[Shock Value is a segment which runs down inexpensive titles that are more than worth the money spent.]
Even though I was thoroughly captivated by the remarkable anime fighter Persona 4: Arena, I’d actually never played any of the proper Persona RPGs. Our editor Chad Awkerman urged me to try one of them on more than one occasion and when I saw Persona 3: FES on the PlayStation Store for just $10, I couldn’t resist jumping in and seeing what all the hype was about. What my $10 bought me was a thrilling 80+ hour ride through what is without a doubt one of the most unique and compelling JRPGs I’ve played in recent years.
This is one title that you’d very much rather experience late than never.
The game puts you in the shoes of a transfer student new to the fictional Japanese city Iwatodai. The game-play fuses elements from traditional turn-based JRPGs and light social simulation elements. As you play through the game and discover the motivations and personalities behind the various characters, you are also tasked with growing your party, gaining new skills and capturing new persona. The dynamic of balancing your school life, studies, etc. with dungeon crawling seems so bizarre initially, but as you play the game you realize that it is really quite profound and compelling.
Graphically, the game really does show its age. I personally don’t think it looks anywhere near as good as some of the best looking PlayStation 2 games, such as Final Fantasy XII (where’s my PS2 Classic Square!?). The visuals do however maintain a certain charm and the little character models are almost cute in their own way.
The music is really cool. The soundtrack does not shy away from lyrics and the vocalist sounds really confident and emotional in all of her songs. With an exception for the tracks with singing, the soundtrack takes an ambient or minimal approach. Several of the songs have an eerie or creepy feeling to them, and they really add suspense to some of the more intense scenes. The voice acting is great, and I love Tara Platt as Mitsuru.
There are several characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them. Initially, Mitsuru seems majorly stuck up, Yukari seems like a wimp and Junpei seems like an idiot. After getting to know these characters and their intentions though, you gain a better understanding of them and it really helps you appreciate them more. Other than the main cast, you’ll also need develop relationships with various schoolmates. The range of personalities you’ll encounter here is very impressive.
From the stickler utilitarian Hidetoshi Odagiri to the warm hearted jock Kazushi Miyamoto, getting to know the characters is a fun and enlightening experience, and learning their motivations and dreams somehow makes you consider your own greatest ambitions. I know that sounds ridiculous, but you have play the game to understand. It’s not often that I feel I can truly relate with or sympathize for some NPC but this is the case in P3FES.
The combat is turn-based and very effective. You and your party can exploit the various elemental weaknesses of the enemies to set them up for really damaging attacks. You fight using persona, and only the main character has access to multiple persona. Most of or all of the combat in the game takes place in the game’s one and only dungeon, Tartarus. Tartarus has several floors (I think 300 or so by the end of the game) and though ascending them feels like an intense grind some of the time, your constantly growing arsenal of skills and persona, as well as the very fun combat, keeps things exciting.
Collecting the persona adds a Pokémon style monster catching aspect to the game and it’s really addictive. You win persona in battles and you can then fuse them to create new persona. It’s always exciting to see the different fusion possibilities. You may grow attached to a certain persona because of how cool it looks or because of a certain attack it has, but it’s best to keep a wide variety of powerful persona with very different elemental affinities and skills.
The neatest thing about the game is that the dungeon crawling and social simulation aspects are joined at the hip. This is thanks to the social link system. You see, all persona fall under a certain…let’s say astrological sign. Each of these astrological signs is represented by a certain NPC. As you develop relationships with these various NPCs, the persona you fuse under their respective signs will gain substantial bonuses, such as new attacks and bonus experience points. The relationships with the characters are referred to as social links.
For example, if I build a strong social link with the girl who represents the strength sign, any persona I fuse under the strength sign will get a huge bonus. It seems a bit confusing and it is until you actually see it in action, but the end result of this is character development that works on two levels. Not only are you learning more about these endearing and relatable characters, but you are – simultaneously – giving very substantial skill and power boosts to your persona. Persona growth is terribly slow without the social link bonus, so in a way this concept forces you to enjoy both the social sim and dungeon crawling aspects of the game. It’s brilliant!
Persona 3: FES is without a doubt the best $10 I’ve ever spent in my life. There are so many elements in the game that I don’t have the space here to go into detail about, such as the ability to infuse weapons with persona, the deadly death enemy that haunts Tartarus, or the challenging super-dungeon you unlock after felling said enemy. This game is rich, just packed to the brim with content and replay value.
In fact, the FES edition of the game comes with what I understand is practically a 30+ hour sequel to the main game call The Answer and I haven’t even played that yet. So you’re getting more than 100 hours of quality content for $10. P3FES had such an impact on me that I literally bought a PS Vita solely to play Persona 4: Golden. It’s that good.
At $10 this game is practically free. If you haven’t experienced the Persona series yet, go buy it now. Just go buy it. Now.