When I think of epic JRPG battle music, I usually think of driving guitars, pulsing drums, and soaring melodies. I do not, generally, think of weird funky hip-hop and a lady singing "Baby, baby, baby, baby" over and over again.
And yet that's exactly what Persona 3's battle music is, and damned if it isn't fantastic. In fact, this game's entire soundtrack is one of the best I've heard in recent memory.
Over the last month or so, I've finally been addressing my Persona blind-spot, sinking a ton of free time into the PSP version of the game (played on my Vita, naturally). I am in full-on, hearts-on-fire love with this game. I will have more to say about it once I finish (and yes, I do plan to finish, 100-hour length be damned). But for now: Music.
Persona 3 is basically "Surviving High School meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets a hardcore JRPG." Anyone who knows me at all knows this is... well, it is a game that is very much "for me." I've even written about how I want more games set in high school, and the fact that I wrote that without playing Persona first is, yes, a huge oversight on my part.
But I'm rectifying that now. As much as I like the story, characters, and gameplay of Persona 3, I think like the music even more. Let's listen to some tracks, shall we?
"Mass Destruction" is Persona 3's primary battle theme. It, like the rest of the soundtrack, was written by Shōji Meguro, with rapping by Lotus Juice and vocals by Yumi Kawamura.
For anyone who has played Persona 3, I'd imagine hearing this track (which is actually called "Mass Destruction") provides a memory-blast like a SEES pistol-shot to the head. Anyone who hasn't played Persona 3 will probably hear this and think "What the eff is this crap? Who is this jive-ass rapper? What is with the weird horn parts? What is going on?"
There may be no better example of a song that is entirely dependent on its corresponding game. It may sound like a goofy jam to the untrained ear, but as YouTube Commenter Rondart puts it:
No other VGM has generated a more "love it or hate it" comments. People disliked it for it trying too hard to be hip-hoppy, while some people hear nothing but pure, concentrated AWESOME.
Imagine this: I'm battling Grim Reaper wielding two Colt Buntlines while I shoot myself in the head to bring this huge ass winged dragon to kill Death himself with two girls and an android girl wearing maid suits, all the while listening to some very uplifting hip-hop.
How is that not awesome? OH YEAH!
I agree so hard, YouTube Commenter Rondart! You know what you're talking about.
(God help me, I just quoted and then agreed with a YouTube commenter.)
When the chorus comes around, and the singer belts out that "Ooh yeah"... by that time, I'm usually so far in the groove that I can't help but rock out. Usually, Mitsuru is busting out a pistol to lay waste to some creatures, my mind is moving quickly to plan out my next few moves... it pushes the energy of the scene in a way that is exciting and distinctive.
When cruising around Tartarus, rather than the default music, I always ask Fuuka to play this one, titled "Persona": It's so grooving. This tune is especially great for when I tell my team to split up, when we're moving through levels we've already beaten looking for missing people. Love it.
This is another weird one that is probably a bit divisive. I've only played the first fifth or so of the game, and this track, which plays in the dorm, is already one of the game's most instantly evocative tunes. The angular horn melody, that weird violin countermelody... I've never heard anything quite like this in a video game. I'm listening to it as I type this, when all I want to do is go chat up Yukari before heading into my room to study. While a wolf howls.
This music plays whenever players face off against one of the shadows outside of Tartarus, and man... as excellent as "Mass Destruction" is, this one actually gets me more pumped up. Those battles often come down to the wire, and require focus and planning—and nothing makes me focus quite like that synth line.
There are so many other great tracks in this game, and plenty of others that I doubtless haven't heard yet. I'm very happy to be finally digging into the world of Shin Megami Tensei, and the music of Shōji Meguro.
Okay! Think it's time to go play more Persona 3.
(Top image found on Tumblr with no credit - there is too much Persona 3 fan art out there to track down whoever did it, but if you did, drop me a line and I'll credit you.)