Review by ShadowAspect
"Atlus is weaving that ol' black magic once again, and it's one hell of a ride"
Shin Megami Tensei is a name most people will not know if asked to the average gamer on the street. However, this name will be one that the average RPG player will fondly recount if asked. Megami (known as Megaten in some circles) has spawned it's own full out series, 2 significant spin off series, several other random games and expansions, and it's own MMORPG game that is even now currently active and going strong (sadly only in Asian markets). This is a series that not many people know of and yet rivals the big name series such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.
Yet, unlike those other series, in the U.S. it's relegated to only a cult following to which there are a number of reasons for that. A large part of it has to do with the controversial subject matters relating to religion and violence. Megaten has always been on the dark gothic side of things (and yet not in the sense of gratuitous violence such as to be common to games like Grand Theft Auto). It should be said though that this game definitely earns the mature rating (as does most if not all Megaten games). Another thing to point out is that these games tend to be more on the side of turn based play instead of the now common real time play style or semi real time systems that modern day big budget RPGs like to use (we as a gaming market have turned more towards wanting instant gratification instantly thus the change but I digress ). If you don't have a problem with this then keep reading but if you refuse to play anything turn based then stop reading now as this won't convert you.
Still here? Good .
One of the more popular spin off series in Megaten has always been the Persona series. Almost every Persona game has made it to the American shores (with some minor exceptions which may or may not change). So today we'll be looking at the latest Atlus release of Persona 3.
A young boy is riding a subway in a fictional town in Japan. Minding his own business .listening on his headphones It's almost midnight and he's on his way to a dorm he's staying at for the upcoming school year. He has been living on his own for 10 years since the death of his parents under mysterious circumstances. As he arrives at the tram station the hour strikes 12 ..
then all power goes out ..the lights, the train behind him, even his MP3 player he's listening to
Up till this time he was lost in his own world, but now as he's roused to attention by the change he finds that he's not where he had expected to be ..no where anyone would ever expect to find them .
Now, instead of a bustling station he finds coffins ..LOTS of coffins all standing straight up. The sky, the buildings, just about everything around him takes on a greenish tint. The floors are covered in blood as far as the eye can see. Despite all of this, he's only mildly fazed by his change of venue and proceeds on to his destination.
While all of this is going on and our silent protagonist continues on to his destination, elsewhere a young girl is hiding in a bathroom somewhere .the sink running with rushing water. She's sitting on the floor, shaking and sweating. In her hand she's holding a gun. As she continues the shake and quake she puts the gun up to her head with the intention of pulling the trigger ..but she's struggling with it. Is she going to end her life in a spectacular and gruesome suicide or not?
Later on, our first character finally arrives at his location, where there waits a lone, wide eyed boy. Despite this, he talks in a sort of monotone and a lot more seriousness and definitiveness then his age would belay. He hands our subject a Contract (which he eventually signs) to which it reads simply I fully assume responsibility for any and all of my actions
What does all of this mean? Does the girl kill herself? What has happened to all of the other people who were just there but a few minutes ago and why are all the streets now awash in blood?
Persona games have always been based on modern times alternate what if realities. In Persona 3's case the main character is given roughly one year starting April of 2009 (so in the near future) to complete what needs to be done. What that is no one knows but it adds a lot of charm and freshness to a genre that can and is many times swamped and bogged down with canned scripts and story concepts. It's a refreshing change of pace and a very adult story telling in these games and especially this one. As you progress thru the game you'll make lasting friendships and in essence experience two lives one as an ordinary Japanese high school student and a dual life as a soul with a hidden destiny and life that even the player won't fully understand till the end. It's this level of storytelling, where it can grab you and never let you go till it's finished with you, that has always been the strongest suit to these games and P3 does a magnificent job of keeping that tradition going. You won't find better nearly anywhere else.
The only thing I will mention now is that it's a very intense story filled with a lot of life and death subjects and conversations (and some religious references across the board). Only play this game if you're not easily offended by what some might call violation of sensibilities and normalcy.
First off let me say that the FMV in this game is some of the best I've seen in a while. There's lots of it (but not overflowing and swimming in it like Xenosaga games are known for) and its Anime Movie quality. Everything is synched up well and done appropriately. The artistic quality is really up there. Intro movies have a sort of art deco like appeal to them and really get a sort of stylized groove to the whole package in much of the same way as you'd expect from say an artistic like commercial you might see on television today. On the same note however, they also convey the dark overtones of the whole game concept very well.
