Review by piecemealcranky
"Sims + RPG + Anime = Persona 3"
Persona 3, or otherwise known as the fourth installment in the Persona series is a type of simulation Role Playing Game that I find personally addictive, halfway challenging and engrossing. I am very much oblivious to the rest of the series in terms of its gameplay, let alone its storyline, but this title itself has left me little regrets in jumping straight into the Persona world.
The title really delves into its plot, triggering related events that allow the player to manipulate and familiarize him or herself to suit their style or pace. This really gives the players a chance to finally arrange (or rearrange) themselves to accommodate the challenges that this game offers.
Persona 3 has all the basic or almost similar RPG elements with many games in its era. Although specifically speaking, the most unique subject in this matter is the existence of the summons, or the Personas. They will be the characters' lifelong support that will decide the weakness or strength of the characters.
Skipping the details, the Personas have infinite and utter control over battles in the game. However, they do not arrange strategies. The players themselves will decide how the end result of a battle will be. But of course, this is only a part of the gameplay. This however, will not be the very first thing players experience when the game starts.
As the title of the review says it well, it has the Sims feel to it. Persona 3 derives some simulation elements from games like The Sims and their sequels, although the aspect and importance, together with their roles are the major differences that separate the games from being all too similar.
During the day, players are able to perform all sorts of interaction and activities, which are pretty much done in a limited amount of time, although expansive. The Daily Clock (which isn't really a live clock) will keep track of your time of day, and the game even has its own calendar, which includes the month, date and day of the year. The whole course of the game takes place roughly about 12 months (a year), and due to this, Persona 3 is a perfect game if you are searching for some ample time to make waste.
The stunning aspect of the game does not show itself until players really get to experience the tasks they are to handle on a daily basis. During the day, the game usually takes place at the school grounds, allowing the player to do interactions with schoolmates, answer questions in class, and make dates with each other. This will be a wonderful and probably new experience for gamers who do not appreciate too much fighting in an RPG, although up till now, I have yet to experience anything as similar as Persona 3's gameplay. The day passes and night falls.
During the night, players can choose to fight or to perform other social tasks. If players choose to fight, they will trigger the Dark Hour, a limited period of time where the main antagonists, the Shadows, appear. Following this, a huge mysterious structure known as Tartarus will be the compound or the battlefield for the characters, as they explore this mysterious building, ascending to an unknown number of floors. This tower will be the only spot where battles take place, and although this sounds pretty boring, the curiosity of the players as well as the ability to avoid fights (or the contrary) will not bore down the players, at least not me.
Inside Tartarus, the mysterious tower, players start off at a random location on a numbered floor and make their way around. Every visit will spawn a different type of maze or labyrinth, where players must travel in to find the exit, or another set of stairs to bring them higher, and higher. As they reach a certain floor, the route will not be accessible any longer, and thus the player has reached the highest floor for the month. Inside Tartarus are also sub-bosses, pick-ups in boxes, mysterious entities and experience. There are so many related events that will push the players to spend more and more time in Tartarus that will take much of their playtime.
The game revolves not only on dates or day, but also a moon phase. The game will remind the players when the next full moon will come, and when it does, a story-related event will be triggered, and the characters must face an in-game boss. Usually however, throughout a given month, many story-related conversations and social interactions will occur and will be the basis of many answers to the mystery of the Dark Hour, and its impact to the protagonists. The moon phase also affects the gameplay, whereby certain attacks done by the Personas are greatly affected by the position of the moon; sometimes bonus damage are awarded on full moon days, while sometimes a bonus is given as well on a new moon day.
Now let me clear up on the battle system. The battle system is turn-based, and happens when the characters hit the enemies (or vise versa) inside an opened floor in Tartarus (or other locations related to the story). This is generally the main method of triggering a fight. When this happens, the screen transforms into a battleground, where all the party members including the main character will be surround the enemy, and the attacks begin. Some of the commands include Attack', Skills, Tactics, Wait, Escape, and Items. Only the main character may switch Personas in battle, while the rest may choose attacks from the same Persona or perform different ways of completing their turns. The most unique part of summoning the Personas is seen through the use of the Evoker, a gun-looking device that, when pointed and shot to a user's head, the Persona is released, and thus this happens everytime the player chooses an attack from the Skills command. The fight triggered may be advantageous to the protagonist, if he hits the enemy first, or the contrary, if the enemy hits him first. Think of it as First Strike in FF games...
After the battle, players receive a given amount of experience points and a common repetitive side-game, where the game randomly shuffles a number of cards and allows the player to choose one. The items could be anywhere between a new Persona to a HP restoration card. This usually requires enough concentration and eye coordination, and the shuffling pace will increase as the quality of the items offered increases.
