Developed and published by Atlus
Played on: PS3
Also available on: PS2
An abridged version known as Persona 3 Portable is also available on PSP and Vita
You arrive as a transfer student to the city of Nihon, where you’ll be going to school and living for the next year. After experiencing a strange phenomena where all electrical devices stop working and everyone around you is trapped inside a coffin, you know that this won’t be a normal school year. Upon arriving at the dorm where you’ll be staying, you learn that it’s actually the headquarters for the Special Extracurricular Execution Squad, or S.E.E.S for short. The task of this group is to investigate a 25th hour of the day known as the Dark Hour, that can only be experienced by a handful of people. In addition to trying to discover the creation of the Dark Hour, the group must also figure out how a strange, massive tower known as Tartarus, located where their school is came into existence. As you and your team proceed floor by floor through the tower and slowly unravel the mystery, many forces will stand in your way, trying to obstruct the truth.
Persona 3: FES is the updated version of Persona 3, a JRPG where you summon the power within you known as a Persona to fight enemies known as shadows. FES, which is short for Festival, is a slightly modified and enhanced version of the original game. Not much has been added to the main story, known as The Journey, other than some tweaks to your teammates stats and minor translation changes. The main addition to the game is an epilogue campaign known as The Answer, which serves to tie up the loose ends of the main story and provide a more clear cut ending.
Gameplay wise, Persona 3 FES is like most JRPGs. You fight in turn-based battles where you and your enemy trade blows, and the team who is more coordinated prevails. There are two main differences to the combat in Persona 3 however. The first is that battles don’t take place after a random encounter like in most RPGs. Instead, as your explore Tartarus, you will see enemies as black blobs crawling around on the ground. You can choose to fight or run away from the enemies depending on your strategy for clearing the tower. If you are able to strike the enemy from behind, you’ll get battle advantage, which means your team will get to attack twice before the enemy gets to attack. And if the enemy strikes you from behind it’s vice-versa. The other main difference is how you control your teammates in battle. You will be allowed to take up to three allies into Tartarus with you at one time. Most RPGs let you directly control your teammates and pick what exact attacks and skills they use. But in Persona 3, the AI controls all of your teammates for you. The only commands you can give are vague orders from a tactics screen such as Heal/Support or attack fallen enemies. While the AI tends to be competent enough to get you through most battles, there are times when they will make cripplingly dumb decisions. You’ll tell one of your allies to provide support in battle, expecting them to lower the defense or attack stats of the enemy. Instead they will either ignore the command and attack the enemy, or, even worse, they’ll use a healing item on a teammate that has only lost 5% of their health, even though it would be far more productive to weaken the enemy. I frankly don’t understand why Atlus made the decision to not have the player directly control their allies. Every other RPG before, after, and during the release of Persona 3 had this function.
Outside of battle, you should be spending time building social links. Social links are bonds that the main character forms with others around town and at school. Not only are these meant to add minor side stories to the main game, they are also essential to the gameplay. Maxing out a social link will unlock a super powerful Persona, and boost the experience granted to a Persona when you fuse together two existing ones. Each social link you form with someone will have a specific arcana, or way of linking certain Personas to certain social links. This is surprisingly important because some Personas may be more useful to your battle strategy than others, meaning the player will have to prioritize certain friendships while letting others fall by the wayside. The only problem with the social linking is who you can start social links with. Many social links I discovered on accident because I just happened to talk to some random guy on the street and then the game informed me that I started a new link. But the main problem is that you can’t form social links with half of your teammates. You can only form social links with your female allies. But even then it’s still a pain in the ass because you can’t start any of them until you’re halfway through the game, and have to have ridiculous prerequisites such as having max courage or charm to be able to start a social link with them, which is impossible on your first playthrough.
While the turn-based combat and social linking was enough to keep me occupied during the 60 hour campaign, I found myself getting bored with some of the more monotonous parts of the game. In Tartarus, you can’t progress as far as you want whenever you want. After about 20 to 30 floors you won’t be able to progress until something else happens to progress the story. While this does improve the game’s pacing, it can also make Tartarus boring as hell. Every story boss will be about ten levels higher than the next, meaning that you will have to level up by ten between each boss battle. So if you need to be level 40 for the next boss, but are level 35 by the time you reach the barricade, you’ll have to run through the same levels, fighting the same enemies until you reach level 40. It sucks all the fun out of the game. I’ve fought the asshole with the hula hoop a hundred times now, and he keeps getting easier to kill each time I fight him.
