Category Archives: Video Game Research

Persona 3 vs Persona 4

I am doing a lot of travel at the beginning of this year. I just got back from GDC and I am flying to London for iOSCon in a few weeks. While I was at GDC I was staying with a friend who generously let me squat on her couch. Her couch was an hour away from San Francisco by train, so I knew between my flights and all the time spent on trains I needed to find something to keep me entertained and occupied.

I couldn’t work on the plane or the train because I am sensitive to motion sickness. That crossed out reading too. The best option I could think about was playing video games. I didn’t want to take the 3DS because it has terrible battery life, so that left the PS Vita.

I decided to replay Persona 3. I finished up Persona 3 a little over a year ago. It took me 75 hours to get through it the first time. I really wanted to replay it again, but I thought it was stupid to confine myself to one game, so I have spent the last year trying to find something I like as much as Persona 3. I haven’t found it yet. And yes, that includes the venerable Persona 4 Golden.

I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I like Persona 3 better than Persona 4. I was told by many people to play Persona 3 so I could appreciate how much better Persona 4 was. I held off on Persona 4 for a bit while looking for another game, but I couldn’t wait anymore and started playing it. I was disappointed.

I have been trying to figure out why I don’t like P4 as much as P3. Since I started replaying P3 I have a better understanding of what it is about P4 that I don’t like as well. Fair warning, I am only about 20 hours into P4, so it’s possible that some of my gripes might be rectified.

Dungeons

I like the main dungeon in P3, Tartarus, better than the mechanic in P4 where you enter the dungeon through the TV. I was a huge Buffy fan, so the idea that your school is the base of all evil is a perfect metaphor for being a teenager.

I liked that there was an explanation about why the Shadows show up at the school. The Shadows are a result of an accident at the Kurijo Group. Mitsuru’s father was responsible for the accident. Yukari’s father died in that accident. It felt like people were being drawn to this problem because of their pasts.

In P4, you enter the dungeon through the TV. There seems to be no explanation about why these people in this one town are able to enter the TV to go fight shadows. It’s a small town and people just sort of happen to be there. There was no grand plan to right the wrongs of the past. There was an epic component missing from the grand scheme of things. I get that it’s supposed to be a less heavy and more fun iteration of Persona, but if you’re delving into Jungian psychology and the collective unconscious, I did appreciate the epic scope provided by P3.

Getting flashbacks to college

I also really liked that the students in P3 live in the dorms and there don’t seem to be any grown ups around. It really scratched a mental itch to get to have an immersive Japanese high school experience with all its stereotypes. Playing a game about a bunch of kids in a small town who live with their parents reminded me too much of my own real life to be a fun escape.

Combat

Persona 3 Combat

I don’t really like the tweaks to the combat system in P4. I don’t know why, but it’s difficult to see what various Shadows are weak to. In P3 I can directly control all of my players and get a good overview of what each shadow is weak to. When I do combat in P4 I don’t control my players and things happen so chaotically that I don’t actually know what moves my players made against the Shadows.

I also miss having the portals on various levels to take you back to the entrance in P3. In P4 you need to hold onto a consumable item that you must use to get back to the entrance.

All in all, I just found the combat in P3 to be more intuitive than in P4.

Quests

Completing a quest for the Fox and leveling up social link

One component in both P3 and P4 is that you go on quests and receive rewards. The quests are a side component of the main gameplay.

In P3, you receive a list of quests from Elizabeth/Theo. They’re all neatly gathered in one place. You get a crazy response from Elizabeth. It’s fun to complete the quest just to hear what she is going to say. A lot of the quests can be completed just by doing dungeon crawling. They’re not that hard to figure out.

In P4, your quests are spread all over the place. Unless you have an online guide, it’s practically impossible to find and complete every single quest. One is from a teacher wearing Egyptian wear hiding behind a corner. It’s difficult to keep track of all the quests and how to complete them. I believe some of the quests advance a social link, which makes it vital that you complete some of them.

I wound up playing through bits of P4 on the plane when there was a glitch on my memory card. I bombed nearly everything I did in the game because nothing was intuitive. I couldn’t look up the answers online and I failed at everything. If this was a normal game where dying is a way of learning, that would be one thing. Playing this game is an 80 hour commitment and I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot by screwing up all of the quests when I want to play for a few hours when I don’t have access to the internet.

