Review by megaman2005
One of the most original, and time consuming RPG's I've ever played.
Atlus' history is one of niche games, and a very loyal fanbase. If you haven't heard of, or played a game in the Persona series, you're are missing out, because they are some of the most original RPG's around. The problem is trying to find these titles. Unless you have an E-Bay account, you probably won't find these games anywhere else, and Persona 3 is shaping up to turn out the exact same way. This turn based RPG on the PS2 uses an interesting mix of classic RPG styling, mixed with an interesting story, and a social system the gives the game a good amount of variety, and really makes it stand apart from any other RPG on the market.
The story revolves around a namless character (at the beginning of the game, you give the character whatever name you want) as he goes to a new high school to live out his junior year. Very quickly, he realises something is strange about the city. Every night at midnight, the "Dark Hour" begins, as strange creatures called "Shadow's" roam the city, and prey on any people they find. Normal people are transmogrified into coffins during this time, and remember nothing about the dark hour. However, those who have the "Potential" remain awake, and aware of dark hour, and those who have the potential have sworn to fight against these monsters. Your character too, has this power and is recruited into a group called SEES, whos members live in the same dorm as you.
The game is split into two different sections. The daytime, which you use to live your social life. The game shifts times quickly, unless something special needs to be shown. For example, most days are spent at school and the time shifts from basic categories such as "Morning," "Lunch," "After-Noon," "After School," etc. Sometimes special events occur, like during the school day your teacher might ask you some questions during a lecture, and if you answer correctly, your academics may go up. Or maybe you want to sleep through class to get rested up for battling shadows. Maybe a friend will ask you to do something during lunch, which may increase your bond with that person. Other times the game will skip straight to After School, and at this time you can spend your time doing whatever you want. Whether it be making friends, studying for school, trying to find a girlfriend, joining a sports team, etc. It's hard to balance your time, since you can usually only dedicate your time to one thing per day. So you may have to choose between going to swim practice, or going to the coffee shop with your friends. At first it seems like there's little point in doing these things, but they play a much bigger role as the main story gets under-way.
At some point, your dorm get's attacked by some strange creatures, and it's during this time that your room-mates begin to show their strange powers. After these events, you get to go into the main bulk of the game. After realizing your potential, you join your friends in the hunt to exterminate the monsters. At night, a huge tower erupts out of the ground in place of where your school stands during the day. Most nights, you can decide to explore this tower, which appears to be the home base of the shadows. You explore the tower, fight enemies, collect treasure, all in hopes of reaching the top of the tower, and hopefully solving the mystery of the shadows. All though it may seem like you could just explore all the floors of the tower straight off, a few things hold you back. Your characters grow tired after so many battles, and will leave the tower, should you press them further. This can cause them to become sick, and dely exploration of the tower even further, so you need to balance your exploring, with daily rest. Plus, barriers bar access to upper parts of the tower, and can only be taken down by special events that you finish during the course of the game.
Battles commence when you touch an enemy on the over-world map, which immeadiatly adds points to this game, since random battles should have been abolished a long time ago (opinion statement). The battles are familiar at first, you have your basic attack function, skills, items, etc. A few surprises are added to the mix. For example, you can scan enemies, and should you have that enemies weakness, you can use it on them. Doing this knocks them down, and allows the character who acted to make another move. All enemies who are knocked down, can't defend, and usually miss their next turn. Should every enemy be knocked down, your whole party gets to participate in an all out attack, think of it as a huge attack to all enemies. This allows you to end fights quickly, and continue with your journey. Another interesting point of the fights is the use of summons, called Personas. These creatures are like your characters soul in a physical form. Where as your team-mates can only use one Persona that they are born with, the main characters has the strange ability to switch Personas at any time. All of your abilities are equipped to these Persona's, so say you fight an enemy that is weak against wind, but you have a Persona with the fire ability equipped. During your turn you can switch to the wind Persona, and knock the enemy down. Next turn you may be weak, and need to heal. Switch to your healing Persona and heal away! Some Personas can even combine their power together for a fusion move. Towards the beginning of the game, they give you a basic fusion skill, and then are sent about finding the rest on your own. The one problem is when changing Persona's in battle, when you bring up the details window, it only shows the names of the moves, and not what they actually do. Which wouldn't be a problem, but when Dia means heal, and Bufu means ice, it tends to make things a little confusing until you memorise the skill names.
