Review by scathatch72
"The Freaks Really Do Come Out At Night."
"Remember that you are mortal..."
"...remember that you will die..."
"...remember your death."
Sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it? Well, yeah, it is, and it is the major theme you will confront in Atlus' latest game in the Shin Megami Tensei/Persona series. And let me tell you that Persona 3 is one of the most addicting and freshest RPGs out right now. Saving the world is important....but make sure you pump yourself full of coffee and potentially tainted hamburgers first. Wanna know what I mean? Read on.
STORYLINE: 9.4 out of 10
The Dark Hour: a mysterious 25th hour that appears after midnight, but BEFORE 12:01. During this time, the streets and buildings are stained with blood, electronic devices and machinery cease to function, and normal people (those who lack the "potential"), are sealed within strange coffins, oblivious to the hour's existence. Freaky creatures, known only as "Shadows", appear during this time and attack the unlucky few that didn't get sealed in a coffin, leaving the victim a near-comatose zombie. The local school, Gekkoukan High, also happens to transform into Tartarus, a massive tower fraught with danger....but why does all of this happen? Furthermore, what lies at the top of this tower...?
Your protagonist (nameless until you choose a name for him), is a blue-haired young man, who's just transferred to Gekkoukan (it only becomes Tartarus during the Dark Hour). A few days after arriving, the dorm where the hero is staying is attacked by the Shadows. Your hero and Yukari, one of your roomates, get cornered by them, and through the use of the Evoker (a tool in the shape of a pistol), the hero awakens the strange power of "Persona", which is an aspect of one's psyche given physical form.
After this bizarre ordeal, the hero finds himself as the team leader of SEES, school club by day, Shadow slayers by night. Together with his newfound allies, they set out to discover the origins of the Shadows and the Dark Hour, so that they may find a means to destroy it.
Sounds good? It is....for the most part. The only real snafus is that the plot is a bit slow to advance, and some of the twists will make you scratch your head and wonder why the hell they did that. It seems there's no escaping some of the dreaded "RPG cliches." It's not enough to drag the game down a lot, thankfully. The characters are lovable and well-developed (save for a few), and it's nice to see heroes that aren't completely concerned with saving the world, they have exams and special events to go to first (same applies to you).
GRAPHICS: 8.5 out of 10
Looks really good for a late-cycle PS2 game. Character, enemy, and Persona designs ooze with style, spell effects are adequate, though the backgrounds lag behind a bit (mostly the floors of the tower, which look the same until you move to the next block). The anime cutscenes, although few, are great to watch and are animated very well. Normal dialogue and in-game scenes are done with large character portraits, which change depending on the speaker's mood and dialogue at the moment. There's a few interactive elements thrown in for good measure, such as a working toilet (which you can actually USE, unlike other RPGs) and vending machines you can use to buy funky, caffeine-loaded-as-all-hell beverages, as well as food stands that you can stop by for a quick snack.
SOUND: 9 out of 10
Without a doubt this game possesses one of the most bizarre and funkiest soundtrack. The game's music revolves around a lot of J-pop with semi-corny rap tossed in, which is refreshingly different than the typical "epic orchestral scores" heard in 90% of today's RPGs. The only problem is that most of the tracks are on a rather short loop, which leads to moderate repetition.
GAMEPLAY: 10 out of 10
Life simulation, dating sim, and role-playing, all rolled into one! During the day, you're just a normal student, studying for tests, chillin' with your peeps, answering questions in class (and sometimes falling asleep in class), and joining clubs, such as Music and Track Team. While they first appear as game filler, the friendships you make with other students (and people outside of school) determine your very power. The bond you form with a specific person is called a "Social Link", and the higher its level, more powerful Personas become available to you. All the personae you will get have an alignment with Tarot cards, such as the Star, Hanged Man, the Empress, etc. Having a high level in one of these links will grant any Persona of whatever class bonus XP when you fuse them, allowing them to level up and gain skills faster. Your hero also has 3 vital attributes: Courage, Academics, and Charm. Levelling these attributes open up more options and people for you to connect with, which in turn leads to more powerful Links and personae. Whether it's dosing up on coffee at the cafe to boost your charm, or braving the possibly dangerous "mystery" meat at the local burger shop to raise your courage, there's many ways to raise your hero into a legend. Your hero also can woo and date certain female characters, showering them with pretty gifts and win their love.
At night, you return to the dorm, which serves as the primary base of operations for SEES. Here you can chat with your allies and watch TV. Talking to your Operator will give you the option to explore Tartarus and check the stats of your allies. Going to the tower is not mandatory every night, you can just go crash in your room and sleep, removing the fatigue you and your allies accumulate over the course of the day. Sometimes it's a wonder to just watch your allies go about their business (they eat, read, play handheld games, use the computer, sleep, paint their nails in the females' case), instead of just standing around like mannequins, waiting for you to choose to add them to your group (like most other RPGs). It shows that they are not 100% reliant on the hero and only feel the need to hug his ass all the time.
If you do choose to brave the tower, up to four characters can participate in battle. All of your active members are visible when you explore, and you can even command them to split up, covering more ground, and calling them back will allow you to collect any spoils the characters found. Enemies are also fully visible (they resemble black blobs), which means no random encounters. The hero can strike the enemy with his weapon, getting in a pre-emptive attack, and the enemies can do the same to you.
The battle system is a "modified" version of the Press Turn system found in Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga. However, you only have direct control of the hero, and your allies are CPU controlled (but you can set general commands for each ally, such as Heal/Support, Full-on attack, and so forth). Hitting an enemy with its weakness will give you extra turns (One More!!), as well as knocking the enemy down. Knocked-down units will have to burn a turn getting back up, meaning that he/she/it cannot attack until the next round. Your allies can be knocked down, so be careful! If you manage to Down all the enemies onscreen, you get to use an "All-out attack" a comical and unblockable super move. You'll collect items and XP, just like any other RPG.
But how do you use moves? You point the Evoker to your head and pull the trigger. The fragments of your mind form the persona, which then attacks. Yes, you shoot yourself in the head. Scary at first, but you'll become used to your allies commiting ritualistic "suicide" in order to call their personal demons and freaks to battle.
The only minor flaw is that your AI-controlled allies can and will do rather stupid things, such as charging up their attack and then using a status spell, or having a skill that cures charm....yet they won't use the spell even if the other allies are charmed. However, they can adapt to the situation (if Mitsuru hits an enemy with an ice spell and the enemy blocks it, she won't use any ice spells on that enemy for the rest of the fight). Once the enemy has been scanned for weaknesses and strengths, they'll adjust their tactics accordingly.
By stopping by the Velvet Room, you can chew the fat with Igor, an old man with a REALLY long nose, and his assistant, Elizabeth. Igor will combine your personas to form new ones, passing on good skills and levelling the persona depending on the S. Link's rank. Elizabeth will keep track of the personas you discover via the compendium, and give you a series of requests (mostly the dreaded "fetch" quest) for you to complete, in order to get rare items and money.
CONTROLS: 9.2 out of 10
Menus are beautiful and easy to use, your characters move and respond well, however it is a pain to have to talk to every ally to change their equipment. They also tend to cluster together, so you might end up talking to the wrong ally and have to back out again.
REPLAY VALUE: High
There's a new game plus, huzzah! There's so many things to do, quests to be completed and Social links to discover and master, and collecting/fusing Personas.
--->The Final Stretch<---
Why a 10? Sure the game has a few flaws (no game is truly perfect, after all), but the good far outweighs the bad. It's just downright FUN to play.
You're still reading this? Get to your nearest store and buy this game now!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/21/07
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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