Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 - Staff Review  

Persona 3 Adds Up
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
More than 70 Hours
+ Great character interaction and plot
+ A deep, customizable combat system
+ A believable cast of characters
- Overwhelming gamers with limited time
- Sporadic save locations
- A last gen game in a current gen world
Click here for scoring definitions 

   One of the most unique and difficult to describe RPGs of the last few years is Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. The idea of a high school life simulation mixed with dungeon crawling combat may be more than some people can fathom, but the end result is an addictive, solid PlayStation 2 RPG. Players will spend a good portion of an in-game year going through the ins and outs of the daily life of a high school student who just so happens to have the power to do battle with evil creatures that are plaguing the land. In order to succeed in his mission, he not only has to defeat evil, but he must get good grades and become Mr. Popular. All of this can seem a little overwhelming to start with, but with patience and determination players will be able to complete this epic adventure.

   The story begins with the main character transferring to Gekkoukan High School in Japan and soon joining up with a special group of students known as SEES, the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. This group is privy to a special time known as the Dark Hour; an hour between normal time that only a few select individuals are aware of. During this time beings called Shadows emerge from a mysterious tower known as Tartarus, and they are slowly destroying the minds of those unlucky enough to encounter them. While this aspect of the story is the overrunning arc to Persona 3, day to day events that the character can participate in are also very important. The player must go through typical school events, field trips, lectures, and even exams. His interactions with others will help to increase his academics, charm, and courage rating, which are then used to help establish and develop Social Links within the game.

   Social Links are an important aspect of Persona 3, as they help to develop the game world and to enhance combat effectiveness. The main character has access to a wide variety of personas that are used during combat, and he can create higher level personas by improving Social Links. This blends back into the combat system through the fusion of personas where the player can mix two or more personas to create some of that more powerful with new skills. Working with Social Links is entirely up to the player who gets to decide who to interact with and how often throughout the year.

Annie are you ok? Oooooooooowwwwwwwwww!

   In combat, the player controls only the main character, but can set tactical commands for his three party members. Allies only have access to their one specific persona, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. The main character can use any persona that has been found or fused and must often swap them around during battle. The strengths and weaknesses of personas is the key aspect to battle, as using the correct spell against specific enemies will cause them to have downed status which means they are unable to act for that round. Knocking down all enemies will result in being able to perform an all-out attack that deals heavy damage to all enemies. If the player is not careful, the enemy can cause downed status on the main character and his allies as well, leading to major problems. Infrequent options to save progress can be problematic at times. Overall, it does not hinder the game; it just makes it all the more challenging. One minor frustrating aspect of the game is managing party members. Checking their status and equipment is awkward, but thankfully, it isn't critical to do so, because characters will often upgrade their own equipment. The A.I. in the game is also rather intelligent, with characters following the tactics they have been set to in a realistic and effective manner.

   Combat is not handled in typical RPG fashion; players only have to fight during the Dark Hour. Tartarus is where players can go most any day to train and explore whenever they want. Players can go very often for short periods or sporadically for longer stints. Special events will occur at certain times during the year where the player should be prepared to take on special bosses, so fighting and leveling in Tartarus is required. Tartarus is divided into floor with bosses spaced every ten or so floors. Other than boss floors, the layout of the tower is randomly generated. Shadows are scattered throughout each floor, and if they are encountered, it results in a battle. The player can get the jump on enemies by hitting them before being noticed. Enemies can also get the jump on the party, if the player is not careful. The game also features a fatigue system where each character will have a status from sick to great. The better the character's status, the more effective they are in combat and, of course, the converse is true as well. Exploring Tartarus for too long and daily events such as staying up too late studying can cause the player's status to worsen while going to bed early and using the restroom can help to improve it. Players should take care to make sure they don't push themselves too hard, as the death of the main character means that the game is over. There is an option in easy mode that will allow the player to revive up to ten times, restoring the entire party completely, so that can help lessen the sting for some gamers.

Gladly Pajama Party Time

   Aside from fighting and working to improve Social Links, players can study, sing karaoke, drink coffee, or go eat to improve aspects of the main character such as academic rating, charm, and courage. Players will also spend a good deal of time in the Velvet Room, a room between worlds. In the Velvet Room, the player meets Igor, a fortune teller who will help in fusing of personas, and Elizabeth, Igor's odd assistant. Elizabeth gives out quests and helps the player manage the persona compendium, a record of all personas that player has encountered from which the player can resummon prior personas.

   Persona 3 has a dark theme and setting, and that is further enhanced by the game's visual presentation and soundtrack. Character designs are all highly detailed with each character having a very modern, urban look. Characters feature voice acting for most of the game's important scenes, and the actors do a fantastic job of giving each character a unique feel and making each of them believable. Persona 3's soundtrack is one of the most diverse ever, featuring haunting piano melodies, techno music, J-Pop vocals, and even a battle theme that includes rap. The visuals and unparalleled soundtrack help shape Persona 3 into one of the most unique RPGs to date.

   One daunting aspect of Persona 3 is its length. Since the game spans nearly a year in-game, with the player being able to interact during most every day, it can take a long time to complete, running from 70 hours on up. For those willing to face that challenge, they will be met with an RPG experience unlike any other. With players going through the ups and downs of high school life, including courting and dating girls, this game has almost endless options. Persona 3 is easily one of the most original RPGs ever and is an overall outstanding experience from beginning to end. It is hardly even hindered by the fact that was released on the PlayStation 2, a past generation console. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is a game for the ages.

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