4 Elements: Persona 3 Portable

March 29th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable is published by Atlus for Sony’s PSP. Shigenori Soejima designed the characters for P3P, and also the characters for Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and Catherine. His style is sharp and clean, fit for animation but just as attractive in the form of still images. He has a nice sense of fashion, and seems to be fond of shirts that ruffle, dark jackets, and black slacks. Shoji Meguro, composer of Persona 4‘s soundtrack, also did a solid job here. The score never interferes with the gameplay, instead enhancing the mood as needed. I like P3P quite a bit, though I’m maybe halfway through it thus far. I keep flirting with writing about it, though, and you know what? Enough pussyfooting. Four things about Persona 3 Portable that I enjoy:

Persona 3 Portable is about personal growth. The central metaphor for the Persona series, at least as far as I’m concerned, is growth as an individual. The characters must embrace their hidden talents or, as in Persona 4, come to terms with themselves before they can be turned into something radiant. In Persona 3, the cast is privy to a secret that most of society does not know. To make it through this horror, they have to depend on and learn to trust each other in battle. They form a group, Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad or SEES, that go out at night to try and make the world better.

The high school simulation puts the interpersonal growth of your character under your control, and that growth directly affects your performance in battle. You are in charge of making friends, and that involves what is essentially a dating game. You can hang out with people, you personally choose answers to their questions that reflect a number of different personality choices, and you can even date people. The role-playing aspect is interesting–if I choose an option I don’t necessarily believe, I get a slight pang of guilt. That doesn’t fit the character I’m choosing to play. These (fictional) characters are granting me a large measure of trust, and betraying that feels wrong.

Your character is the only one in the game that can create and utilize multiple Personas, while other players are stuck with Personas that are a reflection of their own personality in some way. Your character being able to possess several Personas is a nod to the fact that you, the player, are one of several billion possible people. So, since you can’t possibly have one specific personality, you’re given a selection.

Building relationships in the simulation portion of the game gives you greater power when it comes time to dungeon crawl. The stronger your relationships, the stronger your Personas are. It’s a fitting simulacrum of real life. The better your friendships, the better your mental health, and the more self-actualized you can afford to be. It’s like having a safety net. You know that you have help if you need it, and that lets you push forward.

To summon their Personas, the characters place a gun, called an Evoker, to their heads and pull the trigger. Rather than a spray of blood, what looks like broken glass erupts out of their skull and the Persona appears. Aside from being a cool visual, I think this represents something more. To really open yourself up, to share that light that’s inside you, you have to put yourself at the whim of others. You risk being ostracized, embarrassment, and most of all, failure. The gun represents a tool to engineer the death of yourself, of your ego, and that allows your Persona to appear fully formed. Maybe you like to sing at karaoke, but it takes six shots of tequila to get you there. Those shots are your Evoker. The gun is the equivalent of pausing, taking a deep breath, and stepping forward.

Going to high school requires making friends. You can’t make friends without opening up and genuinely building a relationship. Making friends makes you stronger, and more reliable in times of danger. Being stronger allows you to protect those friends. The act of protection forces you to open up and embrace your skill. And so we return to begin again. Everything is related, and all of it is more easily mapped to growing as a human being, than growing as a fighter or magician or whatever.

P3P is a PSP adaptation of a PS2 game, and required a bit of adjustment to fit the smaller screen and new context. P3P‘s story is told by way of a visual novel, which is an interesting way to do this type of game. Animation is kept at a minimum, and dialogue is still spoken, but the visuals are near-static images, and events are explained via stage direction. Rather than seeing someone slam a door, you hear the sound and you read the little caption box.

More than anything else, P3P reminds me of radio plays. Everything hinges on the actors involved and your own imagination. While comic books give you most of an image and let you fill in the blanks, P3P works more like an illustrated novel. Physical action is left entirely up to your imagination, while the look and personalities of the characters is given to you.

Strangely, this makes it even easier to be drawn into the game. The tradeoff between the specificity of animation and the freedom of imagination means that you have much more invested in the story. You create significant portions of the game as you play, and what you create fits into what is already created like a lost puzzle piece. Aigis, a robot girl, breaking into a character’s room is paced according to your own thoughts. While listening to a conversation that’s set around a table, you choose the table setting and the location of where the voices are coming from.

This is largely done unconsciously and entirely on the fly, but it helps make your playthrough yours, rather than something you watch. It’s the equal and opposite brother of Hideo Kojima’s cinematic heavy Metal Gear Solid franchise, where you aren’t so much a part of the story at hand as along for the ride. In P3P, you are the ride. The characters move and think as you want them to. The only time you don’t have a significant amount of control over them is when you’re dungeon crawling.