The game uses the typical still images that we're used to in conversations and in addition uses comic book storyboarding windows during battles and some conversations. They all really convey feeling and tension well and add to the overall great experience. Exploration and battles used 3D polygonal models that, while not the best you've ever seen on a PS2, are still really well done with flashy effects and vibrant special attacks. Characters in battle convey emotion as conflict rages on, especially during the use of their evokers (more on that later). You can see the fear on their faces or the sense of success and victory at the end of a battle. All of it is nothing short of top notch graphic designing. The PS2 may drag it down in comparison to modern day appearances but this game shows that it's not out for the count yet.
Music is an eclectic mix of Jazz, Operatic, and Rap. If this doesn't make any sense, don't worry it didn't for me at first either. Many times, the music really fits in with the mood of where it plays though sometimes it can be a bit annoying. It's really going to be based on personal preference if it works for you or not.
Voice acting is nearly everywhere and is on the upper level of quality of games in this genre (sometimes though it seems that the voice wouldn't necessarily match up to the person saying it in terms of age but it's really just a nitpicky thing if anything). If anything, the only thing that jumps out is that it's so prevalent everywhere in the game that you'll notice when a character talks and they don't have a VO along with it. I assume that it was due to space limitations as to why some dialogue doesn't have VO and most others do, but it's so good you'll pick up when you don't have it.
Sound effects are on the standard side with cars beeping, thwacks from a bow, clanks, growls, and other associated extras. It's all pretty solid across the board. Nothing wrong here .
The gameplay is divided between when you're role playing a teenager in high-school and playing a teenager with super powers killing monsters. It's not enough to just gain levels and grind .you also have to do good in school and in your social life as well. In fact, it's a careful balancing act between the two that will win. If you ignore one then you'll never be able to complete the game before your time runs out (roughly at the end of March of 2010). In many ways, it has a lot of the same qualities as a My Sims game and even as a dating sim type of game like Thousand Arms .though none of these overshadow the other half of typical slay-a-thon RPG goodness. You'll take exams, go on vacations, date women (sorry the main character is hetro with no other options available), and otherwise lead a normal life as best as you can .and all of this leads to boosting your stats and your social links (which increase whole groups of powers). In fact, living a life is the best way at improving your character stat wise.
Combat is, as mentioned before, turn based. You also only control the main character (whom you name, and serves as a semi-silent protagonist, rarely saying anything but still saying some things) .but I should point out that the AI is adaptive and as those characters improve and gain levels their AI (and the options and orders you can issue to them) improve and grow more robust. It's almost a necessity that the A.I. would function in this way in a game such as this.
One thing that I'm sure many readers would of undoubtedly of heard of before playing this game is how powers are done (its one of the most controversial and overt things in this game currently out). A character will have what is called a Persona (hence the name) within them .think of it as an alter spiritual self that grows along with them. Whenever you do anything that doesn't involve swinging or using whatever weapon in your hands at the time you have to briefly summon this persona out of your body to conduct the action. Your character does this thru the use of an evoker ..which is conveniently shaped to look like a gun of some sort. So when you do an action the character in question pulls out their evoker, puts it to their head, and pulls the trigger which makes for a spectral sort of explosion out the other side of their head. In essence, every time you use a power, your character does a mock suicide. Depending on the character doing it, you can get a sense of the personality of him or her during this (some characters close their eyes and start shaking and stressing out about it your main character however, stares out all crazy like at whatever he's fighting when he pulls his trigger partly because the story does make him out as being slightly off of his rocker anyways ..and others still just do it calmly, not fearing death or anything having done evocation for a long period of time ..it can be a bit disturbing when they first do it in the game).
Unlike the other characters, your main character can change out his persona any most any time. As such you sort of get a psudo-pokemon-eque gameplay as you try to acquire all the available persona that you can get. Also, much like pokemon, personas (mostly on your AI players) can do an evolution of sorts later on in the game. For your main character however, you can acquire new persona thru battle and via a robust fusion system available from a place called The Velvet Room. It can be very interesting mix and matching different personas, powers, and items and phases in the moon also play a part.
Most battles take place in one location, a place called Tautaurus though battles can happen elsewhere (usually as special events). As such environments can seem redundant during the combat portion of the game. This is possible the one greatest fault with this game.
In the end, what you have here is yet another solid AAA title from those wizards at Atlus. This game (as are many games from Atlus) can be sometimes hard to find and buy. That is chalked up to the niche market following. However, if you're a fan of solid RPG gameplay or of Occult or more Adult storylines .then this is where you want to find yourself. Do yourself a favor and find this game anyway possible.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 08/19/07
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