Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Persona 3 - Meet the Cast

 Well damn. My 13 in '13 project was derailed for all of February and most of March thanks to Persona.  In my infinite wisdom, I decided to replay both Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 in New Game+ and spend well over 120 hours doing so.  I won't write new reviews of either game like normal, but instead post some informative retrospective entries on each.  This is the first, in which I analyze the cast of Persona 3.  If you think this sounds a lot like the Final Fantasy VI Meet the Cast post I made a few months ago, you'd be right. 

Part of why Persona 3 is such a solid RPG is its appealing cast of characters.  Those eight Japanese students (plus one robot and one dog) each have individual struggles and interesting character angles that are a major incentive for players to continue on with Persona 3's occasionally long-winded grind.  They're a great bunch and a large part of why I was motivated to beat Persona 3 FES twice in roughly six months.  It's an eighty- or ninety-hour game, people.  Not exactly for the faint of heart.

So this article with have two subsections: one where I introduce each character and go into some personality, story, and gameplay roles and a second where I rank the playable characters in general usefulness.  I'm not going to include the eleventh character than joins in The Answer in either of these sections, because I've only played The Answer briefly and don't know her well enough yet.  Also, the MC won't be included in the ranking section because he is too obvious of a #1.  Or even a #0.  He's the best in the game at everything and including him would just be a wash.  I'll use the same rating system I did in my FF VI Meet the Cast, where I rate them by their personality and story role.  Since Persona 3 has a much smaller cast than FF VI, there will be fewer benches and cuts.  So here we go:

STAR = Great character. Truly memorable. One of the game's highlights.
ASSET = Good character. Welcome addition to the cast. Maybe not a favorite.
BENCH = Average character. One-note or not very interesting.
CUT = Bad character. So lame that you wish he/she wasn't there.

The Playable Cast of Persona 3

The MC

The main character of Persona 3 is a silent protagonist is the classic sense, with zero lines of direct dialog and a personality that is mostly in the eye of the beholder.  It's fair to say that he's selfless, courageous, empathetic, and possessing incredible animal magnetism, though, because every goddamn person he meets wants to be his friend.  Virtually every Social Link in Persona 3 (more on those later) has the various characters open their hearts and minds to the MC, with a handful of those straight-up falling in love with him.  Basically, the MC is a totally neutral protagonist with some serious swag.  You also have the option to name your main character, and I went with Malcolm. Couldn't tell you why.  Just seemed right. 

In general, the MC represents most of customization elements in Persona 3.  He's the only character that can perform Persona switches and Persona fusions and he's the only character that responds to player commands at all (this is changed in Persona 3 Portable, when the entire cast can be controlled).  But as such, he will *always* be your most effective character in combat.  He has the best offense, the best defense, and the most variety of any character.  He can even use six weapon types when each other character can only use one! There's a reason he isn't included in the second section's character rankings.  It's a moot point. 

But hey, even if he seems a little too quiet or aloof, the MC has a fairly appealing character design, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't like controlling him or engaging in all those Social Links.  It's not easy to create a silent protagonist this likeable.  ASSET

Junpei Iori

Junpei is a somewhat dorky, unpopular classmate of Yukari and the MC.  He instantly befriends (you could even say "latches on to") the MC shortly after our hero transfers to Gekkoukan High, and joins SEES a few days later, when Akihiko discovers that Junpei can summon a Persona.  Junpei somewhat resents the selection of the MC as the team's leader, and is a consistently trouble-making, self-doubting presence in the cast. 

In combat, Junpei packs a few Agi spells and wields greatswords and katanas like baseball bats.  He's a pretty good physical character, but generally the magic- and support-focused characters are more useful to have around. Junpei gets better in the late-game when he learns a regeneration passive and his best physicals.

