Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES
Part 1 - The Journey (Episode Yourself)
by Polly

About This Review
Images are stolen from all over the internet because my capture card is busted.

This is part 1 of a 2 part review.

Persona 3 FES is a re-release and expansion of 2007's highly-acclaimed Persona 3. Along with containing a slightly re-tooled version of the original game entitled "The Journey", it also features a sequel on the same disc referred to as "The Answer," in which you play the role of another main character from the original story. Due to the unnatural length of the original game (over 70+ hours), I've decided to review both portions separately, tackling only "The Journey" portion in this review. I'll hit "The Answer" at a later date, once I'm no longer Persona'd out...

Which may take a while seeing as Persona 4 comes out next month...

Imagine, if you will, that between the hours of 12:00am-1:00am that there's another hour of time scrunched in there somehow. Think of it as the minus world of every day. Much like Mario's famed glitch or feature (you decide), very few people ever experience this version of Persona 3's minus world simply known as the "Dark Hour." During the Dark Hour, human beings transmogrify into coffins wherever they happen to be and are unaware of the passage of time. All electronics and machinery (except those needed to advance the story...conveniently) cease to function as well. At the same time, a mysterious and seemginly never-ending tower replaces a high school and otherworldy beings known as "Shadows" come into our world and prey on those very few humans who can actually experience the Dark Hour.

Now, imagine yourself a strapping young lad with some bitchin' headphones. A SPECIAL strapping young lad with some bitchin' headphones that gets roped into this whole Dark Hour and Shadows mess while having to juggle the duties of going to school, studying for exams, spending time with friends, and trying not to piss off the ol' girlfriend(s). As you can imagine, life for you (our main character) is going to be packed so full of stuff to do that it may feel like you simply don't have time for it all. Thus is the basic concept behind the game.

My Virtul Japanese High School Life
Time is always flowing in Persona 3. You begin the game in April of 2009 and play out the events of your every day life. Every day is typically divided up into Early Morning, Lunchtime, Afternoon, After School, Evening, and Late Night. You'll spend most of the time in After School and Late Night phases deepening your bonds with people, working on your personal characteristics, and beating the crap out of monsters in the game's randomly generated dungeon, Tartarus, but more on that later.

Getting the hang of balancing all of these aspects can seem quite overwhelming at first. Days constantly tick away leading to new months, leading to a likely missed opportunity here and there. Obsessive/compulsives like myself who want to do EVERYTHING, either have to let go and realize that they simply can't, or give up in frustration. There's a lot of planning involved in maximizing your time in the game. You have to get the hang of what's open when, where you friends hang out and when, what stores offer discounts on what days, and plan trips to Tartarus around all of that while keeping up with studies for exams and what have you. It's best to try and plan each week as you approach it and brace for any random happenings that may throw your grand plan off track. For instance, sometimes it's just impossible to go to Tartarus when you want due to your team members having other things to do or major story happenings. In these cases you can use your free time for extra studying or visiting various establishments around town to work on your characteristics.

Once you find the groove that works for you and how you want to advance, everything's just peachy. If you're not TOO far into the game when you do find your groove you may even consider starting over again just to make up for some wasted time. That's what I did anyway.

Adding this element to the typical RPG arsenal certainly helps it stand out, with my only real complaint being that sometimes there are stretches of time where literally NOTHING interesting is going on...And I'm fucking OCD...

Persona: Meeting People Is Easy
A lot of folks that are able to experience the Dark Hour fully-aware have the potential to call forth what is known as a Persona. Think of 'em as Pokemon that live inside of your brain and the only way to make them come out is to shoot yourself in the fucking head. I'm not even kidding. It's one of the more striking gimmicks I've ever seen in a game. Everyone does it in every single battle and unlike Final Fantasy summons, I never really found myself getting tired of it, because the shoot self in head + Persona attack animation doesn't even last three or four seconds most of the time.

All of the characters that join your party come pre-equipped with their own Personas, but as the main character, you're able to carry up to any number of Personas (dependant on your level) at a time and call on them in battle on the fly. As you may imagine, this element plays a HUGE role in strategic combat (once again, more on that later).

