Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Annual Summary: 2013

And so another year draws to a close, and I am still, for some reason, ranting and raving here. Huh. Who would’ve figured?

Anyway. This was a pretty good year for me. I played a good number of RPGs this year, and unlike last year, there were definitely a good handful of titles that were very impressive and/or noteworthy. Not all of them, of course (why the hell do I continue to play Dragon Quest titles?), but quite a few. Once more, I hit up lots of games of various age and system of origin, and although I’m now fully engrossed in the many Western RPGs that I’ve found and purchased from, I’ve tried to play enough JRPGs to keep a decent balance. Anyway, here’s what I played this year, in alphabetical order.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Atelier Iris 1
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden
Betrayal at Krondor
Deus Ex 1
Deus Ex 2
Divinity 1
Dragon Quest 9
The Elder Scrolls 4
Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
Geneforge 1
Heroes of Annihilated Empires
The Last Story
Legend of Grimrock 1
Legend of Mana
Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader
Lunar: Dragon Song
Mega Man Star Force 2
Return to Krondor
Shin Megami Tensei 4
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha 2
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
Tales of Destiny 1
Torchlight 1
The Witcher 1
The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

As always, all SquareEnix games were purchased used or experienced through Youtube Let’s Plays, in keeping with my oath not to support the company until it drastically improves its integrity.

Not a bad number at all, I’d say. I kept busy with other stuff, too. I read several books by authors such as Isaac Asimov, Charlotte Bronte, Agatha Christie, Jaspar Fforde, and The Harvard Lampoon, keeping up with and surpassing my goal of 1 book a month. I know that’s not as high as it should be, but with the number of people in this country who consistently manage to hit their goal of 0 books read per year, I figure I’m doing alright. I’ve continued to keep up with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and its immense (but fully justified) fandom, and I also finally, finally watched Firefly and its movie Serenity this year, at last coming to understand why so many people consider it such a tragedy that it didn’t live longer. I also rewatched both Batman: The Animated Series and Gargoyles this year from start to finish, and doing so back-to-back has allowed me to finally conclude, once and for all, which is truly the greatest non-anime cartoon series of all time (it’s Gargoyles). I also continued fooling around with fanfiction. Oh, and both of my jobs. I guess I did spend some time with them, too.

As far as RPGs go, the year started off...not so well. The very first spoken line in the very first RPG I played this year was a space monster telling a 5th grader, “I’ll tell you about your father if you let me use your body, kid!” That is just not a good way to kick off a new year, guys. Thanks for that, Mega Man Star Force 2. And thanks also for the creepy moment that followed soon after in which the adult villain chose a 10-year-old-girl as his damsel and supposed co-ruler. Still, things soon started to look up with Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura, and Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle. I had a small series of dull games after that, but soon rebounded with the excellence that is Deus Ex 1 and The Witcher 1. Things went along fairly quietly but enjoyably up until the end after that, finishing the year out with Shin Megami Tensei 4, a good-though-not-as-good-as-it-should-be RPG, and Deus Ex 2, which was really very good, a worthy successor to the original. So, overall, everything went well enough, with only pockets of dullness or crap here and there.

I played a lot of RPG series for the first time this year, I notice. Until 2013, I’d never played any of the Atelier games (unless you count Mana Khemia, but I think it’s only tangentially related to the Atelier series, like the way Nippon Ichi games are usually vaguely connected), nor any of the titles from the Witcher, Elder Scrolls, Geneforge, Deus Ex, or Divinity series, either. I found 4 out of these 6 new forays to be at least a little rewarding, so it seems new experiences are indeed a good thing.

So, what stood out in particular this year? Let’s see.

RPG Moments of Interest in 2013:

1. I finally got around to playing Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, one of the first and best known Indie RPGs released over the web. It is gloriously ridiculous, and its glorious ridiculousness is made all the better for how seriously it takes itself. This is both the most insanely hilarious and crazy thing you’ve ever played, AND a totally awesome RPG story in its own right. I’m not sure anything has ever been quite so epic and silly at the same time before.

2. One of the many hidden gems that can be found for cheap at, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is based on an insanely awesome idea: a Dungeons and Dragons-esque world in the midst of its industrial revolution. Victorian England-styled Steampunk is already a fascinating concept when applied to a regular real-life-esque setting, so putting it together with arcane magic and mysticism, elves and dwarves and orcs and so on, just makes for a very cool premise and setting. I also found it a fun coincidence that Chris Avellone, whom I consider basically the greatest RPG writer to ever have lived, started doing a Let’s Play of Arcanum this same year.

3. I came across a hybrid game that is both RPG and Real Time Strategy this year, Heroes of Annihilated Empires, in which you command both regular RTS units and structures on the field, AND a hero or two who level up from fighting enemies to eventually be worth an entire horde of the regular RTS units--yet limited enough that you need both to defend and attack properly. I’ve often thought to myself that you could do great things if you combined these game genres (Command and Conquer mildly dabbled with the concept at times in that some units who got enough kills could be promoted, but dabbling is as far as it went), and HoAE confirms that the mixture works as well as I thought it would. The only downside with the title’s gameplay is that the RTS elements are too simplistic and undeveloped on their own to have explored the concept as well as it should have been. Still, it worked well for what it was. Hope I see this idea come about again some time.

4. Among the unusually high number of Indie RPGs I played this year was Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle. Told by a friend to check it out, I initially thought I’d play it for an hour or so and then move along to something else, never to think of it again. EoWC is, without mincing words, a mostly-lesbian pornographic RPG, and as such I did not expect much from it. But if you read my rant on it earlier this year, you’re aware that I was happily very, very wrong--lewd it may be, but Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle is exceptionally creative, has palpable depth and emotion, and contains several really good characters, concepts, and many touching and emotionally gripping love stories within it, all culminating in a battle of the mind to awaken to the present yet keep the dreams of the future. You really can’t judge a book by its cover--what I thought for sure would be a perverse, insulting waste of time turned out to be one of the great highlights of my year.

5. I also played The Last Story this year, which is the big special masterwork of Hironobu Sakaguchi, the renowned father of the Final Fantasy series. It’s clear from the game that the guy put a lot of heart and soul into it, its setting and presentation just exuding the creative effort that went into the title. Unfortunately...well, for all that effort and care, The Last Story is not bad by any means, and it has some pretty good moments, but ultimately, I found it somewhat underwhelming, merely okay at best. Underneath all its polish, it’s a very generic JRPG story with an equally generic JRPG cast, and it does nothing to keep its archetypes fresh or appealing (unless you’re easily amused enough to be enthralled by the idea of a female character who drinks a lot of alcohol).

6. Return to Krondor wins the award for having the Best Witch Ever.

7. Here’s another entry for the list of the great tragedies of RPG history: Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader. What a sad waste of potential. An RPG by the folks behind the early Fallout games, about an alternate-timeline Europe during the Renaissance period in a world where magic and evil beasts of dark power have existed since the Crusades, featuring a ton of great figures of the past like Leonardo da Vinci, Marco Polo, Galileo, and the like? I’d be hard pressed to think of a cooler game idea than that. And early on in the game, it looks like it’s going to be everything you’d hope for and more, but damn it all, the developing company went out of business and the game had to be rushed out, a mere shell of what it would have been, becoming little more than an uninterrupted slogfest soon after leaving the game’s first city. What a damn shame; this thing could have been so great.

8. Another Indie RPG I played this year was Evoland. Great concept with the evolution of RPG game mechanics figuring into the gameplay, but I can’t help but be very disappointed nonetheless. The plot and characters are so utterly bland and simple. It would have been so much neater if they, too, had evolved as the game went along, starting out simple and barely touched upon in the earliest stages of the game while things are still blocky and 8-bit, and then gradually becoming deeper and more developed in different ways as the game evolves into later generations of game style. Sadly, everything about RPGs that really counts stays boring and childishly facile from start to finish in Evoland. It’s a game that details the evolution of only the superficial parts of RPGs. Too bad.

Best Prequel/Sequel of 2013:
Winner: The Witcher 1
The Witcher 1 is based off of the Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski, and so I think it’s safe to consider it a sequel, even if it’s the first game of the RPG series. I haven’t read the books, so I’m probably not qualified to fully judge just how faithful it is, but I can at least say that The Witcher 1 seems to be an interesting and insightful exploration into the world and characters of Sapkowski’s books and the role that his Witchers are meant to play, expanding upon these things in a way that both references and relies on the original source material, yet also is accessibly easy to follow and explanatory for those only entering the series through the game. Geralt’s amnesia is treated with surprising skill in this game, being used just enough to allow for players to be introduced to Geralt’s world as he himself re-learns it and just enough for the players’ choices for Geralt’s actions not to necessarily conflict with his personality from the books, without seeming like the cheap cop-out that amnesia almost always winds up being--Geralt keeps a definitive personality, his past continues to have relevance to him regardless of how much of it he fully remembers, and ultimately the memory loss is never flaunted as a magic wand to fix all possible writing difficulties, only expertly used as a tool to enrich the experience and make it more accessible. The Witcher 1 strikes me, and what small research I’ve done on the books has backed this perspective up, as an RPG very careful to respect its source material, but also bold enough to take some steps forward on its own to examine and expand the universe it borrows.

Runners-Up: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden; Deus Ex 2; Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha 2
Well, like The Witcher 1, Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is a sequel to a previous non-RPG work (the movie Space Jam), so I reckon it does count as a sequel, and it’s...pretty amazingly awesome and amusing, referencing many of the events of Space Jam as it goes along, so it’s definitely a good sequel. SMTDSRK2 manages to keep the quirky atmosphere of the first Raidou Kuzunoha game, references and builds off of the original game’s events and such, but goes in its own direction with a strong independence. It’s quite good. Deus Ex 2 is a very worthy sequel to the original DE1, taking the events and ideas of DE1 and moving forward with them, providing a new understanding and idealism to DE1’s concepts that’s almost equally fascinating. I’d say that Deus Ex 1 had more going on, a much stronger tie to our actual world, and a longer and better-conceived chain of thought with the concepts it explored, but as a follow-up to all of that, DE2 is darned good and did not disappoint.

Biggest Disappointment of 2013:
Loser: Mass Effect 3
Because Mass Effect 3’s ending is so horrible that it deserves recognition for its failure for the next 20 years or so.

...Oh FINE, have it your way:

Actual Loser: Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader
Like I said above, this was a game with huge potential for being cool, interesting, and creative, and it showed it in the beginning. Sadly, it was all for naught when the developer closed its doors and the product was hurried to shelves prematurely. I almost wish they had canned the damn thing altogether instead of releasing this 10% Real RPG, 90% Wandering Around Randomly Fighting Things mess. I hate failed potential.

Almost as Bad: Evoland; Nox; The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
Evoland I also spoke about above--for such a creative gameplay concept of using the game itself as a demonstration of RPGs’ evolution, the important parts are terribly primitive. Nox is only a mild disappointment since I didn’t know much about it going into the game, but it still qualifies because after as entertainingly lighthearted an intro as it has, it’s rather a letdown that the game itself is such a by-the-numbers combat-heavy adventure. And I didn’t really know what to expect from the Wizard of Oz RPG, as there’s multiple takes on the world of Oz that it could go by, but I did know I was hoping for appealing and strongly involved characters, a decent plot, a memorable villain, and an ultimately heartwarming adventure. Every significant portrayal of Oz I’ve seen before has managed that much, after all. But this one is just...blah. Light on story, lighter still on character involvement and development, and the stuff it takes away from and adds to the Oz story makes no improvement whatsoever. C’mon, Media Vision, nothing about the Wizard of Oz should be bland!

Best Ending of 2013:
Winner:Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura follows a tried and true formula for endings: the player gets what they put into the game. Like most Fallouts, and Romancing Saga 1, AOSaMO’s ending shows you a series of scenes that give you an idea of how things went down for various locales and people of importance which you encountered and affected during the course of the game, along with wrapping up the main plot threads. It’s a complete and proper conclusion to the game, and it rewards you with closure for the story events you cared to become involved in. Simple, interesting, and satisfying.

Runners-Up: Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle: Flight to Elstwhere Ending; Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle: Nereid Ending; Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle: True Ending
...What? It’s a great game and it has like 20 different endings; you gotta expect there to be some good ones. And good they are. The Nereid Ending is a touching story of a simple but enduring love that calls out across the boundaries of time, while the True Ending is an interesting, satisfying conclusion to Duchess Catherine’s tale of awakening that cleverly makes pretty much all the other endings possible, while giving the protagonist a chance to enact whichever one of them she pleases with her foreknowledge. And frankly, I really wanted to make the Flight to Elstwhere Ending the winner this year, above Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura’s ending, but on principle of what I think an ending should ultimately be, the latter won out. But Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle’s Flight to Elstwhere Ending is still a beautiful, bittersweet conclusion to the lovely romance of Catherine and Carmina (even if Carmina herself says she prefers one of the other endings) that fiercely tugs at the heartstrings.