The funny thing about Junpei, though, is that he seems more like a real teenager than any other character in Persona 3.  He is jealous of the MC for his popularity and success.  He's a screw-up who is awkward and insecure.  He's not a bad guy, but has a rebellious streak.  Eventually, Junpei falls in love with another character (an NPC not mentioned in this post) and undergoes a major turn; Junpei's is perhaps the most impressive individual character arc in Persona 3.  At first I assumed he'd be a comic relief character with more than a few similarities to Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame, but I was surprised and impressed with Junpei's depth.  STAR

Yukari Takeba

Yukari is the first major character the MC meets in Persona 3, and she fulfills the role of "nice, normal, cute girl." She's one of the most popular girls in school and is the first student that the MC meets when he arrives in Tatsumi Port Island.  She lives in the SEES dorm with the other main characters, but by choice: Yukari has a rough relationship with her mother and her father died several years prior to the start of the game. 

Yukari is a useful character for the entire game, as your best healer and only option for Garu spells.  Her bow and arrow physical attacks are terrible, but after 20+ years of playing RPGs I'm used to healers sucking when they aren't healing.  Yukari is also the Social Link for the Lovers arcana, whose line of Persona also focuses on magic and healing. 

Look, I hate to bring up daddy issues, but Yukari has a few of those.  Her dead father was a scientist working for Mitsuru's grandfather, and his death was under mysterious circumstances.  Yukari's personal story involves uncovering her father's role in the creation of the Dark Hour (...that phrase probably doesn't make sense unless you've played the game, sorry.) and her beef with Mitsuru.  Yukari takes issue with some of Mitsuru's actions, in part blames Mitsuru's family for her father's death, and is also a little jealous of Mitsuru's extreme popularity and status.  Daddy issues aside, Yukari is an appealing character and I girlfriended the shit out of her. STAR

Akihiko Sanada

Akihiko is a senior at Gekkoukan High and an amateur boxer, admired by his peers and popular with the ladies.  However, Akihiko cares more about fighting Shadows and his training regimen than attracting women - although it could be that he just simply doesn't know how to talk to women.  Akihiko grew up in an orphanage with Shinjiro, and another childhood friend unfortunately died young. 

Akihiko's a very useful teammate in combat.  He is a balanced fighter with good attacks, solid Zio spells, and the ability to debuff enemy stats. Really solid, especially since he's the only debuffer you get other than the MC (who really should be dealing damage instead of focusing on support). He uses his boxing skills, of course, equipping everything from traditional gloves to brass knuckles with knives grafted on. 

Akihiko's character arc is somewhat in the background; mostly it's his past with Shinji and his role as one of the team's leaders along with Mitsuru.  He fulfills the role of "cool upperclassman" pretty well and looks good in combat.  I don't think he's one of the best, most interesting characters, but if I was playing Persona 3 Portable as the female MC I would date the FUCK out of Aki-senpai.  ASSET

Mitsuru Kirijo

Mitsuru essentially runs the show at SEES, along with the club advisor Ikutsuki, a teacher at Gekkoukan High.  Prior to Fuuka joining SEES, Mitsuru serves as the team operator that provides intel in Tartarus.  She's also Gekkoukan's student council president and the young scion of the extremely wealthy and powerful Kirijo Group (a corporate conglomerate or "zaibatsu").  Basically she's a beautiful, intelligent, mature young woman idolized by everyone.  Not joking.

In combat, Mitsuru fights with one-handed swords like a traditional foil fencer, occasionally mixing in some stylish kicks with those totally unnecessary thigh-high boots.  She is a powerful magic user, with hard-hitting Bufu magic and a few auxilliary spells like Marin Karin, Tentarafoo, and backup healing. Mitsuru is the Social Link for the Empress arcana, which has powerful magic-focused Personae but isn't available until the last third of the game. 

