Living in the icy cold tundra of Canada...ok, that's a lie, but I am from Canada! My parents were pretty young when I was born, and as such I was exposed to gaming at a young age. When I was 3 I got an NES, was horrible at it, and played fairly casually. Going to elementary school, with friends who had newer systems, which got me back into it but I wanted to move on, to the 3D consoles. Enter the N64, and from there, I became an absolute nerd (and Nintendo Fanboy!). Read game sites religiously, followed specs, argued till blue about how the PS1 sucked. Years later (like...2002 later!) I got a PS1 from a cousin, and bought Gran Turismo 2, which changed my perspective on games forever. GT2 is a well made game, and reeked of Nintendo-like care and attention to detail. I realized...that it's about the games, not the console. So now I play everything!
I havenít written a blog in months. In general, Iím not a blog sort of guy. I think a lot of it stems from the fact that I think Iím relatively plain and that no one reads the dour life story of Random Joe on the internet.
Because of this relative averageness in my life, I never saw my self as particularly good at anything. Excel at some things, weak in others, but never outright the best. School/work, sports, and games; three highly competitive aspects of life, aspects that Iím middle of the road in.
So this monthís topic got me thinking: what am I good at in games, so good that no one could touch me? Well, rhythm gaming is out, because Iím no Youtube monster, Iím not terribly good at shooters, fighters and strategy games, but can sometimes hold my own in racing games.
I think I was looking too obviously. What do I do, that no one else does? Naturally, if youíre the only person (though, posting this on the internet, there HAS to be someone else who does this too) who does something, by default you are the best.
Tangent That Will Circle Back, I Promise: I recently started playing RPGs - JRPGs in particular. Almost two years ago to the day I started playing Persona 3, taking the mantle of that slick haired headphones kid I liked so much I ended up cosplaying as him.
The Megami Tensei games (in general) tend to put emphasis on player decision making more so than other JRPGs Iíve played in my admittedly short time playing them. Itís about establishing character, enforcing the connection between the player and the game. Persona 3 makes this so much more palpable with its Social Link system. Itís been explained to death over the past few years, but once more: many of the NPCs have small story arcs for you to discover, and for you to progress with a person, you have to spend time with them, get to learn them, and answer questions they may field to you. Answer them correctly (or just spend enough time with someone) and youíll progress through the story arc.
Obviously not being in character!
Hereís where things start reeling back on topic:
The writing in Persona 3, while giving the player that latitude to make choices, still sort of suggests how the protagonist acts. Heís a leader, strong, calm and collected, seemingly infinite in his wisdom. In general, contemporary role-playing gamers relish the freedom that many modern RPGs give you.
I (and again, Iím seemingly alone in this) run in the opposite direction.
I embrace the fact that I have a character, and Iím playing as him. I try to act like him in game, move like him, answer questions like a leader would and should.
Persona 3 is a good example of this. When answering questions, it becomes less of ďletís hit on Mitsuru!Ē and more ďhmmÖ.would she get offended if I said this?Ē Itís as almost as if I acknowledge the characters as real people.
My willingness to jump into another characterís shoes and play the role has become extreme. I donít run over pedestrians in GTAIV because I truly believe that Niko Belic is a compassionate character, who wants rid himself of sin. I didnít shoot the people in the airport in Modern Warfare 2 because the game establishes before the mission that the player character doesnít want to do this, and hey, Iíll abide. In SMT: Nocturne? Hell yeah Iím that legend! Mirrorís Edge? Didnít shoot a bullet, because Faith is a runner. I cried at the end of Persona 4, because I felt like I was leaving my friends behind.
The stage directions required less of this, I think...
Contrast this with what is commonly heard today in gamers. You always hear about the freedom, how you can do anything you want, how this is escapism. But people break the character the developers so lovingly craft. Niko is remorseful in a cutscene, but then in the hands of the player, punting old women into lampposts to see if the physics engine will cause her to bend around it.
My escapism is a level further. Many games (though not all), I find myself leavingÖmyself and becoming the character established. To a degree, all gamers do this. But far too many are willing to break the illusion.
Why do I do this? I think this relates back to who I am: Iím a relatively plain guy. I hope not boring, by any means; but compared to the fantastical worlds and characters of video games, my life is probably about as plain as the bit character in every RPG that says ďWelcome to (XXXXXX) Town!Ē
The follow is a collection of some of the forum posts I made when I was playing Persona 3. I tend to just write...things about a game. I figure I should start with P3 since it is one of those games that just changed how I percieve games. So it's kinda old, and the writting is not the best, but I felt I should post it.
Finally back home. Finally got my hands on Persona 3.
This is probably one of the few RPGs that has gotten my absolutle attention. It is such an incredible game. The social elements are what hooks me the most.
