Geometry Wars into a Laguna Beach-esque docudrama, though, I’ll stick to developing a personal brand of flowery language and sexy jpegs I download from other sites.

You may notice in this first sexy jpeg I’ve chosen that the girl in question is shooting herself in the head. That’s because simulated suicide is sexy in today’s counterintuitive world (isn’t it?). That’s also because Persona 3 – a role-playing adventure for your Playstation 2 system – is full of eccentricity in all the right places.

The crux of the story is that you’re a Japanese high school student recruited to fight “shadows” (aka “enemies”) who appear during the Dark Hour – a period each night when normal humans are unknowingly absorbed into coffins. Weird maybe, but it offers some truly interesting possibilities for those characters who, for whatever reason, remain awake during that time. For instance, one non-sleeper cell chooses to use their chrono-advantage to operate a hit business, easily eliminating their dormant prey. The protagonist’s party more boringly chooses to use the extra time to save the world, but it’s still cool to be good sometimes, right?

Actually, it is, and Persona 3 demonstrates that. Action sections of the game force you to fight using the titular personas, which are powerful spirits residing within your essence. How do you summon said spirits? By shooting yourself in the head, of course. It’s an incredible image, if nothing else, and setting it atop a relatively straightforward rock/paper/scissors battle system provides at least enough entertainment to enthrall your siblings as they wait to kick you off the TV so they can watch one of Seth MacFarlane’s infinitely similar cartoons. Oh wait that has no relevance to my subject and is therefore bad writing. Wink.

The spirits summoned are essentially Pokemon for adults, and, as with all games in the Shin Megami Tensei series (of which Persona is a part), they’re drawn from religious, national, and literary histories. From ancient Japanese thunder gods to the West Virginia mothman and beyond to a demonized version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the personas possess an authentic quality that makes summoning them both exciting and educational (cough). Victory requires you to use and lose your personas, combing their lesser powers until you can ultimately enlist the aid of supergods to fight insane battles that I swear were designed to test my controller fidelity.

Outside the arena lies the other half of the game, a life simulator that tasks you with working through the complicated relationships of anime high school. Major battles usually occur the night of a full moon, so the rest of the month is open for joining an athletic club, hanging out with the old couple at the bookstore, or courting that special someone. The stories for the various social links are pleasant if standard, plumped up with a quirky sense of humor. And there is a serious point to managing your time effectively, as forging stronger relationships allows you to create harder, better personas faster.

In terms of atmosphere, creativity, and pure content, Persona 3 is a Persona 10, a pun I will now use for every sequel I like. It offers the feeling of something new and unique whilst relying on a tried-and-true RPG base. It’s comfort food with dressing, and that dressing is pretty damn amazing; like freshly-curded milk with just a hint of honey or something. If you want to see the meal through, however, you’d better have a long lunch hour. I’m 80 hours into this beast, and more than once I’ve felt the eccentricity lose its electricity. There are some serious droughts due to last-gen load times and unnecessarily long battle animations, the latter of which you can rush through, yet at the expense of witnessing some pretty silly strategy from your team.

Plus, the soundtrack – jazzily hip as it is – relies on maybe 3 main themes, repeated ad nauseum, and they will never again leave my head. Save yourself, you one person in five years who stumbles upon this article and considers playing the game. After the first few hours, focus your aural attention on your iPod or another TV or your dog barking. Chances are, Ruggles has to go out anyway. (Ruggles is your dog).

I’m probably suffering from game goggles, but I legitimately think the premise of high school students using pan-historical spirits to save the world between math tests and homecomings is a blockbuster waiting to be optioned. It’s Harry Potter with a more international mythos and adult sensibilities. Maybe our heroes can even get to second base on-screen? Parenting groups will be up in arms over the whole “shooting yourself in the head” thing, even after the script goes extra lengths to emphasize that the gun isn’t really a gun; it simply summons demons through a silhouette of suicide. Then again, any press is good press, so let's embrace it. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie taught us that, if nothing else..., except that it flopped.

Oh, it also taught us that we can do anything by working with each other.

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  1. Blogger Sean | 12:25 PM |  

    I agree, the music in this game starts to get awful. I made it like 60 hours in before i got a PS3 and said "whatevs, persona."

    I got the sequel, persona 4 on ps2, never played. want to borrow? ask me.

  2. Blogger qualler | 4:45 PM |  

    Oh Ruggles, you're such a wacky dog.

    This game looks neat. Why is it only on PS2?

    Will there ever be a game as great as Heavy Rain? (Answer: No.)

  3. Blogger DoktorPeace | 7:22 PM |  

    I don't borrow, Sean. I steal. We'll talk if I ever finish the first.

    It's also on PSP, Mark, aka another system you don't have. Oh and there already is a greater game - http://www.atari.com/myhorseandme/

  4. Blogger chris | 1:35 PM |  

    Also, this one!

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