Started: July 2008
Finished: October 2008
Playing time: ~ 110 hours (a couple of hours are due to not being able to pause the game and only two save points)
The Persona series is a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series. In Persona 3, you’re playing an unnamed orphaned male teenager who goes back to the city where he grew up. Shortly after you arrive in the city, you’re attacked by Shadows, beings that feed on the mind of people, leaving some of them ill. Thanks to the awakening of your Persona, a kind of other self from deep within, you’re able to defeat them. It turns out some of the other kids you go to school with have the same ability. They are part of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES), formed to hunt Shadows. You join SEES, and from then on, spent your nights defeating Shadows.
Shadows appear only during the Dark Hour, a time between times. It exists between one day and the next and appears every night at midnight. SEES members and a few other people are aware of it but most people don’t know. In order to hunt Shadows, you (and the other SEES members) have to go to Tartarus, a huge tower which only appears during the Dark Hour and which teems with Shadows.
The game follows a (Japanese) school year, and as the year progresses, you learn more and more about Tartarus, the Shadows and the Dark Hour. Your goal is to defeat all Shadows, or at least to make the Dark Hour go away, because more and more people fall in a state of unconsiousness because of it. Of course, it isn’t as straightforward as that and you encounter some twists and surprises on the way.
There are two distinct parts to the game: the dungeon crawling during the Dark Hour and the day-time activity with going to school, school activities and making and meeting friends. Persona 3 is a mixture of RPG elements and dating sim elements, although dating means you meet all kind of people, not just love interests, and try to establish a relationship with them (called social link).
What I liked:
This is the part where Persona 3 really shines, IMO. Persona 3 features a story that tackles serious subjects in a much more thorough way than you normally see in other (RPG) games. Essentially, it’s a look at the meaning of friendship and love, and it asks questions about free will and fate. Each member of SEES has his own story and reason for fighting the Shadows, and when it comes to make the ultimate decision on New Year’s Eve – which comes down to a choice between free will and fate – their story influences the way they decide. Other games *coughFinalFantasyXIIcough* could learn a thing or ten from Persona 3 in regard to character development.
Persona 3 has two endings; which one you get depends on your decision on New Year’s Eve. What is called the “bad ending” practically ends the game on New Year’s eve. You get to see the rest of the school year but you can’t play your character anymore and you won’t have to face the obligatory final boss fight. The “good ending” opens up another dungeon, you can continue to improve your social links, acquire new Personas, and you get to beat the final boss.
The funny thing is, I wasn’t really sad after seeing the “bad ending” whereas after watching the “good ending” … oh my. The “good ending” expresses the “message” of the story most clearly and is therefore more powerful. It’s also the best example of how this game combines game elements (social links, fighting) and story and character development in a not-often-seen way for games.
- mixture of RPG and dating sim
Persona 3 is an unusual mixture of game genre elements. What makes it even more special is that these elements are linked to and influence each other and the story. For example, each person you can befriend and establish a social link with represents a Persona class called Arcana, modeled after Tarot cards like “Lovers,” “Judgment” or “Death.” The main character (you) is able to create (fuse) Personas, and since each Persona is part of a specific Arcana it’s: the higher your social link with a person, the higher the benefits for fusing a Persona that’s part of the Arcana that person represents. And the link between a Persona’s Arcana and Tarot cards connects this game play element with one of the main themes – fate – of the story. Neat.
Also, each element is able to feed my compulsive nature like whoa (meaning there are lots of possibilities to max all kinds of things).
What I didn’t like:
- game control
I thought the handling of the menus a bit cumbersome, the loading a bit slow and there’s only minimal info on things like abilities. When your Persona levels up, there isn’t any info about what the newly learned ability does. This is especially annoying when there’s no free slot available for the new ability (each Persona can have up to 8 abilities at the same time) and you have to choose which one to delete. There are A LOT of abilities and most of them have names that give you no clue what they do, like for example “Me Patra” (provides recovery from Panic, Fear, and Distress, targets all allies). You also don’t get info about the already learned skills on that screen, making this really hard and annoying. Really, I think the days where you had to play with a notepad beside you and write EVERYTHING down are gone.
- game balance
While I thought the mixture of RPG and dating-sim elements interesting and intriguing, it also can lead to some dull periods during the game, mostly depending on how much attention you pay to the social links part of the game (and how good you are at it). You can either have lots of extracurricular activities or periods where you just press a button to advance to the next day. How much you must fight depends in part on the rank of your social links. If you screw up there, it means more fights, and they and the dungeons are not all that exciting (Persona 3 is much more forgiving than Lucifer’s Call). I thought the balance was off there.
Also: screwing up the social links is very easy. In fact, it’s said there’s only one way to max all social links in one go. For that, you have to follow a very detailed time-table and do everything in the right order. One mess-up to do something on a certain day, and all was for nothing.
In Persona 3: FES, which comes out in Europe at the end of October 2008, the social link element is supposed to be easier (more opportunities to max the links), making the game better balanced in that regard.
Would I recommend this game? occasional player: not necessarily; (consloe) RPG players: yes
Would I play this game again? Yes (to max all the missed things)
Grade: 4 – / 5