P3P is full of things to do. I don’t really dedicate a lot of time to playing games any more, and ones that require huge time investments to be enjoyed tend to get sold asap. In P3P, you can pick it up and go out and work on your friendships. Maybe you want to finally hit a certain rank with the Gourmet King, or begin dating Yuko. You can check and see when they’re free and then pursue them. You can get short interactions with them or longer, more involved conversations.

Or you can run through a few floors of the dungeon. The floors tend to be short, maybe five minutes long on average, and are randomly generated, so while they are same-y, they aren’t identical. Each set of floors is themed, enemies vary from floor to floor, and there are lost souls or treasures to be found in each section.

There’s also a quest system that’s handled by an otherworldly woman named Elizabeth. She isn’t familiar with our world, so she requests certain items or to go on dates with you to explore the land. These quests give you bonus items or cash, and provide short-term goals in long-term gameplay.

Part of the high school simulation is building your stats. You have Academics, Charm, and Courage to worry about. These can be increased by studying, doing dangerous things, drinking coffee, getting answers right on a test, or any of a dozen things. Having a high Charm means that you can talk to certain girls or get specific prizes. High Academics helps you score higher on tests.

At a certain point in the game, you can walk a dog. While walking the dog, you may be joined by a teammate, and you’ll have a brief characterization-building conversation. There’s nothing particularly deep to it. It’s just another information delivery system.

These choices, and the others I didn’t mention, make for a well-rounded game. The way I’m playing now, I’m not going for 100% completion and maxed out relationships. Forget that–grinding sucks the fun out of everything. Instead, I dabble and try to get a taste of everything. It’s made for an interesting experience, one where I’m okay if things don’t happen like I wanted or if I miss something. I can always do something else, and it takes no time at all.

The art’s really nice. I wasn’t familiar with Shigenori Soejima’s art prior to playing Persona 4, but his work in P3P is crucial. He has to provide a solid foundation for your imagination to fill in the blanks due to the overall lack of animation, and he does it well.

Characters are extremely well designed, and change as events in the game progress. Junpei has peachfuzz on his chin and a habit of wearing tank tops. Your character likes earphones. Everyone has summer, winter, and other special outfits. Mitsuru’s high class nature and faux French affectations come through in her design. Fuuka is stylish, but subdued. Yukari’s pink sweater and heart choker suggests things about her character. Aigis’s limbs give her a creepy flair, like a clockwork teenager. I think my favorite design is Akihiko’s, with his red sweater vest, suggesting a preppy kid, but his ever present bandage and fighting gloves suggest otherwise. There’s real personality in the designs, but working within the constraints of a school uniform.

I like the way Soejima uses colors, too. Yukari’s black uniform is hidden beneath her pink sweater. Ken’s rocking a black and orange color scheme that works surprisingly well. Aigis is mostly white, save for her major joints and weapons. Mitsuru is black, white, and then red. Black, and to a lesser extent, red, is a dominant color in most of these designs, thanks to the school uniform, but the way it plays with the rest of the colors in these designs is interesting. The designs pop, distinct from each other but clearly related. The palette uses soft gradients and bright colors, and the end result is a game that’s really very nice to look at.

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The Cipher 03/24/11: “Evian backwards.”

March 24th, 2011 Posted by david brothers


created: I feel like I’m so behind on stuff all the time. I’ve got a lot in progress, but not enough done, as far as I’m concerned. Gonna have to play catch-up this weekend.

Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro is ill.

Marvel makes comics, here are some good ones


consumed: Pusha T and Young Dro dropped mixtapes that are, at best, mediocre. Far as I’m concerned, that translates to “unlistenable.” There’s not much worse than somebody with talent, whether for punchlines or scorn, to come anything less than 100% correct. Ain’t no half-stepping, fellas, so do us all a favor and get it together.

Jared draws two of the best fictional characters ever. I don’t really want to buy any more original art, but seeing artists take on Akira makes me second guess my stand. Akira is basically the best comic, and I don’t even know. It provokes reactions I keep forgetting I had. And that tac vest is such a sharp look, too, bird chest or not.

-How good is Asaf Hanuka’s The Realist? I love the art and the kind of airy way the strips progress. You get to fill in a lot of blanks yourself, and sometimes that takes a little mental legwork. It’s alternately funny, melancholy, and real.

-Nardwuar interviews Das Racist, Odd Future, Lil B the Based God, and Curren$y. Nardwuar is dope, and all of these are pretty entertaining. Curren$y is super weeded in his, too.

