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March 7, 2012

Persona? More Like Bro-Sona! (Part 1)

In a perfect world, Atlus would be the Activision of the gaming world.  (The fact that “Atlus” doesn’t clear Word’s spell-check but “Activision” does is proof in itself.)

Imagine an alternate reality where Call of Duty was a no-name, niche title with a small but dedicated fanbase, and the games themselves -- while competent, as they currently are -- had to impress with other elements besides overblown graphics and astronomical marketing campaigns.  And imagine the inverse, in which Atlus -- the small-time company with a big heart -- became the most well-known company on the planet.  A purveyor of games that pervade the public consciousness, from pop culture to (of course) the rooms of millions of gamers.  The resources to create products with production values that rival Hollywood, with a certain caveat: everything you love about Atlus games, from the story to the characters to the themes to the punishing, strategic gameplay remains intact.  It just gets turned up to eleven, with a spiffy veneer and most of all, the respect it deserves.

It would only be a matter of time before one of two things happen.  One: Atlus becomes drunk with power and turns to evil.  Or two: they destroy the world.  Neither of those things sounds very pleasant.  

Be glad this dog isn't real.  

So, while I wish that more people could enjoy Atlus games, I suppose it’s in a good place.  The fans are in an exclusive, untainted club; the kiddies can have their CODBlops while the MEN take on Atlus’ next sickening challenge.  Funny though; I think the bros might find a lot to enjoy about Atlus games, particularly the games in the Shin Megami Tensei line.  Namely, because they’re full of dope-ass bros for you t tag-team demons.

(All right, screw this.  I’m adding “Atlus” to Word’s dictionary.  They deserve it.)

Now, in all fairness, I’m no expert on the Shin Megami Tensei series.  I’ve only played about five games -- starting with Persona 3, then Persona 4, Devil Survivor and Devil Survivor 2.  (In terms of other Atlus games, I’ve dabbled a bit in Devil Summoner 2, almost finished Etrian Odyssey 3, and of course I completed Catherine, as I’m sure my gushing has indicated.)  For argument’s sake, let’s stick to those first four titles. 

Before the story gets too hasty -- and the game reveals its unflinching hatred of you, the player -- there’s a common thread that’s getting harder and harder to ignore.  You play as a silent protagonist of varying improbable appearance; it isn’t long before your peaceful days are over and you discover some dark power lurking inside you -- the perfect weapon to fight against the nightmarish hordes and mysteries that plague your stomping grounds.  Notable villains include: shirtless revolver Jesus, a giant tie-dye stripper with a satellite for a face, the tower of Babel, and aliens that look like a mathematician’s worst nightmare. 

That happened.  Did I mention these are Japanese games?

But I digress.  It’s the party members who are most important to the SMT series, and while you can expect a plethora of unique individuals, several games in its lineup have a certain habit: you meet up with one male character and one female character within the first hour -- minutes, even -- of game time.  It’s likely that I’ll talk about the SMT ladies at a later date, but for now, let’s talk about the guys.  It’s a matter of subjectivity of course, but I’d argue that meeting the new guy -- the “brosona,” if you will -- is a highlight of every game thus far.  They’re quirky.  They’re colorful.  They remind you that even though your team is saving the world, they’re still high school kids at heart.  They have their beliefs and opinions.  They’ll support you at some points, and contradict you at others; in the end, though, you can always count on them to have your back.  Just like a real bro!

Well, bro in the figurative sense.  Not the Urban Dictionary definition of bro (i.e. the one that makes you lament the existence of the human race), but a good male buddy you can believe in and pal around with.  So…basically, not much of a bro at all.

Can we just pretend as a species that this never happened?

At any rate, let’s take a look at four such brosonas.  Why four?  Because four’s my lucky number.

(Spoilers to follow.  You’ve been warned.)

Junpei Iori (Persona 3)
Broccupation: Grown-Ass Man

Ah, Persona 3.  The game that made me an Atlus faithful.  If I had known how much a game I’d spent twelve lucky dollars on would affect me, I wonder how I would have reacted.   Well, no sense in wondering about it now.  What’s done is done -- and oh, what fun I had with Junpei.

Junpei starts out as your typical high school boy (and unlike some of the other characters on this list, he looks the most bro-ish).  An average student at best who rarely studies; always has an eye out for the cute girls in school; brash and cocksure, but quick to freak out when there’s real danger mucking about.  He starts off stereotypically, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  His antics constantly entertain, and he injects some lightheartedness into a game with an overarching theme of death.  It also helps that he hits like a runaway freight train in battle; I gave him a sword with a high critical hit ratio, and he tore through everything in his path.

Not that Junpei’s without his depth.  His character arc has him going through several trials -- chief among them, his growing rivalry with you, the super-awesome leader protagonist who (if you choose) can date six girls at once without repercussion.  He’s jealous of you for a while, and his inferiority complex gets the better of him at times, but after a while he manages to get over it and becomes a loyal member of the cause.  All well and good…but his evolution doesn’t stop abruptly afterward.  It starts when Junpei starts falling for a girl named Chidori -- who just happens to have a sword in her head.    

She looks...stable.

Over the course of a few months (if memory serves), Junpei starts trying to establish some rapport with her -- this, in spite of the fact that we know this girl runs with the game’s villains.  But he stays alongside her for a while, and bridges the gap between K-Fed impersonator and creepy drug-taking teenager haunted by a murderous fragment of her psyche given form.  Naturally this match made in heaven makes it to a serious stage -- and it’s unfortunately interrupted when Junpei and the other heroes go up against the villains.  Junpei takes a fatal blow, but Chidori sacrifices her life to resurrect him.  A relationship will do a funny thing to a guy; it makes them mature, take a closer look at their lives, and help them see the line from the present to the future.  Junpei’s no exception.  Chidori’s death turns him from a goofball to…well, less of a goofball, but someone who’s fiercely dedicated to the cause rather than doing it for some grade-A lulz.   

Junpei matures just as much as any other character in the game in spite of his tomfoolery; that’s all the more evident in the expanded version of the game, Persona 3: FES.  After exploring the mysterious dimension that’s appeared in their dormitory due to a time anomaly (just go with it), the gang finds themselves at an impasse.  Given the chance to go back into the past and undo the death of a friend, some of them are all for it.  Others, well aware of the fact that he died for a reason -- and that preventing his death would cause the end of the world -- object.  Junpei shows a level of thinking that goes beyond picking sides; knowing that none of them can have their way without unanimous agreement, he holds onto his share of the time key macguffins until everyone calms down and thinks this through.  It’s an act of selflessness to be sure, for the sake of harmony.  But more importantly, it highlights just how much of a man he’s become.  Torn between responsibility and hanging out with his old friend again, he’s nevertheless unable to cast aside his opinions for the team.  No bellyaching.  No wishing for more hot girls to show up.  Just doin’ what he does best: being a grown-ass man.

Unfortunately, you learn that the hard way.  You end up fighting Junpei (and his dog buddy) in what may very well be the hardest fight in the game.  Bear in mind that this is an Atlus game -- a company who once posted “we get off on your pain” in a response to fans -- and you have the recipe for a half-dozen hours of getting your ass whooped.

But it’s worth it.  Because Junpei’s your bro.

Tune in next time when I reach out to the truth and discuss Persona 4.  Be a hero.  Check it out...you know, when I finish writing it.

That's a guy, just so you know.  Yeah...Japanese games are...interesting.

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