Review by Maple13
"Welcome to the Dark Hour"
Persona 3 is, in every way, an incredible game. It begins with a mysterious, dark plot. While, not as dark as say, Digital Devil Saga, it nonetheless has a plot full of intrigue and relations. In no way is this your stereotypical RPG; it doesn't have an evil antagonist hell bent on ruling the world, there is no damsel in distress, the protagonist isn't destined to save the world. Far from it, really. Persona 3 might not be the Game of the Year; but it sure is damn close.
You play as the nameless main character, who you name when you are given the option. Quickly throwing you into the plot, you learn about the "Dark Hour;" a mysterious 25th hour between 12 am and 12:01 am. During the Dark Hour, creatures called "Shadows" appear in a giant tower, named "Tartarus." Normal humans are placed into coffins and don't move for this whole time. Electric items don't work either. However you aren't so normal. You have the Potential. The ones with the Potential are able to stay animate during the Dark Hour. You, and your dorm mates, who also have the Potential, are in a group called SEES. Your job is to eliminate all the Shadows and make the Dark Hour disappear.
But how do you fight these Shadows?
With the stereotypical sword, perhaps. Maybe the bow and arrow, the axe, the knife. Perhaps you'll venture to using a katana. Possibly a spear. The not-so-typical boxing gloves, even? Even a character you gain as a member uses guns. But...these weapons only go so far when it comes to killing the Shadows. The true power lies within you; a being that is like your second face, aptly named a "Persona." Personae lie within yourself and are the beings that aid your battle against the Shadows. Of course, Personae can't be called whenever, wherever. So how do you summon them?
Why, by pulling the trigger to a gun shaped device.
No, don't be alarmed. Your character's brains won't spew out the other side of him. Nor will you see a bullet. Simple glass shards fly out the other side. The gun shaped device is the "trigger" to summoning your Persona. This "trigger" is called an Evoker. Controversial when they shaped it as a gun? Sure, but that just makes everything a tad more interesting.
Now, RPGs tend to jump from event to event to event and skip unimportant days. However, as stated before, Persona 3 isn't your average RPG. You spend 10 months playing the whole game. Every single day you play. Every day.
This is where the game really shines.
It may seem a bit grueling, playing through every day. However, it's more entertaining than it sounds. Persona 3 really pushes the core elements of this game: Relationships, School, and the Dark Hour. Every day (give for Sundays and holidays) you attend school. During so, you may get a chance to fall asleep during a lecture. Maybe you'll stay up to listen to it. Perhaps a teacher will ask you a question. This is where the game branches off into an interesting way of play. You have three "attributes:" Courage, Academics, and Charm. You being at the first level of it, and after an amount of time, you can max them to a 6th level. This can hugely affect your gameplay; Higher academics means higher grades during exams (yes, you take exams), higher courage and charm means who you can talk to. (more explanation when I cover Relationships). Sundays, you can choose to study (raising academics), or perhaps go on a date.
Yup. You date in this game.
Personae you obtain have a certain type to it. One might have the type of "Fool," another "Emperor," another "Death." All the types are based off of Tarot cards, which contributes to twenty different types. Now, of course, you want your Persona to be as strong as possible. To create stronger Personae (which will be explained later), you need more relations with people. This is where the Relationships element comes in. Relationships, or S-Links, are stories within the overlooming plot that deal with individual characters. By going through 10 different pre-determined events, the power of the Personae you create becomes greater and greater. S-Links can range from anything, from a girl you wish to date, to a famous TV producer, to a famous athlete. It all depends on where you find them and if you choose to partake in the S-Link with them. You can go through the game without attempting S-Links, but the game is much deeper if you do.
Now, you've covered the school day and after school. What about during the evening/night? You can go out on the town, perhaps to grab a cup of coffee, sing some karaoke, or just hit a bar (S-Link!). But what you really want to do...is go to the Tartarus. The Tartarus is a labyrinth. A 264 floor labyrinth. In the 10 months you're given, you have to scale every single floor. Easy? Not quite. Tartarus is split into six "sections," all ranging in size, when it comes to floors per section. Difficulty also increases. Each floor, as well, is randomly generated (except for specific floors, pre-determined, as there are sub-bosses on those floors). So, naturally, you'd want to get stronger Personae and level up, right? Leveling up is easy, and rarely do you grind in this game. But to get stronger Personae then what you start out with, you have to fuse Personae.
Personae Fusion is a huge part of this game. In a place called the "Velvet Room," you meet a man named Igor. Igor has the ability to fuse Personae. The fusion process is a long and winding one, but as the game progresses, you'll understand it fully.
Now, maybe you've watched videos or seen screens, and noticed a little moon in the corner. Good eye. The Moon's cycle has a heavy influence on this game. Every full moon, an almighty, powerful Shadow descends from Tartarus into the real world. And guess what? You have to stop them. They range from anywhere you may think of; a love hotel (yes, a love hotel) to a train, even a bridge. Each one of these has a type, based on Tarot. These beings are tough, but are nonetheless rewarding.
And to be honest? That's just scratching the surface of what this game really is. As the game moves on, story develops, strange places emerge, fusions become more complex, bosses become tougher, relations ships are strengthened. You gain characters, and you lose some. Intrigue by people you'd never expect.
And to think, this is just gameplay and story.
Graphics, while not the best the PS2 boasts, are nonetheless good. Impressive looking Personae and spells. Voice acting is terrific, give for maybe two people. Soundtrack...while a strange Japanese Jazz/Lounge Music, is just pleasing to the ears. Great. Just great.
This is a deep game. Fifty to seventy hours, plus a new game with all your previous extras, at the last-gen price tag of $49.99 (US). Masterful, just masterful.
+ Dark, intriguing plot
+ Long game time
+ Deep gameplay, S-Links, fusion and all
+ Terrific, if not odd, soundtrack
+ Detailed Personae and spells (though they do seem a bit generic after time)
+ Terrific cast of characters
+ Terrific voice cast (give for two)
~Two decent voice actors
- Tartarus exploring gets tedious, as well as the random floors
- Sometimes playing every day gets grueling
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/07/07
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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