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Developer:
Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PS2
Release Date: August 14, 2007

by Josh Ferguson




Since the Shin Megami Tensei series hit U.S. PlayStation 2's in 2004, the series has received quite the cult following, with many of its installments receiving critical acclaim from reviewers, and even many nominations and wins for RPG of the Year from online sites and magazines. The latest installment in the series, Persona 3, is looking to follow in its predecessorsí footsteps, and is easily one of the best RPGs the PS2 has seen in some time.


The storyline in Persona 3 follows the traditional silent-hero type, which is often found in SMT titles, who has just recently transferred to the Gekkoukan High School in Tokyo. It is soon revealed that every night something known as the Dark Hour occurs, which causes mostly everyone to be transformed into coffins and strange creatures known as Shadows to run amok. However, a small group of individuals are actually unaffected by this transformation because of their powers to summon creatures known as Persona. In fact, it just so happens that each of your roommates has this ability, and are part of an organization known as the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES). Of course, your character also realizes he too shares this ability when he and a roommate are attacked by one of these Shadows, which leads him to join the team, too. Between battling Shadows at night and school in the daytime, your character has quite the journey ahead of him.


While defeating the Shadows and saving the world would obviously be your main objective throughout the game, as I said earlier, your character will also have to deal with attending school. Of course, the obvious things you will have to do are attend classes, listen to lectures, and take exams, which are constructed of questions that are asked throughout the semester, so you better pay attention. As is the case with actual school, at times your teacher will call on your character to answer a question, which if answered correctly can earn your character a charm point. Of course, like any student, your character finds class lectures to be quite boring, and often you will be given the option of closing your eyes and dozing off or staying awake and actually listening to what seems to be a never-ending boring lecture. Staying awake through these lectures will also earn you another type of point known as academic points. The third type of stat points are known as courage points, which can be obtained through watching horror film marathons at a nearby theater, singing karaoke, or performing other courageous acts. Even though players wonít necessarily have to max these stats to finish the game, doing so can unlock new quests and allow you to obtain extra Social Links, or S-Links.


One of the other activities students can take advantage of at school is joining some of the many after school programs, which include the music club, art club, student council, and the kendo team. In fact, joining some of these clubs will be your main source of interaction with other students and is a nice way to make new friends, which is how the player will gain S-Links. There are several individuals in school and even some outside of school that you can befriend, which will create an S-Link with that character. In order to improve your relationship, or S-Link, with an individual, players must spend time with that character. Easy enough, right? As you spend more time with one of these individuals, your relationship will more than likely grow, which will upgrade your S-Link. Each S-Link can be upgraded to level 10, where it will max out, and then your relationship becomes so strong that nothing can destroy the bond between you. However, until you have reached that limit, there is the chance of hurting your relationship with others by say, making plans and then bailing out on them to spend time with someone else. This will stop your S-Link dead in its tracks, and wonít allow you to continue with the friendship until you have rekindled the relationship. There is also the opportunity of dating one of the different girls throughout the game, but the thing that kind of stinks about this is that once you reach level 10 of your S-Link, the relationship kind of stops. Once level 10 is reached, players canít do ANYTHING with that individual again. Yeah, basically your relationship becomes so strong that you donít even hang out anymore. Also, each of the S-Link characters have their own storyline, including one classmate who wants to date a teacher, one from the kendo team who goes through the challenges of what to do when he injures himself, and many others. Itís interesting to see how some of these storylines fold out, especially the one concerning the kid in love with a teacher, but there are also other reasons to create S-Links, rather than just for the added storylines. In fact, each of the S-Link characters has a certain class, such as Fool, Devil, Death, Lovers, and so on. As you increase your S-Link with the character corresponding to that class, you will then be able to create even more powerful Persona of that class. In other words, the S-Link aspects are not only fun, but also add some extra depth to the gameplay.