Worst RPG of 2013:
Loser: Lunar: Dragon Song
I’m hesitant to place Lunar: Dragon Song here, because people are going to assume, if they have any familiarity with the game’s legendarily bad design, that it’s here for gameplay reasons. And don’t get me wrong, if I concerned myself with the actual experience of playing the game, this would definitely be the worst game I’d played this year, decade, lifetime. But I want to make it clear here that unparallelled design flaws aside, Lunar: Dragon Song is a pointless, dumb heap of crap. The characters are uninteresting and often stupid, the plot can only be described as phoned in, the villain is exceptionally poor and essentially just a shitty copy of Lunar 1’s Ghaleon, many parts of it make absolutely no goddamn sense, the game’s conclusion essentially contradicts the canon of the Lunar series, the final confrontation with the main villain is possibly the lamest ever conceived, and the plot supposedly hinges upon a love story that I was not even aware was there until the very end of the game--I’m still not convinced that Jian’s confession of love wasn’t a translation error; lord knows there are plenty of them in this time-sucking disaster! Lunar: Dragon Song is the worst game I played in 2013, not because it’s virtually unplayable, but because its story, characters, and just pretty much everything about it having to do with the writing is just as terrible as the gameplay is.

Almost as Bad: Mega Man Star Force 2; Nox; Torchlight 1
Let me just say first and foremost that I am seriously unable to believe that Dragon Quest 9 managed to avoid this list. But it got out by the narrowest of margins, for there was a single, solitary part of the otherwise uninterrupted boredom and worthlessness of DQ9 that was actually really cool and interesting (the reveal of the history of the goddess and how she became a tree). Everything else was shit, but that tiny, shining moment nonetheless puts it above Nox, which only had a few brief, tiny chuckles in its favor during its intro and ending, and Torchlight 1, which is as by-the-numbers a dungeon crawler in terms of plot and characters as you can possibly imagine. And Mega Man Star Force 2...well, it’s just as inescapably, indescribably dumb as its predecessor. I’ll grant you that there actually IS also a moment (and that is IT) in MMSF2 that I thought was halfway decent, but it doesn’t even come close to being able to balance out the utterly incredible level of pure, unfiltered Dumb the rest of the time. Honestly, it’s still hard for me to accept that I found a worse game to play this year than Mega Man Star Force 2. Just...ugh.

Most Improved of its Series of 2013:
Winner: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunhoha 2
Also known as SMT Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon. I’m not going to go into much detail about this here, because I’ve got a rant planned for the subject, but briefly, the sequel keeps the lighthearted fun and quirkiness of the original SMTDS Raidou Kuzunoha game, but also instils a major dose of meaning and traditional SMT themes to the formula, betters Raidou’s character, and introduces some good new cast members to the mix. This makes for a huge improvement from the first game, and as a result, SMTDSRK2 is a game that the prestigious Shin Megami Tensei series can take pride in.

Runners-Up: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates; Legend of Mana; Tales of Destiny 1
FFCCRoF surprised me by having an actually halfway decent plot and some rather emotionally gripping scenes to it. It isn’t perfect and it doesn’t always make total sense, but it’s a pretty solid title, which is more than just the vaguely positive aspects of the original FF Crystal Chronicles. Legend of Mana is much the same--not perfect, doesn’t always fully make sense, but there’s a lot of good ideas and emotions to be found in many of its subplots that the Mana games I’ve played previously (Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3) don’t even come close to possessing. As for Tales of Destiny 1, well, it’s a pretty by-the-numbers JRPG without a lot to take note of (although Mary’s character is pretty great once she’s properly revealed) and several problems, but it’s the second game in the Tales of series, and as such it deserves to be here because it is at least a little better than the first Tales of game, Tales of Phantasia, thanks to Mary and a few pretty decent storytelling aspects. Sure as hell ain’t Tales of Legendia or Tales of the Abyss, but you can at least see the series starting to take its first real steps toward its later quality titles.

Most Creative of 2013:
Winner: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam Gaiden
Okay, sorry, but come on, what was possibly going to be more creative than a cyberpunk RPG sequel to the movie Space Jam about a post-apocalyptic New York City where Basketball’s been banned after a slam dunk performed by Charles Barkley 20 years earlier was so powerful that it created a nuclear blast? Goddamn nothing, that’s what. And rather than play it for its comical worth, the creators of BSUaJG played the whole thing straight, wrote the game’s events and dialogue and music and so on out like this was an honest-to-God serious, moody, post-apocalyptic sci-fi story, letting ONLY the actual subject matter and characters, the butthurt save points, and a few enemy visuals betray how utterly absurd the whole thing is meant to be; other than that, it feels and rolls forward like any sincere RPG might. Which just makes it all the more creative and unique, in my opinion.

Runners-Up: Deus Ex 1; Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle; Legend of Mana
There was actually a lot of competition for this category this year, which was a neat change of pace--any other year, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura would have been a shoe-in for this, but ultimately I feel like its storyline doesn’t take enough advantage of its mix of magic and steampunk. Deus Ex 2 was a close contender, too, only losing out because for all its creativity in going forward from DE1’s conclusion, it’s still ultimately derivative of DE1 more than its own creative enterprise (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind, DE1 is excellent source material). And if Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader had been developed properly from start to finish, I’m sure it would have had a strong shot at a spot here, too.

Anyway. Deus Ex 1’s mix of cyberpunk and political conspiracies, with a tiny bit of Asimovian social sci-fi, is wildly creative and interesting in its presentation and ideas, and frankly, it almost won this category, save for one thing: looking at what is now common knowledge about the world at the time DE1 was made and looking at our current world political situation nowadays, a significant part of Deus Ex 1 is less “creative” than it is “an accurate assessment” and “prophetic.” Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle is very imaginative in its non-linear ability to nonetheless pursue an evolving story, in the scope of its characters, in the truth of its events as revealed by the supposed real ending and the True Ending, and for its ability to take the Dungeons and Dragons style in yet another direction. That’s not to mention that it’s a near full-length RPG with less than a dozen battles in its entirety, and hell, just the fact that it has and unashamedly uses pornographic visuals and moments in the story, yet is a strong, emotionally deep, involving, and worthwhile intellectual product. Lastly, Legend of Mana’s style and nonlinear way of telling its divided story combines with the subtle and uncommon themes running through it to provide a very unique experience to the player.

Stupidest Weapon of 2013:
Loser: Musical Instruments (Tales of Destiny 1)
I’m just gonna copy-paste a section of my rant on the stupidest RPG weapons ever here: “...then some bard managing to hurt a monster by plucking on a harp is stupid. And using musical instruments to inflict physical trauma is even worse. I'm not anything even approaching knowledgeable about musical instruments, but I'm still fairly certain that they're meant to be reasonably delicate tools relying on careful balance and structure to produce their sounds correctly, so taking your guitar and smashing people over the head with it is going to ruin it for its intended purpose of creating music, and if you don't want to use it for music, then why the hell would you carry it around instead of a club or dagger or something?” Point still stands. Karyl’s decision to use musical instruments as weapons, particularly in a party that’s regularly finding much more effective weaponry like swords and axes and such, weaponry that most of the party doesn’t even bother to use because of the Swordians they have, is dumb.

Almost as Bad: Basketball (Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden); Pot (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates); Rings (Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle)
While large and specially-shaped ones can increase the damage of one’s punches, rings as a general rule are not really weapons by any conceivable definition. The basketball I’ll give a mulligan to because the game is supposed to be utterly absurd that way and part of that absurdity is to make Basketball some forbidden, mystical power of sorts so using a basketball as a weapon fits the bill. And lastly, for the love of Clispaeth, getting into a pot and rolling around is not an attack.

Best Romance of 2013:
Winner: Carmina and Catherine (Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle)
Granted, this one gets off to a rather...rocky start, which I do have issues with, but I absolutely adore the love story between Carmina and the protagonist of EoWC, I really do. It’s believable and well-developed, yet poetic and beautiful in an otherworldly sense, a courtship through dreams in which they bare their hearts to one another, and exposing their vulnerabilities and loving one another for them as their bond strengthens, until they each understand the other on the deepest level that we see in this entire game of romantic connections. Though Catherine fears she may simply be enthralled by this being of darkness, she trusts her feelings nonetheless, and we come to see that each would risk all and do absolutely anything to preserve the other and make her happy. It’s epic, it’s lovely, and it’s inspiring, a wonderful story of love with all the development and dialogue to make it real, and all the dramatic actions and elements of the fantastic to make it epic.

Runners-Up: Calista and Zael (The Last Story); Catherine and Louni (Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle); Catherine and the Nereid (Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle)
Much like Mass Effect 3 last year, Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle dominated this category this year. Well, it’s a game where romantic (and sexual) connections are a huge deal, and it does them darned well. The Nereid Ending of EoWC takes the Nereid’s otherwise one-dimensional character and really expands her and makes the love between her and Catherine powerful and compelling, and I do like the connection between Catherine and Louni; it’s very different, but touching all the same. And while Calista and Zael are mostly here because there weren’t really any other notable romances I saw this year (I guess Catherine and The Good Dwarf was alright, and I actually am quite fond of Alice and Catherine, but both are just too...understated), and though the initial parts of Calista and Zael’s love story are so Aladdin and Jasmine that I’m surprised Disney hasn’t hauled Sakaguchi’s ass to court over it, it all winds up being okay, as love stories go, and it balances itself well enough as a part of the overall story without suddenly attempting to supplant all other plot threads to become the story’s only focus. It doesn’t stray past its limitations but rather coordinates and meshes with the plot, and overall there’s enough chemistry and development between Zael and Calista that I buy it, so I dub this romance decent.

Best Voice Acting of 2013:
Winner: The Witcher 1
It actually took me a little bit to really get accustomed to Geralt’s voice; for some reason, it just didn’t seem right to me at first. But once I did, I found that the voice actor for him did a very good job of putting feeling into the vocal work and making Geralt sound very genuine, even though you could pretty fairly say that it sounds like he’s just using one single tone of voice for every line and situation. Still, in its subtlety, Geralt’s voice acting is top notch stuff. The rest of the game’s cast does a good job, too, though I’d say that Geralt’s the only one whose vocal work is high above mere competence.

Runners-Up: Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura; Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates; Shin Megami Tensei 4
Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say about SMT4 or FFCCRoF. They all have voice acting that does the job adequately with few to 0 low moments, kudos to them. Arcanum is much the same, although I’d say that it does have a few characters, like Virgil, who have some pretty noteworthy voice acting at times. Overall, though, not a particularly interesting year for me as far as vocal work goes.

Best Villain of 2013:
Winner: Greyghast (Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle)
It really says something for Greyghast to be the winner here, considering that he’s (sort of) dead from the very start of the game on, and never actually serves in the role of antagonist. But though Bad King Greyghast the Terrible is only shown in memories and referenced in the postmortem sense, what glimpses we get at his actions are enough to paint the picture of a monstrously evil and sick tyrant, whose horrifying actions are a legacy that follow Duchess Catherine throughout the game to its very end. The way Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle shows Greyghast’s intense evil is expertly subtle and understated, letting inferences and its traumatic aftershocks that the protagonist will never fully escape from tell the story as much as outright explanation and details do. I’m usually more of a stickler for character depth and having an understanding of a villain’s motivation (which is why Shinado almost won this spot), but sometimes the force and effect of a skilled writer’s villain is too overwhelming to ignore. In Greyghast, we see, even if only in glimpses, some of the darkest, most cruel evil that humanity can offer, and the lasting damage it can cause.

Runners-Up: Dahn (Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha 2); Jacques de Aldersberg (The Witcher 1); Shinado (Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha 2)
SMTDSRK2 offers us 2 solid villains in Dahn, a hothead out to break a bad system to save his sister at any cost, who is quite easy to empathize with (in fact, he kind of isn’t even really a villain overall, but he’s great for the time that he’s in the role), and Shinado, a dangerous god of misfortune whose conclusions about humanity, hope, and the role Luck plays in them are quite interesting to hear and consider. Shinado perfectly serves as the game’s major antagonist and provides the thematic and philosophical backdrops for the events and obstacles of the story. Jacques de Aldesberg is a decent villain with a goal very similar to that of Suikoden 3’s villain Luc, saving the world from a terrible future he has foreseen by taking steps in the present to prevent it, but doing so through immoral means that cause strife and havoc. I wish the game had explored him and his goals a little more thoroughly--it’s all kind of jammed in at the game’s conclusion--but what’s there is good, and he becomes more interesting when you figure out just who the game is implying he is--puts an interesting twist on some of the scenes and conversations you see in the game with a particular character that you wouldn’t think too deeply upon otherwise.