-Nardwuar’s interviews always end so poorly, man. He gets some good footage out of people, but he’s just so oppressively awkward that nobody knows how to take him.

-DC rolled out a bunch of new good digital stuff. We3, Flash, Garth Ennis’s Hellblazer, Catwoman, and New Frontier. I’m a fan of all of these, and while We3 is overpriced, these are all worth owning. Those Brubaker/Cooke issues of Catwoman are all pretty good, and I think that the Comixology run has the point where Brubaker really hit his stride. Get those!

Amy Poodle takes on Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles for the second time. You can read part one here.

-Video games! I was going to make this a post on its own, but ehhh, it’s just some brief thoughts.

-I play games for work, so I generally avoid games at home. They’ve gotta be all-star affairs, you know? I don’t have time for mediocrity or “just okay.” Why would I waste that time?

-Currently playing: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Killzone 3, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, Valkyria Chronicles, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Final Fantasy 7, and Angry Birds. And maybe something else, I don’t know. Oh, Metal Gear Solid 4.

-I graze. I haven’t played a few of these in months (most particularly FF7 & P4). What I tend to do is focus on one game for a few weeks, then move on, eventually cycling my way back as the spirit moves me. Right now, it’s Brotherhood. Next is probably Persona 4.

-What I look for is an experience broken down into discrete portions. I like being able to drop in, get something done, and drop out. Sometimes this means ill multiplayer. Sometimes it means a compelling story with a lot of subplots. Anything that lets me sit down and have a bit of fun and leave it right there works. Shooters don’t really cut the mustard any more, multiplayer aside.

-I play games to relax, not to get frustrated, so something that pulls me in and is a brief escape is what’s nice. I purchase like… four new games a year. Last year, I don’t think I bought hardly any. Just Tekken, maybe?

-Sometimes, less is more, is what I’m saying. I could easily get a full year of gameplay out of what I own right now, but the way I play means that I sit down for 20 minutes or two hours (rarely), have some fun, and come back a week or so later. I could probably not buy a new game until 2013 and be okay. That’s a nice feeling.

-That new Pharoahe Monch is good, innit?


David: Hellblazer 277, Hulk 31, Power Man and Iron Fist 3, Uncanny X-Force 6
Esther: Yes: Batman Incorporated 4
Maybe: Batman: The Dark Knight 2, Superman/Batman 82
Gavin: Batman Incorporated 4, Green Lantern Corps 58, Green Lantern 64, Justice League Generation Lost 22, Invincible 78, Astonishing Spider-Man Wolverine 5, Daken Dark Wolverine 7, Deadpool MAX 6, Deadpool 34, Hulk 31, Namor The First Mutant 8, Power Man And Iron Fist 3, Uncanny X-Force 6

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The Cipher 01/12/11

January 12th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

my mind warps and bends

created: Slow week!

-I took a look at ComiXology’s sales charts and Diamond’s sales charts, add in a bit of educated guesswork, and come up with something interesting about digital comics.

floats the wind


-New blog from a friend! Sol, the lady behind the Greg Land gif that brought the internet to its knees, has launched Walking the Comic Book Runway, a fun examination of fashion in comics. This is something I talk about with her all the time, so it’s cool to see her putting these thoughts out there. There’s a few posts right now, but I’m sure if you visit and conversate a bit, she’ll keep on pushing. Go on, do that. She knows her stuff.

-Y’all heard Ye and Jay’s “HAM?” Yeah, it’s straight. The beat is Final Fantasy hot, but Kanye sounds sleepy and Jay needs to stop talking about Beanie Sigel without actually saying dude’s name. As is, though, I liked it better when it was Pill’s “Trap Goin’ Ham,” incredibly ignorant video and all.

-More P I Double: “OK Denn” and “Real Mutherfuckin’ Gs”, “Run Up to Me” with Freddie Gibbs, and one of my favorite songs from 2010, Yelawolf’s “I Wish” remix with Pill and CyHi da Prynce. Every verse on that remix is hot.

-Yelawolf: Woke up in the morning with a fucking pen and a pistol/ I put one to the paper, I put one in my fist/ Stuck up a shop with the pen then I shot up my notebook/ I’m reading bullet holes, I wish a fucker would

-CyHi: I been fly, my momma gave birth to me on a plane/ Nigga, so I guess you could say I’m airborne/ I’m running my city getting my mayor on/ Stay on my grizzly, you know I bear arms

-Pill: Born into poverty, heart torn, obviously/ Dad gone, so we trying to figure out how to eat/ Older brother hustling, momma working overtime/ Now I’m standing in the kitchen whipping baking soda time

-All three of these cats know that when you’re wrapping up a verse, you need to go in or else nobody’s gonna remember you. You can’t just peter out and fade, you gotta hit harder than the rest of your verse or keep rhyming til the beat’s gone, no matter what you’re saying.

