Review by ObeIiskos
"Step into the shadows, and prepare to be thrown into a world of magnificince and creativity."
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is the third video game in the Persona console RPG series, developed and published by Atlus. It was released in Japan on July 13th, 2006, released in the United States, after a delay (due to an error Persona 3 artbook), on August 14th, 2007, and was released in Europe and Australia on February 29th, 2008. Persona 3 is not really a sequel to Persona 2. On the contrary, both games are entirely different stories in entirely different settings, although similar to each other in certain ways. The game has the player take the role of a male high-school student (by the name of Minato Arisato in the manga) who joins up with other members of SEES - the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad - to attack Shadows and other beings that emerge during the "Dark Hour", a time period between each day which only few humans are aware of. The player uses weapons and magical abilities gained by the use of "Personae" to defeat foes in a turn-based combat system. An interesting feature of the game is the method by which the members of SEES release their Personae: by firing an Evoker, a gun-like object, at their head. In addition to typical RPG elements, the game includes elements of dating simulation games as the player character progresses day by day through a school year, making friends and relationships that improve the strength of his Personae in battle. Because of this, the game is very unique and there are many things to do, giving it a high replay value and making it very addicting, and equally fun. However, like all RPGs, it does get very monotonous once you get the main drift of the game - go to school, make friends, fight shadows. Rinse and repeat, and that's most of the game in a nutshell. There are a few things to keep it interesting, both in the dating sim and RPG sections of the game, such as holidays and playing an MMORPG (seriously, playing a game in a game. that's genius.) for the "normal" section of the game. For the RPG section, there are, of course, bosses. Another interesting aspect is fusing Personae, which is done in the Velvet Room, a metaphysical lounge where you'll be able to get new Personae by fusing two or more together. There are many Personae to collect, and upon fusion, some abilities may be passed down from one Persona to the next, leading to progressively more powerful members. Although for the most part, the game can get repetitive, there are a few things to keep you interested, especially in the add-on, Persona 3: FES, which brings many new features in the game, which both new, and experienced players of Persona 3 can enjoy. But that's another story. One last thing I'd like to address: If you die, the game is over. For whatever reason, upon your death, your party members become completely useless and forget how to heal or revive. All joking aside, as you get deeper in the game, you see how heavily the events in the game depend on the main character. I won't spoil anything, but it's at the end where it really clicks in.
*WARNING!* This basically talks about the gameplay of the game. If you're interested in learning about how the game works, the next few paragraphs are for you. However, if you're looking for the review part, scroll down a bit. To "that about covers gameplay", to be exact.
Going more indepth with the gameplay, Persona 3 combines elements of standard console role-playing games and dating sims. The game takes place over the course of a Japanese school year. Each day goes by broken up into several periods such as "Morning", "Afternoon" and "Evening", with the Main Character going to school and then participating in selected activities during free time. The player may opt to use the free time activities to buy equipment and items at stores, talk to other non-playable characters, or spend the remainder of the free time either to build a Social Link or to improve the Main Character's attributes, such as by gaining courage by singing karaoke. Thus, the player must manage which activities or Social Links to improve in order to build up the Main Character for the exploration of the Tartarus. Certain in-game events will occur on prescribed days; Major Shadows will appear on full moons, there will be midterm and final exams within school, and school holidays give the player more time to work on other activities.
At night, the player may opt to enter Tartarus, or otherwise allow the characters to rest and recover. Tartarus is 250-floor tower which the player must eventually climb by the end of the game. Tartarus is broken into several "blocks", and various blocks are inaccessible until the Major Shadows are defeated on each full moon, thus limiting the progress through the tower. Most floors of Tartarus are randomly generated in a roguelike manner, with a random distribution of treasure and wandering Shadows, but each includes a stairway to the next floor and many also include a one-way only teleport point that allows them to escape to the first floor. Other levels contain mini-bosses that must be defeated in order to progress; these levels also feature a fixed teleport point that allows the player to travel to any other similar teleport point that has been previously accessed, thus allowing the player to skip blocks when returning to Tartarus. The player may opt to keep the party together or have each member explore the level, recovering any treasure found and fighting monsters individually. As the party explores, their health will worsen, and a member that ends up "tired" or "sick" will perform poorly in battle and may drop out before battle is complete; the only way to recover from these states is spend one or more nights without exploring Tartarus.
Combat is a turn-based affair. Each character can person a standard melee attack with their weapon, summon their Persona to unleash an attack or spell, or use recovery and battle items. The player only directly controls the actions of the Main Character. The other members of the party can be guided through specific tactics assigned to each of them, such as maintaining the health of the party, or going all out with Persona attacks. Each foe has strengths and weaknesses; by striking a foe with an attack it is weak against, it will cause the foe to be knocked down, and the attacker will gain one more immediate attack; this can lead to a chain of attacks against each foe if the attacks are selected appropriately. If all remaining foes are knocked down, the player can opt for an "All Out" attack, with the remaining members entering a cartoon-like fight cloud, inflicting higher damage on each foe.
Now then, let's give a bit more detail on "Social Links" if you don't get the gist of it yet. Social Links represent various friendships that the Main Character has with fellow SEES members, classmates, and other persons around the city. Each Social Link in the game represents one of the Arcana for Personae, and building these Links are necessary to obtaining more powerful Personae from that Arcana. Social Links can grow by having the Main Character spend a period of time with the appropriate person. This action does not always guarantee an increase in the Link. In some cases, it is necessary to spend two or more periods before the Link can be raised. At other times, the player may be asked to respond to a question from the friend; an improper response may cause the Link to stay stagnant, or even to drop a level. Several of the Links are with fellow teenage girls that can lead to romantic interests; these Links can be improved by giving the girl a gift as well, but can also drop if the Main Character spends too much time with another girl.