Best Character of 2013:
Winner: Duchess Catherine (Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle)
Dammit, Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle, stop winning everything! Well, what can you do? I’m gonna do a cop-out and copy-paste what I said about her in my review of the game, because it pretty efficiently sums up my thoughts on her: “Catherine at first seems very simplistic, very damsel-in-distress-esque, very...princess-y, but as you progress through the game, you can begin to recognize some strong depth to her, along with some subtle but solid character development. Her exceptionally dark, tormented back history, her craftiness and more than adept skill at political maneuvering and diplomacy, her enthusiasm and wish to form a positive connection with all those around her, the interesting ambiguity about whether she is, in the end, a good or evil character, her insecurities about her future and related subconscious resentment against princesses, her fleeing from the title of being Greyghast’s heir and whether or not there might be some truth to it...there’s a lot of angles to Catherine’s character, a lot of fronts that she grows as a person on, and nigh all of them are pretty interesting.”

Runners-Up: Geralt (The Witcher 1); Mary (Tales of Destiny 1); Virgil (Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura)
Mary’s history and character development is kind of all dumped on us at the same time, but it’s very good stuff, surprisingly deep and emotionally effective for a game whose cast is otherwise very standard and unremarkable. Most of the party members in Arcanum have some decent depth, but Virgil definitely stands out for his subplot concerning his past. Geralt is a very well-written protagonist in his musings of where he and other Witchers must stand in the more civilized world and the conclusions he draws as the player guides him to whichever side of the game’s political conflict that Geralt eventually stands on, managing to be interesting and true to himself no matter what he comes to believe. I have to say I find myself straddling boredom and annoyance when it comes to Geralt’s James Bond-esque sexual escapades, something that seems completely superfluous, but in general, the guy’s a great and involving character.

Best Game of 2013:
Winner: Deus Ex 1
Bet y’all thought Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle was gonna win this one, too, huh? Well, almost, but not quite. Deus Ex 1’s greatest virtue is in its plot and purpose, an extremely creative, realistic cyberpunk game of conspiracies and tyrannical secret agencies, a gripping adventure and a fascinating look into the subjects of human rights to privacy, freedom vs. security, and the dangers of shadowy tyrants and corporations, all with a heavy dose of philosophy on how these subjects relate to human nature and a mild sprinkling of Christianity symbolism, which is present enough to be interesting, but background enough not to become cumbersome to the narrative. It’s also an excellent cautionary tale which has only become more sharply relevant as time has passed--it’s not just good for people to experience and think upon this game, it’s important for them to do so. Terrific stuff, something everyone should play.

Runners-Up: Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle; Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha 2; The Witcher 1
As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle is a hidden gem amongst hidden gems, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who can look beyond its perverse exterior to appreciate the many fine qualities within--and it’s a simple, free download, to boot. The second Raidou Kuzunoha title in the SMT series is leaps and bounds above its predecessor, to the point where SMTDSRK2 is, to me, as true and worthy an SMT title as any other. I could go into detail here about it, but I won’t, because I plan to spend my next rant on nothing but discussing this great game. Finally, The Witcher 1 is perhaps slightly overrated, but I can certainly understand how so many people can hold this game and its sequel up as some of the greatest RPGs ever made--its storyline is deep and involving, yet completely accessible to those who have no experience with the novels it’s based on, the cast is solid, it does a terrific job with juggling its numerous subplots and how the player’s decisions can affect the story, and it’s overall just a terrifically engrossing fantasy epic.

List Changes of 2013:
Greatest Romances: Carmina and Catherine from Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle have been added to the list of Greatest Romances, bumping the Grey Warden and Leliana from Dragon Age 1 off.

And that’s all, folks, 2013’s over and done with. I’m actually very much looking forward to 2014. Several of the crowdfunded RPGs I’ve backed will be coming out in 2014, including the sequel to Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, the NPC RPG You Are Not the Hero, possibly Cosmic Star Heroine, and even Chris Avellone’s baby Project Eternity and possibly the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, Torment: Tides of Numenera. THAT is the kind of gaming that could make 2014 one of the greatest RPG years of my life, right there. On top of that, the Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod, the mod that seeks to give ME3 the good, artistically consistent ending it sorely needs, is set to have its final major update occur some time in 2014, and considering the amazing work that has gone into it already, it is likely going to blow my mind. You can be damn sure I’ll be making a rant about it at that time.

And speaking of rants, I kind of look forward to 2014’s rants, too. I’ve decided that I’m going to make my Shin Megami Tensei Year project into a full year, which means continuing to do an SMT rant every month until July, if I can. So far it’s been quite fun to challenge myself to come up with SMT subjects to rant about, and to make sure those rants are halfway decent. I also look forward to continuing, and concluding, my series of rants about Xenosaga 3, the game with the most numerous flaws of all RPG time. Should be a blast.

At any rate, thanks for bearing with me for another year, you proud, incredibly bored few who actually read these things. Special thanks to my buddy Ecclesiastes and especially my sister for their great contributions to many and most of these rants! Happy holidays, and here’s to seeing you all again in 2014!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4 Social Link Comparison

Hey, guys and gals. Remember this? This rant was one of the largest I’ve done to date, and also definitely one of my favorites. Only problem is, since I wrote it, Persona 3 was rereleased with the option to play as a female protagonist, for whom about half the Social Links are different. Additionally, Persona 4 was rereleased with 2 additional Social Links. Well, I’ve always said I’d get around to updating this to properly reflect these new Social Link stories, and what better time than to do so than for my SMT Rant Year? There’s a lot of changes here to better reflect the differences between the Social Links for SMT3’s different protagonists, and the newer SMT4 Links, but in case you’re wondering, the Social Links with the most differences are The Magician, The Priestess, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Fortune, Justice, The Star, The Moon, The Aeon, and The Hunger.

That isn’t to say I necessarily had too much to say on the differences (sometimes I just really don’t), or that they necessarily make a change in which game gets the points on accuracy and quality, but at least you’ll know which ones you can skip to if you’ve read this one before. On with the new and improved Social Link Comparison.

(Oh man, I’m gonna have so much to do when I have to update this for Persona 5...)

Many, many thanks to good lady Iris, who took time--a fair amount of it--out of her otherwise interesting life to look the original version of this over and make sure I didn't say anything particularly stupid or outright false in it. I salute you, Madame SMT Fanatic!

This is going to be a long one. Even by my standards. Fairly warned. And don't even bother with this one if you aren't familiar with the games; I'm writing it with the assumption that you'll know the characters and plots and so on.

So, I'll be brief, since there's a lot ahead. I thought it might be neat to compare the Social Links from SMT Persona 3 to those from 4, and see which one seems more meaningful and true to the Tarot card it embodies, and which one seems better overall just for its story-telling qualities. Before I go on, though, just a little disclaimer: I'm not an expert at Tarot Cards. I'm about as far from knowledgeable about them as you can get without just not knowing that they exist. Just about the entirety of my knowledge on their meaning for this rant is coming from what has been called "teh in-tar-netz," this site in particular, which, as far as I can tell, seems to be pretty straightforward, informative, and legitimate:

I've also relied a little on the Megami Tensei Wiki's information on what the different Arcana are intended to mean inside the game itself. Mostly, though, I used the other source. I’d rather compare these things to the meanings they’re supposed to have, not the potentially altered ones the game wants.

So, y'know, if there are any mistakes in here, they're totally someone else's fault. In fact, just assume that for everything I say, ever.

By the way, going forward, I'll be referring to the Persona 3 male main character by his semi-canon name Minato, the Persona 3 female main character by her semi-canon name Minako, and Persona 4's guy by his mostly-canon name Yu.

Also, one last note: I say Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, but I'm talking about the PSP version, which updated the main game slightly with better character development for Aigis, and has a different set of Social Links for a female protagonist. This makes it the more complete and "true" version, hence I use it as my Persona 3 basis. It's just a pain to keep typing SMTP3PSP all the time. I also won't be covering any of the changes to SMTP3 made by Persona 3 Portable's option of choosing a female main character instead of a male one, save for the changes in the Social Links.

In SMTP3, The Fool is represented by SEES, the group of main characters that you control through the game. In SMTP4, it's the Investigation Team, which are...well, actually, the same thing as in SMTP3, the main characters.

The Fool represents absolute potential, tabula rasa, zero, the essence of inspiration and creativity, a foundation upon which anything and everything can be built.

While this works for both games’ teams quite neatly, given that each group is on a journey of discovery throughout the game, I'd actually have to say that the SMTP4 team is a little more true to the idea of the Fool Arcana. While both groups' journeys involve discovery and growing to understand their world and its mysteries, the SMTP4 team is devoted specifically to finding Truth, to seeing things as they are. The SMTP4 team also has a stronger theme of self-discovery and self-awareness, coming to terms with all aspects of one's self, and from that understanding, growing as a person. Although there's character development for most individuals on each game's team, SMTP4 emphasizes it as a major theme and has it definitively linked to the progression of The Fool. So, the point for Arcana accuracy goes to SMTP4.

The contest of which story is better for The Fool is a fairly close one. On the one hand, SMTP4 had some decent characters, and they ALL got a fair amount of development and importance, which is more than you can say about multiple members of SMTP3's bunch (without counting other Social Links’ content, Koromaru once again proves that dogs will forever be shafted in RPGs for character depth, and did Akihiko have ANY story significance beyond introducing the conflict between Ken and Shinji?). Nonetheless, I'll have to give it to the SEES team over the Investigation Team. The Investigation Team may be more careful to have its members plot-significant, but overall their character depth doesn't usually wind up being all that strong nor developing too far beyond their 5 minutes of plot-time. The SEES bunch, on the other hand, have several characters whose development is very compelling, and emotionally gripping moments. The combined personal development of the entire SMTP4 team doesn't come close to the emotional strength of SMTP3's Aigis's personality and development alone, and Yukari, Junpei, Mitsuru, Shinji, and Ken all have interesting stories to contribute to the main plot after that. Round goes to SMTP3.

In SMTP3, The Magician is represented by Kenji, a classmate, for Minato, and Junpei, a teammate, for Minako. In SMTP4, it's Yosuke, a teammate.

The number 1 is associated with The Magician, the first number of substance after The Fool's 0. Basically, The Magician symbolizes the act of creating, the will to make, the process of turning inspiration and creativity into something material, a conduit for the power of formless things such as talent and ideas.

As far as the accuracy of the games' Magician Social Links to the actual's a bit shaky in all cases, really. I guess I'd say that SMTP3 is truer to the card's meaning, with both Kenji and Junpei. Kenji focuses much of his time on trying to hook up with a teacher he has a crush on, while Junpei’s series of events are basically his growing connection to Minako making him reevaluate himself offscreen and motivating him to stop trying to avoid the serious parts of his life through evasive humor. Yosuke's focus is on his issues with being the son of the owner of mega-mall Junes. All of the Social Links’ stories here also have a focus on becoming strong friends with the respective main character, although that doesn't seem to really have much to do with the Magician. All of them are related to the number 1--Yosuke is the first person to join you, Junpei is the first character that Minato/Minako really befriends, and Kenji is, to my recollection, the first regular non-party-member friend you form a Social Link with.

Overall, I'd say SMTP3 wins on this one. Kenji's actions are sort of like creating action and decision out of the intangible idea of love...more notably, Junpei’s decision to take his studies more seriously, approach his duties at SEES more responsibly, and visit his alcoholic father, are similarly a case of creating action and decision out of inspiration, that inspiration being his admiration of the strength of character of Minako, an admiration that grows as their friendship deepens. That said, though, that’s still a bit of a stretch in interpreting The Magician’s meaning. Close enough that I’ll give SMTP3 the point, far enough that I do so reluctantly.

I do like Kenji's story for its showing someone able to accept life's disappointments and take comfort from the good things he found along the way to defeat (his friendship with Minato), and Junpei’s story wraps up pretty well despite seeming a bit disorganized early on and depending a little too much on revelations that Junpei has offscreen. But Yosuke's is, to me, a stronger example of finding friendship, and his problems and reactions to those problems are more interesting and deeper than either of SMTP3’s stories. SMTP4's better on this count.