I get stressed out trying to keep track of the quests and so I usually wind up ignoring them. Sometimes I will look something up and find there are ten things I missed. I get that some people might really enjoy just how many side quests there are and how much there is to do, but I don’t like the idea that I have to sit down with an online guide to accomplish everything happening in the game.

Skills

Scooting to the next town over, just like high school

Going along with having too much chaos with the quests is expanding the skills requirements.

In P3, you have three skills you must max out: Academics, Charm, and Courage. The first time I played through I didn’t understand that you had to max out all three of these. I focused on Academics because I knew we had midterms to study for. This lack of understanding bit me towards the end of the game as there were several social links I never finished because I didn’t have the requisite skill level to begin the social link.

P4 doubles the number of skills to six. In addition to that, it adds gardening and fishing and scooter riding and… It’s difficult to grasp the advantages of leveling up one skill over another. In addition to these skills you have to kill Shadows and level up your social links.

I get that part of the appeal of P4 is that there is more of everything, but I find it personally overwhelming. I find it difficult to know what to do on any given day and I feel like I am playing the game wrong because I don’t know what my character is supposed to do. I have major FOMO no matter what I do.

Female Protagonist

Female Protagonist and team leader

The last bit I would like to bring up is my appreciation that the portable version of P3 has the option to play as a female.

It shouldn’t make that much of a difference, but playing as a female character completely changes the feel of the game. The first time I played through as a female character I found Junpei to be creepy because I thought he was hitting on me rather than being friendly. This time around, knowing that he is not an option for a love path, I am really enjoying my character’s friendship with him.

You get to have the option to use Elizabeth’s brother Theo as your liaison with the Velvet Room. It’s fun getting another character to interact with.

Right now I am playing another game, Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon. That game consists of two generations, where most of the main gameplay happens in the second generation. In that generation, you have the option to play as either male or female, but you don’t get that option in the first generation. Your main goal in the first generation is to find a girl to marry so you can knock her up with what will be your character in the second generation.

Playing as a boy puts me in a position I don’t like being in. I know the only goal I have as my character is to find the mother of my child. The characters are paper thin because they’re not really the point of the game, so I find myself asking questions I don’t like. Do I marry the girl the game wants me to marry who will never marry anyone else if I don’t marry her? Do I steal the shy girl who talks through her doll from her boyfriend because he’s an asshole? Do I try to marry the rich girl because she’s the hardest one to marry and thus prove my status? It’s a really creepy and superficial way of looking at things and it worries me that this is how boys see relationships in real life. Like, we’re not people. We’re various status symbols or a means to an end. Playing like this really depresses and upsets me. I know logically that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to give deep and complex personalities to something with such shallow gameplay, but having to think that way really upsets me.

P4 was remade for the Vita as Persona 4 Golden. They made a fighting game with the Persona 4 cast, along with a dancing game. These characters have been in so many games and done so much fan service that it really bothers me that they figured it just wasn’t worth it to add a female protagonist. Being able to play as a female is much more comfortable and it’s an indication that the creators care about making a nice game for everyone and not just the boys.

Conclusion

I will admit that the story and characters in P4 are better than P3. I know that the characters are a vitally important part of the game, but it’s still a game. It’s not a visual novel. It’s nice to do well in the game and constantly being confused as to what to do. In my opinion, P4 is too much of a good thing. I have preordered P5, so we’ll see how that one stacks up. For now, P3 for the win!

Video Game Research: Persona 3

Nearly two years ago I decided to try and get into video games. I kind of fell off the wagon on this hobby and I am trying to pick it up back up again.

This series of posts is about me playing through video games from the perspective as a noob. I am planning to play through a few games that most people have already played through, such as:

  • Zelda
  • Mario
  • Pokemon
  • Mass Effect

My only familiarity with some of these is of sitting on the couch at daycare watching the children of the person running the daycare playing these games. I was never allowed to play and it made me slightly bitter.

I am generating a list of games and franchises that are indicative of common game mechanics within modern gaming. I am also looking for examples of great gameplay and narrative.

The first game that I played all the way through from beginning to end was Persona 3. I started this game over a few times because I was playing it on my PS3 and I would go months without turning it on. I finally realized I could buy the game for the Vita and for about ten glorious months I had a fun game to play in the bath with a glass of wine after a long day at work. The fact that the Vita version came with the option to play as a female was a definite bonus!