-More Yela: “Pop the Trunk” goes so hard, man. It just bleeds menace, from the beat to the lyrics. That bridge at the end is nice, too. “I Just Wanna Party” with Gucci Mane is pretty okay, too. I don’t even really get down with Gucci like that, but he gets it going here. Look for Big Boi roundabout 2:45, too. And who can forget a hot song off one of the hottest albums of the year, Big Boi’s “You Ain’t No DJ”?

-“Yeah, I’m pale, but I’ll impale you with an Impala”

-Also, I bought Weezy’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” with Cory Gunz. Gunz can spit to an absurd degree, and it’s nice to hear Mixtape Weezy again. This song bangs, and Weezy’s punchlines are back to being next level. “Real Gs move in silence like lasagna”? “You niggas are gelatin, peanuts to an elephant/ I got through that sentence like a subject and a predicate”? Ayo.

-Gunner is the only dude who can use “pause” because he’s so rapidfire. It’s like “breath!” “Wayne, these niggas out they mind/ I done told these fuck niggas, so many times/ that I keep these bucks steady on my mind/ tuck these, I fuck these on your mind, pause”

-Dang, I guess the South still got something to say.

-Peer pressure works! Jamaal Thomas over at FBB is rounding up his top ten floppies of 2010. Go, read.

-Here’s an index of all of Spurgeon’s holiday interviews. There’s 20, and they’re great.

Part 2 of Joe Q’s exit interview is up at CBR. Quesada really did a lot for Marvel, and I think for the comics industry overall. He stumbled, obviously, but if you compare Marvel now to Marvel then… gimme Marvel now any day of the week.

Sean Murphy is great, but you knew that already.

Periscope Studio is also full of great artists, and this week they’re drawing the Thunderbolts.

-This NY Times profile of Radical talks a lot about how they’re selling comics to Hollywood, and the only creator they bother to mention is Nick Simmons. How do I feel about that? I think this image says it all, and also shows that you should never run an auto-retweet script on Twitter.

-I buckled under and bought a Kindle. Looking forward to reading real books and newspapers again.

-The Kindle purchase is part of a hard push toward going mostly digital this year. Down the line will be an iPad for comics (once Dark Horse’s store launches and hopefully after Marvel pulls its digital head from its digital butt and fixes). I did some testing, though, and I can already go almost all VOD. I watched the Buckeyes game last week on ESPN3, which was mostly delightful. I use Netflix and Hulu to watch random movies and TV. And now, I can use iTunes to buy stuff I want to keep. I bought Archer and FLCL (iTunes link, but the first ep is free). Between Amazon and iTunes, I should be able to buy most of the stuff I want to keep and rewatch.

-My only issue is the price. It’ll tend to run slightly more than the Blu-rays after the Amazon discount, but less than the MSRP. At the same time… I have instant access forever with no physical media to worry about. This’ll force me to only buy things I really, really want, which is probably a good thing in the long run. I’m doing a lot of thinking about what I think is fair.

Archer is incredible, though. “Karate? The Dane Cook of martial arts?”

Judging by the box art and this blog post about their reasoning, Catherine is cruising directly to all of the Game of the Year awards. Gonna be crazy, and probably a story that ends with a good, wholesome message. “Don’t cheat on your girlfriend or else you’ll be damned forever and turned into a sheep dude by sheep cultists.” Here’s a subtitled trailer and a gameplay heavy trailer.

-The Persona games have done a generally good/weird/interesting job of playing with sex and sexuality. A game where the focal point is “You cheated on your girlfriend and now your life is ruined” should be pretty good. It’s sure to be unsettling in probably a Silent Hill sorta way.

-Shoji Meguro did the Persona 4 soundtrack, I’m pretty sure. Curious to see what he comes up with for Catherine.

-Also, whoa, Vincent is in Persona 3 Portable? Cool.

-How messed up is it to cheat on your girlfriend Katherine with a Catherine? What is that, some kind of screwy fetish? Bad luck?

count to ten

David: Heroes for Hire 2
Esther: Batman 17, Batman and Robin 19, Birds of Prey 8, Knight and Squire 4
Gavin: Batman And Robin 19, Booster Gold 40, Justice League Generation Lost 17, Knight & Squire 4, Secret Six 29, Chaos War Dead Avengers 3, Deadpool 31, Heroes For Hire 2, Incredible Hulks 620

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The Cipher 01/05/10

January 5th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

the song is not the same when we’re

created: I sent off 2010 and welcomed 2011 in style. Quality over quantity, right?

