Review by bshazel
"Both great and bad at the same time"
I began the Megaten series of games with Persona 1, but was never hooked until the PS2 releases of Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga. This series has become incredibly good with refreshing new ideas but also some glaring faults in each title.
The faults in Nocturne and DDS were small in comparison to their positive values, so those games remained excellent. The faults in Persona 3, however, had me wondering if I should continue playing the game or if I was just wasting time - keeping the game balancing on a tight edge of whether it was good or bad.
I want to be very critical about the game because of how it made me feel as I played.
The game's opening sequence and the promise of how good the story was going to be had me hooked immediately. The first few days of story were excellently done, culminating in the first showdown with 'shadows'. The cut-scenes showed the strained emotion, the psychological stress, and the hint of vagueness that leaves you waiting for more...
But then...the game finally gives you control and you spend hours upon hours in the Sim portion of the game. The main story becomes a 'shadow' itself, it's there only as a backdrop and you very rarely notice it. When it does surface for a few minutes on full moons, it shows promise again, especially the first full moon. But after that, you retreat yet again into the hours upon hours in the Sim portion and the story is lost. About halfway through the game, the significance of the full-moon nights begins to wain further and there is less story provided.
About once a week of game-time you will be given a glimpse of a small portion of story added, normally the introduction of a new character. The first four characters work very well together and really fit nicely with the storyline. The first odd choice of character comes with Fuuka, who is hard to like simply because of her character model and her voice - but at least she seems to fit into the story a bit anyway. The subsequent three characters after her just seem randomly tossed into the mix. A robot (2009!?), an elementary kid (!?), and a dog (!?). The final additional character does come back to reality, but the three random entries just took away the seriousness of the game and brought the credibilness of the story down.
Aside from the main story, which again started strong then became a backdrop, the game's other storylines come from interaction with people living in the city. Each of these sub-stories end up having some hardship or emotional dealings that let you watch the people open up or change. The idea behind these substories is great, and compared to the normal bystanders in RPGs this is groundbreaking character development. But, the sidestories are not very deep and you are usually treated to about 15 seconds of story, then you have to wait before you upgrade that person's social link. 15 seconds of story, ten times, ends up being a very small portion of time for each social link.
The other bit of story comes in the interactive scenes with your group's characters, especially on trips. These are hilarious and cannot be downplayed, they were very well done.
If I were to grade story on the gripping opening and the group trips, this score would be a 10. But the downplay of the main story, the -excessive- amount of time between plot points, and the shallow side stories that also have -excessive- amount of time between leads to an average score of 6.
It hurts to have to give a Megaten game a 6 out of 10 on gameplay. This is the series finest point! Nocturne's battle system was one of the best ever. The intensity of each battle and the feeling that you were never safe was wonderful. Nocturne was only lacking in ability to interact more with the environment and hear more story. Digital Devil Saga took Nocturne's battles, dumbed down slightly but still good, and was able to integrate more storyline and combine the two into a more complete game.
But...Persona 3 dumbed the battles down further. Giving full turns for hitting an opponent's weakness means almost every regular random encounter can be won before the enemy attacks, provided your main character get a nice variety of personas. Not nearly as difficult as other Megaten games meant I had a sense of security out on the battlefield. I was never afraid of a battle. This would not be so bad, many RPGs have easy battles that you never have to worry about your current HPs or be afraid of dying - Persona 3 does remain harder than most current RPGs. But, other RPGs at least let you explore new areas, Persona 3 does not.
Almost no game has done a random dungeon well yet, and Persona 3 just adds to the list of ho-hum attempts. The randomly generated floors provide a boring atmosphere that might as well have been old text-based dungeon crawlers, where the only description you need is: "Exits: North, South, East, West".
The predictability of the shadows and the ability to wait them out meant you would always start a battle with a first strike, if competent. This, again, leads to easily wiping out the enemies with the full bonus turns after each weakpoint hit.
To add insult to injury with the random dungeon...you climb fifteen, twenty, thirty stories of the same floors and the same enemies to finally reach a boss and a transition to harder enemies beyond, thinking you'll be able to press your skills and see how far you can go...and then you'll run into a wall. Literally. To prevent you from continuing on in the dungeon, the developers decided to place barriers and only open those barriers after you advance the story.
For me, the moment that barrier opened, I would surge up the tower, relishing the new enemies for about 20 minutes, reach a boss, kill it, keep going, reach a boss, kill it...and within 40 minutes of finally being able to fight I would hit the next barrier and be stuck for another full month of game time. There was next to no reason to go back to fighting as my levels had increased enough, the enemies were no longer strong, and I was stuck with them for a month.