In SMTP3, The Priestess is represented by Fuuka, a teammate and, for Minato, love interest. In SMTP4, it's Yukiko, also a teammate and love interest.

The Priestess is basically the intangible potential that the Magician draws from to create. Mysteries, the subconscious, hidden knowledge, and the inner self are what The Priestess best represents. This is sort of regarded as a feminine trait, in that it is a counterpart to the "masculine" Magician.

And in the world of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4, all of this translates Seriously, both Fuuka and Yukiko's Social Links have a large focus on them improving their cooking. It's such a goddamn big deal that it's all I actually remembered about them; I had to look up what the Social Links were SUPPOSED to show, which was A, Fuuka coming to understand her insecurities with Minato’s route, B, Fuuka coming to understand that just trying harder isn’t necessarily the way to succeed at things with Minako’s route, and C, Yukiko coming to accept and want her future place as manager of her family's inn. I mean, I remember them now that I've refreshed my memory, but until I did, all I remembered was the stupid fucking anime obsession with females improving their cooking. It’s so bad, that the instant they add a female protagonist to Persona 3, she’s gotta start cooking, too! Because she’s a woman! And they cook! Always! And honestly, none of this jives with the Priestess's meaning to me. I think maybe Persona interpreted the Priestess to be totally synonymous with femininity, and hence all the obligatory anime-girl-cooking nonsense. But you know, I’m gonna just refuse to give either game the point on this Social Link, because I really just don't see a proper connection to the Arcana in either Social Link.

I wasn't impressed with any of these Social Links, at all. I felt like the stupid cooking thing is supposed to heavily supplement or even replace any serious character development either girl gets. The romance aspect feels tacked on and cheap with each, too. In the end, I'll go with SMTP3 over 4 on this, as I feel that Fuuka's character was at least developed a little (very, very little) with Minato, while Yukiko's seems to reach a conclusion that comes out of nowhere and contradicts the Social Link's plot direction in general. But none of these is interesting or contains anything particularly deep or meaningful.

In SMTP3, The Empress is represented by Mitsuru, a teammate and, for Minato, love interest. In SMTP4, it's Margaret, Igor's assistant.

The Empress represents physical beauty and pleasure of the senses, along with motherhood. The creation of life, unconditional love, and protection from the world, along with appreciation for the world's resources and pleasures (often seen as abundance, prosperity, and sexuality), are tied in with it.

Mitsuru's Social Link...doesn't really seem to add up for me on this matter. Unless learning to enjoy cheap burgers and ramen counts as finding an appreciation for the sensations of the world. In fact, the Social Link seems actually almost counter-intuitive to the Tarot's meaning, since Mitsuru's stepping down from her high class tastes and lifestyle would seem to be a step AWAY from greater appreciation for the material, as well as, in Minato’s version, her throwing her future social status into jeopardy for love, which is her choosing a mental and spiritual need over assured personal prosperity. And I don't think there's anything there that particularly symbolizes motherhood or its qualities.

In Margaret's case, it's still kind of fuzzy how she's meant to symbolize the Empress, but it's not quite as bad. The way you advance Margaret's Social Link is by creating certain Personae--creating life, sort of, which IS a motherhood thing. Granted, it's Yu doing it instead of Margaret, but it's at least still there. Kind of. So I guess Persona 4 gets this round, although neither one is a particularly strong representation of the Arcana.

Mitsuru's Social Link is the clear winner on this one. Margaret's Social Link has little dialogue, development, or deeper meaning worth note, while Mitsuru's is a fairly nice and, with Minato, romantic little story of self-respect, seeing value in people, and love winning out over social expectations. Mitsuru's character is developed nicely in it, and there are some moments where it's touching and heartwarming, but without being sappy. Persona 3's Empress Social Link is a far better story to experience.

In SMTP3, The Emperor is represented by Hidetoshi, member of the Student Council and head of the Disciplinary Committee at the school. In SMTP4, it's Kanji, a teammate.

The Emperor symbolizes the mind's power to shape the world through words and writing, using law and order to create and maintain structure, emphasizing wise and unemotional logic as the basis for his laws. Government, rules and regulations, and fatherhood are symbols of The Emperor. The games also put an emphasis on The Emperor's desire to control one's surroundings.

With Hidetoshi, the connection between his Social Link's events and The Emperor's meanings is fairly obvious--he's out to enforce the law as he tries to find out who broke the rules at the school, and he believes that the world needs more strict rules, that it's still too chaotic and needs more forceful order. Of course, the end of the Social Link for Hidetoshi kind of steps away from this, by having him show some appreciation for the emotion of friendship that he now shares with Minato/Minako, but overall everything matches up, and by the end, Hidetoshi has decided to try to change the world to something better by educating future generations as a teacher, which relates to a part of this Arcana's take on fatherhood.

Kanji's Social Link, on the other hand, doesn't seem to add up much to me. It's mostly about him trying to come to terms with how to be a true man, while still accepting his interests and hobbies, which are more feminine--sewing and such. You can only connect this to what The Emperor represents with extremely vague logic, if at all. At best, I could say that Persona 4's writers were mistaking the symbol of manhood for The Emperor as reflecting all aspects of being a man and the question of what is and isn't masculine, and so the whole Social Link is misguided in its efforts. Realistically, though, I just don't think they were really trying to significantly tie Kanji to The Emperor, rather just slapping an Arcana on him that kinda-sorta-maybe fit him at a very brief first glance. Round goes to Persona 3.

I rather like both stories here. If I have to choose, though, I'll go with Hidetoshi's Social Link as being the stronger story. Granted, Kanji's coming to accept himself as a whole, accepting that he can be a masculine person while still enjoying feminine hobbies, and that just because he likes certain things and finds female behavior off-putting, it doesn't mean he's gay, is pretty cool, and the game does have good execution overall. Still, I can't help but like Hidetoshi's story. Not only do I feel that the general execution and atmosphere of the Social Link is slightly better than Kanji's, but I also feel it's more...epic, in a way, I suppose. While the journey to self-understanding that Kanji goes through is interesting and moderately unique, Hidetoshi's coming to view the world and people in a new, better way, speaks more to me, and seems just as insightful an example of personal growth as Kanji's Social Link's conclusion. It's close, though, and perhaps it's just my preference for Persona 3's theme of finding a better way to look at the world over Persona 4's theme of looking within for the truth about yourself. It might even be as selfish a reaction as my having much the same idea on how to improve society as a whole that Hidetoshi does--proper education of the future generations. Nonetheless, my gut says, one way or another, to go with Hidetoshi.

In SMTP3, The Hierophant is represented by Bunkichi and Mitsuko, the old couple who run a bookstore. In SMTP4, it's Dojima, a local detective and uncle to Yu.

The Hierophant's easier to verbally define than most of these so far. Basically, this Arcana represents belief, faith, religion, all that jazz. Spiritual leaders, personal beliefs and faith, teachers and mentors, and submission to group feeling and ideas are all tied to it, as is the idea of secret and forbidden knowledge. Basically, it represents the fundamentals of organized religion, while not necessarily having to be linked to any organized religion as a whole.

And...neither game's Social Link have anything to do with it, really. I mean, the legacy of a teacher who was Bunkichi and Mitsuko's son is somewhat related, but not in a significant way. And Persona 4's link, which is all about Dojima's trying to come to terms with single parenthood and find an acceptable balance between professional and personal lives, is...just totally unrelated. I know I already copped out with a tie back on Priestess, but screw it, I just don’t see enough of a connection in either game to award a point.

Tough call, really. Their irrelevance to the Arcana aside, both Social Links are good stories. Persona 3's tale of an old couple still feeling the pain of losing their son to a car accident many years before and concern for the precious symbols of his life that he left behind is good. The ending to it, which involves Bunkichi and Mitsuko coming to realize that the legacy of education that their son left behind would be better realized by an expansion to the school than simply letting his tree stand untouched, is very good. On the other hand, the story of Dojima struggling to balance his duties as a detective and a father while slowly coming to understand why he juggles them to begin with is compelling, too, and the character development it provides to Dojima, who is an important part of the game's proper plot, is important and well-done. In the end, I'll give the point to Persona 4. The Hierophant link in Persona 3 might have a slightly better story to me, and its execution of its plot is much better, but Persona 4's character development for Dojima just manages to outweigh it for me.

In SMTP3, The Lovers is represented by Yukari, a teammate and, for Minato, love interest. In SMTP4, it's Rise, also a teammate and love interest.

The Lovers represents mental and emotional unity and harmony between two people. This can, but definitely does not have to, be represented through romantic love and sexuality. The ability to do great things together that could not be done alone, and become more fully complete people through complementing one another, is symbolized the this card. The Lovers also often implies difficult ethical dilemmas involving having to choose the best of two options which are both good.

As far as how the Social Links relate to this...well, Persona 3 gives us a small, somewhat unconvincing romance on Minato’s side, so I guess it kind of portrays the Arcana in the most surface-level way of interpretation. I mean, there's romance, even if there really isn't any indication of that mental and emotional unity between Minato and Yukari that the card is supposed to be all about. Unless you count the bit that Yukari mentions about them being similar due to lack of family life, but that's really only mentioned at the beginning, and it's neither significantly touched upon nor indicated to actually be true, so...doesn't count.

On Minako’s She and Yukari bond as friends to a certain degree, and I’d actually say their friendship is developed and portrayed in a better, more genuine way than Yukari and Minato’s romance, but it’s nonetheless not really anywhere close to the sort of harmony and unity that The Lovers is meant to represent. Their friendship doesn’t seem particularly stronger or like it has more oneness than many of Minako’s other friendships.

Rise's case is far more in tune with the Arcana's meaning. While there's the option (read: strong encouragement) of romance, the Social Link really lives up to its Tarot symbol in showing Rise finding emotional unity and understanding with her two personas (in the normal sense of the word, not the game sense). While I think The Lovers is meant to show separate individuals coming into a spiritual bond with one another, Rise's personal journey to accepting her pop star self as part of her whole instead of rejecting it blindly does constitute, to me, coming into an emotional harmony worthy of representing The Lovers. Persona 4's the definite winner here.

While Yukari's little romance with the male protagonist is alright, I guess, it's not particularly notable. The same is true of her friendship with the female protagonist. Although a neat character in general, most of Yukari's solid character development occurs during the game's plot proper, and not in her Social Link. Rise, on the other hand, hasn't got too much character development in Persona 4's main story beyond her introduction, but her Social Link uses that introductory development as a foundation and builds from there, creating a tie to the game's central plot that benefits the Social Link. In addition, Rise's conflict and resolution over her past as a pop idol and coming to terms with all parts of who she is presents a better Social Link plot than Yukari's anyway. I'd even say that the romance aspect is better in Persona 4--Yu's helpful guidance and reassurance to Rise makes her falling for him seem far more realistic and emotionally satisfying than Yukari's just sort of gliding toward love for Minato. SMTP4's The Lovers Social Link is the better story all around.

In SMTP3, The Chariot is represented by Kazushi, a classmate, for Minato, and Rio, a classmate, for Minako. In SMTP4, it's Chie, a teammate and love interest.

The Chariot is meant to show discipline. It represents taking one's emotions and, instead of simply ignoring them as The Emperor does, focusing them, harnessing them as power to drive one's efforts. The Persona games, though, take the view that The Chariot symbolizes things like conquest and victory--they basically see the card as symbolizing a traditional result of emotional discipline and control, rather than the focus itself (according to the SMT Wiki, that is).

Persona 3's Social Link for The Chariot on Minato’s side does work pretty well for the actual Arcana's meaning, though--Kazushi uses his emotions, his wish to inspire his cousin, to push himself toward greatness and victory for the majority of the Link, making it clear that he's honing his feelings to keep him going. It kind of loses points here in that Kazushi says in the ending that he was just fooling himself and that it was foolish pride rather than the noble emotions he had claimed inspired him, but overall, the connection's definitely there.

On Minako’s side, I...guess it kind of works, since it’s only when Rio accepts and acts on her feelings of love for Kenji and friendship for her teammates that she becomes a better leader, so you could say that it’s her using and harnessing her emotions for a constructive purpose, except...well, I don’t think that’s accurate. With Rio, I’d say it’s more a case of her becoming a better player and leader because she accepts her emotional side without letting it become obstructive to her goals. But keeping one’s emotions from being a stumbling block isn’t the same as channeling them into your efforts, so I don’t think Rio’s a very accurate representation of The Chariot’s true meaning (and even less for the Persona view of the arcana’s meaning).