Mitsuru is such a wacky anime stereotype ("perfect" girl whose perfection makes her suffer) that I'd normally hate her, but I can't help but like her.  Mitsuru is admirable in her actions in Persona 3's story, clashes with Yukari in sensible ways (Mitsuru is jealous of Yukari's confidence and fashion sense and may feel responsible for Yukari's father's death), and has a solid character arc, trying to redeem her family name by defeating Shadows as part of SEES.  Her Social Link is crazy-dramatic, fighting against what's expected of her by her family and the Kirijo group.  I mean, Mitsuru seems less like a real teenager than Yukari or Junpei, but she's alternately cool and vulnerable and somehow makes it all work.  STAR

Fuuka Yamagishi

Fuuka is introduced several game-months later than the first five characters, when she is accidentally locked in Tartarus as a victim of a prank gone awry.  During that time in Tartarus, Fuuka discovers her Persona powers, which allow her to psychically detect and analyze Shadows and different floors of Tartarus.  As such, after she agrees to join the team, Fuuka replaces Mitsuru as the team's intel specialist and frees up Mitsuru to join the others in the field.  Fuuka is a bit of a wallflower who doesn't have many friends, but over the course of the story gains self-confidence and determination. 

Fuuka doesn't take part in combat, but she and her Persona gain levels just like any other character; leveling Fuuka up gives you new analytical and map abilities in combat, and they're quite useful.  As such, it's hard to compare Fuuka's gameplay to that of other characters, and she isn't part of the rankings later in this post.  But she's definitely good to have around. Fuuka is the Social Link for the Priestess arcana, which has a variety of magic and healing Persona in its lineage. 

Fuuka is... boring.  I'm not impressed by OR attracted to her type of character, and I found her voice a little annoying (both in English and in Japanese).  I liked the story bits around her joining the team under unusual circumstances, but once she moved into the SEES dorm she immediately became my least-favorite of the cast (...until Ken arrived.).  I appreciate her role on the team, but I would have preferred a different direction for her character.  BENCH


Aigis is one reminder that we're in a Japanese RPG that isn't quite as grounded in the real world as it first appears.  She's a humanoid Shadow-hunting weapon with extremely sophisticated AI software, which emulates a human brain enough to allow her to summon a Persona.  The SEES team first encounters Aigis on summer vacation after she escapes her containment facility; she immediately shows a peculiar attachment to the MC.  Later, she puts on a Gekkoukan uniform and masquerades as a student, eventually giving Aigis a surprising number of male fans. 

In combat, Aigis is physically solid and learns several support spells.  Her moves are a mix of healing, support, and physical attacks.  Her weapons are firearm attachments on her hands, and are unusual in that the MC can't also equip them. In the FES and Portable versions of Persona 3, Aigis is the Social Link for the Aeon arcana, which houses powerful defensive Persona. 

Aigis's character arc is a mix of her questioning her humanity, discerning whether she truly has feelings and is capable of emotions, and defying her programming to earn true independence.  It's nothing that hasn't been told before in science fiction stories about robots or androids, but Persona 3 does it in an satisfying manner and Aigis's story role and connection to the MC are important and interesting.  Aigis is one of Persona 3's signature characters, and was probably the best choice to star in the Answer chapter in FES. STAR


Koromaru is the friendly, intelligent, and loyal Shiba Inu of a deceased priest who walks the same route alone every day, stopping to guard the spot where his former master died.  During one Dark Hour, Koromaru is attacked by Shadows at his master's resting place and defeats them without any help from the team! Found injured by Akihiko, Koromaru later joins the team after a stay of recovery at the vet, and soon has his own SEES uniform and collar-based "evoker for dogs" to match. 

Koromaru is a surprisingly effective combatant, with a solid set of offensive and support skills and high Agility.  He attacks by holding knives in his mouth like dog bones and performing surprisingly acrobatic maneuvers.  The best part, though, is when the other party members call out "good boy!" when Koromaru scores a critical hit. 

Look, I'm a dog person, so of course I fucking love Koromaru.  He's excellent as far as silly mascot RPG characters go, and is an inoffensive novelty that's actually fun to use!  I don't want to overrate him, but I really liked having Koro-chan around for variety's sake, even if he has the most tenuous story connection of any major character.  ASSET

Ken Amada

Ken is an elementary school student who is eventually given permission to move in with the high schoolers (and dog) in the SEES dorm in order to further develop his Persona powers.  Ken's mother was killed by a "monster" prior to the events of Persona 3, and his desire to fight and destroy Shadows stems out of wanting revenge.  Ken is only ten years old, but he's mature beyond his years and somewhat uptight for someone in such short shorts. 

