Review by DrAndonuts
Brilliant on nearly every level, Persona 3 is the shot in the arm RPGs have needed.
This game lured me out of my review writing retirement. That's because Persona 3 is one of those two or three games a year that succeeds on nearly every level. It's this year's Okami in terms of melding storytelling, art design, and characters, and is the best RPG of the year.
RPGs as of late have been rather disappointing. Final Fantasy XII attempted to bring a new battle system to the table, but at the sacrifice of a compelling narrative. .hack//G.U. had a compelling story, but had the same stale gameplay as the last 4 games. So, here comes Persona 3 to knock both the competition and player on their collective asses, and to deliver one of the freshest experiences in the RPG genre in years.
The story, without revealing too much, is about a battle between Shadows and the SEEDS group, which is led by a group of high school students. You play the unnamed hero, who eventually leads the attack group of the SEEDS. This is all well and good, but you're a high schooler. You've got homework and friends to think of, not to mention the occasional kendo or swim meet.
The beauty of Persona 3's main storyline is how subtle it is. Sure, the shadow threaten the world, but that's not the main thing going on in your life. It's complemented by subplots between your friends, which you choose over your school year, and other activities going on at school. It really is a brilliant mix between the modern, magic, and mundane, and the story is one of the most compelling reasons to play the game.
That's not to say the gameplay slouches. It takes the traditional turn-based combat, and adds a unique twist: you don't control your party members. It has been done before, yes, but it's never been done better. The AI that controls your party members is actually clever, and you can assign specific tactics if you please. The whole point is to exploit the enemies weakness by using your various Persona, or creatures you summon.
The other part of the gameplay takes place at school. You must build social links by making friends, and these social links power your Persona. The two gameplay styles are distinct, but they work surprisingly well together. The subplots you get tangled up in are surprisingly riveting, and can get you more interested than the main plot.
The visuals are standard Megaten fare, which is to say that they're low polygon, but very stylized. The creature and characters designs are brilliant on occasion, and have an overall pleasing look to them. It fits the game wonderfully, and doesn't really require breathtaking vistas. This is high school. It's mundane.
The sound has people either loving or hating it, and I fall in the former. The songs mix styles of jazz, old school hip hop, and classic instrumental tunes, and they all work quite well together. It was a wise choice for Atlus to include the soundtrack.
Which reminds me: special note must be made of the packaging. Atlus knew what kind of game they had on their hands, and went all out on the presentation of the packaging. It includes a hard cover art book, soundtrack, full color manual, and a slip cover to hold everything together. It all makes the game feel that much more special, and kudos need to be given to Atlus.
If I could complain about anything, it's that the tower you battle in gets a little bland looking after a while. Sure, it changes, slightly, after each block, but it's enough to warrant a complaint. Also, there is the occasional moment that will have you screaming at your teammates due to a stupid move, but those moments are rare.
Overall, this is one of the best RPGs I have played. It's up there with the likes of Earthbound in terms of overall personality, and that's something we need in an era of generic, dookie-brown shooters. You can't go wrong with Persona 3. It's the best in the PS2 Megaten games that have been released stateside, and it's the best RPG in years. Buy it.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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