Chie in Persona 4, though, is a bit more true to the overall idea of The Chariot than either Persona 3 story, with her Social Link focusing from start to finish on directing her desire to protect others to activities and a lifestyle to help her achieve that emotional need. Since at the end she affirms her emotional drive further by planning her future around it, rather than denouncing it as Kazushi seems to, I'll give the point for Meaning to Persona 4.

While there's nothing wrong with Chie's story, it doesn't feel like there's really much going on in it--little about Chie changes, and the nature of the inner conflict she's overcoming is vague. I must also mention that, while it doesn't seem to come out of nowhere like Yukiko's did, the potential romance of this Social Link feels empty and contrived. I also can’t say I find much of interest in Rio’s journey of self, either--there’s nothing especially wrong with it, but no part of it stands out or seems particularly interesting or wise. Kazushi has a story that involves better development and stronger ideas in general, to me, so Persona 3 wins this one by virtue of Kazushi.

In SMTP3, Strength is represented by Yuko, a classmate and love interest, for Minato, and by Koromaru, a teammate, for Minako. In SMTP4, it's Kou or Daisuke, depending on which team you choose to join. Both are classmates.

Strength is like a combination of The Emperor and The Chariot. Like The Chariot, Strength acknowledges emotional power, but like The Emperor, Strength does not submit to emotions. Rather, Strength conquers emotions and rises above them--not quite using them to fuel ambitions like The Chariot, yet not quite denouncing them like The Emperor, either. Courage and patience are qualities associated with Strength--they represent a recognition of emotion (fear and desire respectively), but also an overcoming of those emotions (courage pushes past fear to decide one's actions, and patience controls desire to wait for something). Mind over matter, will over instinct, that sort of thing.

Persona 3's Social Link on Minato’s side...well, I guess it KIND of relates to Strength. Through helping a bunch of kids get fast enough to win a race, Yuko finds inspiration and a goal to set for herself, whereas before she was lazy and unmotivated. That's sort of like Strength's meaning of overcoming emotions--if you count sloth as an emotion, I suppose. But it's really more like The Chariot, I feel--Yuko's finding emotional inspiration in helping the kids, and is turning that inspiration into a focus on her new goal.

I’d say the story on Minako’s side of SMTP3 is a better representation of Strength. The process of getting Koromaru to open up to and fully trust the protagonist involves a certain patient approach, not trying to push the dog and recognizing that his love for his original master will not disappear, nor be replaced, even as he grows to care for his new friends. The patience of Minako in not pushing Koromaru emotionally also helps him to trust her enough, overcome his fear enough, to be comfortable in letting her see his scar, which sort of relates to the idea of overcoming negative emotions, which Strength, as I mentioned, is all about.

As far as Persona 4 goes, well, with Kou, there's...really nothing there. I guess if you want to really stretch, his coming to terms with his place in his family and with his friends could be rising above his fears, but...I feel like that's just trying too hard to relate the Social Link to the Arcana. Really, I just don't think there's any particular connection between Strength and Kou's story than roundabout generalities.

With Daisuke, though, the connection is more clearly there. Daisuke's Social Link plot is about him conquering his inner fears and rising above them to enjoy life regardless of its risks, which definitely ties in with Strength's theme of courage and overcoming emotions. So, by virtue of Daisuke, Persona 4 wins the round.

Yuko's story is nice enough, and I do appreciate Koromaru finally getting some proper character development, and his story has a decent level of emotional depth. That said, though, I feel that both Kou and Daisuke's stories are much more heartfelt, and that they sell the fears, conflicts, and personal victories of each of them much more effectively. Persona 4's got this one.

In SMTP3, The Hermit is represented by Maya, an online friend, for Minato, and Saori, a classmate, for Minako. In SMTP4, it's a greedy fox that grants wishes and has magical healing, really.

The Hermit's about searching within for wisdom and understanding. Isolating oneself from the world to find inner truth is what this Arcana is all about, associating itself with solitude and introspection, but in a soul-searching way. Finally, The Hermit can symbolize a mentor of sorts, but one who doesn't teach or guide so much as simply serve as an example of wisdom, thus still inspiring do-it-yourself soul-searching.

Of course, when the whole idea of a Social Link involves interaction with others to show these stories and wisdoms...well, I have sympathy for Atlus in trying to set up circumstances where these 2 opposite methods could work together. They do their best in 2 out of 3 of their scenarios, though. In SMTP3 with Minato, they have the Social Link be a person that Minato meets online in an MMORPG, which kind of sets up a sense of solitude to their interactions, and in SMTP4, the fox can't talk or anything, so again, there's a barrier against the social aspect.

I don’t mention SMTP3’s Minako side because the entire thing is about Saori’s standing with the rest of the school and involves a ton of interaction with others--you have to stretch way too far to see any part of the Social Link, even her stint as a social pariah, as anything close to the isolation The Hermit is supposed to embody. Yes, yes, you can talk about how she’s closed off her true self from the world and that makes her like a hermit and blah blah blah, but in the end that makes her no more true to The Hermit than several other characters in the game, and every part of her actions, conflict, and rising above said conflict are related to other people.

Still, Persona 3's Maya DOES interact with Minato throughout the Link and develops as a person thanks to him--even if she seems to come to a lot of her conclusions largely by herself with his interactions only playing a small part in it, you can say that about MOST of the game's interactions since Minato doesn't actually talk a whole lot, so overall, this one really just can't count. Yet at the same time, Persona 4's fox really isn't any more accurate a representation. The fox uses Yu to grant people's wishes so that they'll make monetary offerings to the fox's shrine, until finally the shrine becomes prosperous and people begin to regularly donate to it. The problem with this is that, while the fox can't really communicate with Yu, he's still relying on Yu to do everything, just as the people whose wishes need to be granted by and large rely on Yu to get them what they need. This Link actually seems to be MORE focused on social cooperation, extending beyond the standard case of Yu helping the Link's representative, to Yu helping half the town's residents, and those people in turn helping the fox. Hate to do another cop-out, but I can't seriously give either game a point for accuracy this round.

While I wouldn't call Maya’s story amazing, it is decent, Maya is convincing as a character, and it does have an enjoyable end. Saori’s story is alright overall, but kinda feels by-the-numbers, and is way, way too similar to the Justice Social Link--Saori’s crippling passivity and Chihiro’s crippling shyness are almost interchangeable, their conflicts are, ultimately, very similar, their resolutions are very close...Saori’s a more appealing person, a little, and they do hastily shove in some background and depth for her right at the game’s very end, but that’s really not enough to make her seem substantially different from Chihiro, and as you’ll see below, I’m no fan of the Chihiro Social Link story. And, sad though I am to say it, since I'm somewhat fond of foxes, Persona 4's Hermit Social Link doesn't really have anything of note about it, nor any lesson to teach. Persona 3's is better, by virtue of Maya.

Also known as The Wheel of Fortune. In SMTP3, Fortune is represented by Keisuke, a classmate, for Minato, and Ryoji, a classmate and secretly the incarnation of Death (no, really), for Minako. In SMTP4, it's Naoto, a teammate and love interest.

Fortune is basically the Tarot representation of Fate in all its inexorable, unstoppable glory. It's the alignment of events to bring about what must be, and whether or not you can understand it--and you probably can't--you definitely can't deny it.

Persona 3's Social Link on Minato’s side is a very good representation of this Arcana--although at a glance, Keisuke's dilemma between becoming an artist or a doctor seems totally unrelated to Fortune, a longer look will reveal that it's not the content of the Social Link that's so important, but the events. Keisuke's destiny is clearly to become a doctor, and the acts of random chance that occur in this Link are suspiciously many and suspiciously timed to push him into that destiny. Every time Keisuke seems to come to a serious internal dilemma about what path to choose, each time he comes to the center of his personal crossroads, there's suddenly a coincidence that screams, "BE A DOCTOR, STUPID!" right at him. The Link perfectly shows its Arcana inspiration in this regard.

In the case of Minako, it’s still a pretty decent example of Fortune. Even as Minako and Ryoji become close, Ryoji is unconsciously tormented because some part of him knows this cannot last, knows without understanding that it is his fate to become the herald of the world’s destruction and that this life as Ryoji is just an illusion, no matter how wonderful it may be. Additionally, Ryoji feels an inexorable pull toward Minako (even if I feel it’s safe to say that his feelings of love for her are at least mostly his own, rather than the result of destiny), because he is fated to be connected to her in all his forms. It’s not as subtle and perfect a connection to the Arcana as Keisuke’s was, but it definitely works well.

SMTP4, on the other hand...I don't see much of a connection. I mean, I guess I can see Naoto's coming to terms with being a woman as symbolic of accepting an unchangeable fate, but I feel like that's kind of reaching...and either way, Persona 3's Social Links are just better matches in this case.

I'll have to go with Persona 3 for this one, and this time, both sides of it win out. Yeah, Naoto's story isn't bad, but at the same time, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of emotional impact to it, either, and the trip from Emotional State A to Emotional State B is somewhat vague at times. I watch it all play out, and by the end, I'm not entirely sure how we've gotten where we are. Keisuke's emotional evolution is much clearer, and seems like a stronger story, Keisuke's story has no cheap, awkward, unnatural-feeling romance clumsily pasted on.

Ryoji’s Social Link could use a little more development of a personal bond between he and Minako before he confesses his love, but it nonetheless feels genuine, and ties extremely well to Ryoji’s role and actions in the main plot, giving it all the more emotional power at its conclusion. My only real complaint about it is that Ryoji says at one point that he would have felt the same about the protagonist whether she was a girl or a guy, so...why is he only available as a Social Link for Minako? Atlus has no problem having a Social Link either way for Aigis, who also loves the protagonist regardless of gender, so why not Ryoji? Giving him this extra screentime and connection to the protagonist improves the game. Bah, it’s just more of the stupid homosexual double-standard in RPGs (and everything else): it’s fine to support homosexuality for women, but Althena forbid we actually see homosexual men once in a while.

Anyway, my gripes aside, Persona 3’s Fortune Social Links both win out over Persona 4’s in terms of story quality.

In SMTP3, Justice is represented by Chihiro, a classmate and love interest, for Minato, and Ken, a teammate and love interest, for Minako. In SMTP4, it's Nanako, Yu's young cousin.

Justice is pretty much as you'd expect. It's the concept that one's actions receive the appropriate reward or punishment, sooner or later, that they deserve. It's cause-and-effect and Karma, which is more or less like a moral, fateful cause-and-effect anyway.

Persona 3's Social Links for Justice don't really match up to this, though. But I guess Chihiro’s story does count technically, since it shows justice being served to a teacher who carelessly used school funds (he (presumably) gets reported) and to Chihiro, who's a rule-abiding person who was falsely suspected of stealing the money (she gets to get over being fucktardedly shy and also Minato sexes her up). Still, it's not a great representation, because the main focus of the Social Link is on Chihiro's being idiotically shy and then becoming just a tiny bit self-confident. There's no doubt that this personal advancement is the main part and driving force of the Link, and it really doesn't have much of anything to do with the concepts of Justice. Nor, of course, does the development of Ken’s schoolboy crush on Minako, unless you see his gaining someone to hold and live for as a just, karmic reward to help balance losing his mother previously, but that’s...really reaching.

Of course, neither does Persona 4's Social Link have anything to do with the arcana...besides just that Nanako becomes happier and more self-assured because she deserves to be for being a good person, there's absolutely no tie to Justice for her. Now, later in the game, her fate relies on the decisions Yu makes, so you COULD say that she suffers or benefits from his actions, which IS a proper display of Justice...but those events are inextricably part of the plot; they have no tie to the Social Link's subplot. So I can't count them. Thus, even if Persona 3 only has a slight connection to Justice, it's still the victor on this one by virtue of Chihiro.

Before Persona 3’s addition of Ken, there was absolutely no comparison here--you might as well ask me if I liked Mass Effect or Quest 64 better. Chihiro is a painfully bland, wholly uninteresting character whose shyness is laughably over-exaggerated--I was about as shy as it got back in high school myself, and even I would have spoken up for myself if I was being accused of THEFT. To describe her as "cliche" would be to assume an unfair level of unoriginal, boring tedium in other cliched characters. Nanako's Social Link is already one of the best in either game, both being emotionally engrossing and starring a very likable compare her to Chihiro's story of "Incredibly Boring, Passive Anime Stereotype Girl Who is an Easily Cowed-into-Submission Wet Rag Becomes Equally Boring, Slightly Less Passive Anime Stereotype Who Now Clumsily Tries to be Assertive in a Way That is Embarrassing Just to Watch" isn't even fair.

