Demon negotiation is a Shin Megami Tensei staple. Ever since Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei was released on the Famicom in 1987, players have been able to talk with their supernatural enemies and attempt to get them to join their ranks. Each game offers its own variation on this unique form of communication and recruitment, but Shin Megami Tensei: Persona has one of the most interesting and realistic approaches to the mechanic. Well, as realistic as a game where high schoolers are facing demons, entering another realm outside our own reality, and single-handedly righting a questionable organization’s wrongs can be. This help give you a reason to look into an installment that hasn’t aged well in other respects, thanks to one feature that stands strong.
Like all Shin Megami Tensei games and spin-offs with the recruitment mechanic, we get the opportunity to converse with our enemies during battle. Before it begins, of course, because these opponents might be a bit too upset or fired up to chat, should we start getting into it after trading blows. You pick one of your Persona party members and an opponent, then see what happens when you talk it out. As you interact, the target’s mood shifts. When they’re completely angry, eager, happy, or scared, something important and influential will happen. Ideally, they’ll become your friend. It’s also possible they’ll give you a gift and leave, run away, pick up a fearful status ailment or become more enraged.
Each Persona party member has his or her specialties, each of which inspires different emotions in different demons. Once you make contact, you choose a person and hope their talents will make that enemy react in the right way. Let’s say you decide to have Kei Nanjo talk to the group. He’s a rich boy from a good family who gets good grades and will eventually run his father’s companies. This means his negotiation options are Bribe, Condescend, Pontificate and Sarcasm. You’d want to use these skills to make an opponent eager or happy to get them to come over to your side. His Sarcasm works well on Poltergeists, Hoodlums and Leprechauns, which means you’d have a chance of winning them over when using it.
What follows is one of the most logical and well thought uses of Shin Megami Tensei negotiation system. Each demon has certain attributes tied to it in this first Persona game; you can see these when you’re choosing who to Contact in a battle. Let’s look back at the Poltergeist and Hoodlum we mentioned earlier. The Poltergeist is Foolish, Gloomy and Snappish, while the Hoodlum is Foolish and Snappish. Nanjo’s sarcasm makes both of them happy, as their Foolish. Meanwhile, the Zombie Nurse and Leprechaun both become more eager when Nanjo is sarcastic, because they’re Gloomy. The emotional gauge on the screen and these traits help you find some kind of context in situations, even if some monster is new to you.
The character’s talents, meanwhile, help you better understand the people you’re working with in Persona. Ayase Yuka is a popular girl who’s a bit of a bully, childish, trendy and doesn’t have book smarts, but can be street smart. When she starts talking with a demon, she can abuse, cry at, seduce or threaten it. The abuse option shows her nature to pick on people who she might consider at her level. Crying shows how childish and manipulative she can be, as it is something immature individuals resort to. As someone used to others being impressed by her looks and popularity, she thinks flirting with them is an easy way to get what she wants. Since she does know what life in the real world can be like, she knows that blustering and threatening can intimidate people, even if they might be stronger than her in normal situations. In a game where you have eight other people who may join your hero, these extra in-battle insights offer more casual looks at these individuals’ personalities.
These also explain why Persona’s demons would actually acknowledge, listen to, converse with and even join a bunch of teenagers new to the whole battling and otherworld experience. Our allies aren’t magically eloquent mediators and negotiators. They’re kids. They have the sorts of abilities and talents you’d expect from them. Mark can brag, dance, stare and taunt. These are all things that a teenager could be very good at. There’s a very good chance his skills are at a high enough level to impress otherwise lethal individuals.
You have to consider that these are demons as well. Their levels of intelligence may vary; they aren’t accustomed to human hobbies and socialization methods. When Reiji Kido performs magic, it might actually astonish these creatures. This is something they’ve never seen before, which could cause more extreme reactions than we’d expect in ordinary individuals. This allows for a suspension of disbelief. It makes you consider how things could work.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is a the first entry in the Persona spin-offs. There are many ways in which it hasn’t aged well. But, it absolutely excels in its demon negotiations. The Contact mechanic is well executed and displays a level of detail and quality that can still be admired today.