Swords & Zippers: Know When to Stop

I’m going to share with you something of a personal bugbear today. I know that not everyone agrees with it and I don’t even apply my own dislike of this phenomenon consistently, but I’m going to share it anyway.

Sometimes I really, really wish that the people who give us these wonderful interactive stories to play just knew when to stop.

Simple, really. If your story reaches a natural conclusion, stop. Don’t try and extend it or go back and “fill the in gaps” — just stop. You’re done. Make something new. Move on.

Okay, that’s a gross oversimplification. Sometimes extensions to an already-epic story can work well – Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal says hello — but equally, there are times when it doesn’t work quite so well — Final Fantasy XIII-2, which literally had several areas that said “You’ll be able to come in here in some future DLC,” says hello. Then titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age come along and have the problem that most people have already beaten them and moved on to something else by the time that their DLC comes out, but that’s arguably a different issue.

The reason I’m bringing this up now is that I’m currently roughly halfway through The Answer, which is an extra 20-hour campaign that Atlus tacked on to the end of Persona 3 in its second “FES” edition. Persona 3 FES (which is super-cheap right now on PSN if you haven’t already played it, by the way) added a bunch of extra content to the main bulk of what was already an 80-100 hour game, so it’s questionable as to whether or not it really needed another 20 hours after what was supposedly the “ending.”

I have somewhat mixed feelings about it, if I’m honest. Persona 3′s ending — the original one, I mean — was great. It featured a suitably epic final confrontation and some genuinely emotional scenes that wrapped up the game’s story nicely. But — and I won’t spoil the specifics right now for those who haven’t played it — it leaves a rather glaring Big Question at its conclusion. The Answer aims to… well, answer that question.

All very well and good, you might think. More Persona 3 can never be a bad thing… right?

Herein lies the main issue with The Answer. It is most certainly more Persona 3… but more accurately, it’s more of part of Persona 3 – and arguably the least interesting part, which is the dungeon-crawling and combat aspect. Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with Persona 3′s dungeon-crawling and combat — you may recall that I named Persona 3′s battle system as one of my favorites a few weeks back — it’s just… you know, that’s not the reason I play and love Persona 3 so much. Take a random sample of people who have played and loved Persona 3 and its sequel and the vast majority will probably cite the “Social Link” aspect of the gameplay as their favorite thing about it, not the dungeon-crawling. There will, of course, be exceptions, but one main explanation for this is that the Social Link part of the game is genuinely unique, while the dungeon-crawling is something you can do in pretty much any other RPG.

The Answer, for those unfamiliar, sees you cast in the role of Aigis, one of the main characters from the main Persona 3 campaign The Journey, and accompanied by most of the rest of the previous party members. The group finds themselves trapped in a Groundhog Day-like situation where the same day keeps repeating thanks to some weird time vortex that has inexplicably opened up beneath their dormitory’s lounge. Consequently, there’s no going to school, no interacting with friends, no going to the movies on Sundays… just dungeon-delving and occasionally popping up for air to save.

It’s nice to see all those characters again, but unlike in The Journey, there’s not a huge amount to do with them. In The Journey, you could start full-on Social Link mini-stories with several of your supporting cast members, allowing you to develop a genuine-feeling bond with them; in The Answer they’re just there to fight alongside you and participate in the story scenes, which are relegated to being “rewards” for completing a particularly tough dungeon.

And boy, The Answer is tough. Controller-flingingly, irritatingly, cheaply tough at times. If you want some answers to that Big Question left by The Journey’s ending, then you better be ready for a tough battle. And then some more tough battles. And some death and reloading. And a lot of swearing.

And yet for some reason I’m still playing. That seemingly far-off carrot of the titular Answer is taunting me. “You need to know what happens,” it says. “You’ve been wondering about this for literally years now, and it’s within reach. Just a few more floors, yes, that’s right, just beyond this BOSS THAT WILL EAT YOUR FACE OFF AND LAUGH WHILE IT’S DOING IT.”

The reason I bring all this up in the first place is that while I’m playing The Answer I find myself repeatedly questioning whether it was a good idea to start it; whether it will all be worth it. I guess I won’t really know that until I find out what The Answer actually is, but this is sort of my problem — if this part of the game didn’t exist at all, if the end of Persona 3 was simply left with that big floating Question, open to interpretation as it was, I actually think I would have been happy. If, in other words, the creators had been happy to leave the game “as is” and move on to something new and exciting, I would have been satisfied. Now I feel obliged to play through this just to find out what’s going on.

I’ve probably made this sound more negative than it actually is. The Answer isn’t bad. As I said before, I’m a big fan of Persona 3′s combat — it’s just a little frustrating to find that’s pretty much all it is, with occasional “story breaks.” It’s also perhaps rather telling that the subsequent third release of Persona 3, the PSP-based Persona 3 Portable, didn’t include The Answer, and Persona 4 didn’t have any similar additional content added post-release.

Oh well. I will continue trudging my way through to find out what The Answer actually is, and hopefully it will prove to be satisfying. We shall see!

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Swords and Zippers is our weekly JRPG column in which we explore the best, worst and most interesting of this diverse and long-standing genre that has fallen somewhat from grace in recent years. You can follow Pete, author of this article and GrE’s managing editor, on Twitter.

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