By Alex Swaim  

I’ve noticed a neat trend in a lot of the single-player story-based games I’ve been playing: they want you to hang out with your character’s in-game-world friends, and they give you the tools to do that.

In Persona 5 you spend half the game running around town with the lovable cast of high school misfits that are your party members: getting ramen with them, studying for the big test with them, working out with them, or even just going to shop. Doing that has long been a core system in the Persona series: spending time with people improves your relationship, which grants you social link points that eventually unlock new abilities for them.

It’s an interesting and compelling twist to build a JRPG around! And in an upgrade from Persona 4, the ubiquity of smartphones has gotten the game to integrate instant messages. In practice, it’s used a lot to let your in-game friends let you know when they want to go do something if you haven’t tracked them down first. It’s a small change, but it’s a clever one and it removes a chunk of the friction from the process.

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Even if this is my favorite implementation of this in the Persona franchise, what I like even more is that a bunch of other games are doing even more to enable you to explore stories and characters by letting you hang out with them.

For example, Night in the Woods devotes it’s whole structure to picking somebody to hang out with on a day, and then going where that leads you.

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They nail the prerequisites to make you like the characters, and then let the stories unfold in a way that feels much more organic.

Other recent games have been leaning on this as well: Oxenfree is in a lot of ways a more standard adventure game, but it spends its first act letting you hang out with friends on the beach to set up the rest of the game.

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It’s a neat trend because, even if all these games have an undercurrent of the supernatural about them, they ground themselves, their characters, and the worlds in the far more mundane things you could imagine their characters do off screen in other games. It builds into their larger stories in an organic and natural in a way not easily available in other mediums. And I hope we get to see more narrative-focused games exploring it in the future.