This game is rather long. I beat the game after playing it 72 hours. I finished it at the beginning of the year before I started this series.

Since it is the first game I finished, I wanted to talk about it here even though I finished it a while ago.

Game Overview

Female Protagonist from Persona 3

Female Protagonist from Persona 3

You play as a high school student who has special abilities in this game. At midnight each night, your high school turns into a portal to Hell where monsters known as Shadows attach you.

You fight these shadows using a Persona. A Persona is similar to a Patronus from Harry Potter in that it is something that you have within yourself that can fight and protect you on your behalf. Most of the people in your team only have one Persona, but you have the ability to bring forward many Personas.

This game takes place over a school year. In addition to fighting these Shadows at night, you have to make sure you do well on your midterms and establish relationships with the people around you. Your relationships strengthen your Personas. They’re also the primary mechanic around how to advance the story so it’s not just a grinding exercise.

Combat Mechanics

A Shadow from Persona 3 with its strengths and weaknesses.

A Shadow from Persona 3 with its strengths and weaknesses.

The combat is turn based. Your team encounters a Shadow or a group of Shadows. Each Shadow and Persona has strengths and weaknesses.

There are six elements in Persona:

  • Fire
  • Ice
  • Wind
  • Electricity
  • Light
  • Darkness

Until you get to the last levels of the game, most Shadows have at least one weakness. The other students on your team have two strengths, which means if you have the right team of people you can always make sure you have any Shadow’s weaknesses covered. It’s important to lean on other members of your team because you have a limited amount of “spirit energy” to attack with. If you do all the attacks by yourself you will not get as far as you would by spreading this burden out to the rest of your team.

Your Personas also are capable of physical attacks, but generally speaking you don’t utilize those as much in the game.

On each turn, each Person and Shadow has a chance to implement an attack. If you sneak on a Shadow before it notices you, you can usually wipe it out before it has a chance to attack you.

I can understand why some people might find this combat system to be easy or repetitive. I actually liked this aspect of it. I set the difficulty as low as it would go.

I found it really soothing to have this mechanic in place where you don’t die very often. When I am mentally tired, doing the repetitive motions of killing all the bad guys in one or two attacks was incredibly satisfying.

The Orpheus Persona in both female and male configuration

The Orpheus Persona in both female and male configuration

I get discouraged really easily. I have played a few games where you learn by dying a lot. It makes me feel very hopped up and upset when I can’t kill things on the first few tries. I understand that this is the appeal to a lot of people who are hard core gamers, so I appreciated being allowed to have softball combat challenges thrown at me. It was also nice that it was turn based so that I was not in a hurry to mash buttons at just the right time. Right now I am trying to work through a game with combat and I am finding it frustrating.

I like this combat setup better than when I tried Final Fantasy. I know they’re both turn based strategy games, but I like this a lot better. It’s similar to the Pokemon battle mechanics.

So if you’re a noob looking for something that is a step up from a casual game, Persona 3 on the Vita is really good. It has less shallow gameplay than something like Bejeweled, but it has easy enough game play that it hits the same mental centers that something like that also hits.

Story

The thing that separates something like Persona from a casual game is having a long running story.

The story revolves around the people you meet in the game and various events that happen throughout the school year.

When you first start a game, you have a limited number of people you can befriend and interact with. As time goes by, more people are added.

Elizabeth and Igor

Elizabeth and Igor

It’s important to make sure you manage your time properly to max out your social links. Some of your social links only have a short period of time when they are active. Some require you to max out some social skill, such as charm or courage. Even if a social link path is open, you may not be able to pursue that relationship until you up that stat.

There is a lot of time management involved with the game. If you spend all your time grinding away at the combat, you do not have enough time to do things that increase your statistics. If you don’t spend enough time studying you will not do well on your exams, but if you spend all your time studying you will never make friends, which help you do better with your combat.

I want to go back and play through the game again now that I have a better understanding of when things happen in the game. I have been holding off on it because I am trying to play a lot of different kinds of games rather than just playing the same one over and over again. But there are definitely different choices I would make if I do ever get to play this again.