After going through a number of fights and advancing the story, players will be able to perform a rewarding side-quest for a woman named Elizabeth. Thus, the requests are known as Elizabeth's Requests. The requests are offered and are optional, although if taken, there are certain conditions to meet. A difficulty level for the requests are also shown for players to choose which request they would like to complete first and move on to the next one. Some requests have deadlines, where players must complete the task by the date shown. Players may only undertake three requests at any one time, and after completion, they are to report to Elizabeth for the reward. Once a request is completed, new ones will surface and usually the prizes offered are very, very rewarding and helpful to the players.
Closely related to Elizabeth's Requests is the Velvet Room, where the players have to visit to report to Elizabeth. In here, they are able to register their Personas, or fuse them. Fusing Personas is a very tediously important yet creative way to face strong foes in Tartarus, as well as allowing the players to explore and, altogether, merge the abilities of their preferred Personas so that the resultant Persona inherits the preferred abilities. Be warned however, that Persona fusions are very dangerous, and once it is done, it cannot be reversed, and could even be risky and not 100% efficient.
In the day, players can manage their weaponry for their teammates, as well as increasing their statistics with their friends, in this case, it is known as a Social Link. Social Links will improve the power obtained by the Personas via fusion, given that the status of the Social Link is improving or the character actually has established the link first. Social Links sometimes rely on answers during conversations, and the conditions met by the character given by his personal statistics.
Three statistics are given a big role in the game; Academics, Charm and Courage. These three will affect relationships with other people as well as the strength of the Personas created. With a strong bond or relationship (Social Link), players can even create the strongest Persona in its Arcana, or genus.
Apart from that, the game has a somewhat visual novel feel, where when players speak, their facial expressions appear on the right-hand side of the screen, followed by the text. Depending on the situation, some texts are spoken by the characters' respective voice actors, while others are not. The interaction may involve opinions, questions-answers, and feelings. Your statistics can be improved by giving the main character some times off at the coffee shop to increase his Charm, or studying at home to increase his Academics, or maybe visiting the Karaoke to increase his Courage. This all depends on the balance performed by the players in a day.
As the game and story evolves, so does the number of characters available. You'd be surprised to see the kind of members you'll get. Not all of them are humans, mind you... As to me, the gameplay is totally addictive and... awesome. =)
The story revolves around an unknown high school student, where the players choose his name (although he actually has an official name by the way). Oblivious to his sleeping power within, he learns of the existence of the Persona and the Shadows. He starts living in a dorm populated by members of the club known as SEES. They are a small group of Persona users who can move in the Dark Hour and rid the world from the Shadows.
During the Dark Hour, normal human beings transmogrified into coffins; they are unbeknownst to the events occurring around them and are unable to provide any assistance. This is countered by the members of SEES, since they are able to use Personas and move about during the Dark Hour. The Dark Hour surfaces every night by midnight.
Problems arise when the Shadows begin to feed on the living, causing a disease known in the game as Apathy Syndrome. During gameplay, you will encounter several people suffering from the said disease. The main objective, although not clearly stated at the beginning of the game, is to put a stop to the Shadows as well as discovering the cause of the appearance of the Dark Hour. However, many complications and mysterious along with answers that will dwell about the main character's life as he learns and questions the cause for this incident.
The story is not the best aspect of Persona 3, but it definitely has lots and lots of twist. They aren't very hard to comprehend as an imaginary tale; therefore it leaves a lot of room for theories and whatnot.
I gave it a good rating simply due to the anime cut-scenes. Since I am frequent anime viewer, I personally find this game pretty unique due to the mixture of elements the developers decided to throw in. However, be warned that this game looks pretty childish actually. The characters look pretty similar to The Sims in gameplay, and they retain the appearances of figurines. Although this sounds bad, the game revolves a lot around conversations, where you converse with people almost all the time. Therefore, you pay very less attention to their models in the game and always have the picture of their anime looks that appear when you converse with them, therefore this is a little problem to take note of.
The dungeons in Tartarus are almost similarly mapped, and they do not have too many differences. However, as you ascend the tower, you'll realize that the area gets bigger, and every blocks or areas have different colours and design.
Other than that, the graphics more or less becomes something you'd overlook when you enjoy the game.
The music is stunning. I even listened to the whole soundtrack due to my interest after playing and listening to the music 100 times over. The music matches every event, whether you're at school where the music reminds you of school, and when you're going out at the mall where the music almost always remind you of where you are.
The beat of the songs is usually pop, with some English and Japanese songs, but there are also rap songs. The battle and the dorm themes are by far the most addicting ones, and since you barely even understand or catch what they say, you only tend to hum the songs as they are...
The music is definitely a contributing feature to complete Persona 3's incredible feat.
Persona 3 will definitely become the title I'd tell my fellow gaming friends when I have the time. It is probably the last more entertaining and lengthy RPG game on the platform. If you're bored at home, on a holiday, or maybe looking for a little game stress-free and totally absorbing, Persona 3 is the one you'd ask at the store. We'd most probably never encounter an RPG as unique as this anymore anytime soon (unless the system stays for Persona 4), so get it while its still there. The gameplay will take about 60+ hours of your time, so go ahead and indulge... get it first though... =)
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/25/07, Updated 12/29/07
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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