In combat, Ken can use Zio and Hama magic, healing spells, and a number of physical attacks with his spear weapons (which are longer than he is tall).  His movements are pretty smooth, but his little kid voice sounds more than a little weird in battle.  He can't use electricity as well as Akihiko, but he's your only option for light magic other than the MC. 

Look, Ken's my least-favorite character in the game.  He's a little annoying, and his subplot only serves to add pathos to Shinji and Akihiko - most of Ken's story-relevant actions cause more problems than they solve, which doesn't make me like him any better. I would have rather had Ken as an NPC. CUT

Shinjiro Aragaki

Shinjiro is a delinquent student of Gekkoukan High, and a longtime friend of Akihiko's (they grew up in the same orphanage).  Shinjiro, Akihiko, and Mitsuru were the first three members of SEES, but Shinji quit some time before the events of Persona 3 (avoiding some spoilers...).  After four new students join, Akihiko spends several months convincing Shinjiro to return to action, finally succeeding after Ken joins the team.  In general, Shinjiro is a loner thug that pushes away others, but warms to the new SEES members for reasons unclear.  He also has an unknown connection to the criminal group Strega. 

In battle, Shinjiro is pure brute force.  No elemental strengths, weaknesses, or spells.  Only power and toughness.  He's great for massive regular attacks and has an okay variety of physical skills, but he's with the team for the shortest amount of time and has the misfortune of being in a game where elementals are way better than physical offense. 

Shinjiro is the third player in the side conflict also involving Akihiko and Ken.  I was sure that Shinji was going to betray the team before game's end, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that he undergoes a different character turn and the ultimate traitor ended up being someone else.  I generally liked Shinjiro's personality, motivations, character arc, and story actions, but he's not one of my favorites.  He's with the team for the shortest time of any character (by a longshot) and he feels more like a plot point in Akihiko's and Ken's stories than a fully-realized character in his own right. BENCH

 Persona 3 Character Rankings

So that's a pretty interesting bunch, yeah?  Here's part two of this post, where I rank eight of the ten playable characters, from least useful and powerful to most useful and powerful.  I really enjoy setting up effective party combinations when I play RPGs and I make this sort of mental analysis all the time as I'm playing any RPG.  This time I'm writing it down.  

Keep in mind that none of these characters totally suck and you can absolutely beat the game using only the weakest characters if you really want to.  I'm not ranking the MC (because he's too powerful) or Fuuka (because she's not exactly playable).  When I say someone is the best, second-best, or worst at something, I'm not including the MC in the discussion.  And these aren't 1 v. 1 who-would-win matches, either.  They're my own personal rankings of which characters are the most effective teammates.  But enough talk; here are the rankings: 

8. Shinjiro

Shinji has almost all the ingredients to be a perfect physical character: huge HP and Strength, Power Charge, HP regeneration, High Counter, no elemental weaknesses, and attacks for single and multiple targets.  Shinjiro should be a total beast.  Unfortunately, the split-up physical damage types and general superiority of magic attacks puts Shinjiro at a distinct disadvantage.  He's a one-trick pony, and his only trick isn't very effective.  Too bad. 

7. Junpei

Junpei is in a situation similar to Shinjiro, but with a little more attack power, a little less HP, a few Agi spells, and a few support spells.  The fire coverage is nice, but the lack of Power Charge is unfortunate and Junpei is still one of the weakest magic users in a game where magic trumps physics in almost every situation.  By the endgame, I used Junpei only because I got the Masakados Katana (his best weapon) fairly early. 

6. Ken

Ken has his good points, but fails to excel at... pretty much anything other than healing.  His attacks are okay, with a few situational physical skills, decent Strength, and Weapon Master, but we all know that physical skills are lacking in general (plus Shinjiro, Junpei, and Akihiko are all better attackers).  Ken uses a few Zio and Hama spells, but lacks multi-targeting in both elements!  That's an embarrassment!  Ken is the game's second-best healer and has okay Agility, but his low HP, the commonality of healing spells among the cast, and seriously lacking skillset place Ken in the "not as good" tier of characters. 