Conclusion

If you’re not a gamer and you’re looking to play something, I definitely recommend this. It’s not something that requires you to have a large base of knowledge about how games like this work. The tutorial setup is useful without dragging on for too long.

Having the option to play as a girl was really awesome. I did find that there were certain things I reacted to differently as a female player than I did as a male player. One of the characters is friendly and when you’re a guy you don’t think about it. When you’re a girl, his behavior can come off as creepy at first. As the game progresses you get more comfortable with him, but it was definitely not something I expected to feel when I switched from a boy to a girl.

If you ever wanted to play a game where you could pretend to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is definitely a good choice. Even though the game is long and somewhat repetitive, it’s a good repetitive. I was incredibly sad when the game was over because I wasn’t sure I would find anything else I enjoyed this much.

Video Game Research: Opening Statement

I have a confession to make: I do not play many video games.

When I was a kid, my dad would not let my brother and I get any kind of video gaming system. He thought they caused violent behavior and he preferred that we enrich our minds rather than shoot things. This was the beginning of my unfortunate addiction to buying lots and lots of books.

I do have a lot of fond memories of playing Myst and various adventure games as a high school student. I liked wandering around exploring virtual worlds and solving puzzles. I liked the slow pace of these things. There was no need for me to coordinate my shots to blow things up. They were peaceful and stimulating. I liked the stories and especially the humor.

I didn’t own a gaming console until I married my ex-husband. He had most of them. I was overwhelmed by the variety of things we had, but by the time we got married he had kind of fallen out of video gaming.

He bought me several Nintendo DS systems throughout our marriage. Two years in a row he bought me a 3DS. There is a reason we are no longer married.

I primarily stuck to really simple games. I am embarrassed at how much Bejeweled I play on my phone. When I have been bashing my brain against code for eight hours and I am in the bath, the simple joy of spending five minutes making a bunch of gems explode really can’t be overemphasized.

After my divorce, I decided that gaming was going to be my new hobby. I bought a PS4 and a bunch of games. Like seriously, I think I have 500 games in the Playstation ecosystem. I have no idea how I accumulated these fuckers.

I got stuck more in the “idea” of gaming than the actual doing of gaming. It’s like the massive number of programming books I have bought over the years for things I will never do. I liked the idea that I would sit down at the end of the day and play Random Japanese RPG:IV at the end of a long day of work.

However, I ran into a knowledge barrier with them. I started trying to play various Final Fantasy games, but I had no background knowledge about how any of them work (yes, I know they’re all the same). So I would try to play them and die about two minutes in and have no idea what the hell just happened.

I would like to get better at video games.

Why I am Doing This

First off, I am writing a game. The game I am writing is a really old game that has already been play tested over many decades and has solid game mechanics. But this still fits under the kinds of games I personally feel comfortable with. I feel comfortable with card games and things that are solidly in the “casual game” field.

I would like to push myself into less comfortable territory and actually try other things. I would like to try and get through Mass Effect without dying while trying to save Liara. I would like to figure out the game mechanics for Final Fantasy.

I want to work through several video games and write about them on my blog from the perspective of someone who does not have a long history with these things.

I feel a little that video gaming is like programming. People kind of assume that if you are interested in it, you’ve done it your whole life and have a whole base of knowledge you don’t have. It’s not really welcoming to noobs who just want to get their feet wet and enjoy themselves. I think that’s incredibly unfortunate.

I would like to write about the things I encounter as a noob that make no sense to me. I would also like to explore various genres available to establish to myself that not all video games are first person shooters. I am sure there are a lot of compelling games out there that do more than just plunk you down in Iraq and have you blow up insurgents. I think that video games get a bad rap based on the more prominent members of the community and the things they tend to enjoy.

Since I am fairly slow with these things, I don’t know how many games I will get through. I may write about a game for several weeks.

I would appreciate suggestions for games people think are worth playing. I am interested in many different genres. I do ask for no purely first person shooters as I am terrible at those.

I have the following game systems:

  • PS3
  • PS4
  • PSVita
  • Nintendo 3DS
  • Steam on Mac
  • iPhone/iPad

Fair warning, I am going to be talking about a bunch of “soft” games on here. I am unapologetically a “girl gamer” who does not kick your ass at Halo. I hope some day to be one that does, but for now I am not. I am trying to expand my horizons and experiment outside my comfort zone.