Slaying monsters with style; The RPG way!
Played to completion on easy difficulty (PS2)
Let me start off by saying this, Persona 3 is an astonishingly involving time suck. My plan of finishing and reviewing everything I play came back to bite me in the ass here. This game has been my life for the past month. Every day at work I would think about this game. Every night as I lay in bed I would think of ways to maximize my S. links. With the exception of some random multiplayer games this game stole all my free time. Barring a few annoyances, I can freely say it was well worth the investment.
The first thing you'll probably notice as you start the game is it's sense of style. It's very reminiscent of an a J-pop inspired anime. This style flows throughout the game from the attack animations to the menus. Scattered throughout are various animated cutscenes that reinforce this style and give the game a cohesive look. It visually meshes very well with the unique flow of the games dungeon crawling and high school simulation gameplay.
They save the best personas for last
Now's the time to get straight to the point, how does it play? The battle system combines typical turn based RPG gameplay with an atypical ability system. You'll always have the ability to attack or use items, but your spells and abilities are all mapped to your Persona's. Personas are monsters that are essentially extensions of the charecters soul's. You as the main character are the only person who has the ability to switch between various personas at will. This allows you to flexibly tackle most enemies you encounter. As you progress through the game you will both find and fuse many new persona as the enemies get progressively tougher. Each Persona has unique abilities, strengths, and weaknesses that your main character takes on when you equip them. The way you summon said perosna's by shooting yourself in the head with a fake gun. It's a cool and shocking effect when you first see it but it soon becomes typical. Most battles break down into a simple pattern. Find the enemies weakness and use a persona that can exploit that weakness for an easy win. The system works great for the most part but I definitely have a few bones to pick with some of the design choices made. The most major complaint I have is the lack of control over your party. Unfortunately, someone had the great idea of having the AI control your teammates in battle and only having the player control the main character. I can't tell you haw many times I would silently curse the stupid AI for either wasting my time or completely screwing me over. The only control you have is to give general orders for your teammates who then proceed to do the most stupid thing they can. I've heard they fixed this in Persona 3 portable, so that may be the version to play. In addition there are a few little things that can be annoying. One being that you can't use the main menu to equip items and heal your party members, instead you have to physically walk up to them and open a seperate menu to even see what they have epuiped and what abilities they can use. Also some of battle animations take a long time (especially the enemies) and are unskippable, which isn't to big of a deal but it is a bit frustrating. Last but not least you only visit one dungeon throghout the entirety of the game. While the general look of it does change occasionally, It's not enough to avoid getting bored of the same walls for 30 or so floors at a time.
The other major aspect of the gameplay is Social Linking. S. Linking basically involves hanging out with your friends in order to become closer or possibly start a relationship. Your social links level up from 1 to 10 generally increasing a level every couple of time you hang out with them. There are a ton of possible S. Links and it's entirely possible that you will miss out on a few of them without prior knowledge of the game. The social links are where you will have to really focus on time management, because it's impossible to max every link without following a stringent guide. The main benefit of your S. Links is that there level will make a big difference in your persona fusion by granting bonus levels based on your S. Link level. Properly blending dungeon time with S. Links is the key to success.
S. Linking in style...
As I mentioned before, the aesthetics on display here are unique in their style. The sound design perfectely matches the odd anime style with some outstanding musical styling. The music basically correlates to locations and events, so you'll be hearing a lot of the same music as you go back and fourth from school to the dorm. Thankfully the music is great. You'll find a good mix of Japanese inspired hip hop and classical music with a few upbeat tunes thrown in. The soundtrack came packaged with the game and I will soon be ripping it to my hard drive for my personal listening pleasure. I'll have to dance around spoilers here but at a point near the end of the game the music takes a complete left turn and remixes all the sounds you've heard for hours into some great depressing songs. It's very successful at turning the mood in the game and is a highlight of the whole experience.
Persona 3 FES is a game with so many hours of content it's hard to fit it all in a short review. It's a game that takes a lot of typical RPG aspects and adds a ton of layers to create a very involving system. There are a few small flaws here and there but with the exception of your teams AI, nothing is to bad. I'm both a little sad and extremely relieved to have completed this game after a month of my life fell to my 98 hour save file. If you've got time to spare and enjoy RPG's give it a go, but know that you probably won't be playing many other games for a good long while.
[Unrelated note: I know there is a guy doing UK deals on the Cblogs but I haven't seen one for the U.S. That said I haven't been on in a while so disregard this if someones got it covered. Basically I'm wondering if anyone would be interested in a Semi-regular Deals blog that cover all the best deals from around the U.S. If you think it's a good idea please say so in the comments.