Release Date: July 13, 2006
Systems: PS2, PSN, PSP*
Metacrtic Score: 89
In his review for “Earthbound” Yahtzee Croshaw said that a JRPG simply isn’t a JRPG unless it involves a group of teens using the power of friendship to kill a god. I don’t think you will ever find a more literal interpretation of that assessment than “Persona 3”. But don’t let the traditional setup turn you off from the game, because for traditional element there is, there is also something different and unique that makes the game stand out over the compaction.
You play as…well…you, essentially. You’re transfer student going to Gekkoukan High School. During the day everything is pretty normal, you go to school, hangout around town and get to know people. But at night, in a hidden hour between 12:00am and 12:01am, the school transforms into a giant tower(called “Tartarus”), most people transmogrify into coffins, and it’s up to you and a select group of your classmates to fight the monsters (called “Shadows”) that escape from the tower to stop them from feeding on the minds of the cities inhabitants. If that wasn’t bad enough, you also have to look for answers as to why this is all happening and fight super-powerful Shadows that come out when the moon is full, all while keeping up your grades, test scores and an active social life.
While I may have over complicated the story by telling you everything at once, the game itself does a pretty good job of spacing everything out a giving you new information at a reasonable pace. Unfortunately, the story itself doesn’t become rally “interesting” until about 3/4th of the game if over. See while there is an air of misery as to why the “Dark Hour” exist, why you and your team are the only ones who can stop it and how to end it, up until the main plot twist near the end the games story could easily be seen as “there are 12 boss monsters, go kill them”. And while the would still be enough to have a great game (hell, that basically was the story for “Shadow of the Colossus” and that’s one of the best remembered games of the PS2-era) it doesn’t do justice to how good the story gets afterwards. What’s really going to sell you on the story in the first half is the characterization. There are 20 characters you can get to know throughout the game, and while you will get to know someone them pretty well throughout the story, for the most part you have to seek out the interactions to gain insight into the characters. While there is also a game play advantage to this as well, it also benefits the story a great deal as these are some of the best, most rounded characters i’ve seen in a video game. Throughout the game, as circumstances change, the main cast changes with them. They get scared, they get angry, and they grow as people. Part of the fun of the games story is simply watching the cast come into their own as people.
With all of this said, there is one…oddity….i fond with this system. A lot of the “social links” you can create revolve around inappropriate relationships, like a student looking to ask out a teacher. While i’m not against this as a story telling devise, it’s odd because it has no relevance to the story as a whole. This could have been an interesting relationship to explore, but it almost never goes anywhere. So for those who fin this kind of thing “squicky”, you’ve been warned.
Personally, I enjoyed my time with the games story. I enjoyed getting to know the cast, and once the real plot of the game finally shows it’s head I also enjoyed where it went. I wish I could tell you more about it, but it’s pretty much one big spoiler. All you really need to know is that if you miss the days when JRPG’s were the place to good for video game story telling, you’re going to want to give this a try.
While I will get into the combat and the importance of creating “ social links”, those aren’t what I would call the “main game play draw”. Time Management is. Time really is the biggest enemy in the game: new sections of the tower only open after you beat the Full Moon Bosses, you can only meet up with certain characters on certain days, and sometimes you have to have a certain level of “Charm”, “Intelligence” or “Courage” in order to talk to them or for them to be interested in talking with you. On top of this you still have to level up and make sure you’re not under-powered for the next encounter. To top it all off, you only have one in game year to complete everything. This means everything you do has it’s consequences. Hanging out with one friend means you can’t hang out with another one, or taking time to study means you can’t hang out with anyone. And at night you can go to Tartarus and level up or you could go to the mall and increase one of your stats. But no matter what you do, doing one thing always means you can’t do another. A lot of games talk about how you can effect the world around you, but here it feels like it. But that’s enough of that, lets get into the rest of the game play, shall we?
6 days a week you go to school. After school you have the option to hang out with friends, study or work on things like “charm”. Again, you can only do one or two of these a day, so what you choose matters. The most important active,however, is the social links. See, each friends is linked to a group of Persona’s (a pokemon-esk group of gods, demons and folk-heros from around the world and from different mythologies you can call on in battle to deal magic damage), and as you become close to each friend, your ability to create Persona’s in that group increases. But again, some people will only talk to you when you are smart enough, charming enough or courageous enough, so at some point you have to chose not to hangout with anyone and focus on those qualities. When you add to this the fact that you can only hang out with certain people on certain days, it makes the whole “Time Management” aspect of the game really shine through.
