Final Thoughts on Persona

Well, I’m going to say that I finished Persona, even though I didn’t manage to finish the final dungeon. What happened was that I sat down one Sunday to finish it, got pretty far, hit a save point, went through the dungeon for about an hour and got into a new area with new enemies, was doing okay … and then had a TPK. And then realized that I hadn’t saved for quite some time and so it was going to be a long way back. Quit and left it for the next weekend. Then I started playing it again on Saturday, went on for about an hour and … had the same thing happen, with a different set of enemies. This despite the fact that I had gone through a number of battles already in that area and hadn’t had those problems. Maybe I was underleveled. Maybe I didn’t fuse enough Personas. But for whatever reason there was a good chance of my ending up with a TPK and having to backtrack for an hour just to get back to where I was. I’m just not up for that sort of frustration.

So, I’m treating it like I treated X-Men: Legends the first time I played it, where I got to the ending, couldn’t beat the final boss, but called it a finish anyway. With Persona, I got to the point where the game could have ended if I hadn’t answered the questions properly, and so was actually past an ending, and probably got to the coolest part, which was where you meet yourself and he evaluates you based on your choices in the game. So I finished this game far more than I might have finished other games.

Eventually, I replayed X-Men: Legends and managed to finish the game. I don’t think that will be happening here.

Playing Persona makes me realize that, for all its eccentricities, the modern Persona series, starting from Persona 3, made a lot of improvements that made the game playable and less annoying than the original game. The original game’s gameplay is built, it seems, around being difficult, but on Easy I found it less difficult overall and more frustrating and annoying, which probably isn’t what they were aiming for.

First, they make it so that your choices in the game matter, but they never actually indicate any of these choices and what they mean. For the ones that impact the assessment at the end, that’s okay. For the ones that impact which ending you get, that’s not as good but isn’t as terrible. The worst, though, was when you recruit a character for your party in the SEBEC route. You can only get one character and so I ended up with Brown, because I let him out of jail and when he asked to join I figured “I need all the help I can get!” and recruited him. I would have much rathered have Eriko in the party for what is almost certainly going to be my one playthrough of this game. It would have been nice to let you change party members out if you came across a party member you wanted more later in the game.

Second, getting Personas is critically dependent on negotiations with demons. However, they never simply offer you their cards, and so you have to “win” the negotiation, by essentially making them enthusiastic with you. You have five party members who can negotiate and their options work at different times on different demons. So in order to figure out how they are likely to react it’s a lot of trial and error, and again it’s not merely a positive response that you are looking for, as making them happy will not allow you to recruit them. And if you make them angry enough to fail the negotiation they might intimidate you to start and so might end up getting the drop on you, so you want to avoid that, but once you’ve selected someone to negotiate with them you can’t change or, I think, end the negotiation, so if you find that the person you selected can’t do anything but make them angry you’re screwed. Also, sometimes based on random events popping up the reactions will change, sometimes positively but often negatively (meaning to anything except enthusiasm). Also, the negotiating member has to be of a certain level to get their card even if you succeed, and it’s not merely character level, and it’s their level, not yours. I think it’s Persona level, which is a separate stat that I could probably figure out if I tried but wasn’t obvious in the game. So you can go through the negotiation, finally succeed, and … not get the card anyway.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that if you successfully win a negotiation you don’t get any experience for the fight itself. This means that, essentially, you have to choose between leveling up your characters and getting cards so that you can fuse new Personas that you can use in the game. Since you might have to negotiate a lot to get a sufficient stable of Personas to fuse to get good enough abilities, this could really hamper you since your level matters a lot, both for fights and for negotiations themselves. Or you can focus on getting some Personas you like and then going for the XP instead … which is what stood me in good stead for most of the game, but likely is what killed me in the end game. Maybe.

Making this even worse is that merging new Persona leaves them rather underpowered. They might have one good ability and you are expected to level them up to get them maxed out. Okay, that’s pretty standard Persona. Except that the only way to learn new abilities for them is to use their abilities. Yes, you have to specifically use their skills to get new ones, eating away at your often low SP. And if they don’t start with skills that are that useful, or aren’t that useful for the demons that you’re fighting, you are forced to either use the skills anyway to leave them underpowered, which made it pointless to fuse them in the first place. And since you can only fuse from cards and not from actual Personas, if you fuse them they’re yours, even if they didn’t turn out to be as useful as you hoped.

You could try to bring along a number of Persona and then switch to the one you can level up with based on the demons you meet … but a character switching a Persona can only do that in a turn, and so they’d spend their turn switching to a new Persona. With the right Personas/levels on the other characters, the enemies might be dead by the time their turn came around next time, and otherwise you are taking another turn of damage just to switch to a new Persona, making that an impractical strategy for leveling Persona abilities.

Also, XP distribution is odd, as it seems to relate to damage done, in part, but also to you using your abilities. My MC dominated all the XP gain once he learned Megidola and used that to clear out all the enemy parties, which meant that the rest of the party leveled up slower. But to avoid that would require me to be inefficient at attacking parties, which would mean taking more damage and using more SP and possibly taking another TPK when I’m nowhere near a save point.

But the big problem with the game is this: the dungeons are too big and too long and too devoid of story content to be interesting if you didn’t come to the game for the gameplay. I liked the story well-enough, but spent far too much time wandering around the dungeons aiming to get to the next story point for my liking. It seemed to me like over 95% of the game was walking around the dungeons and the last 5% was participating in the story, which includes boss fights. For a game that tried to make your choices matter, this leaves a surprisingly short amount of time to make choices and have them matter, or to explore the characters and the story in any detail. If you really like the tactical gameplay and the negotiation mechanism, you’ll love this game, but if you’re there for the story, it’s going to be boring. Persona 3 solved this by making the dungeons pretty much separate from the story sections (so it’s clear that it’s just grinding), while Persona 4 and Persona 5 made the dungeons far more integrated with the story itself, adding many more story sequences into the dungeons to make them feel more directly related to the story, except for — in both cases — the ones that were explicitly just for grinding. But Persona just felt like a grind, with a few story sections popping up at times to further the plot and remind you that there was one.

And as an old school dungeon game, I liked Dungeon Travelers 2 a lot better, mostly because you could relatively easily leave, rest and come back when you ran out of resources or were finding things too difficult. It’s even the case that they have dark areas and one way corridors and doors, but in Persona those things were incredible annoyances because I really just wanted to get through them to get to the next story part, while in Dungeon Travelers 2 if I didn’t feel like doing them or was too low on resources I could easily leave and come back later when I had more and was higher leveled.

So, that’s Persona. I’m now playing Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and it has one huge advantage over Persona: it seems that you can save anywhere. So I might actually finish that one [grin].

3 Responses to “Final Thoughts on Persona”

  1. What I Finished, What I Played in 2018 | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] course, then I also tried to play the original Persona game and Persona 2. I struggled to a semi-ending in the former and gave up on the latter, and despite my […]

  2. Game Association | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] games or my life in them itself, but instead from the external commitment I had made to do so. So when I couldn’t quite finish Persona or abandoned Persona 2 that was a personal failure not because my character who is me failed, but […]

  3. Playing Dragon Age Origins on PC | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] fact that you could only save a long time before hitting that point is actually responsible for my not being able to finish the original “Persona” game.  So while the save systems do mean that people might be able to save scum, the alternative is […]

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