Persona 3 requires that you create friendships to strengthen your "Social Links", which will strengthen your Personas, which are like summons. To get stronger Personas, you have to have stonger friendships, which is where the interesting aspects of the game come in. You have a limited time each day, and spending your time with individuals will increase your Social Link but it takes up all of your free time. So the game becomes this interesting balancing act of setting up your time with people. But you also can do other things like drinking "Pheromone Coffee" to increase you Charm or do Karaoke to increase your Courage. You actually connect with these people and feel bad when you can't spend time with them. Few games have made me feel so bad for not doing something.
The game is incredibley charming. You meet a MMO playing girl, an old couple with a tragic story, a milf hunter and others. The writing is perfect and the VO, for the most part, spot on. But the art direction. My goodness, the art direction!
Occult, dark and brooding, the game is the complete opposite of the bright Eternal Sonata, the last game I was drooling over. It's a living anime. The enemy design is incredibly creative. Two words: Demonic Tables. This is the anti-Final Fantasy, and for me, it works.
I absolutley love this game. Playing AC or Rock Band felt like a struggle after playing this.
Thank God it's reading week.
Persona 3. I always wanted to get into RPGs-the artistry, the care that seemingly goes into these things always appealed to me. They just wern't terribly fun, as noted by the fact that some of my favorite RPGs are Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Shenmue. P3 makes me like the "traditional" RPG by making the characters more engrossing than characters in any other game. I felt bad for leaving out Junpei of my party and missed his Saturday Night Fever victory pose; I felt bad for ditching on guy for my girlfriend; I felt touched by the jock's story. I've never really saw what was so awesome about the Master Chief or Link or other similar "halo" characters in games, because they seemed so undefined with so little backstory it's hard to piece anything together. Persona 3 characters work for me because you are, truly, observing a living, breathing world and discovering the stories of others.
(In the middle of my play through, I didn't really comment to much on the game. TIMESKIP!)
I finally beat Persona 3.
It's taken me a while (nearly 110 hours), but by god were those hours brilliant.
It's been a while since I have I played a game that simply challenges the very definition of the genre it's made for. P3 is compact, it makes characters relevant, it's focused. It's the anti-thesis of what an RPG should be, and if they made em all like this, I'd eat them all up.
I don't like leaving it on this note, so I want to took back on it, a year removed.
I've been playing more RPGs as the year went on. I played the game that got me interested in Shin Megami Tensei in the first place, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, played through Persona 4, and am playing Nocturne right now. Tried Last Remnant, Eternal Sonata, and TaIes of Vesperia, and dipped my feet in Final Fantasy VII, and I like it, but something's missing.
I play a game like FFVII, and I expect, frankly, Persona 3.
But you can't be revolutionised by a game like FFVII after playing Persona 3. Persona 3 is ironic; the black humour of it all is that it is a "non-standard" RPG in "standard" RPG clothing. Think about it: the overall premise is similar to a "save the world" scenario, the presentation is standard JRPG, and the combat is, really, FF8 but right.
But it sits there, quietly mocking. The relationship with characters, to the horror of pretty much every scenario writer up there, is up to the player, and even worse, abstracted as levels. You may or may not joke around with friends and say "RANK UP!" - cause I know I do! - but imagine if friendship and the development of it was neatly divided into ten segments? It's ridiculous, and I think that sheer ridiculous nature of Persona 3 is what makes it work for me.
It has this playfulness, this willingness to just screw around. I mean, yes, thematically, it does work - it can be analyzed on a deeper level, and things do connect - but as a game, not as a thematic work, it's so alive, so full of design watermarks that swagger like Andy Warhol.
Pop Art was a movement in the 1960's which was essentially an over glorification of the consumerist culture of the world at the time, to the point of extreme irony. It's a comment on the ridiculousness of real life.
Persona 3 is rife with extreme ironies! And it loves poking fun at RPG convention!
The characters themselves fit into neat little catergories: the well-meaning kid (Junpei), the girl that tries to help everyone (Yukari), the chiseled prep (Akihiko), the dominatrix (Mitsuru), the deporable-but-well meaning one (Shinji), the gifted child (Ken), the quiet girl (Fuuka)
But then P3 just exploded those conventional characters by allowing you to live the nervous breakdown with them, to see what makes them tick. It's not just the fact you live it with them though. Other JRPGs would orchestrate this breakdown with perfect timing, punctuated with the music to elevate emotions.
In Persona 3, you can control how your characters fall apart. Simply hang out with them or not. Leave them hanging? Don't do it at all?
It's almost sick, but it's funny, just how much main characters are centres of the game world.
I could go on and on, but I think the idea is there. This is just one of the little design flourishes that caught my eye while playing the game. To see a game at least recognize - especially with JRPGs, which these days seem to be getting even more and more self-righteous and self-important - how ridiculous this shit really is, it's refreshing, and I think it's why I can stomach the more "stereotypical" JRPGs now.