Now, of course, Persona 3 also has Ken’s story to vie for this spot, and it’s a bit more of an even match. Ken’s Social Link had more potential than it tried to capitalize on (the beginning makes you think it will be largely about his missing his mother and moving past that, and the ending seems like that was supposed to be a part of it, but little to nothing is ever said or developed on this subject, which is a shame because it really would’ve improved Ken’s character), but it’s still a good story of his being unsure of how fast he’s supposed to be growing from a kid to an adult, and if you can put aside the slight creepiness of the 17-year-old Minako returning the 11-year-old Ken’s romantic feelings, it’s actually a pretty touching love story, too. I mean, it’s sweet, it’s cute, it seems realistic, and let’s face it, it’s not the first or worst time this sort of thing’s happened in an RPG (I’m reminded with more than a little disgust of how La Pucelle Tactics’s Homard, a full-grown adult man, was obviously attracted to, and got together with, Eclair, age 13).

Still, I think Persona 4 nonetheless wins this one. No matter how cute Ken’s feelings may be, as I said, Nanako’s Social Link is one of the best of both games, a great and gripping story and development of her character. But it’s at least no longer such an easy decision for me.

In SMTP3, The Hanged Man is represented by Maiko, a young girl. In SMTP4, it's Naoki, a classmate.

This Arcana encourages the search of knowledge and wisdom within, rather than from the outside world. Where The Hermit only encourages isolation from others, this one prescribes isolation from the world itself to find truth and understanding. More than just this, however, The Hanged Man also represents the necessity of personal sacrifice--that in order to attain something truly worthwhile, one must make a sacrifice, give up something in return. It could be time, comfort, possessions, health, hopes and dreams, anything--it could even be just ignoring your impulses and going against what you want to do. But in the end, what you gain WILL be worth it.

So how's this all fit into the Social Links? Well, it works out very well with Persona 3--Maiko comes to terms with her parents' divorce and comes to realize that her parents do still love her, but to get to this happy conclusion, she has to give up on her (futile) hopes to keep the divorce from happening--yet since her greatest concerns about it were whether they still loved her, sacrificing what she THOUGHT she wanted (them not getting divorced) brings her what she REALLY needed (to know that they still love her). In fact, Persona 3 even gives a second dose of relevance after that--Maiko has to choose which parent to live with. She chooses her mother because she feels her mother will need her help and presence more, while her dad is more self-sufficient, but her mother will be moving away, meaning that Maiko won't see Minato again. She's making the sacrifice of being able to play with her friend because she knows her mother needs her more--again, giving something up for something more important.

Persona 4 does a reasonable job with it, showing Naoki reaching the point he wants to where he can finally continue with his life, but having to let the anguish he's been burying inside him out, feeling the emotional pain and gaining the ability to move on from it. Persona 4 also kind of works with the idea of isolating yourself from the world to gain wisdom--he's emotionally detached from the world for a while, after all, and that state is a step toward coming to terms with his sister's death. Still, he wouldn't have gotten any further than that if he hadn't had outside help, so, I don't know if it can really count. In the end, while both Links do provide a good representation of their Arcana, Persona 3 does it better.

While Maiko's story is pretty good (although some of the "right" answers for Minato/Minako to give I REALLY don't agree with, and its finale at the game’s end is unnecessarily weird for Minako), Naoki's story of accepting his sister's death and moving forward with life is exceptionally well-written and moving. Of all the Persona 4 Social Links, it's easily my favorite. So, it's the winner here.

In SMTP3, Death is represented by Pharos, a little boy that only Minato/Minako can see who is secretly the incarnation of Death itself (no,, again). In SMTP4, it's Hisano, an old woman.

The Death Arcana is a symbol of great, inevitable change and/or transformation. This generally is in the form of the end of something, but in a transitional way--the end that the Arcana is associated with isn't final or intrinsically destructive, but rather an end of one thing to make way for the beginning of another.

For Persona 3...well, at first, I didn't see too much accuracy. I mean, just throwing the actual concept of Death in to be your Death Arcana's representation doesn't make it an accurate portrayal of the card by itself, and I get the feeling that was Atlus's plan. And the final change that Pharos talks of during the Social Link and later is the advance guard for DOES get averted, so the idea of the change that the Death card symbolizes being unavoidable isn't accurately portrayed.* On the other hand, there are a couple times in the events involving Pharos that do qualify--the end of the Social Link proper has Pharos leaving for good, ending his time with Minato in order to begin a new role--which is the transformation that the Death Arcana describes perfectly. A similar transformation happens later on with Pharos again, too, which again has him undergoing a transformation to end one "life" and begin a new one. But what really convinced me that this Social Link was, indeed, more than just lazily saying "Here's Death, it symbolizes Death, now go away" was the insight of my buddy and most consistent reader, Ecclesiastes. It was as follows:

"I think Atlus was going for something very specific and meaningful when they joined the Arcana and the concept of Death itself. In terms of both the Arcana and the physical/spiritual state/process of Death, the generally negative connotation comes from a fear of the unknown, and the dread of leaving the familiar. With that understanding, the writers apparently felt that the Arcana and the metaphysical process were too closely related in relation to P3's story to not push them together. Poor Pharos just had way too much ground to cover in his minimalistic S. Link, in my opinion. That's where Ryoji comes in to fill the gaps.

"As Pharos, he's remarkably curious towards change. In terms of Death, he was an interested outsider; Death and dying were meaningless to him in the direct sense, because he is isolated and unchanging, but he was still intensely curious towards Minato's and SEES' mission, because he has no idea what the future holds.

"As Ryoji, he becomes his own entity, one who develops friendships and truly lives. He also comes to know exactly what the future holds for him, and it means a breaking away from those he's come to love, and the life he's lived so far(the same reasons anyone would fear Death). Yet his destiny is to leave his friends and become this Death, as certainly as people will someday die. It's not ignorant fear on his part, but a sad realization.

"Yet at the same time, he understands it well enough to accept it, and simply wait for it to come. He's in tune with the Arcana's understanding of Death moreso than anyone else, because he knows Death better than anyone, presumably being a witness to its very birth and finality. The fact that he's essentially the harbinger of the Fall(the final Death) wasn't just a case of "lazy" symbolism. I felt they played with his dual nature quite well, or at least well enough."

What can I say? The man's more convincing and insightful than I am, and how.

Persona 4, on the other hand, seems to more or less only try to connect to the Arcana by involving Death in the Link's events a lot, which by itself doesn't mean anything. There really isn't much of a transformation or a transition from an ending to a beginning in Hisano's story, save, I suppose, her ending her consuming grief at the end of the Link and accepting herself and her actions--but it really isn't especially transitional in nature. She's putting aspects of her past to rest, but it's not really with the intent of beginning anew, so it's just not a proper portrayal of the Death card. Persona 3's the clear winner here.

As long as we count the events that happen as a direct result of the Social Link, Pharos's story is fairly decent and original. But Hisano's Social Link is very moving, fairly original on its own, and quite interesting. Persona 4's got the better story on this one.

In SMTP3, Temperance is represented by Bebe, a foreign exchange student. In SMTP4, it's Eri, a newly married stepmother.

Temperance is the direct result of the Death Arcana--once the great change that Death symbolizes has passed, reconstruction and re-balancing occurs, which is what Temperance is all about--building and rebuilding and finding/creating balance, usually in the sense of improving on an old template. Finding balance and harmony, both internally and with others, are big parts of Temperance--making peace with yourself, accepting others' flaws with their virtues, compromise and cooperation, that sort of thing.

So, let's see how Bebe and Eri measure up to this. Bebe, I feel, does live up to Temperance, but I admit that the point is debatable. Basically, I feel that he symbolizes the process of rebuilding and bettering that Temperance does after Death--when his aunt, who was the main financial reason he could stay in Japan, passes away, Bebe finds he has to leave Japan because his uncle won't take her place in paying for him to be there. He must use the foundation for his presence in Japan before his aunt's passing--his love for the country--to convince his uncle to let him return, and to do so, he further immerses himself in admiration and participation in Japanese culture by creating a kimono. So in a sense, he's rebuilding his reason to be in Japan to be even better--he hopes that his love for Japan will once again allow him to be there, but this time he's offering hard proof of his cultural adulation. Also, in his part of the ending, Bebe decides to stay in his home country of France for a time, because he cares for his lonely uncle, and decides he'd rather be in Japan of his own ability rather than mooching off of others--which is, essentially, a balanced compromise, another aspect of Temperance. So I do think it works well--although I also admit that it's just a little far away enough from obvious that one could say that I'm reading too much into it. Still, my rant, my interpretation.

Eri, on the other hand...actually, Eri works pretty well for it, too. Her story's theme of coming to terms with her sudden stepmotherhood involves compromises made by both her and her son Yuuta, learning to be able to give and take, and to express themselves to each other, in order to find the balance they need to be a family. Despite that, however, I'm going to give it to Persona 3, because it's got both the compromising aspect, and the rebuilding idea.

Tough call on this. I like each Social Link here--both stories are interesting and well-written. Bebe's tale winds up being more moving to me, but Eri's story of coming to embrace her role as a stepmother and bettering herself as a person because of it is refreshingly different and original, and the execution of that idea's done very well. I guess I'll have to go with Persona 4's Eri, as it's got both creativity and great writing skill, but it's a tough choice.

In SMTP3, The Devil is represented by Tanaka, a company president. In SMTP4, it's Sayoko, a hospital nurse.

The Devil is honestly pretty straightforward--it's the bad side of you, the negativity within, the evil and icky bits of your personality that you don't want to admit are there but affect your actions and deeds every day. Like the Death Arcana, The Devil isn't representative of or represented by the theological figure it's named after. What it IS symbolic of, though, is the inner weakness and darkness that can consume you, and will if you allow it, taking over your life.**

Actually, I almost regret that I'm not doing this rant on each game's integration of each Tarot card into its main plot, because trying to figure out which game's events have The Devil's integration better would be a lot of fun...but that can wait for another time; right now we're just going over the Social Links. Well, Persona 3's got a strong Link here: Tanaka's been almost completely consumed by the lust for wealth and success that, from listening to his stories of his childhood, started to eat away at him when he was still young, showing the cancerous shadow within him in its strongest stage, when almost everything he does is meant to feed his personal evil's needs. Definitely fits the bill. And while I know the Arcana isn't necessarily supposed to mean the Devil himself, Tanaka is EXTREMELY caught up in the power of falsehood, using lies and deceit so commonly and so dependently that he himself no longer seems able to tell the difference between being honest and lying--and the Devil is, after all, perhaps above all other things, the Lord of Lies. But, I suppose we won't count that part as technically accurate, cuz the card's not supposed to literally mean the Devil. I guess.

Anyway, looking at Persona 4, we've got a pretty good representation here, too. Sayoko's feelings of loneliness over the fact that all her patients eventually leave her behind have come to dictate how she behaves at her job and bury the reason she became a nurse, to save people, deep enough within her that she doesn't even remember it any more.

Overall, though, I'm going to give this one to Persona 3. Sayoko's a good representation, but she eventually pulls herself up from her fallen state to remember why she's a nurse, and regains control over her life, while with Tanaka we only get a mere hint that he is still capable of mastering his inner darkness (his charity donation, which might not count if what he said about his reason for giving it is true--but then, when does he ever speak the truth?). Although the natural advice The Devil gives in a Tarot reading is that one needs to swiftly resolve one's internal discords before they become all-consuming, I don't think the Arcana is, in itself, meant to have any sort of recovery associated with it, so Tanaka's tiny glimmer of hope is more accurate than Sayoko's total revival.

For the exact same reason Persona 3 is a more accurate depiction, Persona 4 is a better story. While the story of Tanaka is interesting if you give it enough thought, Sayoko's story gives us the same tale of one who lets her fears and vices overcome her, but continues the story to give us resolution. With Sayoko, you see that Yu's presence in her life has truly changed her for the better and given her life back to her, while with Tanaka, the best you get is a tiny hope that Minato has put Tanaka on the long road to self-recovery...but you can't really know. Persona 4's got the stronger story here.

In SMTP3, The Tower is represented by Mutatsu, a Buddhist monk. In SMTP4, it's Shu, a young student.

The Tower is forced wisdom; it's understanding and knowledge that comes to you whether you want it or not, and destroys previous beliefs and perceptions in the process. Your beliefs and understanding are never so infallible and secure that they can't be destroyed by a higher wisdom that proves them wrong.