Along with having many Personas at your command, you also have the ability to fuse Personas together to create new ones. Needless to say, you'll be spending a LOT of time doing this if you wish to remain efficient in battle and prepare for the many challenges ahead. My only quip is that judging what skills will be carried over from the "parents" so to speak, is really wonky and getting the right combo at times can seem impossible. There is a method to the fusing madness, and I won't think any less of you for looking up an FAQ on skill inheritance.

Fusing Personas is reliant upon one of the game's major selling points: Social Links.

Social links are simply the bonds you create with people around town. Classmates, girlfriends, and strangers alike, each person represents a specific Arcana. As your bond with that person grows, so too will your ability to create Personas of that Arcana, with each level of growth rewarding new creations with a wealth of bonus experience with which to level up.

Social Links work like so: You find the person representing that link and pal around with them for a while (like you would with domestic terrorists). To prevent you from spamming a Social Link to max in a few days, each social link is only available on certain days of the week, as they'll be busy doing other stuff. During these little interludes you'll be given opportunities to react to each person's situation. How you answer determines whether you get points toward levelling up that Social Link or end up reversing or breaking it. The right answers are typically easy to pick out as they typically involve fellating your way into the person's heart and just agreeing with everything they say. For instance, the Student Council link involves sucking up to a power hungry dicktard and no one in their right mind would agree with this idiot, but in order to be more proficient with that Arcana you must. Essentially, you lose a good bit of the "role playing" part of role-playing game.

On the flipside, each Social Link also takes you through a unique and interesting story for each character involved. Whether you're helping a classmate work through his relationship with a teacher, helping the bookworm treasurer girl blossom from shy and timid into a social butterfly, or discovering the truth behind your friend in an online MMORPG, each story has something compelling that'll make you want to agree with them just to see how it turns out. Like I said, it's at the expense of true role playing, but at least the stories are interesting enough.

Climb, Climb, Fight Da Powah!
A good portion of your game time will be spent fighting battles inside the randomly generated tower that never ends (yes it goes on and on, my friends...) known as Tartarus. It's not a toothpaste. Aside from forced story missions on nights of the full moon, this is all the action you'll see. Each floor contains an exit back to the first floor and stairs that lead to the next. Scattered throughout the tower on specific floors are special access points which let you save your progress inside the tower and come back later if you need to. Accessing these will let you jump back to that specific floor at any time. These are typically found before boss guardians and can be anywhere from 10-20 floors apart.

While fighting inside Tartarus, you and your party members can become fatigued and begin suffering intensely in combat because of it. There's no way to tell when your characters will get tired. It seems to be loosely based on their level, but I was never really sure. Time inside Tartarus can sometimes feel like a huge waste if you're unable to reach the next access point or boss and have to return another night. You can't just return the next night, as your tired status carries over for another day or two and losing fights is incredibly easy while fatigued.

The big problem with Tartarus is that it never really feels rewarding. It always feels like you're just pushing your way to the next point because you HAVE to. And if you don't reach your goal it feels even more annoying. The random items scattered throughout each floor are usually crappy and even at higher levels enemy EXP rewards never feel like they're enough. This leads to way too much tedious grinding. It doesn't help that Tartarus is the most boring dungeon from a visual and audio standpoint EVER CREATED.

Nights of the full moon, however, offer a little reprieve from the slog that is the never-ending tower. These are forced missions you have to go on and the change of scenery and pace is more than welcome. These segments, however, tend to drag on a bit too long only because you can't save during them. At all. If you fail, you do the whole thing again. That's just a little too damn unforgiving. You're also presented with problems if you happen to be under-leveled for a certain mission and could easily be fucked. MULTIPLE SAVE FILES ARE ENCOURAGED.

Then there's the battle system which has the dubious honor of being one of the most rewarding and at the same time frustrating battle systems I think I've ever had to use. It's turn-based, much like most J-RPGs, but you only control the actions of the main character. Your allies are handled by AI and broad strategy options you can assign them. The really BIG problem with this set up is if the main character dies, it's game over. You're fucked. And yes, there are enemies that use instant-death attacks. Generally, your party is fairly good at trying to keep you healed when the need arises, but they're still prone to some pretty bone-head fucking moves sometimes.

