You feel that tingling in your mind? That feeling that you forgotten something, yet this sense of nostalgia tingles inside you and never goes away? That is the feeling of games from your past, games that are now obscure from the public eye. Some are herald classics, others are better left in the landfill, but while they are no longer in the public eye, they still live on in some way. Each week, I plan on embracing that nostalgia, so to speak, and review one of these forgotten games in a series I like to call “From The Well.” This week, we look at Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3.
Daily life is such a drag sometimes, going to school or work, making plans with people you know, fighting shadows during the dark hour, it can be somewhat tedious at times. Well, ok, the last one is not possible, but in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, it is, especially for our silent protagonist that you portray in this clever JRPG.
The Shin Megami Tensei is a long running series of games made by Atlus that have graced numerous consoles since 1992. It has also spawned successful spin-offs like the Persona and Devil Summoner series, and goes has gained momentum in recent years thanks to press coverage increasing and North American Releases.
And while Persona 3 has the hallmarks of any JRPG that may drive people away, the lanky, effete characters, the horrible “too much exposition” plot device, and sometimes tedious dungeon crawling, it is easily a good game sink your teeth into.
And I mean that, because this game is long, but in a good way. You must literally progress through the game once a day in the games time, from the month of April to the month of January. In the game, you join SEES, a group that is immune to the effects of the shady dark hour, a once a day phenomenon where shadows come alive, humans turn into coffins, and the monsters suck the souls out of those who are still immune. Your goal is to use your special powers of summoning a persona, a link to the spirit world, with the evoker device, a gun that you place to your head and pull the trigger, to fight evil.
If the above paragraph seems like a lot, let me just say that is the first two months in the game in a nutshell, where everything is still relatively easy. The game is really a challenge, because you need to traverse through dungeons in the game, and while dungeon crawls can get tedious at times, it Persona 3 they are done in a fairly innovative way. First, you can avoid battles if necessary. You can engage in enemies from behind to get an advantage; you can even fight rare enemies in the dungeons if you’re swift enough to tackle them. You can also send your party mates out on their own to exterminate enemies or search the dungeon, an option that is best used early on for side quests.
Then, we get to combat, where you only control your character. You have standard attacks, but also Persona attacks, which can use health or MP and obviously cause more damage. While it is turn based, the battles are often frantic, and in the tougher ones strategic play is required to even survive the battle with minimal damage. To help you in these battles, your personas can be augmented by fusing them together (creating a strange breeding system resembling Dragon Quest Monsters.) or augmented by the games most innovative structure, social links.
The social links make up the meat of the game, which include the side parts of the story that flesh out the characters around you. Certain people you create a social link with, a connection that augments a specific type of persona. By talking with these people, interacting with them favorably based on their traits, even taking time out to help them or comfort them give you extra power when fusing personas, making your final product a force to be reckoned with against your enemies.
And since it’s optional to dungeon crawl each night, you will need to balance out a lot to successfully get through the game. For one, the game has elements of those sim dating flashes, where you can improve your charm, academics and courage over studying, doing karaoke, and other activities in the game. This would help you access areas you may not be able to, and find new social links in the game. You also need to balance out your priorities. If you’re sick in the game, rest up early instead of going to the dungeons or studying. If you’re meeting someone on Sunday, don’t watch TV or play a video game. The choices you make give the game a real life zest that actually can affect the gameplay, instead of being arbitrarily added on to extend the game.
The game is graphically very crisp, with fluid animations that show off the best the PS2 can muster. It is somewhat jerky, and the backgrounds can be fairly bland at times, but the characters do have a certain charm about them that makes this forgivable. The FMV cutscenes are beautiful, however. As if they were from a high production anime itself, they bring the story to life with a rich color and vibrancy that is missing from the games core graphics. It almost outshines the game, actually. The rest is mostly highly detailed portraits of each character (an Atlus trademark, if you think about it.) and their personas, which add to the anime aesthetic that is in the game.
The games sound is another strong point too. The voice-overs are really well done, with a lot of feeling and emotion into the performances when it’s necessary. But it’s the music that steals the show, with this funky electronic hip-hop remix for any combat situation, a similar remix for some of the town aspects you go into the game, and softer, more soothing tones during the day.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is a fine RPG that, despite a stale formula of dungeon crawling, is made fresh thanks to the wild concept, the fleshed out story, the strangely alluring monotony of daily life, and really good graphics and background music. It has enough personality to hook you into the world of Persona, take you on a dark journey, and snap you out of your own everyday existence into something both fun and time consuming. If your old friend is in a box somewhere, waiting to be let out when your done playing Left 4 Dead for the 5,000th time, I highly recommend finding this game. Believe me, the break from the every-day routine is worth it.
Final Score- B+