Title: Persona 3 FES
Platform: PS2, PSP, PSN
Reviewed on: PS2
Genre: JRPG, Social Sim
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 30th January 2014
Towards the end of the Playstation 2's lifecycle (at least for the European and Australian release), and a year after the original Persona 3's release; Atlus released Persona 3 FES which serves as both a directors cut version and a stand alone expansion.
Oddly enough for being a huge fan of the RPG genre and JPRGs in particular, Persona 3 was a game I was completely unaware of till 2012 mainly due to the game's release fairly late into the sixth generation which notably consisted of the Gameboy Advance, Playstation 2 and saw the arrival of Microsoft's Xbox; and I gotta say, Persona 3 was a gem of a game and would've probably kept me from jumping onto the next-
Persona 3 FES is a JRPG and is apart of the Megami Tensei franchise which is considered the 3rd main RPG series in Japan after Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. The game's tale is of one particular high school student as he (or optionally she if playing the PSP version) who has transferred to Gekkoukan High School in the city of Iwatodai, straight off the bat it is revealed that all is not as it seems and he is recruited by SEES, a group of high school students capable of summoning beings known as Personas to fight creatures called shadows,
(hope you're keeping up). Turns out there's a 25th hidden hour of everyday known as the Dark Hour, where normal people sleep in coffins completely unaware, the high school becomes the twisted tower called Tartarus and the shadows go about doing bad guy things; by using a gun called an Envoker the player and comrades are able to call forth their Personas (by shooting themselves in the head no less) to fight evil and all that during the Dark Hour.
Social Attributes serve as skills needed to unlock certain Social links, Academics effects your score at all of the schools exams and unlocking the Empress Social Link, Charm to unlock the Moon and once maxed Lover Social Link and Courage to unlock the Priestess Social Link.
Social Links are core to the success in combat and are related to the various kinds of friendships and even romances the player follows, in layman's terms, the more you interact with each specific character the higher your rank in one of the 22 Major Arcana's (which can be considered the equivalent to skill classes) will increase which relates to several attributes with the Persona's you will gain as you progress.
Where each of your allies have a specific Persona, the main character is capable of wielding and switching between Persona's at will (they're kind of like Pokemon in a sense); each Persona is represented by a Major Arcana which governs it's strengths and weaknesses (with a few exceptions) such as the Magician Arcana's strength in the Magic attribute, the Chariot excels in Physical Strike attacks with a weakness to Wind magic, or the Justice that dabbles in light magic with physical attacks. Sadly unlike most class base systems where classes are easy to understand (the barbarian is strength, the mage is magic etc), the Arcana's are fairly convoluted and each tend to double up on one another or are fairly difficult to understand most of the time. Through collecting and mainly fusing you will gain various Persona's allowing you to switch out your tactics on the fly during combat.
During the evening phase among other options like sleeping early and studying, the team can enter the tower called Tartarus during the Dark Hour. Tartarus serves as the game's only dungeon consisting of over 250 floors (264 to be exact), divided into blocks where every so and so (starts off at 5 then increases each time) floors are locked and slowly become accessible as the story progresses, starting on the ground floor the team go through each floor doing your traditional JRPG tasks like fighting the enemy, finding loot and progressing up the tower while leveling up your team as you prepare for each month's full moon (and its timed boss event).
Now this is where I will finally start reviewing the game (sorry had to get a lot of the mechanics explanations out of the way), oddly enough for a JRPG the combat and dungeon exploring elements are two of the weakest points of the game. Since Tartarus serves as the game's only dungeon I was really saddened with how little variety there is, each block of 20-
Combat is fairly standard, Persona 3 FES uses a turn based combat system similar to Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star and the Breath of Fire franchises respectively. Often combat relies on you exploiting elemental weaknesses much like Pokemon of which can be enjoyable once you've collected a handful of Persona's with different elements thus enabling you to change your main character's spell selection on the fly but early in the game left combat incredibly tedious. You only control the main character and can give general directions to you companions in the way of telling them to go on the offensive or to lend support etc, while at first this got on my nerves as they had a habit of making really bad choices and sometimes would even just sit there when they could at the very least heal the team, however it's a small point that I actually started to like as the AI has been vastly improved in FES and it almost gives each character life as their personalities felt like they oozed into their combat actions. It's kinda hard to explain but it made it feel like you were actually playing with a team and really helped give an immersible experience that added to the whole RPG experience.
However even then with 264 floors of dungeon to climb combat becomes incredibly tedious, with the same one battle theme and handful of monsters (with several different forms of course) and the same tropes.
Much Like Pokemon it's all about abusing particular elements which once you've picked up certain patterns becomes nothing more than a rinse repeat ordeal. Gaining Levels in Persona 3 is also amazingly difficult, now I know grinding in a JRPG is to be expected but my god this breaks even the most seasoned Final Fantasy players (and we all know the grinding involved in that), perhaps due to lack of random encounters (which some would argue is a godsend) or lack of exp gain. Not to mention that due to how slow it takes to level you then meet the problem of trying to micromanage you're Personas, at first it's fine you only wield like 6, but when you reach the maximum of 15 roughly it becomes impossible to level them at a half decent speed; unless you get the growth ability, you're stuck having to constantly switch between them and even at that Personas seem to level slower than the player.
