Review by Heatmiser

"An unparalleled dungeon crawler with tons of Persona-lity"

Calling Persona 3 a dungeon crawler is like calling filet mignon "some kind of slab of beef or something." This 100+ hour game so utterly transcends its genre that all other games of similar ilk that come after it should immediately be measured against its standard, the new gold standard of dungeon crawlers. Let's get right to it.

You play as the to-be-named main character, a high schooler youngin' (God, does that ever show my age) who just moved to town. Eventually, you find out that not only do you have secret magical powers- called a "Persona"- but that you share this amazing ability with a select few of your classmates. Confounding matters further is a clandestine mystical tower named Tartarus that resides behind the school, but it's only visible at midnight- and only to those of you who have the special gifts a Persona brings. Your quest is simple: scale Tartarus at night while juggling regular high schoolers' duties during the day. That's right, Persona 3 offers you a fantastically unique, wonderful, and incomparable gameplay setup that'll have you juggling nighttime demon-hunting and daytime test-taking or afternoon hot dates with the local cutie down at the fried octopus stand. You'll have to juggle your allotted time and decide which is more important throughout your adventure- to focus on schoolwork and extracurriculars that'll make you smarter and more charming, or to spend that time leveling up in Tartarus, making you more able for the coming- and often exceptionally difficult- battles that will invariably come your way.

The battles. The one and only part of Persona 3 that isn't a completely heavenly experience, the turn-based-with-a-twist battle system in P3 will have you cheering your characters on slightly less often as it will have you ripping out your hair in sheer frustration. Two words: horrible AI. Okay, that was really three words, but you get the idea- you only personally control one out of the four characters in the battle party, and the computer's idea of good battle moves are rarely, if ever, what you or I or any seasoned RPGer would ever, EVER pick. I don't know how many times someone in my party could have lived through a battle if one of my cronies had simply thrown a de-poisoning or de-charming item their way, but noooo. Instead of helping save one of our questmates' lives, they'd rather buff my offense or use an ice spell against an enemy that's made of freaking ice. Thankfully, through judicious Persona-merging (the main character is the only one in the game who can not only change Personae, but merge them in typical MegaTen fashion and create savagely powerful new ones) you can basically obliterate any and all evil-doers all alone, and by the end of the game you might go a hundred battles in a row without even letting your teammates get a spell or sword swing in edgewise, at which point things get REAL interesting. It helps having Shiva and Vishnu and Lucifer AND Satan on the same team, lemme tell you.

I'm glad I could get the minor bad stuff out of the way, since 90% of Persona 3 is absolutely epic. The graphics and music have that typically MegaTen stylized Japan-on-a-stormy-day purple and grey quality to them, giving you a creeped out feeling visually while simultaneously making you chuckle with an embarrassed giddiness at the J-pop tunes. Nothing is quite as unsettling as fighting off blood-hungry demonic hordes while listening to an American guy rapping over cheesy Japanese synthesizers. I suspect (well, I hope) that this was the purpose, since all of Persona 3 is played under this gloomy visual and aural cloud, interspersed with a demon here, a schoolgirl there, a deathdealing robot over yonder. Nothing quite has the evocative motif of a Shin Megami Tensei game, and P3 keeps up that trend expertly- in my case for over 150 hours. Yep, you heard me. Do you need more reasons to buy this? How about that the US version comes with a free art book and soundtrack CD? I thought that'd get your attention.

Just as this is a completely unique game, it's a completely difficult one to review and put into mere words. What other video game lets you make the choice during your gaming day between chilling at the local cafe after school or going into a haunted demonic tower to slash and burn demons and goblins? What other video game allows you to power up your character's spellcasting abilities by going on successful dates or by making friends with the new foreign exchange student in school? And just how many titles have you played where you can't access certain parts of the game unless your character is suave enough? I can't stress it too much: Persona 3 is as wonderful as it is irreverent as it is exceptional as it is awesome. And while that's an idiotic sentence, the game it represents is exquisite. Rush out and buy it if you can find a copy. I'll see you 100+ bliss-filled hours later.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/17/07

Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)

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