What We Want To See In Persona 5
Persona 4, a god amongst games, came out three years ago. Catherine, the title which the Persona team has been working on since then, is finished. This means but one thing–or so we hope–it’s only a matter of time until Persona 5 is announced. Having not one, but four resident Persona fanboys at Nightmare Mode HQ, we sat down to talk about what we’d like to see in the franchise.
Alex: When Catherine was first teased it churned up a pretty spectacular storm of speculation, the more reasonable guesses (or so they seemed at the time) suggesting a Persona-style game just with a slightly older crowd of characters. Of course, the game turned out to be a batshit puzzle-platformer and Vincent turned out to be thirty-two years old, but the idea has stuck hard with me ever since. Particularly if P5 was set at a university â€“ the freedom in terms of daily structure, types of characters and potential themes / stories this would allow is pretty exciting to me.
Persona games have tackled some pretty grown-up issues before â€“ and really well in most cases I think â€“ but Catherine shows us the team aren’t afraid to look at real sexual relationships and more morally complex, adult issues as well. That kind of attitude across a whole group of characters would be great to see. I don’t blame them for the traditional setting â€“ and not just because Japan loves high school. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Japan fucking loves high school. But that age group is ripe (holla) for end of innocence stories, where characters are young enough to be experiencing more mature issues for the first time, and old enough to overcome them with a believable resulting personal growth.
Still, an older crowd would be more interesting to me on a personal level at least. And those being forced into a strange world / a weird kind of adulthood they’re not ready for is just as good as end-of innocence stuff. There could even be some of that still â€“ everybody wins.
Patricia: Very true, Alex. And the ESRB recently released some interesting statistics: the average ‘gamer’ age is 37. So you combine the average age of the audience with the mature themes…having a Persona title take place in, say, College makes a lot of sense. Then again, perhaps Catherine is the result of wanting to tackle more ‘adult’ problems–realistically speaking, the issues in college aren’t THAT different from high school, relative to how different ‘adult’ problems are. At the same time, it’s not just that we want a more ‘adult’ thematic approach. We want the Persona package, and Catherine can’t deliver that.
Alex: But that leads me to â€“ structure and freedom. It’s time to break away from the typical routine of breaking the day up into chunks, where any activity no matter what it is will end up filling that chunk. As funny as it is to spend the entire afternoon turning the dial on a capsule machine, it’s also kind of annoying. There’s definitely a balance between freedom and a potentially off-putting complexity to be struck, but I think a decent UI â€“ particularly a diary system â€“ could solve that. Maybe you could even plan meetings with someone ahead of time. I’ll pencil you in for Thursday night? All night?
Tom: Persona received a lot of praise for its social links, but there’s one small gripe I had with them: there was only one real way through most of them. Answers either gave you points, didn’t give you points, or reversed a link, which was a system that worked.
But let me tell you what I think would be better. Branches. Kind of like the friendship/rivalry system in Dragon Age 2, where the player would get to choose between two or more paths with your various companions. Obviously not the most complex system, but something that wouldn’t be too foreign to the JRPG’s linear sensibilities. P4 had a little of this with friendship/relationship branches, but it would be nice to see this with every social link. So, to use Kenji from P3 as an example, if you encouraged him you’d be friendly with him. If you thought his relationship with a teacher was bad news waiting to happen, though, you’d move onto a rivalry track, where maybe he’d think you were trying to woo her, too. Of course, relationships could still be reversed, like if you didn’t comfort him when she inevitably dumped him. The plot wouldn’t change, but your relationship would change and intensify depending on whether you fought a lot or were BFFs.
Alex: For relationships – more freedom, please. More than one â€˜correct’ way to develop a friendship would be nice, I don’t want to be telling pathetic losers what they want to hear just to get some of that sweet bonus XP. And just maybe something a little different from the standard ten-step process from vague acquaintances to problem-solving-soul-mates I’ve-never-met-anyone-like-you-before extremes. On a more technical level I would like to scrap the thing where you have to have a Persona of the same arcana as the person you’re hanging out with to get the most out of the situation. It’s just a bit cumbersome and can lead to some regretful decisions, as I have experienced. Also spending time with someone and seeing you feel your relationship is going to become closer soon always feels anti-climactic, almost like it was a waste of time.
Patricia: It’ll be very interesting to see if the Atlus team continues with its older relationship paradigm, which we saw in both P3 and P4. I say this because since the release of both of those games, the industry has seen a ton of change in terms of depicting relationships, as well as conversation–Bioware is the obvious example here, but we also have Obsidian with Fallout 3, etc. Having strict boundaries in terms of what one can do can work, the previous Persona games prove that, but will that satisfy ‘modern’ palettes? As you guys have stated, nobody wants to feel railroaded to act or behave in a certain way. In a game that’s all about THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP, that seems rather dishonest and goes against the very point of the game.That’s one of the few issues I have with the Persona titles: for a game so focused on friendship, the game forces me to say what people want to hear. That’s no good, friends are genuine, not manipulative, right? But having options in terms of how to approach these relationships, being able to have more than one type of relationship with someone, now that would be ideal. No matter what, MC will be everyone’s BFF forever….but the way in which this happens should be flexible.
Stefan: I, too, am all for more detailed social links. Persona 3 Portable did this a little bit with all of the potential lover links, as it added the choice to either go the friend path or the lover path. It is a start, and a welcome one–I actually refused to get a few links above seven in Persona 3:FES because I would feel bad having more than one lover–but only adding minor complexity to possible serious relationships is not quite the step everyone seems to have in mind.
