After I completed Donkey Kong Country, I resumed playing a game that I hadn't touched for a while: Persona 3 FES. I've since played this work of art every opportunity that I’ve had, sprinkling in a little bit of Mario World(review coming in the near future). I’m not usually a fan of turn based combat, but Persona 3 FES makes it interesting by mixing it with a life simulation aspect that ties in to the dungeon crawling. This is definitely one of the best games I have ever played an I’m only about less than a quarter of the way in.
You play as the main character, a teenage boy who has transferred to Gekkoukan High School but quickly finds out that things are not normal. Each night between midnight and the next day something called the Dark Hour occurs, where most people are turned into coffins and Gekkoukan is turned into a giant twisting tower called Tartarus. Monsters called Shadows appear in Tartarus and prey upon the people who are still conscious.
The protagonist joins a group called SEES, the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, a group of high schoolers who have the ability to summon Personas during the Dark Hour to fight the Shadows. The protagonist is the only one who can have multiple Personas, and one of the main ways of progression is fusing weaker Personas to get stronger ones. You fuse Personas by going into the Velvet Room, where you are greeted by Igor, this guy with a Pinnochio looking nose. Each Persona is associated with one of the Arcana of the Tarot, such as Emperor, Sun, Devil, or Hanged Man. The concept of the Persona and the Shadow come from Jungian psychology, your persona being the mask you wear to conceal your true identity and what people see you as. The Shadow is the unknown and unacknowledged side of yourself. The characters summon their Personas by shooting themselves in the head with a gun-shaped object called an Evoker. Each character has a different way of shooting the Evoker depending on their personality, as Yukari is very nervous but Akihiko is very confident. The shadows each have an elemental weakness, and when it is attacked they will be knocked down and lose their turn. Unlike most JRPGs, you can’t control your party members but you can order general tactics. I have seen a lot of people complain about Mitsuru casting Marin Karin for the fiftieth time but if you tell her to attack she will stop. When all enemies are knocked down, you can perform an “All Out Attack’.
One half of the game is the combat, climbing through the floors of Tartarus and defeating shadows but the other half is living your normal life as a high school student. Each day, as a student, you can perform activities to upgrade one of your three stats, Charm, Courage, and Academics, or you can hang out with people to upgrade your Social Links. Each Social Link, similar to the Personas, are also correlated to one of the Arcana. Some of the Social Links have really interesting stories, like the old couple who is trying to save the persimmon tree planted in memory of their son, a teacher at Gekkoukan High, or the little girl who has to deal with her parents being divorced. Then again, some of them are really stupid like my classmate Kenji who keeps trying to date a teacher and thinks he’s gonna marry her. If you upgrade a Social Link, when you fuse a Persona of the same Arcana it will automatically level up, giving you an advantage. I personally think that this is a great way of tying the two aspects of the game together. Having two different gameplay styles makes it so that if you are tired of the combat, you don’t have to do it all the time as Tartarus is completely optional, you just have to make sure you’re a high enough level by the time the next full moon comes around which is when the boss comes.
The character models look great and the Shadow designs are always very creative. The anime cutscenes are beautifully animated but are also very dark, foreshadowing the events to come. The sound design in the combat and the cutscenes are also amazingly crafted. The music is mostly J-pop, which is what I imagine the protagonist listens to on his music player and headphones. The main battle theme never changes, but I think it fits perfectly with the theme of the game. It is a hip hop beat with a woman sing “baby baby baby baby baby” over and over again. It’s great. I also love the song played when your standing in the dorm. A horn plays a catchy melody while a guy raps in the background. This is one of my favorite soundtracks that I’ve heard in a video game. The voice acting, while usually great, can sometimes get pretty annoying in some cases.
Persona 3 deals with very dark themes like death and fear. In the intro cutscene, it has phrases like memento mori(remember that you will die) and carpe diem(seize the day). Most of the main characters have some type of loss in their life, the protagonist being and orphan and the other main characters having some loved one that has died. The main color that is present in the game is blue and the game has a very moody tone. Also there’s this weird kid in pajamas who comes to your bedroom every month and he has this really high pitched voice. His Social Link is also the Death Arcana and I’m kinda scared that he’s gonna kill me.
The only problems I have had with the game are relatively minor things that they easily could have fixed. One problem I have is I often try to walk to Yukari to talk to her, but because other party members move when I do someone else ends up getting in the way. Another problem I had is the way you scroll through the menu goes backwards, which I changed the setting in the options menu for but it didn’t change anything. These are pretty much the only problems that I have had in this game, but the rest of the game has been excellent.
I have not had to grind in this game at all, though I am playing on easy mode.
Overall I am really enjoying this game so far. I’m not usually a turn based combat guy, I’ve played a couple of the 3DS Fire Emblems, but the way this game balances it with regular life is perfect. The first few months are extremely slow in terms of plot and I’m only just finding out what is really going on but I am definitely going to see this game through to the end. It’s a great introduction to the SMT series and JRPGS in general and I recommend it to PS2 owners who like JRPGs or visual novels.
Any recommendations for other accessible JRPGs and feedback on my writing would be greatly appreciated!