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January 20, 2009

Analysis Paralysis

Persona 3 FES

I always keep my eyes open for something a little different, especially on the consoles and handhelds. I'm particularly interested in the weird stuff that turns up on consoles because they seem to have the greatest mass market reach in some ways, while also being clearly intended for gaming use¹. This is why I have copies of things like Rez, or Killer 7, or Okami; they're different, and different sometimes goes a long way.

It's also why I picked up a copy of Persona 3: FES, which came in its extended edition last summer or so. I was enticed by the mix of traditional JRPG fare with some weird slants. First, and probably most visible to non-gamers, was the decidedly quirky method of summoning critters to do battle for you -- the protagonist and his party cast their various magics by, well, shooting themselves in the head and heart with some sort of pistol-looking thing². This was enough to provoke mild curiosity, but not really enough to draw me into the game -- it's really just a different animation for summoning and except for what it says about culture, has no bearing on the gameplay whatsoever. What really drew me in, and what garnered it critical acclaim, was the non-traditional play whereby you gained in power by strengthening relationships between the hero and various other characters in the high school which he attends.

That seemed really cool. I liked the idea of having more powerful magic in the areas in which I was investing the character's time. So I started off, getting a few social ranks with the "mage", a geeky character who wanted to pursue a romance with his teacher. And then I found myself in which the "Chariot", a jock who was pushing himself tremendously hard on the swim team, to the point of passing out in practice. There was also the "Hermit", a character I met in the game's MMO. And the "Lovers". And the "Emperor". And. And. And.

Soon I had at least half a dozen storylines that had hooked me enough that I wanted to know how they turned out. I began to devise strategies and jot them down in a text file on my laptop (open while I played, so I could remember which spells were "ice" and which were "fire" etc, since the names didn't map to my Final Fantasy knowledge). "OK," I'd tell myself, "I can go to the student council meeting on Tuesday, but then I need to go to swim practice on Wednesday and make sure I get down to the art room on Thursday. Oh, but wait, what about the mage?" After a while, I started to feel exhausted at the thought of playing, and would turn to other things.

It's analysis paralysis. I didn't actually care much at all for the actual use of the magic I was getting, which was typical RPG repetitiveness. I just wanted to know how the stories would play out, and I had this anxiety about whether I was spending enough time with each character to bring those stories to their conclusions. Would I end up finishing the game but only partway through half a dozen storylines? That wouldn't do at all. Could I add more to my schedule?

In the end, I feel like the game gave me lots of interesting decisions to make, but unfortunately, I'd need to go elsewhere to understand the longer-term ramifications of those decisions. This hasn't been a problem in other RPGs, in my experience; I've always known more or less where a particular road would take me, even if in general terms. Or I knew, as with Fallout 3, that I'd have time to explore all the options in which I was interested, so long as I didn't finish the main quest.

It's not as if the stories were necessarily all that interesting, even. It's just the thought that I would start a story and maybe not get to finish it. There was just enough mystery there to hook me.

In the time since I've stopped playing, I've several times thought of going over to GameFAQs and tracking down some sort of story document. Something always stops me, maybe some vague sense that I'll get back to the game some day or feeling like it's just not right to do it. I'm still wondering how I would resolve this in the game, and some day maybe I'll find out. I'll let you know.Maybe I just need to find the right frame of mind.

Anyone else have this feeling with a game? Also, join me again in the next several days or so for a discussion of Death... as a Woman.

¹Despite Sony's protestations to the contrary. (back)

²I'm convinced that this is a Japanese thing, along the lines of drawing power by being totally committed to a plan of action. I remember reading in James Clavell's Shogun a scene in which the hero gains new life after deciding to commit seppuku when commanded to by the titular character. Although he fails in the attempt (a faster, samurai-guided hand intervenes and plucks the dagger from his grasp at the last moment), he nonetheless feels suddenly, completely, vibrantly alive having decided to pursue death in that manner. (back)

Posted by Brett Douville at January 20, 2009 10:20 PM