Then there’s the combat. At night you can choose to go into Tartarus, the games only dungeon. Each floor of Tartarus is a maze unto itself, and every night the maze changes. Every so offtain you will come to a floor with a mini-boss and a tellaporter that goes back to the entrance where you can save. These floors are the only place that don’t change and the ability to go back to the beginning and get back effectively means they are the only place where you can save while in the dungeon.
While there is only one dungeon, there is still a good bit of diversity in the level design. Like I said, the floors change every night, but as you beat the bosses more of the tower becomes available for you to explore, and each “block” of the tower has it’s own theme. So while you will be looking at the same thing for way to long, there will always be a time when it changes.
While exploring the dungeon, you can see each enemy in advance, giving you the chance to sneak up on them and get the advantage or run away from battle entirely if you need to go and regain health or “SP” (the magic points). Once in battle, the fights are turn basses. This is where my biggest complaint with the game is: is combat you can only directly control the Main Character, meaning it’s up to the A.I. to dictate what your teammates do. And the A.I. can be really dumb at times. While it does usually do what I would want it too, there are too many times when they just act in a way that makes you want to punch the character in the fact.
Getting back to the positives, every enemy has a weakness, and if you manage to exploit that weakness, you or your teammate gets another turn. If you do this enough, and manage to knock down every enemy you’re full team can preform and “all out attack” a cartoonishly over the top attack filled with comic book like “pow”s and “thowp”s that does a massive amount of damage.
As the A.I. can’t always be trusted to exploit a weakness when you found it, the easiest way to do this is by changing your persona, something only you can do. After almost every battle you can pick a card that can do one of a few things, like give you new personas, increase the experience you get from battle or even refresh your health. Once you have a few persona’s the best idea is to go see Igor in the Velvet Room and fuse two or more together. This is where the game play benefit of the social links comes in. When you fuse personas, the new one is still linked to a certain group (each group basses after the signs of the Arcana), and as if you leveled up the social links that cosponsor to that arcana, the new persona will level up as well. As your strength, magic power and so on are all liked to the persona you are using, it’s a good idea to get them as many free levels as possible. All in all this was a fun system that always had me wanting to see what the next new persona I’d be able to wake would be. And for those who like mythology, like I said, each persona is basses off real world religions and folk stories and there is a bio of each so you can learn a little more about each personas history.
The one thing that may turn off players is that the game is a bit grind heave. While you can say this about most RPG’s, it’s even worse here as your team can get tired and even sick, lessening there effectiveness in battle. And if a team mate gets tired, once you go back to the beginning the will choose to go back home, meaning you can’t use them after that until the get rested, witch can take a few days.
One last thing to consider before buying, there is a lot of suicide imagery through out the game. Everyone summons there personas by using an “evoker”, a gun like item the have to “shoot” themselves with. And they have to do this every…single….time. So if again, if you are easily bothered by that kind of thing, know what you are getting into.
All in all, this would be a near perfect game if you could control the rest of the party, but as it stands, I like it a lot.
*The PSP remake supposedly fixed this issue while also adding in a few new game fetures. I played the PS2 version that you can get ff the PSN, so that is what I’m reviewing, not the PSP game. If that is what you are thinking of getting, you should check some other reviews to see what made that game different to the main PS2 release.
Game Play: 4/5
Music and Sound:
Everything here is pretty great to be honest. The soundtrack has a lot of Jpop, as well as some weird hip-hop and kind of a Jazzy thing too. While I wouldn’t listen to any of the games music out of context, in game it does pretty well in establishing the right mood. Voice acting is also pretty good across the board, although at times its a little too noticeable that Atlus didn’t have a lot of voice actors to work with. My only real complaint is that I wish the games original Japaneses voice tracks were available. As the game is set in Modern Day Japan, having the whole cast speaking English is just a bit…weird. But again, there’s little to really complain about here.
Music and Sound: 4/5
Overall Score: 4/5
Who is this game for:
If you ever looked as a JRPG and said “you know, i’d probably like this a lot more if it wasn’t for all the zippers and belts” this is for you. If you want a RPG that isn’t Elves and Orcs, this is for you. If you want a RPG set in the modern day, this is for you. And for those who just hate fun, there is also a trilogy of Anime Movies bassed off the game as well.
One last thing: “Persona 3: FES” was a re-release of the game, that added a new campaign. The Original game was called “The Journey” while the new one was called “The Answer”. And if you thought I was above trying to drive traffic by doing separate reviews for each campaign, you’d be WRONG! So see you next time when I review “The Answer”! (plus, what do you want, i’m too broke to buy news games right now)