Video game movies are a bizarre phenomenon, in my book. Take a successful IP and adapt it into a movie. Sounds logical enough. Hell, it might even be good! But by and large these attempts don’t go over as well as other film adaptations.
With reasons like no game “authorship,” the removal of any element of emergent narrative, and other issues movies made from games have a steep slope to climb on the way to acceptance, let alone decency. Enter Persona 3: the Spring of Birth, and if you’ve ever been a slight fan of the Persona series, it’s time to give video game movies a second chance.
This seems completely irrational. Persona 3 and its brethren titles pride themselves on telling incredible stories with a diverse cast of characters too numerous for any big screen. Players are almost complete authors of their own experiences in the decisions they make regarding the relationships between the characters and their protagonist.
Then again, the Persona 3 movie isn’t your average project. For one, it’s animated. For another, it isn’t just one movie; fitting, as the 70+ hour game couldn’t possibly be represented adequately by a single 90-minute segment. No, this project is a full trilogy.
Animating a game movie has a number of benefits. The difficulty of finding actors to decently portray the characters is immense, but animation circumvents all those problems by giving a studio the ability to adapt the characters closely to the game’s design. Their voice actors are usually signed on to reprise their roles, and Persona 3 is no exception.
Persona 3 as a game was also about as close to an anime as a game can be. While not excessively laden with the tropes prominent in the medium, the JRPG nevertheless has the look, feel, and storytelling of a very mature Japanese cartoon. Animating it into a feature-length movie wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine.
The Persona 3 movie’s biggest challenge comes from the game’s greatest strength: player choice. With so many characters to interact with and so many different events to affect, the options available to a player are quite plentiful. A movie, however, only gets one shot; one “playthrough,” so to speak.
Those same choices contribute greatly to a player’s sense of authorship. That feeling of, “Ooh, look what I did!” is present in all games, Persona 3 especially because of the “blank slate” of every man/woman protagonist the game gives to the player.
Given all these factors it’s no small wonder that games are even attempted to be adapted into films, let alone successfully. But the Persona 3 is definitely worth a watch. Maybe not $60 worth (its current retail price), but as a video game movie it works.
It works because the characters themselves, the ones the protagonist interacts with, were wonderfully designed. They’re human in their vices and virtues, and as NPCs they shined. As characters in a movie they simply have less lines, but are no less developed as the plot unfolds.
To speak of the technical details themselves, the movie is incredibly well-made. With a very high-production value, score composed by the series staple Shouji Meguro, and returning voices from the game, Persona 3 comes to life in glorious HD. It almost feels like the only difference is you’re not holding a controller.
It works, and it’s fun to watch. It’s no substitute for the game by any stretch, but is still an enjoyable movie. It may even make you blow the dust off the F.E.S. disc and finally finish ‘The Answer.’
Persona 3 was a fantastic JRPG with a huge fanbase, revived by its remake and now furthered by its film adaptation. If you were ever a fan, you owe it to yourself to give the movie a try.