The Use of Strategy in Persona and Shin Megami Tensei

The anthem of my demise.

One thing that the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games do is that they make you rethink everything you know about turn-based RPGs. A very clear example of this is that in the Final Fantasy series, you don’t really worry about increasing evasion or attack, but when you’re wandering about the ruins of Tokyo and you suddenly encounter Matador in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, you’d better learn how to use buffs and debuffs, because that guy is no joke.

As difficult as it may seem, it’s quite a smart battle system. I know that when many of my friends think of turn-based RPGs, they associate it with hours of level grinding, like the stuff you’d find in the Dragon Quest games. While there is definitely grinding involved with Shin Megami Tensei and Persona, it’s not for the same purpose.

In other RPGs, generally you’ll play the game, enjoy the story, and eventually you run into a boss that’s way stronger than you. What time is it? Time to grind until you’re about 10 levels higher and can summon Neo Bahamut or something like that so you can just annihilate the boss in one fell swoop. Well, the Shin Megami Tensei/Persona series changed that formula up a bit, and here, I’ll be talking more about Persona 4 in general, since that’s the game where I ran into this roadblock.

I won’t give out any major story spoilers for people who haven’t played it yet, but there’s this boss at what I assume is near the end of the game that gave me trouble. I’ve been playing Persona 4 Golden on Easy mode since I just want to experience the story before playing it again on a higher difficulty, and until now, I haven’t had much trouble. A couple enemies here and there would throw a curveball, but nothing too tricky.

And then this boss shows up and turns out to be way more difficult than I expected.

At this point, I thought I was over-leveled. I have the protagonist almost up to level 60 and most enemies are pushovers as soon as I know what their weaknesses are, but then this boss shows me that I am far from over-leveled. Or rather that I was unprepared.

There’s one move the boss uses where he possesses the minds of your party members and turns them against you. The first time he does it, he only does it to one person, but during the second time, he turns all three of them on you. It was at that moment I knew I was screwed from over-leveling, because my party members were too strong. I died before all three of them could attack me and got a game over for the first time since I’ve owned the game.

I haven’t played it since, but afterwards, I was reflecting on what could have been done to prevent that. Level grinding wouldn’t help unless I went in solo, and I didn’t want to risk that. Then I remembered that each Persona you equip has particular strengths and weaknesses to different types of attacks. It was then that I realized having a Persona to entirely block or absorb physical attacks would be the best way to go.

Until then, I completely forgot that was an option. When I use Personas, I only really focus on their skills and elemental strengths and weaknesses rather than how they react to physical attacks. When I play the game next, I’m going to do some Persona experimentation and see if I can find something that works. Perhaps I’ll even write a follow-up entry to this one afterward.

Either way, my whole point is that Shin Megami Tensei and Persona are amazing in the way that you aren’t required to level grind when you hit a roadblock like this. And instead, you can figure out which of your Personas can entirely negate that damage, or fuse one if you don’t have one already. I love this series, and I’ll certainly be writing about it quite a bit in the future. Hopefully I can convince those who haven’t played the games yet to give them a try. They’re not everyone’s cup of coffee, but I certainly love them.

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