The main problem of the gameplay thus stems from the artificial, super slow pacing forced upon you. The developers fell in love with the idea of the dating sim, which can be found easily enough in simple flash-based games online (albeit with weaker graphics and generally crappy stories). The dating sim is a decent idea, but it is interspersed with 15 different loading screens per day and suffers from ridiculous, absolutely mind-numbing repetitiveness. Once you learned the schedule of events, the stat boosting cycle meant you have to waste 5 real-world minutes for every day that goes by in the game just doing routine tasks. These tasks provide absolute no enrichment to the story or anything whatsoever aside from making you realize full well that, yes, this game is taking place in the real world and real time does apply. In the middle of your everyday mind-numbingness, you will also interact with one social event for a good 15-20 seconds of quick story and that day is over. On with the next. Repeat 30 times. Go to fight once or twice in those 30 days, otherwise just waste 2+ hours waiting for the next full moon.
I believe the worst part came in the August month, where nothing happened in the game, just continue on with the five minutes per day actions with nothing changing, then finally get to the full moon and it lasts for less than five minutes, one battle and done, then another month awaits right again. I almost threw my controller when I realized that I was going to have to sift through two full months now back to back with no decent gameplay time at all.
And yet, I cannot give the game below a 6. I want to, but I still was addicted and cannot justify it being worse. A 6 out of 10 is an F to me, but a high F. The ideas were all there, just the developers did not put them together right.
I love them. There are some small points to nitpick about, but this is actually a big draw for the game.
I'll start with the bad. I was a tiny bit annoyed that the full-sized drawn portraits of characters did not move their lips to go along with the speech. You instead just get completely static pictures that only change for expressions. I did not like the blandness of the randomly generated dungeons. For 30+ floors you see the same thing over and over with no detail given at all. These dungeons could almost have appeared on an SNES game. And finally, I cannot stand Fuuka's character model or design. She looks more like an android than the robot does and yet the characters in the game still refer to her as hot...I must be missing something. A lot of recycling going on with enemy pictures. These seem like a lot, but I deem them all minor.
With the good: Every other character looks great. I loved the small details of how the character models sat in their chairs, legs crossed, playing with cell phones or eating or punching gloves or whatever. The clothes changed enough to make you feel like time really was involved. The character portraits were all very well drawn and showed a good range of emotion. The backdrops of the city locals felt right.
The menu system's bold choice of colour scheme and angles was beautiful. I had to stop the game and find some screenshots to send to friends to show them how beautiful the item shop menu looked, for example. If only the menu wasn't hampered by a full second of lag...
The cutscenes look great. The graphics just flowed well. Using the anime style look gives you less realisticness, however it means the game holds up better and does not look as dated.
I'll give a high score on sound, but it could have been lower. Before ever turning the game on, I listened to the soundtrack that was provided and was turned off immediately. The soundtrack was not nearly as bold as Nocturne for instance. Nocturne, using hard techno/metal mix - which I am not a fan of normally - really worked well to set the mood. I just wanted to skip through the J-Pop tracks, then hit the rap music and was utterly confused. How was this going to be used well?
I was wrong though. The game did indeed turn that music into a good use. I found myself throughout the entire 80+ hours of the game moving to the beat. The songs themselves really are not that great, but the beat works and just gives you a happy mood.
The best use of music goes to the summer-trip scene, in which the rap music popping up in a comical situation just made me laugh. It took an already funny scene and sent it over the top. Very well used.
The voices for characters are some of the best I have heard. I continue to read comments from others bragging about having the Japanese voiced characters with English subtitles for this game. This is one of the few times I feel sorry for them. I traditionally prefer the Japanese voices simply because the English dubbings are pitiful. Persona is not like that. The voices match the characters, provide excellent range of emotions, and actually portray the correct mood and flow of what is being said. Well...that is true for all but Fuuka. I could not stand listening to her, ever. Fuuka's character needs to be taken out of the game entirely, nothing about her is good.
The only bad thing about voices comes from the constant narration of battle. This was slightly annoying at the start of the game, but it felt like a tutorial and I was sure it would eventually go away. At least the initial narration was a good voice, Mitsuri's. Then...Fuuka took over and the narration got worse. Why did they need to narrate every battle?
I will not rank this. I can't imagine replaying this game simply because of the immense amount of time already wasted on the pointless tasks you have to do each day. Even when you have your stats maxed, to get through one day without doing ANYTHING requires you to waste 2+ minutes of your life just to go through the menu changes and time changes. If you have to do that 30 times before the next full moon, that means you'd have to sit through 60+ minutes of not doing a single thing before you finally get back to the story, then repeat that almost immediately again.
However, I can see how some people want to replay so they can hit every social link available. Personally, after realizing how the pattern of the social links worked and knowing full well that I was not going to play the game through again, I decided to load up a cheat device to ensure I would get all the scenes before I finished the game. This was not an attempt to make the game easier in any way, it was just a way to attempt to maximize enjoyment.
I feel sorry for giving Persona a 6. I want to give it a 10 at the same time. Many people want to deem this one of the greatest games ever made, but I just feel it had too many faults that could not be ignored to go along with it. It's great in some respects, bad in others, and ultimately hampered by time constraints and loading times. If the game was sped up, so that you only had to work through 2 months of school time and the story was interspersed throughout those 2 months...and you were able to do two social links in a day instead of one...then this game may have earned a 9 or 10 from me.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 08/29/07
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