April 2, 2008

Reincarnations of the True Goddess

Or, as the Japanese would put it, Shin Megami Tensei. What started out as a novel or two, spawned one of the larger RPG series in Japan (it's rarely reached the US until recently). One of the most recent additions to the western editions is Persona 3. Now, the Persona series is really only loosely related to the kinds of story that the mainline games have told in the past, and Persona 3 is a game in its own league - part high school sim, part dungeon crawler.

But I haven't brought the game up to review (suffice to say, I enjoy it so far though I feel the meaty story bits have too much time between them). No, I brought it up in response to what I wrote last night. See, this game is rated M by the ESRB because of the use of the Evokers (the fake gun that the protagonists shoot themselves with to bring out their "personas"). I think that's appropriate, so that's not what I want to talk about either.

I want to talk about the extreme differences in character that are put forth by the main character of the game, that mimic his (nearly-)unique ability to switch Personas. The game rewards you for having a balanced social and dungeon-crawling life, by having the Personas you use in the latter get a power boost when you fuse them if you've talked to the right people in the former (i.e., Social Links grant bonus XP to fused persona of the same arcana). Each of those people expects a different sort of person from you, though it usually boils down to giving them what they out of the relationship and boosting their confidence.

Like the school teacher who plays an MMO on her off days and complains to you about her increasing age and seeming inability to find a man to settle down with, the classmate who wants your support in going after one of his teachers (just to have it blow up in his face), the depressed monk trying to find meaning in life and drinking his life away while pining after his family, or this guy on the student council who's trying to hunt down who left a cigarette butt in the boy's room and will put anyone to question regarding it. They all want affirmation and support.

So, just like the characters fire the Evokers at themselves - a symbolic death of self - the protagonist gives more of himself just to power these alternate selves. It's true to life: the more friends you have, the more you benefit - but you also spread yourself thinner and thinner with each one added, potentially making yourself a hypocrite in the process.

Oh well, time to read!