|Publisher & Designer:||Atlus|
|Release Date:||April 2008 (August 2007 for Persona 3)|
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES was one of those pleasant surprises that I didn't see coming. Just when I allowed myself to think that I had played all of the great RPGs that the PS2 had to offer, along came another addictive, incredibly fun, 250+ hour gaming experience. If you love a good story, anime-styled graphics, J-Pop music, and hardcore role-playing, then keep reading because you might have found the perfect game for you!
Overview: One of the many things that I enjoy about being a full-time eBay seller is that I have come across some very special items during my travels. EarthBound along with Panzer Dragoon Saga are just a couple of games that I got to enjoy and treat as glorified rentals before selling them. Unheralded rarities such as Hagane, Demon's Crest, and Pocky & Rocky 2 for the Super NES also luckily came across my path.
And that brings us to the Persona series. Despite being an avid fan of the RPG genre and playing PlayStation 2 epics such as Dragon Quest VIII, Final Fantasy X, and Xenosaga, the entire line of Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series somehow slipped under the radar and went unnoticed by many gamers (myself included). This is truly criminal too because the Persona series is an absolute feast for fans of the genre. Anyway, I actually came across the fourth Persona game for the dirt cheap price of $5 at a local pawn shop and, since the artwork on the case looked interesting along with Atlus being the publisher (Atlus is notorious for distributing limited quantities of their games making them valuable for eBay sellers and collectors alike.), figured I had nothing to lose. After testing/playing Persona 4 for an hour or so, I decided to keep it instead of selling it because it seemed to have some potential. What's funny is that I came across Persona 3 FES soon after, purchased that game as well (I got that one for $20), and played it to death and beyond (I still haven't tackled Persona 4!)
In any case, Persona 3 FES delivered yet another phenomenal RPG to the PS2's library and proved that Atlus' expertise went far beyond their popular Disgaea series (which I also love). My only warning would be this: Be prepared to lose your social life for a time because Persona will become your social life. Like so many games developed by Atlus (Disgaea once again comes to mind.), Persona 3 FES looks so simple on the surface yet is an immense game and is incredibly addictive to boot. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
So what exactly is the Persona experience like you ask? Well, at its core, Persona 3 FES is a traditional Japanese-RPG featuring turn-based battles, a ton of dungeon crawling (especially in "The Answer"), and a deep, thought-provoking story. Before moving on, however, it should be noted that Persona 3 FES is essentially an enhanced version of the game in that it contains the main Persona 3 game along with the aforementioned "The Answer" bonus game that takes place after the main events of Persona 3. That is where the "FES" comes from (the original game was simply titled "Persona 3") and is why I mentioned that this game had two release dates (one for Persona 3 and one for Persona 3 FES).
Moving on, what separates Persona 3 FES from other games in the genre are a couple of things. First of all, the characters in your party have the unique ability to summon Personas in battle. Personas are essentially part of who you are and your battle attributes are completely affected by which one(s) you equip in battle. Your strength, magic, agility, and defense are all determined by the Persona that you equip. Elemental affinity is also a key factor. For example, if you are fighting enemies with an affinity for ice and they happen to be weak against lightning attacks, equipping Odin or Thor (Thunder gods) is probably a good idea because they will cause massive damage to enemies that are weak against lightning. The same thing goes for enemies that are weak against fire or light or darkness. You will gradually accumulate a plethora of personas and, having the unique ability to switch between them in battle, will be able to form different strategies depending on the situation(s) at hand. Even though I have just barely touched on the basics, can you at least see how Personas add a unique element to this game? If you enjoy making strategic/tactical decisions, you will love the Persona system because it caters to gamers who really enjoy using their minds.
The second aspect of Persona 3 FES that gives the game its own unique vibe is the presence of Social Links. Social links are simply that: intimate relationships that you will establish and nurture throughout the game with personable non-playable characters (or NPCs for short). By spending time with your social links and choosing what to say between several game-given options, you can gradually strengthen them (or reverse/break them if you aren't careful!) and by doing this, you will gain the ability to create more powerful Personas within specific arcana (such as "Magician" or "Lovers"). This by no means comes across as a chore either. Spending time with social links allows you to learn more about them and some of your "conversations" actually seem quite real and can be surprisingly deep at times (the "Sun" social link really makes you think). All I can say is that I have the utmost admiration for Japanese game developers. For them to come up with a game like this speaks volumes about their intelligence and dedication.