Playing efficiently means you have to learn your enemies' weaknesses and exploit them. Doing so lets you attack once again, oftentimes being able to immobilize the entire enemy party, setting up a full-party all-out attack. Enemies can also make use of this weakness system, as you and your allies all have strengths and weaknesses linked to their Personas and if an enemy hits you with a weakness, you're on your ass. The main character is the only party member who has the ability to switch Personas at will during battle and adapt to how a situation is playing out. Other characters are fixed to their Personas. Playing strategically means having a good set of Personas on you at all times capable of exploiting and protecting against weaknesses and managing party members to minimize risk. It's a genuinely fun system, marred only by the ability to have your shit completely wrecked with one wrong move and losing an hour or so of progress if you haven't saved in a while.

Losing your shit so fast is unfortunately a commonplace. All throughout, the game suffers from a severe lack of balance. Getting started combat-wise in the early stages is probably more brutal than it should be. It was such a turn-off, I had two friends give up on the game only two hours in. Enemies start out tough and offer very little in the way of rewards to help you get to a comfortable level fighting them. Enemies don't drop money at all, so buying the right equipment may not always be an option and EXP rewards are really low. The first two bosses of the game will likely wipe you once or twice before you have the levels to best them. Once you hit the 2nd block of Tartarus it seems things tone down a bit and then you'll end up finding ridiculously difficult or cheap bosses (and even normal enemies) out of nowhere capable of wiping your entire party. It goes this way all the way through to the end of the game, really. Coming equipped with the right Personas is a good way to help, but sometimes it feels like you really just need the HP to survive and not the strategy, so grinding becomes a must at some stages in the game.

Want To Be Close Want To Be Close Want To Be Close Want To Be Close Want To Be Close *mute*
Persona 3's visuals are a mixed bag. There's a lot of stylish 2D art representing your characters and some nicely done cutscenes, but the rest of the package is mostly unimpressive. Character models don't sport a lot of detail and end up looking like dolls most of the time. It may be a stylistic choice (and a cute one, no doubt), but I'm not sure. Environments, aside from a couple of the city areas, lack any kind of life. Excruciatingly offensive are the visuals in Tartarus, which are just the same textures copied over and over with everything blurring together in a big boring mess. The textures change with every new block you move up to, but it's nowhere near enough to keep things from being blah. The most impressive part about the game's visuals are the game's enemy models. They're huge, detailed, and have a lot of really nice animation even while they're idle.

Accompanying the blah graphics package is an equally blah and at times and outright annoying audio department. Stylistically, the entire game has an urban/hip-hop feel and the music reflects this. That's not why it's bad. I like the game's soundtrack, but the problem is that all of the full-length tunes have been trimmed into 40-60 second loops that begin grating on your nerves after they've looped three times. Bad, bad, bad considering this game's length.

All of the major events in the game are voice-acted and for the most part the voices fit (particularly Junpei (note: Vic Mignogna is a fucking shittwat though), Yukari, and Mitsuru). When the dub is bad, it's just a damn trainwreck though (Fuuka and Shinjiro, please shut up forever). I guess the folks over at Atlus decided to take a trip into internet anime fandom and started paying attention to these idiots that think a good translation/localization isn't good enough. Persona 3 is uniquely Japanese, and I applaud Atlus' efforts in wanting to keep to that by not renaming characters or tweaking Japanese cultural references, but let's face it: English people sound [REDACTED]ed as fuck using honorrifics. You know, shit like "Yuka-tan" "Mitsuru-senpai" bullshit like that. I cringe EVERY TIME I hear it, and I know there's little weaboo [REDACTED]s out there creaming their pants over every instance of it. I only wanna hear that shit in a Japanese dub, thanks.

The End
If its complexities can ensnare you and you can look past the unbalanced difficulty, Persona 3 could very well be the best RPG of the PS2 era. It captivates you with in layers with its attention to detail, characters with stories that are easy to get attached to, and a challenging, yet satisfying battle system. Brand-new, with a price point of only $29.99, it's hard not to appreciate the bang for buck here, and unlike most Atlus games, at the time of this writing, this game is not rare and on eBay for $100 yet. With well over 70 hours (I broke 80) in the main storyline, and a purported 30+ for the second episode, getting lost in the world of Persona may end up being more of a committment than most games in the genre, but it's worth it because the genre just hasn't seen anything like it before.

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