Persona 3 does an adequate job with this--Mutatsu's pessimistic views on life and protests against having relationships with other people are beliefs that are gradually broken as he comes to realize that he truly does want to be with those dear to him, and that his egotistical self-reassurances that living alone is better were only hiding his true feelings. All of this comes as a result of Minato/Minako's presence--a boy or girl who Mutatsu can't get to go away and leave him alone, regardless of repeatedly telling the kid not to come back. Thus you have both a greater wisdom overcoming previously held beliefs, and doing so without the holder of said beliefs having any say in the matter, since Minato/Minako's returning presence can't be staved off.

With Persona 4, you pretty much get an equally accurate depiction of The Tower. Shu holds several beliefs about his need to be the number 1 student in his classes and that his mother's love and pride in him is conditional on his continuing to excel. Eventually, he's so desperate to maintain his position that he cheats, and is caught and suspended for it. He then finds that his perceptions on the importance of placing first and his mother's love for him were wrong, and revises his ideas about academic success and family. Pretty clear-cut example of the old understanding being toppled by the new wisdom.

It's actually a really close call to make here, since, despite their considerably different details, each Social Link portrays The Tower with the exact same accuracy. In that light, I have to go with Persona 3, because it also included the detail of having the new wisdom be forceful (Minato/Minako won't go away just because he/she's told to). With Persona 4, Shu learns his lesson as a result of his own misguided actions, and while they're the likely result of his flawed philosophy, they don't strike me as especially inevitable. Even if you count Yu as the determining factor the way Minato/Minako was (and I don't; Yu seems to not have much of a role here until after the climactic test), it still doesn't relate to the Arcana as well, because Yu's presence could have been removed at any time--Shu himself says in the beginning that he'll drop Yu as a tutor if he's not satisfied. So, for getting the part about forceful wisdom right, Persona 3 edges ahead.

I liked Persona 4's story here just fine, but Persona 3's better to me. The pacing's better, for one--up until the very end of Shu's tale, his major issues aren't addressed very strongly or at length; it seems like everything comes out right in the last couple scenes, while Mutatsu's development is more even. I also prefer the originality of Mutatsu's character and situation--a smoking, booze-gulping Buddhist monk who's lost his faith in connecting with others (which, for his religion, would, I think, qualify as having lost his faith entirely) who worked too hard and lost his wife and son because of it. Pretty neat. And lastly, Minato/Minako's place in the Persona 3 Tower events seems to actually have significance. Even if he/she doesn't say much very often, you can see the effects of Minato/Minako's presence slowly changing Mutatsu, while in Persona 4, as I said, Yu seems more like an observer than anything else up until the end. He certainly earns his keep as Shu's friend and guide to better things then, yes, but up until then, he seems unimportant overall. So, Persona 3's version is a better story to me.

In SMTP3, The Star is represented by Mamoru, a rival athlete, for Minato, and Akihiko, a teammate and love interest, for Minako. In SMTP4, it's Teddie, a teammate and fucking annoying waste of programming code.

The Star is the light of hope and faith, a guide to the right path in the dark times of one's life. By "faith," it doesn't necessarily mean religion, but faith in the more basic sense of the's trust can be placed in a deity or system of belief, but it can also be in oneself, another, a lovely intangible, or whatever else can provide one with inspiration and guidance. The Star doesn't provide an end result to dilemmas or journeys, but it does represent the beginning of the right path to resolution.

Honestly, none of these Social Links seems to be very in tune with this. I mean, I guess you can say that Teddie finds the path to self-discovery thanks to his friends, but there's no really strong indication of their guidance or of faith of one kind or another being a part of all just sort of comes together. Not to mention, he definitely does find resolution on who he is, so the path goes beyond the boundaries that The Star is supposed to cover. Akihiko’s no more accurate--he, too, finds a fairly definite resolution to his problems, and while he says that it’s all thanks to Minako’s guidance, it all feels much more like he came to several conclusions on his own, offscreen, after a lot of dilly-dallying with nothing during the actual events of the Social Link. He kind of has great faith in the ability of strength to protect the ones he loves, but that’s a real stretch, and it’s not even a particularly strong part of the story anyway.

Mamoru's not too much better on this. I guess you can say that he finds a new path to his dreams of becoming an athlete that will allow him to first provide for his family with a job, or perhaps that providing for his family IS the better path he should take, but that's a somewhat shaky connection to the Arcana, and it still doesn't really involve faith in any significant capacity that I can see. Still, I'll give it to Persona 3, because none of the Social Links seems to have a clear connection to The Star, but Persona 3, at least, implies the idea that this is a beginning step to Mamoru's future, rather than an end to a journey for answers as Teddie's is.

Let me attempt to be objective for a moment. Akihiko’s story, while probably the most character development he’s ever had, is mostly boring, poorly paced, and only has a few parts that have any actual, meaningful character development for him. Mamoru's story is decent. Teddie's story is less interesting and the scenes that make it up are less coordinated and focused on progressing to the Social Link's conclusion. The conclusion for Mamoru's is much more satisfying than for Teddie's, or Akihiko’s. So, I can say that I honestly would still pick Persona 3's Star Social Link over Persona 4's, even if we didn't factor in the fact that I goddamn hate Teddie (objective moment is done with). Oh my GOD what an annoying asshole he is. There are times when I really wonder if my decision to put Navi on my list of Most Annoying RPG Characters instead of Teddie was the right decision--can her persistent screeching truly be less appealing than hearing this stupid, worthless stuffed animal prattle on about scoring with girls? I'm not always sure. Every time Teddie hits on a female--and that happens a LOT; Persona 4's creators seem to have had the mistaken idea that a joke that isn't funny once might get better 3 dozen times later--I want to hit him in his goddamn face with a crowbar and then tear his stomach out with a garden trowel. Persona 3 wins the point for worth, by virtue of Mamoru, and by virtue of not having fucking Teddie.

In SMTP3, The Moon is represented by Nozomi, a classmate, for Minato, and Shinjiro, a teammate and love interest, for Minako. In SMTP4, it's Ai, a classmate and love interest.

Illusions, mirages, deceptions...The Moon is the Arcana of false appearances. For better or worse, what you see isn't what you get.

Nozomi works well enough with this idea--he give the appearance of being a food-obsessed glutton, but it turns out that his monstrous appetite is a way of running away from memories of his dead brother and thoughts of his own self-worth. His enjoyment's an illusion; he eats to escape only. It's only after he realizes this about himself that he begins to truly enjoy the food he eats. He also runs a small scam cult, which appears to be promising salvation but really is just about making some quick cash. Thus, the Social Link has the chubby little Scientologist showing us false appearances twice over.

Shinjiro’s Social Link is also a good example of The Moon, showing us that much of Shinji’s apathetic exterior hides a young man who worries over the health and well being of his comrades, showing us that much of Shinji’s regular behavior is not necessarily the truth about him. Additionally, he tries until the very end of the Link to keep Minako at an emotional distance, claiming that a person as lowly as he isn’t what she wants/needs--so essentially, he’s trying (albeit somewhat poorly) to hide his true feelings for her. This Social Link shows us what a deception Shinjiro puts forth for the sake of others.

Nonetheless, I have to choose Persona 4's Ai as the most accurate depiction of The Moon Arcana. First of all, her story is equally about the idea of appearances being deceiving...Ai has become so caught up in superficial things like appearance and what's popular and supposedly likable, that she's forgotten who she really is, and has to have Yu's caring patience remind her that it's what lies beneath the surface that matters. She also briefly has an ill-fated crush on a classmate because she's mistaken the idea of wanting to be in love for actually being in love--which is, in a way, another case of being tricked by an illusion, this time the illusion of being in love with love rather than in love with the person. So she's got the theme twice over just as strongly as Nozomi.

But the very way you, the player, go through Ai's Social Link is actually a THIRD connection to The Moon's idea--halfway through, you get the option to become romantically involved with Ai, but if you choose this, then later on she'll break up with Yu because she realizes that it's just another false appearance, not true love, and she doesn't want to hurt him by pretending. But if Yu initially rejects her, knowing that she doesn't really know what she wants at that moment, the Link continues with the 2 of them becoming closer friends and Ai gradually coming to understand herself while her feelings for Yu become something real, so that by the end, she gives Yu a true confession of love. Whether or not you have Yu accept it is irrelevant--the important thing is that the Social Link ITSELF is giving you, halfway through, a false offer of romance, an illusion, that you have to be too wise to fall for. Heck, there's even a little reference at the end of Ai's Link where she says that from now on, she'll depend on the faces of people who care about her to determine how good a person she is--just as the moon reflects light, so will they reflect her worth, which is just one more tie to The Moon's symbolism. Now THAT'S going all out to portray the Tarot card's meaning!

Nozomi's Social Link's story is decent enough, if a bit hard to follow at times, and pretty weird. Shinji’s and Ai's stories are just better in every way, though. Shinji’s Social Link shows us an interesting and surprising look into Shinji’s character, really expanding it and giving him far more depth and appeal. There are several really good parts to it, too. I like how Shinji approaches cooking--unlike the cliched cooking crap we got back with Fuuka in The Priestess’s Social Link, the cooking in Shinji’s actually serves a clear and interesting purpose for him, that being that it showcases his affections for his teammates in a way that he’s not comfortable outright expressing. At first, his interest in his team’s nutrition shows us his concern for his friends, and later, the dinner he puts together for them is his way of trying to make sure that they have a happy memory for the difficult times ahead. Speaking of which, the dinner scene is really great, reminding me greatly of the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3--it’s showing everyone together, as friends and comrades, in a fun, heartwarming, and fulfilling manner. The romance with Shinji kinda feels tacked on (like most of them in these games), but at any rate, Shinji’s Social Link is quite good.

Yet, I still have to give Ai the win here. The pacing and flow of her story is good, her character's depth is surprising but logical, her dilemma and self-understanding are realistic and interesting. I even like the romance part of Ai's Social Link (the real one, I mean, not the bait-and-switch one), which is more than I can say for any other romantic interest in that game--even Rise's was only passable to me. But with Ai, you have a story where Yu is not only there to help her find herself and become connected to her, but one where he knows her well enough and cares about her enough not to let her rush into something with him, but rather wait until she understands him enough that her love is genuine before being together with him. Even her Social Link's conclusion at the end of the game is the best of the romantic ones for Persona 4--rather than just hoping they can someday begin their relationship anew because Yu's going away like Yukiko slightly implies, or just not really mentioning it at all like Rise and Chie, or even seeming to imply that it might be over like Yumi (Sun Link; see below), Ai is willing to work to maintain her relationship with Yu, saying she's patient and ready for a long-distance relationship, and talking of visiting him on Spring Break.*** Everything about Ai's Social Link is great, so Persona 4 wins on this one.

In SMTP3, The Sun is represented by Akinari, a young man. In SMTP4, it's Ayane or Yumi, depending on which club you join. Both are classmates.

The Sun has a few meanings and symbols. It represents light and life coming back after a period of darkness, as well as the idea that no matter how bad things are, the sun will rise with the morning--life will go on. Naturally, this also makes unshakable reliability another thing this card symbolizes. In fact, The Sun can have quite a few meanings--coming joy, happiness, vitality, stability, prosperity, and especially success and completion. Regardless of what the meaning happens to be in any reading, though, it's pretty much always a positive symbol, and most is most strongly associated with a successful, positive conclusion to one thing that heralds the beginning of another.

Which means...that most of the Social Links in these games would work just fine for The Sun. I mean, most of them conclude with a positive note that's the successful end of a journey of self-discovery, in one way or another, with this new understanding of self clearly being the starting point of a new part of life for the Social Links' characters. Persona 4's Ayane and Yumi work fine for The Sun, neither better nor worse than I'd expect from any Social Link--I kind of feel like their stories might have been tossed into The Sun's category just because the developers had the ideas for each but didn't really have another Arcana to classify them under. Persona 3's Sun Social Link is, I think, maybe a slightly more focused representation of The Sun, but that could be personal interpretation more than unbiased observation--I feel like the joy and success of Akinari finding meaning for his life after his long period of pain and confusion is a stronger story of personal success and joy than Ayane's or Yumi's. So I will give Persona 3 the win for this one, but I'll do so while admitting that it's debatable.

Ayane's story is bland, sugar-coated crap that reminds me of Persona 3's Saori and, worse still, Chihiro--Ayane's actually a bit more annoying and cliched, but her ambitions are considerably nobler, so it evens out for me. Of course, the romance aspect is silly and unbelievable...and honestly, also a little bit disturbing, given that Ayane looks and acts like she's 10. Yumi's Social Link is good, creating a reasonably distinctive character and a nicely touching story of her reconciling with her father before losing him, and in doing so finding a part of herself that she had denied for a long time. Her romance is almost okay, too, in that it seems like it could actually happen--but the game literally crams every significant aspect of it into the very last few minutes of the entire Social Link's run, so it's a wash to me.