Tom: In terms of gender balance, for a video game series Persona’s been pretty balanced. Persona 2: Eternal Punishment had a female protagonist, Maya, and P3P offered the choice to pick the MShe. So this isn’t some sort of critique, but rather a recommendation that the protagonist being female would be pretty rad. I think it’s something they could do a lot with, and they’ve done it recently while pretty much rewriting P3P for one.
The JRPG, as a whole, isn’t especially gender balanced. I can count the number of games with female protagonists on one hand (FFVI, though that’s debateable, and the game I’m presently playing, Trails in the Sky, as well as the horror show that was Final Fantasy XIII) and it would bring some novelty with it while allowing them to tell different sorts of stories.
To be fair, it’s hard to make specific narrative requests like this because so much depends on the story being told. There are some stories a male protagonist would be better suited for, and it depends on the sort they craft. But it’s something I think the folks at Atlus are open to, and this is a tacit acknowledgement that it’s an avenue worth exploring.
Stefan: P3P did a pretty good job making the switch, actually, so I am sure it can be done again.
Patricia: I’d love for this to happen, but when development seems so metrics driven as of late, I dunno if that’s a possibility.
Alex: I’m glad we’re all pretty much down for a female MC â€“ it’s always my preference in games, and having not played P3P it would be an interesting new perspective for me. But if the best characters are also girls as before (Aigis and Chie, I mean, of course) I hope I can still get as close to them. Hands off my virtual girlfriends you creep. You’ll never understand them like I do!
Patricia: While we’re on the subject of amazing characters (~Aigis~), gonna fangirl here for a moment. So far this has been a tad objective as far as opinions go, but fuck it: I want more of specific types of characters. Yeah, yeah, endearing ones, sure–again, Aigis comes to mind, Chie comes to mind, but there are a couple of characters that Persona 4 introduced that frankly, kicked the shit out of the characters in 3.
There’s…a lot of kinda bad characters in 3. I mean, in a way, that’s their charm: good ‘ol stupid Junpei, weird ass French boy, disgusting ball of flesh fat kid, questionable Kenji, smoking Hitler–the list goes on and on. But Persona 4! Most of the characters are legitimately good. The widow is an interesting character, by proxy of age alone. The nurse feels like a Persona 3 character at first, in that ‘creepy, oh my gosh the only reason I’m associating with you is because I want this social link’ kind of way (well, in my playthrough since…I let her have her way with me, *cough*) but then she turns out to have some actual substance to her. There aren’t as many legitimately bad but somehow also charming characters.
And, since this is me indulging myself at the moment: we have to have the signature ‘distant, kind of an ice queen’ character too–Mitsuru, Yukiko–for no other reason that I seem to have a thing for characters like that.
Stefan: One thing I would like to see is cameo and homage. Not huge ones, mind you, I am not talking about anything that would make Persona 5 not a perfectly stand-alone game, but subtle nods to other games in the Persona series, since it would make sense for them to all be in the same alter-Japan. Again, this is something that P3P did pretty well. A younger Yukiko Amagi appears during the class trip to the Amagi Inn from Persona 4, and Vincent from the not-soon-enough upcoming game Catherine makes a brief appearance as well. Little cameos like these in a series of stand-alone games help to solidify a connection between them. Instead of making a new, similar world every time (Final Fantasy), it makes the setting expand and grow with each game, giving it a complexity similar to, well, the real world.
Patricia: I hear that the bar in Catherine has a jukebox that plays tracks from Persona 3 and 4. Actually on the note of music, I want what P4 did. The music there fit thematically, was very closely tied to what was being shown on screen. Hell, in the dungeons, the songs were made specifically for those levels–and the levels were tied to the storyline. There was some serious ludonarrative harmony going on there. Many people argue that P3’s tracks were ‘better’, and speaking objectively–as in, if I were to hear these tracks out of context, on their own, sure. It’s tough to win against Burn My Dread, that’s a fantastic track.
But in the context of the game, Persona 3 was urban only in setting, never thematically, and definitely not gameplay wise; there was nothing tying the tracks to the game. There are a couple exceptions to this–notably, Memories of You, which, if you look at the lyrics, is sung from Aigis’ point of view in regards to losing the protagonist, and the track doesn’t appear until the end of the game.
In P4, though, that marriage between narrative, feeling and music was omnipresent, and that makes for tracks that are more meaningful, not just catchy or ‘good’.
Tom: P3 and P4 both had acceptable dungeons, but they were enjoyable in entirely opposite ways. P3 had a large, faceless dungeon put together randomly and relied on the player finding a teleporter in the game world to get out. P4 solved a major player complaint and gave the dungeons faces and reasons to exist, as well as letting the player escape whenever they wanted, but in doing so removed a lot of the fun of repetition.
Simply put, grinding was less fun in P4, because the dungeons were so static. The joy of exploration was gone. Additionally, while players clamored for the Goho-M, the static teleports were a more tense, interesting experience.
So P5 has a very simple blueprint. Use the randomness of P3, and add in a lot of the plot focus of P4. Bigger floors married with some static rooms where plot is forwarded would be perfect, and would keep dungeons interesting both the first and subsequent times they are visited.
Patricia: So then…last words?
Alex: As for everything else â€¦ everything else being most of the actual game â€¦ I don’t really care? Is it wrong that I don’t really care? Well, whatever – fight a monster, open a chest, kill a boss, sense a death, blah a blah. Persona!
Small sidenote: yes, some of this is fanart. I have no idea where they came from, because the Tumblrs I got them from did not list sources. But, if you know the source–let me know and I will definitely credit.