Whoa, look who's come crawling back. To the blog world. Sphere, if you will. So I was thinking the other day about how I would change one of my favorite RPG series, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (or Persona for short) to make it even more to my liking, to the possible detriment of many of its other fans. Because screw those guys. Here's what I came up with:
Now this blog article assumes you have some knowledge of this series, and of the last two entries in particular. Go look up some videos or reviews or Wikipedia info on it or, hell, just go play them. I'll wait.
So anyway, my biggest gripe about this game and the source of many hours of pointless and non-entertaining grinding is what a lot of MegaTen fans love the most: The Persona fusion system. Taking its cue from various Mons games, including its predecessors in the larger MegaTen franchise as a whole, the fusion system allows you to raise two monsters, merge them and create a new hybrid monster with the abilities of its parents, usually at the cost of the parents themselves. While you are left with a superior monster type, it is weakened by its current newborn state, and you're out of the two powerful monsters used to create it. This is where the grinding comes in. Especially if your real target is a monster that is several more generations down the line. Adding to your woes is the necessary "ability inheritance", where part of your perfect creation requires that certain abilities from the parents are passed down, which means constantly refreshing the creation process for the right assortment before finally committing to the fusion process. The whole shebang often takes up far more of your game time than playing the actual game itself.
I'd like to stick a disclaimer here: When coming up with a new system, you have to check it at every angle to make sure it works. While I am just one person, prone to blindspots, I'm fairly sure this is bombproof. Fairly sure.
My proposal is for a single, malleable Persona, one that befits the Fool Arcana's "wild card" status. The idea is you have the one Persona for the whole game but you're allowed to change its abilities, resistances and statistics to suit the circumstances on the fly in battle. For instance, instead of having one Physical-focused, one Ice-focused and one Buff-focused personae, you could have separate "builds" to switch between with the same Persona. You'd modify these builds before battles, either in the Velvet Room or at any point while exploring when not in direct combat, keeping in mind the properties of the bosses and typical enemies you're about to come up against. With this system, you'd have much greater freedom to create a Persona ideal to the situation you'll face. There will be limitations based on the dungeon you're on and the level you're at (e.g. no giving away Victory Cry on the first dungeon), but otherwise you'd have full mastery of the material available.
So where do the other Personae come in? The Compendium, Arcana and Social Links are such important aspects of the Persona game world that you couldn't really lose them. Well, you'd still obtain Persona in much the same way you did before: After random battles. Acquiring a new Persona for the Compendium grants any of the following bonuses to you and your static Persona:
1) A new ability. Abilities are meted out to you upon acquiring certain personae after battle. So a low-level ice-based persona like Apsaras might grant you the use of the entry-level Ice spell "Bufu". Abilities earned in this manner will need to be equipped to a build before you can use them. This way, the player doesn't receive the more high-level abilities until they have conquered the higher-level battles that grant them.
2) A stat boost. Your Persona gains a small amount of stats when leveling, much like they did in the previous games. However, to stay at a competitive level with the tougher enemies, they'll need larger boosts from time to time. These are also earned from certain personae found after battles. Stats like Speed, Luck and Endurance get individual increases, but Strength and Magic (the two stats that determine damage based on what attacks you use) get a shared pot which can be shifted from one pole to the other when editing the build - this is so a build that focuses on magic attacks can be given a stronger magic-attack stat, and vice versa for a physical-focused build.
3) Character bonuses. These go directly onto your character instead of the Persona, increasing health, mana and the three stats important for creating social links: Courage, Intellect and Charisma.
4) Cosmetic Items. In even rarer cases, you'll be given an item for display in the player character's room, such as a Jack Frost doll on a shelf somewhere. Though they'd have no practical applications, these items may well be sought after by completionists.
5) Money and XP bonuses. These are given for duplicate personae, if no new ones show up after a battle. As this may often be the case if you're on the latter floors of a dungeon or are specifically looking for a rarer persona, the frequent instances where no new Persona occur will at least have some small benefit.
Social Links, when increased, grant you various bonuses to how often Personae of that Arcana type appear. The highest type of that Arcana only appears if you've successfully completed that Social Link, much in the same way as it was in the past. If you have a certain predilection for physical attacks, say, it might convince you to follow the Emperor's Social Link for sooner access to its more physical-based Personae.
As well as changing your build's abilities and focus on physical or magical strength, you could also shift around its resistances. Occasionally, you'd be given a new resistance point from an acquired Persona but most of the time you'd have to shift around what you already had. This meant as well as increasing resistances to various elements, you could also drop your resistance to one element (becoming "Weak" to it) to buff up a more critical one.
Ultimately, you'd have the full customization options to create whatever builds you wished, including possible options to customize even the look of the Persona builds to help distinguish them. You'd have all the strategic variations for the difficult battles ahead with none of the endless fusion experiments and wasted cash and time. Plus, this system allows the developers to add a lot more Personae to read about in the Compendium, since they don't need to balance them and assign arbitrary stats for each - just a single bonus.