Many RPGs handle friendships and relationships. Bioware’s games each have a deep dialogue system which influences the way party members view the protagonist. Plenty of other developers have done a tremendous job over the years, such as CD Projekt Red, Square Enix, and Intelligent Systems. My personal favorite though is Atlus, specifically their Shin Megami Tensei series — even more specifically the two most recent SMT: Persona titles. The series has always excelled in the character department, with its complex group of Japanese high school students. In 3 and 4 there’s something really special about the cast.
So now, I ask you to take a trip down memory lane, back to your high school days, as I speak of the brilliance that is Persona 4's "SMILE."
Persona 4 is heavily entrenched in the monotony of the high school lifestyle. In fact, you can spend more than half of the game focusing on non-critical quests. What that entails is a whole lot of hanging out with friends, just like any typical teenager does. The cast of Persona 4 encounters plenty of trouble when not fighting demons / serial killers and simply dealing with everyday life. The awkward transition from child to adult can be filled with turmoil, and Atlus nails down the concept perfectly.
As the protagonist, you’re often the one doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to helping friends and family overcome their troubles. Day by day, you become closer and attempt to help them confront their problems. Family issues, school troubles, and general “where is my life going” questions will be slung your way. Upon coming to a turning point in each character’s story, there’s always a revelation or a sense of despair. At that point, "SMILE' begins to play.
"SMILE" is the perfect bittersweet anthem. Not every story ends with cheerful success, but some do. "SMILE" finds that happy medium between celebratory and despondent. It captures the moments in which you get to celebrate successes with your friends, or attempt to console them in their moment of self-doubt.
As always, dear readers: sit back, relax, and enjoy.
P.S. Be sure there are no children around when looking up Persona pictures.