How Persona’s Social Links Can Make You A Better Person
Social links help shift the Persona series, and they are quickly becoming one of the most popular aspects after their introduction in Persona 3. The relationship-building mechanic lets you interact with various classmates and townsfolk by helping them overcome various real-life issues. They also gave you some extra perks with Persona fusion, but that's far from what made you engage with them. Persona made social links intimate, not some superficial dating-sim mechanic, and Atlus conveyed an important message with them about life and the impact we can have on other lives with small gestures. This stayed with me long after the credits rolled.
Behind the fiction of evil shadows attacking and being able to summon a Persona based on Arcana (tarot cards) to defeat them, you live out a seemingly ordinary life as a teenager attending high school. You have to pass your exams, make small talk with classmates, and participate in extracurricular activities like soccer or band. You always have a choice of how to spend your free time, and one of your choices is to socialize with those around you. You start these relationships essentially as strangers, but as you raise your social link rank, your conversations grow more intimate.
Basically, everyone is fighting some inner battle; trying to put on a front. These social links cover a multitude of issues from death to divorce to depression. While these topics aren't easy to confront, I've always thought the social links did a good job of exploring their complexities and showcasing how going out of your way to befriend someone can help. Getting by on your own is tough, and social links reinforce how refreshing it can be just to have someone to support and listen to you.
As weird as it may sound, this has inspired me to be kinder in real life and try to lend a hand when I can. In a way, these social links are a reminder that everyone faces their own life struggles. Even characters that start off extremely unlikeable, like the selfish and spoiled Ai Ebihara, have so much more to them than meets the eye; revealing that maybe we're too quick to judge people based on first impressions or don't think why they act the way they do. What I value so much in Persona is that the writers marvelously tackle the issues people face but try so hard to hide. So many times people want to reach out, but are afraid of being vulnerable or looking weak for doing so. Persona shows the strength we can gain from confiding in someone we trust and why it's important to do so.
I like that the relationships are gradually built up to; you must prove to this person that you're caring and interested in them, ranking through 10 levels before you really see the fruits of your friendship. The only way to increase your friendship is to spend time with the person. Your conversations start out simple like discussing a movie, but as you move forward you see the complex dilemmas unfold. What's great about these social links is just how rewarding they become. Everyone you've spent time with has their own story, something that they need help working through, and at the end you really feel like you've made a difference just by being there for them. Whether you're helping someone confront their own mortality or convincing someone to finally have confidence, you see a change and you wonder what would have happened to them had you never stopped to chat.
Getting caught up in our own lives is easy, but Persona reminds us of how other people can enrich our lives – whether we're helping them or they're helping us. These social links have humanized the game in such a wonderful way, because even if we haven't experienced these struggles, we either know someone who has or have at least heard about them. In the end, social links are a nice reminder of how people can bring out the best in one another. In a society where we're quick to focus on the negative interactions, we don't see that enough these days. It's nice to be reminded of the positive impact we can have in someone's life by merely being there for them.
For more on the Persona series, check out our Perfecting Persona feature.