Another aspect of Persona 3 FES that I should probably mention is that the game takes place in a year's span. This is quite unique because, unlike most RPGs that allow you all the time in the world to accomplish your goals, you have a finite amount of time to work with in Persona 3 FES. Anytime you get together with a social link or spend time anywhere, time will elapse. Now granted, there are a few loopholes present (e.g. the Dark Hour is not a fixed hour since you can literally spend hours upon hours in Tartarus before leaving) but, at least from a social link or character quality standpoint (your character qualities consist of your Courage, Charm, and Academics and can be increased throughout the game by spending time at various places or making certain decisions), your time is limited. I can't overstate this element enough because since time elapses when you engage in any important activities, the decisions you make become that much more important. Trust me...when you have ten different people wanting to hang out with you, exams coming up, and a huge dungeon (Tartarus) to explore, you will be pulling your hair out trying to make the right decision(s). All I can say is that Persona 3 FES is both a perfectionist's dream AND nightmare wrapped up into one neat little package.
While a good portion of Persona 3 FES' activities are optional and rest on your decisions, there are plenty of mandatory events that you cannot avoid as well. You will have to fight key enemies at certain times and there are specific events that will take up your time in order to advance the story. And while climbing Tartarus is pseudo-optional, in order to complete most of the game's side-quests, you will need to not only climb the tower but will need to do so by particular dates. If you are like me and want to do everything in this game, the side-quest feature will unforcibly force you to keep a certain pace. In this way, Persona 3 FES achieves a nice balance between telling you what to do and allowing you complete freedom to do your own thing.
Before we move on to the core categories such as Graphics and Music, I just want to touch on the game's battle engine. Persona 3 FES features traditional turn-based battles and veterans of the genre should be able to learn the nuances of this game fairly quickly. However, this game is certainly no carbon-copy of its contemporaries because there are little nuances that you need to learn in order to survive. Remember when I mentioned that you want to exploit enemies' weaknesses? Well, just remember that this goes both ways. If your equipped Persona is strong against fire but weak against ice and an enemy with an affinity for ice uses ice magic on you, it will not only cause a high amount of damage but your character will likely fall and be completely vulnerable until he/she is either hit again or the next turn comes. This is crucial because you might be doing fine in battle and feel good about yourself when suddenly your enemy surprises you and hits you where you are weak and takes out your party before you can heal/fight back. There were a few instances where I lost and my jaw literally dropped out of shock. Don't let that happen to you! :)
Another basic tip is to analyze your enemies! The first time you face an enemy, you will not know its strengths or weaknesses unless you go through the arduous process of trial and error (which can come back to bite you if an enemy reflects your attack/spell). But once an enemy is analyzed, it is analyzed for life and analyzing an enemy doesn't even cost you a turn so do it early and often. You will save yourself a lot of grief and Game Over screens by doing this.
Graphics: If you appreciate hand-drawn artwork and Japanese Anime in general, you should be very pleased with Persona 3 FES in the visual department. The opening movie along with the many cutscenes that take place have a distinct anime feel about them (you've got to love the super-long legs everyone has) while the in-game graphics have a nice polish and unique flavor as well. This game has atmosphere and as many of you know, atmosphere is very important to me. Even though the core game itself actually takes place in a fairly small, limited amount of space, there is a lot of diversity present. From the hussle and bussle of Gekkoukan High School and Paulownia Mall to the quiet and serenity of Naganaki Shrine, Persona 3 FES has its own unique vibe.
The attention to detail is superb as well. I really like the character graphics and that, when you engage in conversation with a social link or an "important" character, a hand-drawn picture along with the person's name and conversation appears. Chrono Cross and the Xeno games also included this fun little element and I wish more RPGs would include it honestly. In addition to showing an up-close and personal picture, I also appreciate the various expressions that the myriad of characters have too. Depending on how the conversation(s) go, you might elicit a smile or a glare or some other gesture. Some of them are simply hilarious too! Just talk to Kenji (the "Magician") and tell him you don't feel like hanging out and you will see what I mean.
