Review by lbabinz
"My new favorite series"
Persona 3 came as something of a surprise to me as I imagine it probably did for most people who played it. I can definitely say it wasn't high on my list of must have games despite the fact that it looked pretty cool. My issue? I have been through a lot of the Shin Megami games (including Persona 2) and, while their aesthetic, plot, characters and overall feel appealed to me, for the most part they either just did not hold my interest (Digital Devil Saga) or managed to beat me down (Persona 2). However, after hearing people ranting and raving about Persona 3, I managed to track down the final new copy at my local EB Games and thus ventured into one of my most incredible game experiences of all time.
Persona 3 falls into the realm of games that are entirely too long for me to play (due to my complete lack of free time) and yet don't feel as such simply because they are way too excellent. Past games that have been guilty of this for me have been Dragon Quest VIII (100+ hours) and Phantasy Star Online (hundreds of hours). My final Persona 3 play time ended up being around 75 hours and the crazy thing is that I almost wanted to fire up the new game plus immediately! But, enough raving, let's move into the actual meat of this game.
At first glance, Persona 3 is a turn based RPG with one (massive) randomly generated dungeon. Play for about 5 hours however and you will see that it is far, far more than that. While the heart of the game is what I have mentioned, it is built upon by many intriguing and polished features that tie not only into the gameplay but into the excellent plot itself.
The most prominent and cool element built upon this game is called the social link system. This system essentially encompasses a set of 20 or so individuals (or groups of individuals) that you can develop a relationship with. As your relationship with the social link grows, your ability to create Persona (more on this later) with more power strengthens, you will randomly receive items and your appreciation of the story will be heightened.
While the Social Link system will keep you busy, the really interesting part of the game lies in how the actual play through is managed. You see, the game is broken down into real world calendar days. That means events that happen in the real world (say Christmas day), also happen in the game. Each day is different and while you are given a relative amount of freedom to do as you like, P3 continually throws new and exciting events, options and activities at you as the year goes on. For a guy like me who can only play for bite sized chunks, P3 is the perfect console game!
A big focus of the game falls on traversing the massive, mysterious dungeon known as Tartarus. Battle is turn based, with your main character and three party members going against the Tartarus beasties. You cannot directly control your teammates though you can issue tactics to them that will allow them to behave more the way you like. The AI is pretty good and I didn't really have much issue with my party member's decisions until late in the game when making the right move really seemed critical.
Enemies are viewable and avoidable however you will need to constantly improve your characters if you are to survive, so dodging too many fights is not a smart move. Tartarus is randomly generated though certain floors containing events or boss fights (or both!) are littered sporadically throughout the dungeon. Overall, while climbing such a massive tower may seem a bit boring, the enemies and what you find throughout is constantly changing so it never really gets too stale. Battles move quickly and boss fights are both fun and challenging.
The plot in P3 is definitely one of the best reasons to pick up the game. The translation is absolutely perfect. Atlus kept the Japanese culture intact while making the game totally accessible to westerners. Characters (even NPCs!) and especially social links are interesting, and a lot of fun to interact with. The dialogue is fantastic, the storyline is dark and mysterious and the ending is rather satisfying. Even the heavy Japanese culture is a lot of fun and westerners like myself will likely learn a lot about Japanese culture from playing this game, which I enjoyed immensely.
The graphics in P3 are definitely serviceable if not blow-your-mind amazing. This is a Playstation 2 game after all. The artwork is very well done and the settings are very nice. The characters are my favorite part as well as the Persona themselves. You can tell a great amount of work and detail was put into designing the characters. Of equal note is the overall theme of the game (in the menus, opening screen, etc) which is very original and quite aesthetically pleasing. My only complaint is Tartarus (which you spend a good amount of time in) that tends to be quite on the boring scale graphically, but I suppose what can you really expect from a randomly generated dungeon?
The music in P3 is a true delight. Perhaps that is putting it too lightly. I love the music in P3. It is one of my favorite game soundtracks of all time. It is funky, it is upbeat, it is moody and fitting. Somehow, they have succeeded absolutely and completely in finding an entire soundtrack that not only fits the game, it MAKES the game something so much more! Fantastic on all levels. The voice acting is quite decent as well.
Overall P3 is one of my favorite games of all time and I have played a lot of games. Coming from someone who was rather disheartened with the Shin Megami series, Atlus is truly on the right track. P3 is fresh and original in a genre plagued with the same old thing. It succeeds on so many levels that it is a travesty that any RPG fan would miss it. While there is a significant time investment required for P3, it is well worth it as this game and should be a part of any PS2 owner's collection.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 03/03/09
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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