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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES – Game Review

Persona 3 FES: Shin Megami Tensei

Release Date: April 22, 2008 (Original); April 10, 2012 (PlayStation Network Re-release)
Developed & Published by: Atlus
Rating: M
Genre: JRPG.
Platforms: PS2, PSP, PS3 (PlayStation Network Download)

Score: The Journey: ; The Answer:

Persona 3 FES is an expanded version of 2007’s hit Persona 3, providing players an enhanced main story (The Journey) while including a brand new epilogue campaign (The Answer.) Now–I will say this right of the bat: Persona 3 FES is one of the greatest RPGs of all time. The narrative is a masterfully written tale of triumph and sorrow, and the gameplay withstands repetition wonderfully while remaining fun.

In Persona 3, you play as a transfer student to Gekkoukan High School. A few days after this student’s arrival, he awakens his Persona, a power that allows him to summon a powerful manifestation of his personality to fight for him. He is unique, though, in that he has the ability to hold and manifest multiple Personas at one time. After awakening his power, the Protagonist joins SEES, a secret group composed of various tragically hip students from Gekkoukan High who can also summon Personas. He then learns about the Dark Hour, a period of time that occurs every night, hidden from most people.

[ad#longpost]Creatures known as Shadows appear during the Dark Hour to prey on the minds of the weak. SEES’ job is to fight the Shadows and curb the cases of Apathy Syndrome, an illness suffered by victims of Shadows. Soon after the Protagonist joins SEES, they begin exploring Tartarus, a mysterious tower that appears only during the Dark Hour. Over time, SEES learns more about the Dark Hour and Tartarus, and resolves to destroy them both. The story is wonderfully written, and the voice acting is (mostly) well performed. The narrative does lack a compelling hook, but if you stick with it, the plot reaches an earth-shatteringly well-done crescendo. There is one moment in particular where the entire tempo and mood of the game changes for both the characters and the player. The members of SEES are incredibly likable, even with their tendency to be a little one-note.

Gameplay in Persona 3 is split into two sections: Life Simulation and Turn-Based Dungeon Crawling. The Protagonist must balance his high school career with his Dark Hour shenanigans to reach his full potential. His Personas draw power from his Social Links; the ties he creates with those around him. So during the day he needs to hang out with friends, study, and go to school to increase his abilities during the Dark Hour. This symbiotic relationship encourages the player to spend time with the support characters and experience their stories. Social link storylines can range from the comedic to the tragic, and are all exceptionally well written. In Tartarus, the Main Character leads a group of four SEES members as they explore the labyrinthine tower. Combat is the standard turn-based JRPG fare, with an emphasis on finding and exploiting enemy weaknesses. The AI-controlled teammates can be monstrously dumb in boss fights, but mostly do their jobs well when given the proper direction. The dungeon crawling portion of the game serves its role well as fun (albeit difficult) transportation from plot-point to plot-point because, let’s face it; NO ONE plays a JRPG for its gameplay. I feel like the developers behind the Persona (and Shin Megami Tensei) series know this, and tailor the gameplay to be unobtrusive while remaining fun.

…And then there’s The Answer. The Answer is a “short” (thirty hour) grindfest that strips away the fun of Social Links and time management for tedious, palette-swapped dungeon crawling (set to the hardest difficulty, no less.) The story is good, and The Answer serves its purpose as an epilogue well, but the sheer amounts of grind makes it unplayable. I ended up just watching the cut-scenes on YouTube because of how boring The Answer became. As I touched on earlier, the dungeon-crawling in Persona 3 was a vehicle to drive the player to experience the Social Links, and vice versa. Players were given a specific task and a specific time to complete it in. Without the guidelines of time management or the incentive of Social Links, the combat falls flat on its face, drowning in its own sick. Luckily, The Answer is not essential to the plot of Persona 3, but is a nicely written gift for those invested in the story.

My Advice: If you have a PS2 or PS3, like JRPGs, or even just like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”…then buy a version of this game. I’m serious. I’m not even gonna add my signature caveat of “this game might not be for everyone, so try it out.” This game is goddamn amazing. Even with the unfortunate stain of “The Answer,” this game is near-perfect. It’s seriously in my Top 5. So… play it already.