All of that said, though...I was just being polite by even mentioning my thoughts on Yumi and Ayane's tales here. The winner is Persona 3. The winner is and always will be Persona 3, for everything, forever, because of this Social Link. Akinari's Social Link in this game is...incredible. Persona 3's Sun Link is, without any doubt in my mind, one of the most incredible pieces of storytelling that I have ever seen in any RPG (and by logical extension, any video game) I've ever played. It's the best part of a game that's already excellent, and truly a work of emotional art. I’ve seen it half a dozen times now, and each and every time it’s brought tears, and lots of’em, to my eyes. To not cry when watching this, you’d pretty much have to be an inanimate object. It's utterly amazing, plain and simple.

In SMTP3, Judgment is represented by SEES, during their final mission to save the world. In SMTP4, it's the Investigative Team, as they finally deduce their foe's identity and defeat him.

Death and The Tower represented the end of something old to make way for something new--the way all of creation in life works, essentially, changing one thing into another. Judgment represents the physically impossible--rebirth and creation without destruction. Judgment is tied with spiritual rebirth, karma--but not like Justice was, where it was physical results for one's actions, but spiritual results, where your actions determine what you'll do from now on and how your spirit will develop--a clean slate, cleansing, and acknowledging past actions and beliefs, good or bad, as you go into the future (but not being hindered by them). And, naturally, the concept of Judgment Day, found in many religions, is tied strongly to the Judgment Arcana.

I won't say Persona 3's Judgment Social Link is inaccurate per say, as the climb through the final part of Tartarus can be seen as the SEES team going forward with the strength and lessons they've learned on their journey towards their final destiny, where they'll face off against an actual Judgement Day. But Persona 4's far better here--Judgment's Social Link is started at the final part of the game, as was Persona 3's, but the "judgment" it makes on the Investigative Team is an act in progress--it takes Yu and company's spiritual strength and clarity to drive the Link forward to its end, and if their spirits are not wise and strong enough to make their decisions just, the end result is the Bad Ending. Persona 4's just a better depiction here.

No contest. Persona 3's Judgment Social Link is basically just the trek through the final parts of the main dungeon. While you can have some fun considering the spiritual ramifications of it, you can do the same for Persona 4's Judgment Link, AND actually listen to dialogue as the game's plot continues during the Link's course. One is a story, one isn't. Not a hard choice.

THE AEON: In SMTP3, The Aeon is represented by Aigis, a teammate and love interest. In SMTP4, it’s Marie, Igor’s other assistant, a love interest, and secretly a piece of the main villain Izanami, sort of.

The site I was using for meanings had nothing for The Aeon, so I've taken this from a few online sources. The Aeon is an Arcana that replaces Judgment in some Tarot decks. Like Judgment, it's a symbol of spiritual judgment, but in a more spiritually complete way. It's the end of The Fool's journey, the point at which one looks back on all that one has thought, experienced, learned, believed, gained, lost, understood, and become. It's the summation of one's journey, and one is left to look at that journey and accept its results. The Aeon also identifies with the general act of looking at a full cycle from afar or above and finding meaning in it--things like contemplating the circle of life.

In this regard, Aigis's Social Link is particularly fascinating, because in one way it's the complete opposite of what The Aeon is meant to show, and yet in a deeper way, is an exquisitely accurate representation. As a robot only now discovering emotions and humanity, Aigis doesn't really have the connection to the journey of the game's characters that The Aeon looks over--she is not a part of the experience, knowledge, and wisdom gained from the journey as a whole. Yet The Aeon prescribes seeing the entirety of a journey or a cycle from a higher perspective, elevating oneself above it to gain understanding from seeing its entirety--and is that not exactly what Aigis is doing? From her perspective as an observer who is unable to take part in many aspects of being human, she can, and does, see the big picture with extraordinary clarity. In her Social Link, she not only examines the cycle of life and death, she also determines and describes the way to find meaning, happiness, and contentment with one's limited time alive--by finding others and forging emotional bonds to them, by touching others' lives as well as one is able. She's basically summing up the game's theme and meaning right here and now--that it's our connections to others that make our lives truly worthwhile. Since she's observing the point of the entire game, she is, of course, looking from a higher perspective on the entire journey and seeing its purpose, just as The Aeon is meant to. Her Social Link even works in a small element of judgment--if it's your bonds to others that make your life worthwhile, then it's your decisions and actions that will bring meaning or emptiness to your life, because it's how you act that will determine how deeply you're connected to others.

Marie’s story is similar in some ways to Aigis’s. She, too, is separated from the other characters of the game, having no memories and thus no humanity, as well as not being entirely human to begin with. With this perspective of an outsider, we once again experience her commentary and perspective often summarizing the game’s main themes and meaning. However, while Aigis muses over these concepts and explores them, Marie doesn’t seem to be doing anything beyond observation. I also don’t really see a connection to the themes of the cycle of life, or spiritual judgment. Lastly, the major overall theme of Persona 4’s journey is undeniably tied with the idea of a pursuit of truth, both personal and interpersonal, yet Marie’s Social Link seems content with her settling on the memories she has now rather than continuing to try to recover her past--it’s kind of just dropped. True, the “truth” of who she is can be argued to be her present alone, but the exploration into who one truly is over who one wants to be is a kinda big part of Persona 4, so it doesn’t jive well when the character most meant to promote the understanding and wisdoms of the game’s journey is doing the exact opposite. Overall, Persona 4’s Marie definitely has a connection to the meaning of The Aeon, but Persona 3’s Aigis far better embodies the Arcana.

If we don't count Persona 3's Social Link for The Sun (which is really in a league of its own anyway), The Aeon is my favorite Social Link in the game. Not only do we get a great summary of the game's wisdom and meaning through the words of Aigis that still somehow manages not to be blunt, but we also get a great, very touching story of Aigis struggling with her growing humanity and its being trapped within a mechanical body, along with her attempt to understand life and its inescapable finite nature. I also particularly love the romantic aspect of the Social Link--Aigis's feelings of devotion and love are well-established early on, and the whole thing is very touching, particularly the last few parts of the Social Link. In fact, even if I'm not counting the parts of the main game, particularly in the ending, depicting Aigis's love for Minato/Minako that aren't direct parts of the Social Link, she's still easily the one I believe loves him/her the most. This Link is great from start to finish. Marie’s story isn’t bad, aside from another superfluously tacked-on romance, and I do like it and think it has worth, but it truly just pales in comparison to the Social Link for Aigis. Persona 3 wins this one.

In SMTP3, there is no Social Link for either The Jester or Hunger. In SMTP4, The Jester and Hunger are both represented by Adachi, the main villain.

Also known as Lust and Passion, the Hunger Arcana replaces Strength in some Tarot decks. I’m going on a few different sources for the meaning of this one. Basically, Hunger is similar to Strength in that it represents mastery of one’s passions, one’s animal side, but unlike Strength, which uses higher thought emotions to subdue instincts and desires, Hunger’s mastery of them is not meant to subdue them, but to be able to fully partake in them, to indulge in them without being lost in them. Energy, vitality, a joy of life, and the ability to use these things are embodied by Hunger, but so too is the potential for abuse of power and loss of control--being a practicing master of one’s animal desires, and servant to them, are always dangerously close.

Now, from what I can tell (and I’m not an expert; these are just the basic research results of Google, Wikipedia, and a few online Tarot interpretation sites), The Jester is just another name for The Fool, not an actual replacement for it. The only difference in meaning that I’ve found is SMTP4’s own interpretation of its meaning (as told by the SMT Wiki, at any rate), which is that The Jester is like The Fool in having ignorance, spontaneity, and freedom, but in a suppressed way, a person for whom these aspects misguide him/her and make him/her have difficulties working with others.

Adachi’s Social Link fits both Arcana pretty darned well, I think. At first, it’s listed as The Jester, and it fits the bill--Adachi’s penchant for goofing off, slacking, and cutting corners works well with The Jester’s theme. He doesn’t feel motivated to do his job well, he doesn’t want to be bothered by the old lady who’s taken a shine to him because talking to her is a pain (even though he seems to like her deep down), he advises Nanako to take the quick and easy way out of her homework...all these carefree tendencies of ignorance and careless free spirit align exactly with The Jester as described above. Hell, this doesn’t actually make a difference to the Arcana’s meaning, but the guy’s even whimsical and silly, the way you’d expect an actual jester to be. It’s also quite interesting that the only way you can keep Adachi’s Social Link as The Jester instead of it turning to Hunger is to pursue the bad ending in which Yu knowingly covers for Adachi and helps him to avoid being caught for his crimes. Essentially, Yu’s decision to do this is a betrayal of the very essence of the theme of Persona 4, him discarding all the actions of his friends and himself in pursuit of the truth in favor of perpetuating a horrible falsehood, of embracing the lie. No wonder it’s in this way that The Jester’s Social Link is continued and completed--it is the lesser, the corrupted version of The Fool. The Fool, the pursuer of truth that Yu until this moment most embodied, is no more. There is only The Jester as the story ends in failure.

As for the Hunger card, well, uh, duh. Once this Social Link turns into Hunger, it’s become inextricably ingrained in the main plot of the game, so it’s fair to use said main plot for material, and...well, c’mon, Adachi the villain is basically everything that Hunger’s meant to be; do I really have to explain it? He’s a psychopath who gets his kicks from murder, and abuses his position as a police officer to avoid capture and help him set up new attempts. And he’s too far gone in his twisted ways to be reasoned with, so much that it’s a mildly humorous annoyance to him when Yu tries--no longer able to escape the dark impulses that he abuses for their power. Yep, he fits Hunger, alright.

Well, it’s not like it has any competition, but Adachi’s Social Link is pretty darned cool, as well as creepy. Seeing him early in it is a bit enlightening when one views it with the knowledge of what Adachi truly is, giving a little better understanding of his character (the main plot doesn’t do enough on this point, so it’s very welcome). The later parts are great stuff--on the one hand, the ending where you become his accomplice is dark and creepy, about as bad a Bad Ending there could be. That scene in the police station is chilling. On the other hand, the true path for the later parts is also great stuff--Yu’s solo confrontation with Adachi is a very good scene, and gives us a better familiarity with his true, twisted self that truly shows just how beyond normality he really is. Good stuff, all throughout.

Although The Universe and The World do show up in SMTP3 and 4, respectively, as the culmination of all Social Links together, neither has a Social Link of their own.


Meaning: Persona 3: 13. Persona 4: 8. SMT Persona 3 is the better game for its Social Links depicting the Tarot Arcana.

Worth: Persona 3: 10. Persona 4: 12. SMT Persona 4 is the better game for its Social Links as far as the overall worth of them as stories and means of character development.

Gotta admit, I was surprised by this as I wrote it and did the tally...originally I had expected SMTP4 to have greater accuracy, but for SMTP3 to have better stories in general. Turns out, though, that I underestimated SMTP3's representation of the Tarot cards, and SMTP4's plots. Although I almost feel like SMTP3’s Sun Social Link ought to count several times over, just for how excellent it is. Regardless, though, this proves one thing: the SMT team at Atlus are RIDICULOUSLY thoughtful and dedicated regarding their games' meaning, symbolism, and general writing quality.

And there we have it. Good. GOD. This is easily the longest, most comprehensive rant I've ever done, and with all the writing, contemplating, watching both games' Social Links all over again, and researching Tarot cards I did for this...I hesitate to wonder how many hours I've given to this one rant. I really hope at least a few people made it to the end here, and although I try to avoid whining for feedback in most cases, I'd really appreciate it if anyone who's gotten this far was to comment and let me know what you thought.

And now, I am beat. See you all one more time for the Annual Summary rant, and then it’s off to 2014 for us all.

* I'm aware that I'm taking into consideration events involving Pharos that go outside of the strict confines of the Social Link, and that I've previously said I'd avoid doing that for other characters. The reason here is that all the later events for Pharos in the plot proper happen after and BECAUSE OF the Social Link's events. If a later plot event occurs as a direct result of a Social Link, it's only fair to take it into consideration, I think.

** Actually, certain (very sound and reasonable) interpretations of the mythological Devil pretty much say he does the same thing--it's not him that forces evil on you, but rather your own evils that bring you to him. So in a certain respect, you COULD say the Arcana is meant to directly show the theological Devil. But I guess that's probably a huge can of spiritual worms I shouldn't open up here, huh?

*** To be fair, Naoto also makes mention of attempting to keep things going by visiting Yu after he's moved away. But as I mentioned before, her potential romance in the Fortune Social Link is really bad.