Thursday, July 10, 2008

Persona's Personas

(Apologies in advance for the pluralization. It's not my fault, I'm following the source material...)

I'm playing Persona 3: Fez. I've been playing it for 915 hours, so I'm about halfway through it.

Overall, it's a very good game, obviously made by a team of experienced, polished professionals who know their vision inside and out - both for gameplay and story.

The part I'm disappointed about is, surprisingly, the personas.

For those of you who haven't played, personas are (unsurprisingly) pretty much the core of the gameplay.

In most RPGs, you equip a weapon and some armor, and you permanently learn spells and techniques. In persona, you equip a weapon and some armor, but you also equip packages of spells and techniques. Sort of like Final Fantasy Tactics' job system, except you can switch between rounds of combat.

Each persona is some mythological personality, like Jack Frost, Lilim, or Cerberus. They are not simply packages of abilities: switching to a different persona is more like swapping out a character. Although they inhabit your body (getting your HP, MP, and equipment), you inherit their affinities, weaknesses, statistics, spells, techniques, and abilities. You have no stats of your own.

The personas also gain levels, although not as fast as the main character (that's important). As the personas gain levels, their stats improve and they gain new abilities. So the personas really are characters, certainly more interesting than the bland, statless, abilityless main character. (I tried to name him "Basil Exposition" to give him the right feeling of being bland, but there wasn't enough space for the characters.)

What this means to me is that I fall in gamer love with specific persona. Exactly the way that you tend to favor your favorite characters in, say, a Final Fantasy game. I want to keep using specific persona. But you'll be thwarted because as the main character gains levels, he can create new personas.

Let's use an example. Let's say you've got two personas you really like: Jack Frost and Lilim. You gain a few levels, and you combine them to make a new persona: Cerberus (no, this isn't a feasible example). This removes Jack and Lilly from play, and to pull them back into play costs a small fortune. Although they don't lose levels, Cerberus will start between 3 and 8 levels higher than they are just due to the way this works. That's not so much "significant" as "insurmountable".

The more advanced personas are simply flat-out better. If I leveled Jack Frost and Cerberus both to level 99, Cerberus would be far more powerful: Jack Frost's most advanced abilities are about on par with Cerberus' middle abilities.

To make it worse, every level there are more personas you can build and more slots you have to store them in. I have a hard enough time remembering all my personas when I only have room for six... now I'm carrying around twelve and have fifty more in the bank? I can't even remember their NAMES any more, let alone feel some kind of connection to them.

As a specific example, my powermongering gamer heart fell in love with one persona in particular: Lilim. An early spellcasting persona, I accidentally built her to have five of the six elemental attacks.

This made her invaluable. I could fill the rest of my slots with anything I happened to stumble into without worrying about balance. If I had nothing but five fire demons and Lilim, I was all set: I run into something that absorbs fire, I switch to Lilim.

She was even an expert against the "brutal" encounters where they set you up against several enemies with conflicting weaknesses. I could use lightning against half the enemies, air against the other half, and wipe the floor with them.

However, even Lilim's horrible broken-ness could not resist the eternal march of levels. Even leveled as high as I could, she was still half the level of the newest generation of persona. Her abilities were all learned: she had nothing else on her docket, while the newest generation were learning spells that were more than twice as effective.

More importantly, her multi-elemental approach was itself becoming obsolete. It was hard to keep six elements and a healer all available when I only had six slots... but now that I had twelve, simple mathematics keeps them covered pretty well.

So, sadly, I retired Lilim (I had to retire her, she was so low level she couldn't be combined with anyone to make a useful persona). I haven't really gotten attached to any others since. I occasionally feel a twinge of interest at an interesting character, but why should I bother? In two missions, I'll have replaced him with something five levels higher. Probably two somethings.

To me, this is really saddening. Disposable characters always make me feel sad.

Did anyone else feel this way?


Anonymous said...

The trick is to get an FAQ that tells you exactly what the rules of persona creation are. Or alternatively put aside a decade or two and figure out the rules yourself.

By carefully fusing the correct personas with the right skills repeatedly, (often involving rerolling a persona over and over), you can obtain pretty much any persona with endgame skills by combining the right types.

Their level is irrelevant except for stats, and you can boost stats using the cards that you get from the antique shop.

A real example: Leanan Sidhe was a favorite of mine since she had no elemental weaknesses. I kept a Leanan Sidhe all the way to end game, eventually getting 99 in most of her stats.

(when you boost a persona to have ridiculous stats, you can just buy it from the compendium over and over and use it to create other persona with great stats)

Of course, later on Leanan Sidhe didnt see as much use after personas with elemental immunities started appearing, but I did keep her and she was useful right till the end.


Incidentally Persona 3 is very much a "light" version of that system - the hardcore forms exist in the earlier games like Nocturne. (in Nocturne if you keep a Pixie that you meet at the start of the game in your party, she'll become level 99 and have ultimate spells like Megidoalon etc.) In -that- game, the creatures -are- your party members, and it's much more interesting than Persona 3. (although it doesnt have the dating-social game elements that Persona 3 has.)


So in summary, as these things usually go, you are complaining because you dont understand the game enough :P

Craig Perko said...

Wow, anonymous, you're totally right! If I go against the way is intended to be played and spend fifty years leveling, I can get a shitty character that's... SLIGHTLY LESS SHITTY! Not as good as the next tier up leveled up, but not QUITE AS SHITTY as it was originally.

No, wait, that's agreeing with me.

Why do you think I'm wrong, again?

Wait, nevermind, I don't give a shit what anonymous people think. Come back when you have a name and a smidge of respect.

Anonymous said...

Shrug, the more a game lets you do (a good thing) the more you have to do. (in your opinion, a bad thing).

Why not just watch a movie then?

Craig Perko said...

There's very little point to exploring a dominated strategy, unless you're playing the game a second or third time and want more of a challenge. Given the length of this game, I doubt that'll ever come up.

Why are you arguing on this? You're saying "you said early persona suck compared to late persona, but early characters don't suck if you level them up, even though they're still worse than late persona."

I don't see what you're adding to this conversation, other than a generous helping of disrespect.

But what can I expect from someone too cowardly to even bother entering a name?