Game Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Platform: PS2 Published: Atlus Developed: Game Arts Genre: JRPG
Persona 3 is an interesting adventure into an anime style story. The player assumes the role of an orphaned high school student, transferred to Gekkoukan High School. After arriving, he is attacked by mysterious creatures known as Shadows. This assault results in awaking his Persona, Orpheus, allowing him to defeat his enemies. He soon discovers that his ability is shared by a small group of students at his new school. From them, he learns of the Dark Hour, a hidden time that exist between one day and the next, swarming with shadows. Under the supervision of school chairman, Shuji Ikutsuki, he joins his new companions in confronting this threat to humanity. With your school as the battlefield, the player is forced to live two lives, student by day, and warrior at night. And yet the player’s hardest trial occur every full moon.
Persona 3 is what we now consider a JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) since its battle system is turned based, specially this one since this game doesn’t even have a time bar for each character. One of the first things that the player will notice is the emphasis of the game’s story line, in fact, unless the player skips it, it takes about a good fifteen to twenty minutes of the game’s intro before actual gameplay.
The game is basically split into two different areas, the player’s life in school during the day, and the player’s life at night when he/she gets to fight mysterious creatures.
The storyline starts the player at the beginning of a typical Japanese school year. Therefore during the day time the player has different options on what to do. As the year progresses, the player is introduced to several different activities such as, joining an after school club, staying after school to study for a test, hangout with friends, and other typical activities expected from a high school student, all of which have consequences in the game.
During the night time, the player must explore a dangerous tower crawling with Shadows known as Tartarus. The player is told to enter Tartarus and climb as high as possible in order to solve the mystery of why the Shadows have appeared and perhaps even on how to get rid of them. The tower contains several floors; however, the design of each floor is not that of a typical level. Usually levels are arranged in a certain way that the player can memorize in order to overcome it. Yet every time the player enters Tartarus and climbs each floor, the floors’ arrangement changes. This keeps the player on his/her toes. The player must keep in mind that unless they find the elevator to a particular floor and decide to leave, they must go through all of the previously explored floors again in order to reach there.
The player can save the game once he/she returns to his/her dorm and right before exploring Tartarus. The game’s battle system is somewhat similar to what one could expect from this kind of game with some key differences. While the player can assemble up to a four member party, all characters, other than the player’s, are under the control of the AI. However as the leader, the player is in charge of giving them general instructions to the team or individual to suit the type of battle being fought. The most noticeable feature of the game is the Persona system. A Persona, according to the game, is a person’s manifestation of their subconscious and therefore a person should only have one Persona at most, however the player’s character has several at his disposal. These new Personas become available to the player as they make new friends and acquaintances, and with stronger relationships come stronger Personas. Each relationship corresponds to different types of Personas. The game separates the Personas by Arcana and its various different ones. A few examples of these are the Magician, the Justice and the Strength Arcanas to name a few, each of them possessing different strengths and weaknesses in type and stats. By choosing a particular Persona the player adopts all of these stats.
The game’s emphasis on the relationships in order to become strong is an interesting game mechanic. Because of this, the game’s story becomes an integral part of the experience. In theory, the player can avoid the relationship aspect of the game or simply master a few of them to finish the game; however, the interesting side stories make it hard to avoid. For example, there is a case where one of your friends begins to talk about this teacher he has a crush on. As the story progresses with him, if you help him, he actually starts to go out with her and so things start to happen in his story arc.
The Persona system also resemble that of the Pokemon style games in which it makes it fun to obtain all of them. While some Personas are simply obtained as the game progresses, some must be fused in order to obtain them. This gives an interesting aspect, especially when it results in them having abilities they normally don’t have. One more interesting thing about this game is the way they summon a Persona. They summon them by shooting themselves with an evoker in the head. The evoker looks like a gun but just shoots them with some kind of mental effect not a physical bullet.
This game is a fresh new way of integrating its story to an RPG game. While it provides a great new experience, it is far from perfect. One of the immediate complaints that surfaces is the game’s soundtrack. The problem is that the music variety is very low and therefore they start to cycle through way too often. The other problem with it is that the game’s music itself can get on your nerves. After a while it does stick in your mind but not for good reasons. My only other complaint about the game is, that with all of these side stories that seem to be guided by the player’s action, I thought that the ending would have been affected by this, however it wasn’t. For example, the player’s character seems to have at least three to four possible love interests in the game and in fact, if the player continues their side story, they arrive to a point where they start dating. Yet in the end none of this is mentioned in the game’s ending. In fact the game only has two endings and they do not have anything to do with any of the relationships that the player has built.
Shin Megami Tensei Persona 3 is definitely a game aimed at Japanese gamers or people interested in the culture, but in the end can be enjoyed by anyone willing to give it a try. Person 3 is one of last great games to come out for this system and gives us a great perspective on how to approach story telling in a game, in order to immerse the player in a fun way.