The game that wouldn't end
Japanese RPGs may be past their heyday, but those with a keen eye and an interest in the genre should be capable of picking out the good ones from the pack. At first glance, Persona 3: FES looks to be one of those hidden gems. It's got an interesting design, strategic combat, and likable characters. But in the end, it's weighed down by many of the same trappings the genre is known for, as it's repetition and excesive length hold Persona 3: FES back from being an otherwise stellar Japanese RPG.
That's not to say the game's a wash, however. One of Persona 3's big design points is its dual nature. You go to school during the day, and fight through the game's lone, lengthy dungeon at night. And since the game has a way of regulating how much time you spend in said dungeon, there exists a natural flow to the process. It balances itself well, and has you doing drastically different activites between the two settings- yet ones that are equally interesting. In fact, I was just as absorbed in the social going-ons of the schoolyard and the dorm as I was with the dungeon crawling, and it made things even better that both sides of the game had a clear impact on how the other side progressed. This made every part of the game feel like it had its place. The combat system is also solid, as most every battle option in the game feels like it has its purpose. And given the wide variety of attacks in the game, this is saying something. Battles also have this edge to them that makes you feel like one wrong move could cost you your life, thus requiring solid strategy on your part. Frankly, this is awesome to see in a game from a genre known for babying players a little too much.
Given all that Persona 3: FES had going for it, it was unfortunate that the game eventually grinded practically to a halt. After I had reached roughly 60 hours of play time, I felt like I had seen everything the game had to offer- and even most of that content had repeated itself many times. Yet the game continued forward, in mostly a "copy, paste" fashion, with no end in sight. The clever pacing that held the early hours together faded, leading to more grinding, and less of everything else- even the story kind of fell to the wayside after a bit. There came a point where I just wanted the thing to end, which is not exactly the best feeling to have while playing a game. Fortunately it did, though only after it wrestled 120+ hours from me. The game did almost save itself at the end, with an awesome final boss fight. This epic, two hour, back-breaking final encounter just gave off that "This is the final boss! Did you think it would be easy?" vibe, which is great to see in an era where so many games are plagued with cream puff final bosses.
The final boss encounter wasn't quite enough to right the ship, however. A few dozen hours too many had been needlessly expended on dulling tasks that were otherwise enjoyable. What started out as a great, inventive Japanese RPG boiled down to simply going through the motions until I got to the credits screen. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Persona 3 would have been twice as good if it were half as long.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.