Developer/Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 9.5/10
Persona 3: FES is the answer to any RPG gamer’s beckoning for a true, hardcore RPG. In recent years the non-turn-based “Action RPG” has mostly taken over the genre, moving away from the pen-and-paper games they originated from. Developed and published by Atlus, Persona 3: FES is the expanded version of last year’s Persona 3, featuring a whole new story arc and an ending to the whole storyline.
Separated into two parts (The Journey and The Answer), Persona 3: FES includes both the original game and expansion released in Japan on the same disc. Taking advantage of a re-release, Atlus added new Personas, events, and other small enhancements to the main game that you wouldn’t have seen in the original version. If you hadn’t played the original version, you won’t notice the difference at all. If you have a Persona 3 save, you’re able to import it into a new game of The Journey to play/replay it, or just skip it altogether and go right to the expansion, named The Answer.
Put simply, Persona 3 is a game about a group of high school students who have powers called “Persona.” A Persona allows its user to do lots of things like use magic, special attacks, and other stuff an RPG normally lets you do. Essentially, the game could be thought of as two separate but equally important parts: one part of the game, you are going to school, the other part you are fighting monsters.
While at school, you are able to build relationships and gain more power for your Personas with Social Links. Social Links are basically little storylines with particular people you meet. About 20 Social Links are available to explore, and you’ll have to tread carefully as going out with two girls at the same time might lead to putting one of those Social Links in trouble. Make a wrong decision in any of your Social Links, and they’ll be stuck in a rut. In addition, you have three types of statuses: Education, Charm, and Courage. You’ll have to build them up to an appropriate level to discover new Social Links. The most interesting part about this part of the game is that you literally go through every day and choose which events to partake in, just like a normal high school student in Japan may. There is about one year of time to play through, which means nearly 365 days to experience. On the average, it takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to complete each day, not including trips to the dungeon.
The real meat of the gameplay is certainly in the dungeon crawling, which happens during The Dark Hour, a time that most humans are not aware of. With a maximum of four people in your party, you will climb ever-higher in a massive tower called Tarturus, trying to solve the mystery of the tower and the existence of The Dark Hour. The goal at large is to defeat the enemies called the Shadows, who are wreaking havoc on humanity in the local area but could escalate to posing a threat in a larger scope.
You journey through Tarturus, gain more levels, complete mini-quests (called Requests), find loot, and beat the ever-living crap out of all the enemies you encounter. That is the game in a nutshell. Similar to the other Shin Megami Tensei games, you have control over “monsters,” but in this case they are called Personas and are your allies in the struggle against the Shadows. The key to victory in any battle is finding and exploiting your enemy’s weakness and defeating them as fast as you can by using the appropriate skills. There is also a Persona Fusion system, which you can use to create new Personas. Fans of the series will find that this is pretty standard for the series and not that hard to grasp. Every time there is a full moon, you’ll encounter a unique boss fight that breaks up the pace of the game a little bit.
Your main character is a more-or-less mute character that relies on the choices you make to communicate to the other characters in the story. Even further, the choices you make impact your Social Links and, at times, story as far as what other characters say. Usually you don’t have a second chance to choose what to say, so you’ll have to choose wisely.
The art in the game is pretty nice; you’ll feel as if you’re in an anime, as it’s mostly cel-shaded. Occasionally you’ll be treated to an animated cut scene, but they are few and far between. There are quite a few “events” where story takes places, as well as voice acting. The voice actors are almost certainly very enjoyable to listen to, except a couple who are just sort of lame-sounding. In particular, I don’t like the voice acting for the character of Ikutsuki, who is the chairman of the high school the main characters attend.
Music is somewhat of a concern, as it sounds Japanese Pop-like. It can get on your nerves since you’ll be hearing the same songs constantly over and over. Probably the worst part is that the songs you hear the most have lyrics, and if you actually listen to them, they are embarrassingly bad, especially the Battle Theme. There are some very cool tracks to listen to, however, so it’s not a total waste as far as the soundtrack goes.
A lot of time is to be had playing the game. The Journey itself probably would clock in at around 80 to 100 hours (or even more) if you take your time and enjoy it. With the additional episode called The Answer, boasting around 30 hours of extra playtime, the value is there, as long as you like the game to begin with. There is also a “New Game+” sort of thing, so you can replay the main storyline as many times as you like.
To explain what The Answer is without spoiling it, The Answer is a perpetual Groundhog’s Day, in which the main characters repeat March 31, 2010 over and over and try to figure out how to stop it after the events of The Journey. Since the same day is repeated, the whole “go to school” thing is pretty much eliminated from the gameplay and you almost exclusively dungeon crawl. Unfortunately, it seems like a few things you are used to from The Journey are taken out, I’m sure for the sake of the story, but in the end it feels like you’ve lost features.
Persona 3: FES is a massively enjoyable game that can be taken in small doses. A lot of time can be spent with it, and while it may be daunting to undertake a nearly 100 hour game, the hours will seemingly fly by since the fast-paced nature of the gameplay makes it seem like you’re actually in high school, developing friendships and hitting on the babes.