Review by Misfit119
"This is, without a doubt, the best RPG that has been released in years."
The Persona series of games is possibly one of the darkest and grittiest role-playing game series to ever see console releases. Storylines are frequently filled with murder, destruction and just generally chaotic scenarios that dip into the fantasy world of the games without departing too far from the real world. Persona 3 is the fourth game in this series but, unlike the other three games, it isn't connected to the other games in the series. None of the staple characters, such as Philemon, make an appearance and other than a few nods to the previous games Persona 3 exists in its own world.
It is nearly impossible to really tell too much about the storyline without spoiling some major plotline or other. The game takes place on an island and connecting landmass where a strange thing happens every night at midnight. The sky glows green and all electronics stop working while human beings transmogrify into giant coffins. During this period, called the Dark Hour, only rare human beings can remain active due to a unique ability possessed within them; their Personas. Almost akin to an inner self the Persona of a character is a special power that lets them battle the denizens of the Dark Hour, a species of amorphous shadow creatures called (rather fittingly) Shadows.
You will control a silent protagonist who returns to this island, the island where he was born. Shortly upon his arrival it is discovered that he has some hidden power that allows him to use multiple Personas rather than just the one most others use. This power and what it means will unravel the secrets of the Dark Hour and Tartarus, the humongous tower that juts out of the ground during the Dark Hour. Only by discovering these secrets can the curse of the Dark Hour be deciphered.
Whereas in the other Persona games your characters simply called forth their inner spirits, a talent most exhibited over their lives, Persona 3 takes a unique (and disturbing) spin on this. Without the presence of the character Philemon to unlock their Personas these characters must use more drastic measures to call them forth. Enter the Evokers, the controversial part of the game. The Evokers look like guns with odd barrels that, when fired into their user, causes their Persona to emerge in a spray of blue energy shards. Some will surely be disturbed by this particular aspect of the game, teens committing simulated suicide is going to be a hot button I am sure.
Many RPGs place graphics and epic storylines over game play but Persona 3 doesn't make that mistake, nor does it sacrifice on the epic storyline. The game is broken up into two distinct, but linked, game play modes; the social phases and the Dark Hour Tartarus explorations.
During the social phase you will do things such as going to school, answering questions from the teachers and making friends. When you make friends, both in and out of school, you will gain power called Social Links. These links will power your created Personas when you go to craft them (this is done in the Velvet Room, more on that later) and will, eventually, enable you to craft the ultimate Personas of their related Social Links. For example, completing the Devil social link allows you to create Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, who is a seriously powerful Persona. You can also buy items in stores and do various things such as Karaoke to increase your three social traits, which are only used in the pursuit of making friends with other Social Link bearers.
Speaking of the Velvet Room, this is the place where you can create more powerful Personas. By speaking to Igor, the beak nosed man, you can fuse two or more of your current Persona into more powerful ones. This gives you a reason to collect as many as you can over the course of the game so that you can see which ones are the more powerful ones. Also you can speak to Elizabeth to gather requests (essentially fetch quests that she rewards you for) and register your Persona in a compendium for later retrieval (whether you simply dismiss them or turn them into a new Persona via fusion). This is an integral part of the game since some of the more powerful Persona can only be unlocked via Fusion and doing Elizabeth's requests.
The Dark Hour phase is the meat of the game however. During this period you will explore Tartarus that plays, in many ways, like a mix between Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and Diablo. Tartarus is made of up of several "blocks" which are sets of 20 - 40 floors. Each floor is randomly generated (a la Diablo) so no trip is exactly the same with certain set floors being the same every time you play through. Navigation across the 200+ floors is made less insane via a system of terminals that act as checkpoints, allowing you to teleport back to the entrance to save your game, recover health, switch your party and enter the Velvet Room.
As you travel the floors you will see the enemies on the map around you (a la BoF: DQ) and by attacking them first you can gain advantage. Conversely if they attack you then they will gain an advantage. Whoever ends up with the advantage gains a free round of attacks on the other side of the fight. Combat is handled by your basic menu based attack/spell casting/item use system that many RPGs have used for years. What makes this game different is the "One More" system in place. When you, or an enemy, use a spell that the target is weak against you will score a critical hit and knock them down before you take another action. If you knock all the enemies down then you may initiate a cartoon looking "All-Out Attack" that beats the enemies senseless and is integral to making some of the later fights much more manageable.
Graphically Persona 3 doesn't really use the PlayStation 2 to its fullest like some other games released even near the systems end have. What it does do is run smoothly and goes for a highly stylized look. The cut scenes are somewhat exaggerated in appearance while not appearing inhuman and characters tend to look a bit... odd. This isn't your convential anime look and, while some conventions remain such as big eyes with little to no pupils, those who come into it for its anime look might be disappointed. The in game graphics all look solid, with all the backgrounds being highly detailed and most of the game having a crisp and solid look to it.
The music is... an oddity. It definitely fits the game with upbeat music playing during your after school time and days off but switching quickly to some darker sounding tunes for battle. However if you cannot stand pop music you might want to mute the game as it will quickly grate on your nerves. If you enjoy it though then you are in for a treat as it is all of high quality and enjoyable to listen to (I must sadly admit to having it on my mp3 player). The voice acting is mostly top notch as well with only a few glaringly bad characters in the bunch. Otherwise the trip across the ocean did little to damage this aspect of the game.
Persona 3 is a great game but there are some niggling bad points to it. For most of the game if your main character dies you must start the game over. Since there are only two places to save the game (the bottom floor of Tartarus and then in the Dorm) you are limited in how often you save. So when enemies start flinging off instant kill spells on your whole party and only your main character dies, you lose an hour or so of game play if you aren't exceedingly careful. This is a problem in most Shin Megami Tensei / Persona games but it's still a nuisance. Also the game does stretch out and, towards the end; you might find yourself rushing the game a bit because of how it drags on. The average playtime seems to hover between 80 - 100 hours and this is a serious investment of time so that might turn off many players.
While it is most certainly not for everyone, Persona 3 is without a doubt one of the best games released in recent memory. If you can put up with a slow and tedious start up, as well as an ungodly long play time, then this is a must own. Those who are on the fence about it may want to pick it up soon. Atlus has a tendency of making their games limited releases and you don't want to have to fork out the $90 for a used copy online when you can get it for a sane price now. You're only doing yourself a disservice if you don't pick this game up.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/03/07
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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