1.20.2009

(In)Consistency in Persona 3

Ok. I know have complained a lot about Persona 3 recently, and how I grew tired and bored with its slow pace and plodding narrative. Now that I'm into December (when the game ends in January, I think?), the narrative has really ramped up. As such, I'm a little more involved in the story, and actually look forward to reaching the next full moon as quick as possible in order to see what happens next. But this renewed interest in Persona 3 doesn't mean that other aspects of the game don't stand out to me as problematic.

Since the beginning of the game, in fact since the first time my character died and I had to reload the game, one glaring flaw of the battle system has annoyed me to no end. When a character dies in battle, there a re a couple of ways to revive them, usually by using either a Revival Bead (item) or the spell Recarm. Then, the character is revived with some amount of health, and you hope they survive until you can heal them. This is a standard revival technique, found in nearly every RPG in some form or another. And it works very well, usually. Unfortunately, in Persona 3, the only character that cannot be revived, at all, is the main character, who also happens to be the only one you directly control in battle.

If the main character (MC from now on) loses all his health, he dies. Game over. No chance to revive him in the same battle. You then must spend several minutes watching scene, going through the title sequence, reloading, and backtracking. This is particularly annoying if you are stuck battling a difficult boss or guardian. Perhaps the reasoning for this aspect of the battle system is that since the player does not have direct control over his teammates, if the MC dies, it's Game Over because you can't bring yourself back from death. However, all of your teammates are capable of using items in battle, including Revival Beads. I've seen them revive each other before. At least one character, who usually serves as my party's healer, has the Recarm spell. Why, when the MC falls in combat, can one of the other characters not revive me? If they can revive each other, it makes absolutely no sense that they cannot revive me also?

Each party member can have a battle tactic assigned to it. So, for example, I could assign my strongest attacker to go all out attacking an enemy, or have another character target an enemy's weakness. If I have programmed all my teammates to attack, then I understand that they might not revive the MC. However, if, as I regularly do, I have assigned one character to always heal the party, why would that character not be given the chance to also revive the MC? There's no reason not to. When a simple stroke of bad luck (such as one of the frequent instant death spells being successful) conspires against you, it's not only unfair to instantly have to restart, but it makes no sense within the logic of the game world.

Finding myself very near the end of the game now, I find this inability to revive the MC a particularly glaring fault as I learn more about the themes and point of the narrative. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that the theme of Persona 3 revolves around death, and seems to be focusing on the characters' ability to accept and understand death. Perhaps, when I finally complete the game, I will be able to come up with some thematic reason as to why the MC is so fragile and able to be permanently killed. Until that point, it just adds to the tedium that sometimes pops up in this game.

I wonder if Persona 4 addresses this problem. I know that game gives you full control over the entire party, so perhaps the death of the main character does not lead to an instant game over. Does anyone know? I'd be very curious to find out.

I'm near the end, so my ranting about Persona 3 should come to an end soon, and I can move on and complain about something else.

2 comments:

Demiath said...

I just read your Persona 3 posts and was pleased to discover that you touch on a lot of the same things which have been bothering me as well about this game (I'm about 30 hours into P3:FES so far). As you say, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with this celebrated and admittedly unique RPG, but you've done a great job of putting my own frustrations into words.

What might be worth adding is that Persona 3 feels unusually repetitive even in comparison with a lot of other fairly long RPGs with similarly slow-paced story development. For example, last year I spent some 150 hours (all in all) playing through three classic PC RPGs (Wizardry 6, 7 and 8 from 1990, 1992 and 2001 respectively) in which an extreme amount of grinding is required and where major plot points are few and far between. None of those games felt remotely as tedious to spend an extended period of time on as Persona 3 frequently does.

In this respect, a significant part of the problem with Persona 3 is the overall cyclical structure of the gameplay (Tartarus grinding -> social link development -> Tartarus grinding again and so forth), which in theory is fresh and innovative but in practice gets old real fast. Doing the same things over and over again in more or less the exact same environments feels a bit too much like "Groundhog Day" (which is rather ironic, considering that the FES expansion to Persona 3 supposedly forces the player to repeat a single day - March 31 - for about 30 hours or so). And the unnecessarily low difficulty level so far (during the first third of the game or so) doesn't exactly make the experience more exciting.

That said, I'm going to soldier on; if only to see how the (reasonably compelling) story ends...

Korey said...

Really excellent comment. I think you bring up a great point about the cyclical nature of Persona 3. In particular, repeating floors of Tartarus constantly throughout the game becomes very tiring, I think especially because most of the battles are so easy. Scan for the enemy's weak point, use attacks to knock them down, use a group assault to destroy them. But then, you run across an insanely hard guardian between floors and get stuck for a bit. The whole dungeon mechanic really started to grate on my nerves in this game. But thankfully, from what I've read, Persona 4 is a bit better in this regard in that there are different dungeons, one for each character that you're looking for.

Great comment. I hope you'll continue to return to my blog and post some more insights. And carry on with the game. While sometimes tiring, the story really starts to pick up around October/November, and go to some interesting places.