Now as mentioned that is pretty much the weakest points on the game, Persona 3 is bloody good; without a good combat system, how you ask?
While one half (more like third) of the game is spent doing the traditional tropes of RPGs, the majority of the game is best summed up as a social/dating sim; during the day you'll be going to school, hanging out with friends, trying to impress the ladies and so on.
It's hard to explain but it is incredibly enjoyable, there's just so many interesting characters to meet each with their own Social Link that has you going through their story arc where you'll end up helping a girl gain her confidence, an inspiring artist confront his father about his lifelong career choice, a boy step out from under his brother's shadow to accept himself or even help a fellow student accept being rejected by his advances on a teacher.
What makes it enjoyable is as you follow any of these arcs is that its based on your own choosing, increasing your Social Link rank with particular Arcana's does increase bonus' for your Personas of that Arcana but it's so fun to just go at your own way as you develop these relationships,
(god I need to get out more).
What's more due to the scheduled calendar system Persona 3 utilizes, you'll often find multiple opportunities thrown your way, thus requiring micromanaging of how you spend your days from studying, socialising, exploring Tartarus and even keeping yourself healthy as too much studying or fighting fatigues the main character and allies; hell you can even accidentally hurt a Social Link and have to repair your relationship before you suffer the penalties to the Arcana in question.
Story and character development are what truly shines in Persona 3, and is all the more greater as you go at it at your own pace, your own way. There's a couple of guides out there to help you max out all Social Links within one playthrough but with 22 Arcana's to max (some progress throughout the game rather than developing relationships) it truly gives you that sense of freedom and makes you're playthrough feel truly personal and unique compared to someone else's.
Visuals are somewhat underwhelming sadly, especially considering this came out late into the Playstation 2's cycle and way after games like Final Fantasy X, Devil May Cry 3 and Shadow of the Collosus had been released.
While not the best it does have its own charm, the city feels alive and character animations when combined with most of the main character's and social link character's own personalised character portraits with several different emotions to help portray different scenarios.
What Persona 3 manages even without amazing visuals is atmosphere, when the game gets doom and gloomy, the soundtrack, voice acting and tone hit every chord; when it's time to lighten things up, the music is jumpy, and characters are full of light hearted dialogue.
However oddly enough while I highly praise the Social Link system I feel it could've easily been improved upon, what bothered me is that each of the female members of your party are all Social Links which helps make you feel closer to your team rather than feeling like their just a bunch of faceless npc's to fight with. This was great, it made going into Tartarus feel more like I was going in with “my” team; however you never really seem to get that much development with any of the male members of your party.
With 22 Arcana they could've easily made each of the members an Arcana thus giving more character development to the main cast that would've made for a better than already great experience.
For example, Junpei is pretty much set up as your bro, there is so much bromance going on yet he goes from bro to random character with average development. Akhiko feels like the cool collected older brother and Ken (well I hated Ken) is clearly the younger innocent sibling who looks up to you for advice.
Granted it's mainly because all of your team develop over the course of the entire game so the changes don't feel as prominent till late, but it just feels like a missed opportunity.
Hell even the way you're presented with the games two endings was uniquely done,
Towards the last stretch of the game a certain character reveals to you that the world and humanity will come to an end at the hands of a great evil no matter what; it is shoved in your face that there is no chance for victory, that you are taking on God and you won't even manage a second before you're reduced to primordial soup. You really get that sense of forebodingness and even a chilling realization of your character's impending doom, like seriously I had to put down the controller cause I felt like there was nothing I could do. You're then presented with the choice to kill he who has foretold the end, upon ending your friends life (oh yeah he's also a friend of yours to make matters worse) your team will lose all your memories of the dark hour and will be able to at least live peacefully till the end.
In agreeing so you actually get to end the game a lot earlier (missing a whole month in game) where you get to wuss out, avoid the final boss fight and get an oddly happy ending with a sad theme as you realize your characters are all blissfully unaware of their impending deaths.]
Of course the idea is to show compassion for your friend and stand strong to your devotion, go against the odds and give a big middle finger to the god of death himself. Which gives you the same ending with variations, extra scenes and the true ending.
The final battle and the ending had me going through all the phases the end of a game should put you through; loss, hope, shock, excitement, sadness and joy while even leaving me a little teary eyed as the credits rolled.
While some reckon Persona 3 gets a little too depressing, I felt it was really nicely balanced; the story will take you on waves, it'll put you down but will lift you up just enough to play at your heart strings and make you feel a truly well told tale full to the brim with interesting characters with their own stories to be told. Persona 3 isn't the definition of the perfect JRPG, but the social elements, catchy soundtrack, fleshed out characters and freedom of choice cultivate into a unique experience in gaming that with its addictive nature keeps you playing till you save the day. While this is certainly not an RPG for everyone; with a grand total of 66 hours for a single playthrough, new game plus and the potential to explore several different Social Links every penny you've spent on this game will be returned ten times over and is a must play for die hard JPRG fans who like me have missed out on this gem of a game.
Great Character driven gameplay,
Hours of gameplay,
Well told Story,
Freedom of Choice.
Rather repetitive combat,
Convoluted 'class' system,
Drags on a bit towards the last stretch of the game,
Incredibly depressing at times.
Persona 3 FES gave me a great JRPG experience and I give it a 8.5/10