But the real issue is that many of the story bosses are really easy. They are either easy because you just need to constantly attack them and occasionally heal your party members, or they take a ton of damage from each attack. The worst part is that the game developers seemed to notice this, and tried some bullshit to make up for it. Usually this just means that you have to fight two bosses at once or have to kill some minions before you can fight the actual boss. But this one boss battle, which takes place in-game during October, is just the epitome of bullshit. Not only do you fight two bosses at once, but one is immune until you defeat the other. And the immune one has a roulette game that you have to participate in every turn. And it doesn’t require any skill. You just click X and the wheel slows down until stopping. If the wheel lands on blue, you get a battle advantage. If on red, the enemy gets an advantage. But it’s just a load of crap that doesn’t make any sense. It only happens during one boss battle, but it still shows that the developers resorted to cheap tactics to try and add difficulty to the boss fights.
But outside of gameplay we still have a wonderfully crafted story. It has well thought out pacing, multiple plot twists that truly and effectively enhance the story, and its characters are enjoyable and relatable. This is Persona 3’s strongest aspect: the story. There were many times where after hours of grinding in Tartarus or fighting another lame boss battle that I would want to stop playing for awhile. But then a new character would be introduced or some development in the story I didn’t see coming would happen and suck me back into the game. But with its strong cast of characters comes issues.
My teammates are interesting, so why can’t I form social links with half of them and learn more about them? All the characters you meet around town don’t have voice actors, taking away a lot of the personability from your social links. On the whole, the story is amazing in almost every sense, even with some odd shortcomings.
The only issue I have with the story is the cutscenes. Most of the cutscenes only clock in at a mere 15 to 20 seconds, and almost none of them make sense. Most of the time it’s just people gasping and looking at something and then the game resumes. Not a major complaint but definitely strange.
So that’s the gist of my thoughts and what I experienced in the main story. Now we should take some time to talk about the epilogue. The Answer is very different from the main story in one respect: it focuses far more on grinding and battling than story. While I thought the story was incredible and added a great deal to the main game, the amount of grinding against the same groups of enemies is ridiculous. Almost all of the gameplay is just the battle system. There is absolutely no social linking and boss battles are even easier now. I know it may sound like I’m dumping on the epilogue, but it only has one main issue: its length. It took me about 40 hours to complete. Most people say it takes them 45 to 50. When you play the main game and expect some major story development every hour or two, but then have to wait every ten hours or so in the epilogue, it can feel as if it isn’t worth while to play. And to a certain extent that’s true. I don’t care to grind for five hours straight just to hear five minutes of dialogue. But for those who enjoyed the combat more than the story and social linking, this may be the part of the game they enjoy most.
Now I’m going to touch base with a few minor features. First of all the soundtrack is excellent. With loads of aggressive hip hop and hard rock for the battle sections and with more Jpop and traditional hip hop for other parts of the game, the soundtrack is spot on and is worth buying. You can also download it off a fan site since you can’t buy it on itunes here in the United States.
As far as AI is concerned, both with allies and enemies, it’s surprisingly good. Of course both sides are going to make bad decisions. But for a 2009 game where the only person you can control is your character, the AI really does step up and prove itself in battle.
Finally I would just like to talk about difficulty. While the game is fair later on, at first it can seem absolutely brutal. There were many times when I would die in battle and have to make up 30 minutes worth of progress all because some enemy had an insanely powerful attack. So just be aware that the first 20 hours or so are going to be very challenging due to a lack of healing skills and because you have access to only a handful of Personas.
Overall, Persona 3: FES is a great RPG. The story is masterful in every way and I really enjoyed learning more about the characters. The gameplay definitely leaves something to be desired, as you can’t control your teammates and boss battles can be pretty boring. But to round off the package is a great soundtrack, excellent cast of characters, and an epilogue that is sure to keep you busy. While I frankly think that the epilogue was too long for its own good, I did enjoy the story and some of the boss fights. For those with a PS2 or PS3 who want an RPG that is both new and old-fashioned, Persona 3 is sure to meet all your expectations. And for ten dollars, it’s a great deal.
I am giving Persona 3: FES an 7 out of 10
A wonderfully paced and told story
Personable and fun characters
Social links are interesting and essential
Battles tend to be fun
Epilogue has way too much grinding
Can’t control teammates in battle
Social links can be confusing
Tartarus can be monotonous
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