By Russ | April 12, 2017 at 12:47 am
Like an ancient civilization an evil empire unearths to wage war on the rest of the world…
You just can’t keep me down. Hi, I’m Russell Ritchey; and like the plotline viagra used above I’m old, been through a lot, and will probably be abused by future generations for nefarious purposes. But before that inevitability happens I’m here to talk about the past: specifically, the history of games as I’ve experienced; the wonders of watching the RPG genre evolve; and sometimes waxing less-than-poetic the deep emotions games have instilled within me over the years. I can do this because not only do I have unfettered access to RPG Land, but also because I’ve been writing about games and other media for at least 17 years and have a gross sense of self-entitlement. If you hate me by now then you should know catharsis is one of the goals I aim for when writing and thus feel accomplished when you rage.
The working title ‘Artifact Gear’ comes from Final Fantasy XI and other MMOs and RPGs to distinguish a type of gear meant to be used as a capstone for that class. In FFXIV, part of the artifact gear is a weapon from history re-created for your character. The weapon undergoes stages and levels up with each new addition. This is a time-consuming progress, and it feels right for a person who desires to get better when writing about games. The concept of trying to reforge myself into something useful within the gaming and media community is appealing. It has been nearly two decades of writing about media and I’ve no desire to turn back now.
Intros aside, this first column is about Persona since Persona 5 hit NA stores this week. I first encountered Persona way back in the Fall of 1996. The SNES era had instilled a deep desire to try out any and all RPGs due to the genre’s relative obscurity. Final Fantasy VII was a full year off. FFVII’s plot predecessor, Wild Arms, would not be available in my area until May 1997. Hell, I’d likely just come off of Mario RPG on the SNES, since I had to save up close to $100 for the title and couldn’t get it right away. Yeah, cartridge games used to cost a lot.
I was in high school and a huge fan of mythology, demonology, horror movies, and generic occult stuff. I liked the legends and other myths these topics introduced me too. A game like Persona should have been an instant hit, but the high school setting and clunky interface – even compared to the RPGs of the time – turned me off. See, not every game used to have a high school setting. And when you’re in high school and hating it, there’s no novelty in that setting. The entire situation is just an awkward ‘meh’. Thankfully, Persona was a rental; but these opinions caused a later pass on Persona’s similar-looking sequel.
Years later I became interested in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The game’s difficulty and apocalyptic setting really rang true to someone who’d just lost everything. I delved into the game; logging upwards of 180 hours and beating the game’s hardest ending my first playthrough. I did the same with later releases Digital Devil Saga and Digital Devil Saga 2; using the Devour command on those titles without dropping their HP one iota. Persona 3 arrived in 2007 with its new art direction and seemingly suicidal overtones. More importantly, the battle system looked similar to what I enjoyed with previous SMT titles. However, the FES expansion disc had already been launched in Japan by the time of Persona 3‘s NA release. There were rumors Atlus would bring FES to NA, so I bid my time. It paid off. FES arrived April of next year.
Soon, GameFAQs had a complete guide to unlock every social link in Persona 3: FES. I was working retail at the time with a disjointed schedule. I’d likely only get one chance to play through the game, and I wanted to explore all of it. I did. What followed was several months of enjoyment as I carefully did everything possible in a first run-through of the game. Multiple saves were necessary since I wound up messing up a lot and had to go back and re-do entire months. I also liked to blow off NPCs to see their reactions. Sometimes this would lose a couple hours of game time. When the final battle played with all of the main character’s Social Links sending their Nakama-based anime-energy to the protagonist (unhelpfully named Larry Dokodemo* on my save file); it was Shinjiro’s portrait-less voice which caused me to smile and tear up as I enabled the command for Larry to cast his final spell from his HP. Persona 3 was all about Death. It’s made clear in the opening of the game the Protagonist won’t live through the ordeal. The ending was what I expected to happen, with the unexpected moment of FES touching my heart in a way few other games have done. The game is stellar, and FES is the closest I can come to offering a game a perfect score.
I never did finish The Answer, by the way. I did not want it to spoil that perfect ending. Eventually I will. Just not soon.
Persona 4 came and went. I skipped it at the time because I was still playing Persona 3: FES. I let Persona 4 sit until the announcement of Golden began to stir, and again bid my time. Golden paid off. I received a copy and intended to review it. I played through Golden non-stop trying to max my Social Links as much as possible while unlocking as much of the game as possible. Golden is another stellar title. It doesn’t have the emotional impact of FES, though this is not a fault of Golden. Golden‘s relatively lighthearted nature (the game’s most-promoted color is bright yellow; a normally positive color) and relaxed atmosphere pales compared to Persona 3‘s tension and brooding blue. Golden is not as strict as FES is in terms of gameplay, either. Additionally, the focus on coming together and facing a person’s inner weakness also exemplifies a strength not found in most RPGs. This strength is juxtaposed against the weaknesses each character in FES faced as they experienced and were affected by the death of people close to them. Both games involve overcoming the inner self; Golden‘s journey is simply a different path than FES. Golden is also a close perfect score, and is highly recommended.
And now Persona 5 is out. I have high hopes; I’ll admit. There’s a chance I won’t be able to delve into this stylish whirlwind of fabulous dancing thieves until Persona 5: The Rogue Rouge Edition** is released. It’s just funny a series I passed up for being too mediocre has become one of my most anticipated titles of the year.
Next column we’ll look at some of the evolution the Persona series has gone through. Until then.
* – a bad pun on Leisure Suit Larry since it is implied the Protagonist gets lucky a lot when female Social Links max out. Dokodemo kinda means everywhere. It was a huge step up from Garry (or Geri) Dokodemo. I’ll let you search for that on your own.
** – I just made that up don’t Google it dammit.