Moving on, the in-battle graphics are very solid as well. Like many other PS2 RPGs, the transition from dungeon crawling to fighting is seamless in Persona 3 FES. Special effects such as summoning Personas as well as executing powerful magical attacks look very impressive as well. Nothing jumps out as being mind-blowing or overwhelming and I wouldn't go so far as to say that Persona 3 FES really tests the full power of the PlayStation 2 console. With that being said, however, the execution is very sound and I was personally very pleased.
Music: I can't help but smile when I think about the music in Persona 3 FES. The first time I fired up this game (October 2012 I believe), I have to confess that my brother Nate and I found the music to be utterly hilarious! The track that plays in the main dorm (the one that goes "My Body! Yo! Yo! My Body!") had me laughing myself to tears just because it was so random! I was simply not accustomed to hearing what was essentially Japanese Pop in an RPG. After playing the Dragon Quests and Final Fantasys of the world, you can understand why the Persona 3 FES soundtrack threw me for a loop at first.
What's funny though is that, the more I played this game, the more I came to understand that this music actually fit Persona's atmosphere like a glove! You wouldn't think that Japanese Pop would work in an epic RPG but then again, that's what makes Atlus games so special. Their ability to think outside the box and to essentially say "To heck with tradition!" is probably the main reason why their games seem so fresh and original. Persona 3 FES is no exception either.
Now don't be fooled into thinking that all of the music in this game is happy-go-lucky though. While the school/mall/train station themes are all feel-good themes, some of the battle music in this game is intense! I really like the main boss theme with its intensity and some of the alternate battle/boss music is also quite good. The final battle theme is outstanding too and even includes an impressive arrangement of the Velvet Room theme that you hear throughout the game. The various renditions of Tartarus' theme along with Fuuka's bonus tracks (Track 1 really gets the adrenaline flowing!) are all very fitting as well. While it might not appeal to everyone, I personally found the Persona 3 FES soundtrack to be like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes, it's nice to hear something a little different.
As far as voice acting goes, that is yet another area that thoroughly impressed me about this game. There is a lot of voice acting in Persona 3 FES and the overall quality is nothing short of exceptional. Everyone speaks very clearly and succinctly without making the common mistake of sounding robotic (except for one character who actually is a robot). The voices make this game believable, allow for character attachment (a hallmark of all great RPGs) to develop, and give each character a real personality of his/her own. This game has a sense of humor and you will undoubtedly find yourself laughing at some of the events that transpire (the beach scene anyone?). Persona 3 FES takes itself seriously when it needs to, but the light-hearted humor and hilarious antics give the game a nice balance.
Play Control: It took me a little while to learn all of the nuances of Persona 3 FES' control scheme, but it's pretty safe to say that if you are familiar with RPGs at all, you will have very little trouble picking up this game. It is very user-friendly and everything is setup conveniently. I like that you can move the camera with the L1/R1 buttons but can also move it directly behind your character by simply pressing the circle button. This feature allows you to check every nook and cranny easily without having to put up with an annoying camera. Analyzing enemies in battle couldn't be less cumbersome either. Persona 3 FES is fairly vanilla in terms of its control scheme, but this is one instance when vanilla is a delicious flavor.
Challenge: If you feel like playing a game with a decent challenge level that will really test your patience at times, you will love Persona 3 FES! Although I hesitate to put this game in the Expert/Hardcore level in terms of overall challenge, it is at least in the Moderate category. While you will likely breeze through most battles and even feel overpowered/overleveled in some cases, it is the game's boss battles that will truly test your mettle. I remember coming across one particular boss in Tartarus that did nothing but use a powerful Holy/Light spell over and over and over again. No strategy and no diversity was necessary...that one attack literally destroyed me. Such is life in Persona 3 FES. You will probably find a decent portion of the game to be fairly easy but just be forewarned that you might get your teeth kicked in several times in the process.
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily although it will drive us perfectionists who dream of completing the game without losing a single life nuts! But seriously, this is one of those games where you will feel a sense of accomplishment once you beat a major boss or finally finish the game. Persona 3 FES has sort of an old-school meets new-school feel and I think that the hardcore nature of some of the boss battles is a big reason for that.