-AOL jawns: Comics for movie buffs, Digital December mop-up with a retailer and Archie

-Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter interviewed me and whoo, look at the size of that thing. I go in on a lot of subjects–fashion in comics, race and why Iron Man 2.0 is a vote of no-confidence for black folks and comics, the importance of art and story, what news stories journos should cover… click through, read it, tell me what you thought. The response on Twitter and Spurgeon’s intro was super flattering, so now I’m wondering where all the haters at.

all played out, played out, all played out


-As I type, I’m watching Ohio State beast Arkansas (as of the first half) on ESPN3. This is the future. I’d pay money for this service if it carried full seasons for the Buckeyes, Hawks, or Falcons.

-How come every sports broadcast ever has a blonde lady down on courtside/sideline? That’s definitely a trend, right? Holly Rowe on ESPN, Doris Burke on NBA 2k11. It’s always two dudes in the booth and one lady on the field.

-Buckeyes won, Pryor got MVP.

Dark Horse Presents coming back is pretty cool. I missed out on it the first time around, but I liked the Myspace stuff they put up.

-Seneca update: he posted his top 10 list, get at it. He also liked Silent War.

-I figured out Black History Month 2011. I’m going to keep it under wraps, but what I’m thinking will probably be more work for me, but less time spent thinking and fighting on the page.

-You want to enjoy life? Every payday, take twenty or thirty bucks and buy yourself a fat steak. Cook it yourself on the stovetop or grill, seasoned as you like, and maybe some broccoli or corn on the cob or something to go with it. Then sit down with it and a nice movie and tune everything out while you eat.

-Bonus round: make it a point to carve something you don’t like entirely out of your life.

-This is what I do: open a billion windows on Wikipedia by accident. This week’s haul: Mass extinction, Doomsday event, wormwood star, Chang’e, Giewont, Year Without A Summer, Pararaton, Eschatology, and False Vacuum. I’ve liked been interested in eschatology ever since I was a kid, probably pre-teen even, and I usually find myself lost and reading about it once a month. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Tough to wrap your head around. It’s too big.

I like DrawThisDress.

-I’m a little behind on Persona 3. I just met Ken, the kid, but he hasn’t joined up yet. The story hasn’t quite coalesced just yet, though it’s flirting in that direction. I know that the Kirijo group did something, but that’s about as far as it goes. It’s interesting, though. I should probably play it more often than a few hours a week before bed.

-I watched Gurren Lagann, thanks to Netflix. It was good, maybe a solid B if I had to put a figure to it. The most interesting parts were the mecha bits and the way the spiral played out thematically and literally (in terms of story structure). I’m glad I didn’t buy it, because I don’t know that I’d ever watch it again. I liked it, but I didn’t like it. There were some good set pieces, and the structure was fascinating, but sometimes it got all Gainaxed out. Dropping a slow paced flashback episode into the middle of the sprint to the ending was a crap choice, too.

-I’m looking forward to that FLCL blu-ray, though. Fooly Cooly was dope pretty much throughout, and when I rewatched it a couple years ago, I got even more of the jokes. It’s just thoroughly on point.

-Been thinking a lot about space vs entertainment lately. I own a lot of books I’m not in love with that are just taking up space. I purged a lot of DVDs a while back, too. My new rule is that if I don’t see myself enjoying it more than once, I don’t buy it on physical media. The only exception right now are floppies, but since I can just trash those and I don’t buy that many anyway, it’s not a huge deal.

DC Universe Online looks interesting, but I played Final Fantasy XI for like six months before I realized I was paying to do boring jobs. I’m wary, but I might cop it if I get too curious/find people to play with. My biggest problem with MMOs is that grinding blows and partying up with strangers tends to blow. The time sink/addiction thing isn’t really a problem for me at all. Discipline, right?

-Did y’all hear that some professor felt so guilty about having to say “nigger” when reading Huck Finn that he’s producing a volume with “nigger” replaced by “slave?” What a big fat crybaby, man. Get over it.

-If you’re down to buy four dollar digital comics, do us all a favor and stop buying digital comics. Don’t encourage that nonsense.

-Brief, because I got these Best of 2010 posts to do.


David: ain’t nothing
Esther: Secret Six 29
Gavin: Azrael #16, Ant-Man and Wasp #3, Avengers Prime #5, Ozma of Oz #3, She-Hulks #3, Ultimate Captain America #1, Irredeemable #21, WWE Heroes: Undertaker #2

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