As I said before, there's a reason you have to become friends and interact with people, and the Personas are that reason. Your Personas are powered by the social links you make with people. Thus, become friends with one person, and a certain Persona may gain power. Each social link powers Personas of a different class, so you have to decide which Persona you need to power up in order to take full effect of this. Plus, different social links affect the ending of the game, so it may require several play throughs to see everything. This is a good sized RPG to begin with, and the ability to add multiple play throughs is just icing on the cake.
These social elements wouldn't mean much if the characters were boring, but each character, including the minor characters are given life using anime stills that change facial expressions, and the use of clever dialogue spoken by good voice actors. Not since my favorite RPG, Lunar 2, have I liked characters so much, which is saying a lot, because Lunar 2 has been out since the mid life of the PS1!
I won't go into too much detail about some other features of the game, like fusing Personas together to find new ones, or the card shuffling games after some battles that allow you to gain new weapons, items, money, or even new Personas. All things that add further to the game.
It isn't all sunshine and rainbows though, because there are a few stale areas. For example, most of your time is spent in one dungeon, the tower known as Tartarus, which isn't such a big deal, but some may grow tired of seeing the same walls and and tiles for 30 floors until the design changes. However the halls are randomly generated, so it's different every time you explore. Plus, since you can't always explore the tower when you want, it can be frustrating for those who just want to fight.
Also, you can only control the main character during battles, and can only give orders to your friends. I can see where they are going with this, since the main character is supposed to be you, the other characters control themselves to make it seem like they have intelligence. Which they do, the computer does a good job of healing and attacking, even when you don't give the order to do so. It may remind some of the system in Final Fantasy XII, although I think this game does a better job of it, since you don't have to micro manage every little action your characters will take. There will be times when they take a strange, or downright stupid action, but it's to be expected, and can be controlled with tactics you give them. After you get the knock down tactic, it's smooth sailing.
Although the grapics are nothing to brag about, those who keep a keen eye out will recognize the work done to add the small things that make it fantastic to look at. Special effects are incredible, the monster designs are some of the best and most clever I've ever seen, and the act of summoning a Persona never gets old. To summon a Persona, the characters use a device called an "Evoker" to call them out. This gun shaped object is used just like the weapon it's modeled after. Every time a Persona is summoned, your allies put the gun to their head and pull the trigger, as shards of glass shoot out of their heads, replacing any gory bloodshed, making it more eye catching that watching bone and brain spray. Since your characters practically commit suicide every time they summon (even though the word suicide is never used as far as I can tell where I am in the game), it earned the game an "M" rating, a strange thing for an RPG to have, and it actually adds a layer of intrigue to the game.
Despite some flaws, I have to say I like this game, I might actually LOVE this game. I can't guarentee you'll like this game as much as me, but it is already becoming a rare game, so if you see it somewhere, I recommend you pick it up, since even if you don't like it, you can maybe make a profit off of it on E-bay. It's dark, it's interesting, and at the same time lovable. Grab your evokers. Welcome to the world of Persona 3.
GRAPICS: 8/10- Character models, and environments are a little bland, but adds a strange sense of familiarity to them. Plus the small effects like summoning a Persona, make up for the lack of graphical power.
SOUND: 9/10- Voice actors are some of the best, and most likable I've heard since the great Lunar 2. The music for the battles isn't just normal RPG "fight" music, it's a rock/rap mix, which is awesome, and rarely gets old. Most of the music is great, but some of it is a little strange.
CONTROL: 9/10- Easy to navigate menus, although you can't check the effects of a Persona's skills unless you're in battles, checking the list of current skills all your Persona's have, or unless you have the game manual in front of you. After awhile you just have to memerise the skill names, because the first time you play would you know that Agi means fire? I didn't think so.
GAMEPLAY: 9/10- Classic old school action, combined with one of the most original ways of leveling up I've ever seen. Great characters, and enjoyable, yet sometimes slow, dialogue keeps the cut-scenes, and friend making from getting stale. The battles, can be challenging, something that Atlus hasn't always done well.
OVERALL: 9/10- Not the greatest RPG I've ever played, but quickly became one of my most favorite. Pick it up and give it a try if you can find it.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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