5. Mitsuru

If Persona 3 FES had a "follow orders" selection for character tactics, Mitsuru would jump one or two spots instantly.  Unfortunately, FES's lack of controllable allies means Mitsuru will throw in a Tentarafoo or Ice Break when you absolutely don't want her to and occasionally use her subpar physical offense over Spirit Drain when she can't cast Bufu magic. Still, Mitsuru is a solid character with big Magic complementing balanced stats, a full array of Bufu spells, Ice Amp, Mind Charge, and some backup healing.  When she has a Mind Charge / Bufudyne combo going, Mitsuru deals more damage than any of your other allies.  Furthermore, Mitsuru's your only option for ice coverage other than the MC.  That's a pretty good niche.  But since she's held back by her crappy AI, Mitsuru's not as good as she ought to be. When I eventually replay Persona 3 on the PSP, Mitsuru will be a lot more fun to use. 

4. Koromaru

The king of elemental coverage!  Unlike Mitsuru or Yukari, Koromaru will never betray you with dumb AI, because his skillset won't allow it!  Your dog is packing full suites of Agi and Mudo spells (including Fire Amp and Mudo Boost) along with High Counter and Masukukaja.  Worst-case scenario: Koromaru boosts your entire party's Agility instead of casting a damage spell or does a weak-ish regular attack.  That's... not nearly as bad as wasting SP with Break or a status spell!  Koromaru does great fire damage, is your only option for darkness coverage other than the MC, and has high survivability with good HP, the highest Agility in the game, and High Counter.  If Koromaru's Magic and Stamina were a little higher (they're average and slightly below-average, respectively), he'd be perfect.  Koro-chan might be a dog, but he's also one of your most reliable teammates.  Good boy! 

3. Yukari

Yukari has the highest Magic of any of your party members, is the best healer of any of your party members, and is unique in providing wind coverage with Garu spells.  That's all pretty great.  If Yukari's on your team, your healing issues are over and your other party members can concentrate on offense and support.  However, Yukari's hamstrung a little by a surprising lack of Wind Boost or Wind Amp in her moveset (placing her endgame elemental damage below that of Mitsuru, Koromaru, or even Akihiko) and occasional castings of Wind Break.  Her physical attacks are also the weakest in the game.  Still, being the best healer and a fair source of magic offense is nothing to hate on; Yukari is a great team player. 

2. Aigis

Aigis is a physical character that can't use any elemental magic attacks, but makes up for that by being the best supporting spellcaster in the game.  Aigis is packing all three ma-kaja spells to increase the party's stats, plus the essential Samarecarm and the situationally useful Dekunda.  That's awesome all around.  Aigis should be on support for every boss fight and probably some random encounters as well - other than a heal-all spell she covers every defensive base.  Her physical offense is okay, with good attacks and some decent physical moves, but her support spells are the star of the show.  Her huge Stamina (roughly a tie for highest in the game with Shinji) is icing on the cake.  Aigis is almost everything that you'd want in a robot pal. 

1. Akihiko

There is no wasted space on Akihiko's move list.  The two best Zio spells, Elec Amp, Weapon Master, Diarama for backup healing, and all three ma-kunda spells for debuffing.  So he's either casting powerful electricity spells only a little less-potently than your magic specialists, healing when necessary, weakening enemies with debuffs, or throwing out above-average physical attacks.  No Elec Break to waste SP and options for just about any situation.  Akihiko is the only character with good physical offense, good magic offense, AND good support spells.  He's your best option for electricity coverage and your only option for debuffs, which are useful in general and crucial for tough boss battles.  With no real weaknesses and multiple strong points, Akihiko gets my vote as the MC's most valuable teammate in Persona 3. 


I'm done playing Persona games for the year, but not done writing Persona articles.  Next one's about the Social Links of Persona 3.  In the meantime I'm about to kick off some Disgaea D2 on my PS3.  Have I totally abandoned my 2013 gaming goals?  Maybe. 

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