Whatever the case, please do not allow my words to prevent you from playing this game. True...this is a hardcore game at times and simply breezing through without facing any adversity probably won't happen. However, that is a good thing if you ask me. Video games are meant to challenge us and too many games nowadays don't offer a decent challenge level. Embrace Persona 3 FES and try to strategize and prepare for success instead of expecting success to come to you!
Storyline: Like in most anime-based video games, Persona 3 FES actually has a pretty dark, mysterious story. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that it involves Gekkoukan High School (the school that the main character attends) and the surrounding area...at night that is. You see, in Persona 3 FES, there is what is called the "Dark Hour" that appears at midnight every night. Most people are completely oblivious to the Dark Hour...except for anyone who happens to be a Persona-user. Persona-users experience this in its fullness. This is the time when the mysterious shadows appear in the night and when Gekkoukan High School actually transforms into the mysterious tower known as Tartarus. That is where you, the main character, come into the picture. Being the only one who can use multiple Personas, it isn't long before a group known as S.E.E.S. (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad) asks you to join and help solve the shadow/Dark Hour/Tartarus problem.
This is simply the prologue because there are many events/occurrances that transpire throughout the year you are given. There are shocking twists and turns along with a tough decision or two that you will have to make before the end. Personally, I really enjoyed this aspect of Persona 3 FES. Being essentially an anime-based game (i.e. Shin Megami Tensei), I knew that this game would probably be somewhat unpredictable in terms of its story. That's how anime typically works and Persona 3 FES certainly didn't disappoint. When you have played 500+ games like me, you feel like you have seen it all and it is always a lot of fun to experience something fresh and new and maybe be surprised a little. Persona 3 FES certainly did that for me.
Funfactor: Persona 3 FES is yet another fantastic PS2 RPG! While there are certain elements that are clearly borrowed from other role-playing games, this game still manages to come across as a fresh and new experience due to its unique atmosphere and intuitive gameplay elements such as social links along with the Persona battle system. I appreciate the amount of freedom that this game offers as well. You get to decide for the majority of the game what you will do and that is an element that you don't find very often in gaming.
And while Persona 3 FES is very enjoyable and fun in its own right, this game seriously has an appeal/addictive quality that is truly the driving force behind this game's success. This is simply one of those games that you just can't put down! It will easily take over your social life (at least temporarily) if you aren't careful because, in a way, Persona 3 FES becomes your social life. Whatever you do, just make sure that you have plenty of free time before delving into this game because once you make the plunge, you will find yourself looking up at the clock and wondering where the time went!
Negatives: The few things that come to mind here are actually not related to the actual gameplay but rather the theme/imagery present in Persona 3 FES. The use of evokers in battle is a curious one because, when summoning a Persona, it actually appears as if you are shooting yourself with a gun! In essence, you are simply drawing out the Persona and are not actually inflicting bodily harm but the visual imagery might be enough to turn off some gamers (and is likely one of the reasons why Persona 3 FES received an "M" rating).
Also, I could see why some gamers might feel that there is an almost "cultish" element to this game's theme. Let's face it...you are summoning Personas which are essentially beings from a multitude of religions (both good and evil) and this might rub some people the wrong way. I am personally a born again believer in Jesus and the last thing I want to do is summon Satan or Lucifer in a video game (which is why I stuck with Gabriel and Michael the Archangel to the very end). Don't get me wrong...I absolutely loved playing this game, had a wonderful time, and don't feel like I did anything wrong. Just be careful not to allow the game to affect you in a negative way spiritually and to influence you in ways that might not be so good. Hmm...who would have thought that I would be writing this in a video game review? ;)
As far as actual gameplay goes, my only wish would be that the challenge level would have been a little more consistent. There seem to be a few fairly noticeable difficulty spikes in Persona 3 FES (where you would annihilate regular enemies then get completely owned by the boss) and that could cause some unnecessary frustration at times. Otherwise, I really have no qualms with what this game has to offer.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.3 Music: 4.4 Play Control: 4.3 Challenge: 4.2 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.8 Overall Score: 26.5 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Silver Stud!
Back to Playstation PowerLast Updated: February 22, 2013