Thursday, June 26, 2014

Minor Persona 3 Observations

A couple of observations as I play through Persona 3, which I never finished.

Battle Menu Sounds

The first thing I usually remember about any jrpg I've played is the rhythm of navigating the battle menu. Before I even recall the visual design of the thing, I hear the sound effects for moving around the menu and the usually staccato action confirmation. Those sounds can give a tactile sense of weight to choosing a menu item, giving the menu itself a sense of solidity and physicality in the game world.

Persona 3 Menu, phases of the moon

 The battle menu in Persona 3 is a radial menu, The visual design echoes the shattering clock animation that signals the Dark Hour each night in the game. Each menu item is represented by an icon in a solid circle, and their arrangement gives the appearance of a moon phase chart, another important element of the game.

As the player uses the D-Pad to rotate the menu items, the selections click into place with a sound effect that implies elasticity. The effect is very short, but the initial hiss rises in pitch as though it's pulling against something before the percussive click and lowering pitch of the rest of the effect implies it's snapped/settled into a notch. The feeling that it's pulled and sort of bounces into place isn't explicit in the animation, but the way the rotation accelerates and then stops suddenly is congruent enough with the effect that until I checked a video I was convinced that it bounced slightly when it stopped. Again, this gives the menu itself a sense of physicality and makes the sensation of navigating it feel as tactile as many games in which you control characters more directly.

Selection of a sub-menu from the rotary menu is a accompanied by a quick descending, non chimey kind of phaser thing, which I only mention because the equivalent effect for backing out of the sub-menu is quicker and higher in pitch, which I interpreted as feeling like retreat as opposed to the kind of squishy sideways step navigating into the sub menu feels like.

When given the option, choosing to let your entire party engage in an "all-out attack" results in the same 3 tone chime you get for confirming options in the non-battle menu, but which you hear most often outside of battle when selecting dialogue options. Since this is the only time in battle when you're prompted to interact with your companions, it creates a nice sense of aural continuity with the rest of the game. That chime represents communication and conveyed choice. (A stretch maybe, but that weird little mini-melodic gesture also gives me the sense of bearing down before a step up or hop, like the sequence of sounds you get when clicking a retractable pen.)

Most interesting to me, though, is the fact that when you do finally select an action, you're met with relative silence. In a lot of jprgs, choosing an action or an attack results in an instant sound effect as your menu or cursor disappears, letting you know aurally that you've finished your turn and ushering in its effects. Here, no sound effect plays. Instead the radial menu disappears and a wind up animation begins, usually culminating in a loud gunshot and a glass shattering sound as your character shoots themself in the head to "emit" a new Persona.

That creates a sense of suspension, as the selected option begins to resolve itself, but the aural feedback is deferred. This creates its own rhythm. Everywhere else inside these menus you get instant, audible signals about what you're doing. Here, you press a button, the physicalized menu vanishes, and you're left waiting for the other shoe to drop. Which it usually does with a percussive bang, the shattering glass in its wake implying that not only was there impact, there was fallout.

This microcosmic aural tension and release forms the core of the rhythm of these battles. I don't think it would work without the careful sound design in the rest of the menu signalling physicality and responsiveness. It lends a feeling of drama to the innately mundane act of choosing from a menu of options.