When it comes to battling, much of Persona 3 plays out like a dungeon crawler. In fact, most of the combat will take place in a place called Tartarus, which is actually what the school transforms into during the Dark Hour. Tartarus is made up of several different ďblocks,Ē consisting of enormous amounts of levels, each of which is flooded with many different types of shadows, which will attack you on site. However, if your characters are considerably stronger than the shadows, you normally wonít have to worry about combat because those shadows will try to run away. It can be quite nice if youíre just passing through areas of the game searching for certain enemies and so on. Also, since the shadows actually appear on screen, this gives you the opportunity to sneak up on that individual and manage to get the first strike. As you repeatedly battle through Tartarus, your characters will begin to wear down, and eventually will become exhausted. Once this happens, your character's likelihood of hitting an attack decreases, and the amount of damage sustained will increase. Plus, at different moments your character may try and retreat from battle. This will happen quite frequently early on, but in the later hours of the game you likely wonít have to deal with this, or at least not as often. If you have worked your characters past their limits this can also have some affect on them the next day, too. Often your characters will still be tired from the previous nights battles and sometimes will even become sick, which if this happens their usefulness in combat will suffer greatly. The best thing to do after a long, hard night of combat is to let your characters have the next night off and rest a bit.


The combat in the game plays out basically like a traditional turn-based RPG. Players are able to perform regular combat attacks with their weapons, or use their Persona abilities to perform skills or attacks. Even though you can easily get through combat by allowing the computer to control the other party members, the game also allows the player to issue out commands to the team. Some of these commands include conserving SP, which is basically your magic, healing/supporting the team, attacking a fallen enemy, or trying to knock down an enemy. Similar to previous SMT titles, what will likely be your main focus in combat is identifying an enemy's weakness and then constantly exploiting that to your team's advantage. Nearly all enemies, aside from bosses, have a weakness, and can often be found by pressing the L1 button and performing the scan ability. The scan ability can be used up as often as desired and it wonít actually take away your character's turn. On the plus side, it also will keep track of enemies that you have previously scanned, so their details will be handed out to you any time you perform a scan on that enemy. When you exploit a character's weakness, this will usually knock them down, stunning them for a moment. If you are able to exploit all of the enemies' weaknesses, then you will be able to perform something known as an ďAll Out Attack.Ē This attack consists of all your characters running in and bashing away at the enemy, and can be quite devastating. Players may want to try and take advantage of this as much as possible because it can be an easy to way achieve victory. Even though the combat isnít exactly the most unique or innovative one around, it is still fulfilling and doesnít seem to become tedious or boring. However, if you do become a little tired of the combat, the game also features an option where your characters will ďRushĒ and just quickly attack the enemy. This might be a quick way to dispose of your enemy, but I found my characters miss attacks more often during this phase. Even though Iím not 100% sure the rush feature has any effect on hit percentages, I really wouldnít doubt that it does.


As is the case with RPGs, your characters will obtain experience points by defeating your enemies. Not only will your character level, but so will the Persona that you have obtained. However, unlike the other party members, your character can obtain a number of different Persona rather than only using one. Rather than your entire group of Persona obtaining experience, though, the only one that will is the one that is summoned when the enemy is defeated. Plus, as your Persona gains more levels and more experience, they will often obtain new abilities that they can use in combat. Also, at different times your Persona may also try to change one of their abilities into a completely new ability. When the opportunity for this arises, the Persona will ask if it is okay to alter the ability. This is an interesting option, but the fact of the matter is that often the changed ability becomes something that really isnít very helpful. In fact, Iíve had one of my Personas alter media, which is a healing ability, into fire boost. While this may not be a bad choice, the problem here is that the Persona didnít even have any fire abilities. Yeah, so I was kind of out of luck on that one.


Similar to many RPGs, your characters will occasionally obtain items from defeating enemies. However, after almost every battle, you will be shown a list of cards that have choices such as obtaining a new weapon, extra experience, replenishing your health, a new Persona, or obtaining more money. Once you press the X button, the cards will begin to move around the screen for a short period of time and mix the order. Afterwards, you must choose one of the cards on the screen, and hopefully you watched the order of them and chose whichever card you wanted. On occasions you will also be able to double up, which will give you another opportunity to choose another card, allowing you to obtain both cards. However, often while doubling up there will be a card that doesnít contain anything or contains death, which obviously you wonít want to choose. If you pick the empty card, this will take away the items that you would have obtained. If you pick the death card, well, he will often appear and try to battle your party. And let's just put it this way, heís not exactly easy.