And finally, let's cover Personae a bit more. Each member of SEES has a Persona that they can summon with their Evoker which can perform special attacks and offensive and healing spells. Each Persona belongs to a specific Arcana and has set strengths and weaknesses against certain types of attacks. Personae level up with the characters as the result of successful battles, gaining new spells and abilities. The Personae of the characters (excluding the Main Character) can also change to a new, more powerful Persona after certain key events regarding that character in the game. The Main Character is unique in that he is able to summon multiple Personae, even changing these during battle. The player can select up to a maximum of twelve Personae to use within battle.
Within the Velvet Room, the player is able store Personae, including their current experience and skills, and later recall them for a price. The player can also fuse from two to six Personae into a more powerful one. The result of a fuse will include selected abilities of all Personae used and will gain an experience bonus equivalent to the strength of the Social Link the Main Character has with the new Persona's Arcana. Fusing is limited by the strength of the Main Character and his Social Links; the most advanced fusing of four to six Personae can only occur once the player has maximized the Main Character's Social Link in that Arcana.
That about covers gameplay. Let's move on to the plot of the game, which is very unique and interesting; something that kept me playing just to see what happens. In the main game, entitled "The Journey", the story takes place in a modern Japanese city (like Persona 2), built and funded by the Kirijo Corporation. Due to events in the past which I don't want to spoil, there is a "Dark Hour", a period of time that exists at midnight between one day and the next that only few people are aware of and remain conscious for; those that aren't appear as coffins, frozen. The Dark Hour bends reality; Gekkoukan High School, where most of the characters attend school during the day, becomes a huge labyrinthine tower called "Tartarus", and beasts called Shadows roam the area, preying on the minds of those still conscious during that time, leaving their victims in apathetic states outside of the Dark Hour. To learn about these aspects, a group called the "Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad" (SEES) was created, its members both having awareness of the Dark Hour and possessing the ability to call forth a Persona to assist them in battling Shadows. In order to call their Persona, each member aims and fires a gun-like object called an "Evoker" at their head, which does no physical damage but causes significant emotional stress to bring forth their Persona. As the plot further develops, we run into many plot twists, which can emotionally drive you to believe you're in the game, with the emotional voice acting. Speaking of voice acting...
Okay, let's think here: How many times have you run into an anime fan who begins freaking out when s/he hears the words "English dub"? Probably a few times. Why? Well, more often than not, English dubs are terrible, mostly courtesy of 4Kids. (seriously, screw you.) However, the voice acting in Persona 3 is sensational. Great clarity, there is a lot of emotion put into most lines, and the cutscenes are also very emotional. I daresay, this is the first game which had such magnificent voice acting and suspense, it made me cry. Well, sob. Point is, it touched me. Just reading text doesn't get to me as much as hearing it - and when it's done this well, I could close my eyes and pretend I'm in the game. And the characters are so well-developed, everything about them affected me. Along with very emotional events, the game is full of everyday conversations (i.e., "Ugh, another morning assembly?", "Man, I did horrible on that test!", or even "Hey, want to hang out today?") which are often accompanied by voice acting, but not always. Most students, especially high school students, will most likely be able to relate to most of this game very well. (that is, the "normal" part. most high school kids don't shoot themselves in the head and kill shadows.) The characters are very likable and anything but dull.
Moving on, let's talk about the music.There is a lot of variety in the soundtrack, ranging from rock, to upbeat music, and poppy modern music, unlike anything you've heard before. The music in the game just might be enough to purchase the official soundtrack CD, which, needless to say, I did. Next, we have the graphics. The graphics, at first, may look just "decent". Not bad, not good, but okay. However, much of the anime-esque cutscenes and smooth character movements make for a well-polished game that's just good to look at. While it's no Final Fantasy XII, the graphics are far from bad, but nothing too visually stunning.
Let's think about what we've talked about so far: Gameplay, plot, music, sound, graphics, and some miscellaneous information. For the most part, I've covered most basic things in a review, but there is something else to talk about: replayability. Every game needs a good replay value for me to consider it beyond "good". If a game is only good for one playthrough, however long it may be, I can't really say it's flawless, because that's a flaw. So no matter how good a game is, it's gotta be worth playing through more than just once, which this game succeeds at.
First off, there are many Social Links, or emotional ties with others, you can form. By meeting new people, your Personae grow stronger, which affects how you fare in the RPG aspect of the game. Since there are so many S. Links, you probably won't be able to make friends with or date everyone in the game in one playthrough. This is one aspect of good replayability.
Secondly, the Personae themselves give a great replay value in the game. There are so many to collect and so many combinations through Fusion, the possibilities are near endless. This gives a good reason to come back to the game.
And finally, after beating the game, you can start a new game with stats carried over, so accomplishing every single thing is less challenging, but still takes quite a while. There are probably some other aspects I'm missing, but that's all I can think about right now.
Overall, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is a very addictive RPG, which brings a unique style of gameplay, packed with great voice acting and music, as well as good graphics and an addictive replay value. Persona 3 is a must-have for PS2 owners. You can clock in as much as 80 to 120 hours. It's long, without overstaying its welcome. If you don't have it, get it! It might already be hard to find, but if you work at it, you may get yourself a copy of this one-of-a-kind delicacy.
Overall: 47/50, 10/10
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 08/28/08
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (US, 08/14/07)
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