Review by St_Xefas
"Great Story, Awful Gameplay"
Persona 3 is the fourth game in the Persona series of console role playing games. However, you won't need any knowledge of the previous games to play and enjoy it.
As you've probably figured out by the 7/10 rating I've given, I think this game is good. Not incredible, certainly not the best, but a solid choice if you're looking for a new game and have exhausted all the truly amazing titles. If you require more detail than that, read on.
Story. I want to start with the story, because this is where the game truly shines, and I like to begin a review on a good note. Persona 3 manages to have a fun, interesting, and slightly morbid storyline in a time where it seems like every plot is just another horrible cliche.
In the game's alternate Earth, the day is 25 hours long. The 25th hour occurs at the stroke of midnight, and to the vast majority of the population, does not actually exist. All except for a select few individuals are frozen in time and completely unaware of what is going on around them during this hour (dubbed "The Dark Hour" by those who are aware of its existence). Among these individuals, there are people known as "Persona Users", who are capable of calling forth a "Persona" during the time of the Dark Hour. These Personas are reflections of the User's own personality, or in the case of the main character, reflections of their relationships with other people. Calling forth a Persona involves placing a gun to your temple and firing. Yes, you shoot yourself in the head. It's quite novel at first, but expect to see it happen so often that it just becomes a somewhat quirky detail.
Persona Users deal in the fate of humanity. Malevolent creatures known as "Shadows" rise up during the Dark Hour to consume the minds of normal people. A person who has had their will devoured by a Shadow becomes a thoughtless shell. This state is known as "Apathy Syndrome" by the average populace, who are unaware of its supernatural origin.
I'd like to go further, but I don't want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say, it gets better as you go in. Mysteries and twists abound, loyalties are called into question, and secrets come to the surface that I'd wager you didn't see coming.
Gameplay. This is the most conflicted aspect of the game. One part of the gameplay only reinforces the great story and serves to immerse you in the world. The other condemns Persona 3 from ever becoming truly great.
The gameplay part I like has to do with building relationships. If you walk around town for a while, chances are you'll run into someone who doesn't look like one of the generic NPCs. These secondary characters have quite lengthy and very entertaining subplots involved with them that can only be revealed piece by piece by interacting with them. You hold conversations with them, go out to eat with them, have fun with them, help them through rough spots in their life, share in their joy, and even date them if they're of the opposite sex. The player really gets to know the people in the world they're playing in, and I know that by the time I finished my first relationship subplot, I honestly began to care about the fate of humanity. I knew why my character was motivated to do what he does. He shoots himself in the head, runs headfirst into a hell-dimension populated by nightmare monstrosities, and risks life and limb every night because if he doesn't, all the people he cares about will become lifeless piles of flesh.
And, as long as we're talking about risking life and limb, I'll move on to the other half of the gameplay. The combat; ooooh, the combat. On its surface, it's the bog-standard turn-based affair that you've probably seen a thousand times if you're into Japanese RPGs. Two groups stand in a line facing each other, and then wait their turn to beat the crap out of the opposing group.
However, there are several differences in Persona 3's combat that make it far worse than the generally boring-but-tolerable battle systems of other jRPGs. For one, you can't control your other party members. That means that, when the time comes for someone to pull out their big whoop-ass ice spell and win the day, they're going to instead throw down a useless status effect with an abysmal chance of hitting that the monster is probably resistant to anyway, and you're more than likely going to die painfully because of it. There is the option to change the "tactics" that your allies use, but this just usually means that instead of throwing down the whoop-ass ice spell, they'll throw down a healing spell on a party member who already has nearly full hit points, and lose the battle for you anyway.
Next, all non-boss encounters are incredibly swingy. And by that, I mean that there are almost always going to be only one of two outcomes. You'll either instantly slaughter the enemy in the first round without any sort of tactical thinking on your part, or you'll die instantly on the first round without ever being able to make any sort of choice or decision. It's extremely frustrating when you die through no fault of your own; the game just decided it wanted you to lose the past 2 hours of your life.
Oh, yeah, there are only a handful of save points in the game, so if you die, you lose quite a lot of work every time. Since these deaths are almost always arbitrary, you won't see them coming until it's too late. Just opened a chest to find some super rare item of awesomeness? Well, now you have to trek through another hour of random battles to save, any one of them possibly killing you without rhyme or reason and erasing all your hard work or good luck.
The whole thing is exacerbated by the fact that, despite the party having lots of healing items and items that bring characters back from unconsciousness, and possibly spells that do those things as well, if your main character gets knocked to 0hp, it's game over. The main character isn't especially durable, and it's completely possible that he can drop from full hit points to dead in a single round despite all your intentions to prevent it.
I can't stress this enough. If you are frustrated easily, or if you're prone to quitting a game entirely if something horrendously stupid and unfair happens to you, then this is not a game you want to play. You'll be several hours into the game, with a sack full of treasure, party members leveled up multiple times, quest items in hand, a full 2 seconds away from hitting the space you need to go to save, and you'll get jumped by a group of Shadows you didn't notice. All the Shadows will focus all of their attacks on your main character, and he'll die before you get to do anything, and then you'll be back to where you were hours ago within the span of a few seconds. This has happened to me a lot, and it will happen to you.
With that over, on to the Graphics/Sound. Graphics are okay. There really isn't much to say about them. You aren't going to play this game for the graphics, so I'll just assure you that they aren't bad enough to inhibit your enjoyment of the game one bit. As for sound, I want to remark, first of all, that the voice acting is pretty damn good. It isn't the best I've ever heard, but certainly better than the majority of console games translated from Japanese that I've played. The music, in general, is good quality. It's hard to rate music, because everyone has different tastes, but I am of the opinion that it was above average.
Play Time/Replayability. Obviously, your play time will vary wildly on how much side content you do, which there is quite a lot of for people who like completing everything possible in a game. At its base, though, without any other content, Persona 3 is long enough that you shouldn't expect to breeze through it in a few sittings; it is a long undertaking.
In addition, unless you're using a walkthrough, it's rather unlikely you'll finish all your relationships and see all the neat things to be had in the game, so the replayability is probably enough to merit a second go through, but unlikely to inspire more than that.
Final Recommendation. Don't rent the game, and I advise against borrowing it unless you'll be able to for an extended amount of time. You won't be able to experience enough of the good that this game offers if you only play it for a short amount of time. Either buy it for the story and socializing, and stomach the awful combat, or stay far far away.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/10/08
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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