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The Persona Games as Dating Sims
In the Persona games, you develop social links with other characters, both male and female. However, the male protagonist is given the chance to date one (or all) of the female characters. While this provides the function of a dating sim to the main story, the way it's set up is a bit suspect. For this analysis, I will be comparing and contrasting this feature as it appears in Persona 3 and Persona 4 proper.
While I have never played a pure dating sim, it is my understanding that a male protagonist has many females to choose from; while my exposure to them is limited, I have never heard of any that are same-sex (which includes the version of Persona 3 with a female protagonist). While there isn't a homosexual option, at least not yet, the protagonist of Persona 4 can choose to hang out with his male friends during an event instead of one of the girls he's dating. I know that's not the same thing, but it's at least a little different. The most important social links will be the other main characters of the story. In Persona 4, they are usually among the first ones established and come with perks in battle (such as taking a fatal blow for you or picking you up when you get knocked down). In Persona 3, however, the rest of the team's social links are among the last ones you establish (and even then, male team members do not get their own social links). The beginning of that game is spent establishing links with NPCs from school and around town.
Eligible characters for the dating sim aspect of the game are restricted to female student social links. Somewhere along the line, the relationship will become serious, and you either have to let them down easy (while still continuing the social link) or take them up on their offer of intimacy. In Persona 4, you can get away with dating everyone you can unless you're playing Golden, which has consequences come Valentine's Day (not real consequences, but you will make everyone you don't spend the day with very sad). Persona 3 is similar, but you still need to be careful even if you are only dating one person as they may get jealous of your female friends. This brings me to the point of this analysis: why bother having this kind of set up in a game that isn't about dating? It's difficult enough to get all the social links to max so you can fuse the ultimate persona of each arcana, so why make it even more difficult to juggle all of them by creating conflicts?
I will not pretend to know all of the ins and outs of the intricate and fragile setup that is teen romance, but the concept of the dating sim is meant to reflect the possibilities a [Japanese] high school student might encounter in his (or her) everyday life. Apart from their corresponding arcana, the social links themselves are just that - a social aspect to the game providing side story and a rich environment in the real world outside of fighting shadows. These are the people who give you strength and whom you fight to protect from evil (even when they may unwittingly be producing said evil, since all shadows come from [the will of] humans).
In conclusion, while the Persona games are part dating sim, that is just one aspect of a greater whole. It may be possible to skip if you aren't going for 100% game play, especially since you only have barely enough time to max out all your social links during a new game plus run. For more information on dating sims, visit the links below.
- Dating Sims, Love for EVERYONE! - Culture Shock - YouTube
Dating sims aren't just about...base desires...they provide MUCH more to the Japanese population, something every individual needs.
- Game Exchange: Dating Sims and Synthetic Relationships - YouTube
A journey into the hows and whys of Japans dating sims, and how "effective" they can be. ...It gets a little raunchy and a little emotional.