Persona-ly speaking

[[image:jd_121208_persona01.jpg::right:0]]I’ve played two RPGs in my life: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Besides the fact that each game bends over backwards at a 270° angle to subvert normal RPG battle mechanics, you may have noticed another subtle similarity between the two games. A certain, shall we say, thematic element that runs through both games.

My excuse is my console history during my formative years, which looks like this: Genesis → Nintendo 64 → GameCube. You tell me where I was supposed to develop a love for RPGs in there. Without Nintendo Power and Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy VII‘s hype to convince me that I really really wanted to select “Attack” from a menu, I sailed through my video game life blissfully unaware of the joys of min/maxing and grinding. I never even actually bought Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi either; I borrowed them from friends and family members. I did buy Chrono Trigger for the PlayStation this last summer, all the while vaguely cognizant of the fact that there was something people didn’t like about this particular port. Then I got home, noticed the loading times before battles, and haven’t returned to it since.

It all adds up to modern man who’s never been interested in RPGs. You might find that lamentable, but I don’t think you can say it’s all that unreasonable. I figure most RPG fans were introduced to the genre when they were impressionable youths, and took the play system for granted. Growing up with the mechanics and conventions in mind, they simply never gave them much of a second though. But for myself, who had a fully formed concept of what a video game should be, I balked when an RPG was placed in front of me for the first time. “You mean I just stand there while the enemy attacks? I just sort of hope that I dodge it? Really?”

I probably sound awfully dismissive about an entire genre that I admittedly have little experience with. I certainly don’t think that RPGs are bad games, and am even open to the possibility that I’d like them if given the opportunity, but I don’t even get to play all the games that I’d like to play let alone have the money or time to experiment with genres that never caught my fancy.

Enter Festivus, where my haul this year included cult favorite and forum institution Persona 3. On some level this a kindly, face-saving gesture by my gifter, as P3 is expected to appear in the background of all Festivus pictures. On the other hand, it’s a perfect excuse to give the genre a try. True, I’ll be without a PS2 for the Winter Break, but I’m gonna give it a shot between bouts of studying for finals. We’ll see how it goes.

15 thoughts on “Persona-ly speaking

  1. Honestly, I think you are no worse for wear. You might even be better off. It should be interesting to hear about your P3 adventures given your background. Oh, and do play Super Mario RPG if you ever get the chance.

  2. I’m in a similar situation. Thousand Year Door is by far, the most fun I’ve had playing an RPG, but it was because of the rhythm elements, not the click to fight bits. I also liked the rhythm thing in Mother 3 when I played it in Japanese, but haven’t been able to get into it again to beat it in English.

    I think RPGs are sort of like Moby Dick though. There’s a lot of text that’s just filler and grinding battles, but the only point of all that crap is so that you keep slogging to get the little crumbs of story reward that they give you every hour or two…

  3. You grew up with a Genesis but never played any of the Phantasy Star or Shining Force titles?? Christ. I mean, they weren’t super-popular but they were great and probably was well known on that system as Final Fantasy was on SNES…The Genesis may not be the RPG powerhouse the SNES or PS1 were, but it had some good-to-great RPGs. Ah well.

  4. I have to disagree with the assumption that everyone who played old RPGs were young when they played them. The really early computer RPGs is where a lot of this stuff came from, it was just simplified for NES hardware. I’d wager there were more grown men than kids playing the original Bard’s Tale and that sort of thing.

  5. Persona 3 was my first attempt at conquering my antipathy towards JRPGs. It… well, it didn’t work. I think it’d take a real investment for me to get into it, not just in the gameplay but the story and the overall milieu, and Japanese high schools probably aren’t that milieu for me.

  6. I wasn’t sure if you’d like it at all, or if you even liked RPGs…but I knew that there was a history of giving it as a Festivus gift and that maybe you would enjoy it. I’m glad to see that you’re giving it some thought. Be warned that it’s an extremely long game (it tooks me 92 hours), so playing it is an extremely long term goal. It’s pretty brutal at times, and it’s a very “Japanese” experience, but it’s one of the more exciting things to happen to the RPG genre in 10 years. The funny thing is that despite how long the game is, it remained fresh, challenging, and fun throughout.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that this will either be the game that turns you on to RPGs or the one that ruins them for you forever.

  7. I… don’t know if Persona 3 is a good place to start. It’s rather difficult and extremely long. Good luck, though!

    Also Moby Dick is awesome.

  8. My RPG history, in chronological order:

    Illusion of Gaia (if that counts; it plays more like Zelda than Final Fantasy)
    Super Mario RPG
    Mega Man X Command Mission
    Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
    Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
    Paper Mario (after having played Super Paper Mario)

    And I’m currently on Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. There’s also the MegaMan Battle Network/Star Force titles sprinkled throughout.

  9. I gotta say- Persona 3 worked for me, and I had LITERALLY the exact same experience with RPGs as you (only played Mario ones extensively). Just give it a bit of time. It is indeed hard sometimes and very long, but all these things ended up working in its favor for this formerly-non-RPG-playing sap. Enjoy!

  10. Just remember Johnny – with Talking Time around, you won’t be lacking for advice on Persona 3, if you need it.

  11. I agree with Knurek– if the whole turn based, click to fight battle systems turn you off, any of the entries in the Tales series (with Abyss being the best) or most tri-Ace games should give you enough action to keep you interested.

  12. I’m not sure Persona 3 fits the ‘perfect excuse to get into the genre’ category of RPGs. Compared to other RPGs, P3 as an actual dungeon crawler (like all megaten games) is stale, monotonous, and periodically unforgiving. The game’s appeal lies in that its more of a cultural experience which obviously doesn’t float everyone’s boat. Some people hated it, but I liked going to simulated Japanese school. Given the schedule, the real thing sucks! There’s school on christmas day! SCHOOL!!!1 ON CHRISTMAS!!!!11!1! WTF!??!? The rest of the charm lies in presentation and plot.

  13. I played Persona 3 in roughly a week; I moved up to school in the middle though and didn’t have a TV for a while, so I’m not counting those days in this tally.

    At any rate, that wasn’t a very healthy week.

    There aren’t many good “My First RPG”s out there. I started with Final Fantasy VI, which I played when I was 15. There aren’t many, if any, people out there for whom any game with menus and numbers will suffice. The more standard a game is, the more it needs the other trappings to work, though of course everything works differently for different people.

  14. I know Talking Time was all about the Persona 3, but it didn’t really hold for me. It felt much more western to me, anyway, than the typical JRPG – at least, the presentation did. But maybe that was mostly the 2nd person presentation (“You don’t want to go out yet.” WHAT GRRR YES I DO) and the pure dungeon crawl. The social aspects were definitely JRPG, and the blank-faced Player Avatar is very old-school JRPG… but those are what left me flat. I require a character. If you require this also it may be difficult.

    The character designs for other characters/Personae were top-notch, though. You could do worse!

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