Persona 3: Overture to a JRPG
TomChick - News - 07/19/07 - Link

I can only get so far talking about Japanese games before I feel like Iím out of my element and simply making generalizations, but that wonít stop me from doing it anyway. So as Iím playing Persona 3 and coming up on the 3 hour mark, Iím getting fed up with whatever Japanese convention it is that wonít let me bust out into the world. What it is about JRPGs that mandates a few hours of straightjacketed exposition? Is it a cultural thing? Is it there to filter out the less committed? Is it setting some sort of mood? Does it make these games more or less palatable to a wider US audience? Arenít there more people getting fed up at not getting to the good stuff Ė the interaction Ė sooner?

Iíd like to do without all the soggy exposition. Part of it is getting older. When youíre a kid, the money spent is a huge factor. But as you grow up, the time spent is the more precious resource. So those three hours matter. Iím impatient. I know what I like. I want to get to the part where I can see what this game has to offer, so that Iíll know whether or not to keep playing. I need to find out whether this is someplace Iím willing to spend twenty or thirty hours, and I need to know sooner rather than later. Because, oddly enough, if I wait long enough, Iíll end up continuing to play out of sheer pride: ďNo siree, Iím sure as hell not giving up after six hours of this crap. I didnít come this far just to quit!Ē

In Oblivion, your exit from the Imperial sewers can come as soon as five minutes after youíve started a new game. At that point, Oblivion tells you, ĎLook what I made for you. Itís a world! Get on out there!í It treats me like the adult I am by recognizing that my time is valuable. It gives me a teensy little dungeon that will show me what I need to know, and even let me putter around for a while if I want. But otherwise, itís a short straight shot to freedom and gameplay. In Persona 3, three hours after selecting ĎNew gameí, it still doesnít trust me enough to let me fully play.

So I think of it like the overture to an opera. The overture is there to tell you to shut up, sit down, and get in the mood. No oneís going to come out and sing yet, and youíre sure as hell not going to get to watch anything happening on stage. Itís the mandatory downtime that will test your commitment to the coming show. I just wish the overtures to Japanese RPGs were shorter.

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