If you have played SMT: Nocturne or SMT: Devil Summoner, then you are probably familiar with the Demonic Compendium, which allowed you to record data on your demons and fuse them together to create even more. Similar to those titles, Persona 3 features the Velvet Room, where players can go and register all the data of their Persona, which will allow them to even remove one from the party and, if desired, pick it back up from the Velvet Room at a later time. Players are also able to fuse their Persona here, but rather than just fusing one or two together, it is possible to fuse up to five Persona to create a more powerful summon. Aside from that, you can also pick up quests here, such as obtaining different items from certain enemies, locating certain objects found in Tartarus, or merely fusing to obtain a certain Persona. Many of these quests have a certain date that they must be completed by, but most of these arenít anything too difficult to complete. Once you have completed one of these quests though, you simply go back to the Velvet Room and collect the reward for your hard work.


Whether or not you have previously played a title in the SMT series should not have any affect on whether you play this game. Of course, newcomers to the series may have a little difficulty in figuring out what the different spells do because, let's face it, the names are a little bit difficult to comprehend. I personally donít have much difficulty in deciphering skills, but this has come from playing several installments of the series, so Iím a little used to them by now. Also, if you have had problems with some of the difficulty of previous SMT titles, then you should know that this is by far the easiest of the titles Iíve played. If youíre a veteran of the series, chances are you know how the gameplay works and should be able to fly through a lot of the game without much of a problem. So, veterans of the series, whether the easier difficulty is a good thing or a bad thing, thatís up for you to decide. While I enjoyed the easier difficulty at first, I constantly felt as if something was missing. Oh yes, it was the constant obscenities and screams of "you cheated" at the television that I have endured from previous installments.


If youíre looking for an RPG to keep your attention for long periods of time, then you have come to the right place. Similar to the other SMT installments, Persona 3 can easily take more than 50 hours to complete, and with all of the quests, different available Persona, S-Links, and so on, players will easily be entertained for long periods of time. Plus, there is always a little extra replay value, for any of those S-Links, quests, or other objects that you missed out on along the way.


Graphically, Persona 3 might not be showing off the power of the PlayStation 2, but it still has a very nice look to it. The character models look great, as well as the different enemies, many of which are quite unique and great. Anyone familiar with the previous SMT titles will obviously recognize the appearance of many new enemies and some that were found in previous SMT titles, but all which are downright nice looking. The combat in the game is also quite impressive looking, with many of the magic spells and abilities being very flashy and impressive. One other area that is also quite impressive is the character animations, not only in combat but outside of combat. In combat, it's hard not to enjoy some of the animations, even though some of them, such as the characters shooting themselves in the head, will be shown over and over again, but many of them look great. Outside of combat, animations are very important, and are used very often throughout some of the dialogue and other instances. The only real problem I found with the graphical design of the game was inside Tartarus. In fact, many of the levels in Tartarus are a bit repetitive and makes some of the area seem less impressive.


The soundtrack in Persona 3 is nearly as impressive, if not as impressive, as the graphics. There is quite a bit of voice acting to be found throughout the game, which for the most part is dead on. There are some characters who arenít exactly impressive, such as the chairman, but the majority of the cast does an excellent job. The soundtrack is also extremely well done, and features a wide range of music. However, while the music is well done and all, it does become a bit tedious at times because it feels as if many of the same tracks are used over and over throughout the game. Still, the soundtrack is good, and anyone who enjoys it should be happy to know that each copy of the game is supposed to come with the soundtrack. Awesome, huh?


Overall, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is one of the most impressive RPGs to be found on the PlayStation 2 console in quite some time. Whether it's the long gameplay, excellent story, fun characters, the social-link aspect of the game, or the combat, Persona 3 has something that every RPG fan can enjoy. If you are an RPG fan, and familiar with the series or have never touched an installment before, it does not matter, you should get out and pick this game up right now.


Final Grade: 88%




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