Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Developer: Atlus USA
Publisher: Koei
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

Any game that’s intro starts with your character pressing what looks like a gun to their head is bound to get your attention. You see, Persona 3 (I refuse to type the full title again) is refreshingly different in its approach to the ‘traditional’ Japanese RPG in both its occult based plot and its unique gameplay style.

You play a blue-haired student (the moody, silent type) who having just enrolled in a rather posh Japanese high school, finds he has the unique ability to not only see but also fight weird creatures dubbed “shadows”. During the dark hour (midnight to you and me) these monsters appear to only a select few people and wouldn’t you know it the people staying in your dormitory have this ability. I can see a team forming here.

The game is split into two distinctive parts spread over a calendar. During the day it’s a basic simulation of Japanese high school life. Here you can converse with other students, attend after school classes and go shopping.

The second half of the game takes place at night. It’s all about kicking some shadow arse here – utilising the training and items you’ve stocked up on during the day. Moving from a basic hub, you can enter what are essentially dungeons and fight your way deeper into the shadow’s lair, Tartarus.

Within the first couple of hours of play it genuinely feels rather like you’re having no effect over the game whatsoever, and simply pressing a button every now and then. This is initially off-putting and it’s not until you’ve worked your way through a few more days of the school calendar that the whole game starts to open up some more.

Luckily for me (as they really irritate me), there are no random battles in Persona 3. The idea is to initially get a pre-emptive strike on the enemies you see on screen with your team of 3. This allows you to start the fights with the initiative. Combat is turn-based but you have the option to add additional attacks to your moves if the enemy is stunned.

The real trademark of the series fights however are the Personas themselves. The story goes that everybody has within them multiple personas, which a select few can manifest into actual living creatures via the “Evoker” or gun-like tool, which I mentioned at the start of the review. These monsters basically amount to the summons in the Final Fantasy games but unlike those, these can be combined with other personas to create even more powerful beings. This function is accessed via the surreal Velvet room where you’ll meet Igor, the long-nosed oddity that he is.

An important and rather interesting touch is that in order for you to access some of the personas it’s important for you to establish social links with your high school peers. This means you have to pick and choose who you want to spend your free time with during the day as this ultimately affects how you play the game during the night sections. Do you go out for a meal with someone or meet up with another in the mall? It’s sometimes hard to decide what to do for the best.

Presentation is of the highest standard with this game. The distinct stylised characters and anime quality cutscenes can almost (but not quite) fool you into thinking you’re playing a PS3 game. The same however can’t be said of the music, which is of the cheesy J-Pop variety. Whilst this suits the game’s teenage high school setting, when you’ve heard it over and over again for the last few hours it does start to grate a little, and I found myself reaching for the volume button more often than I’d like.

The only real problem with this title is that after a while things can get a little samey. It would be nice if you could progress a little further afield to somewhere outside the realms of the map but instead you’re restricted essentially to just the high school and its surrounding areas, and of course Tartarus during the dark hour. This isn’t an epic game in terms of locations but the story just about makes up for this rather small niggle.

For someone who was starting to get a little sick of the constant Japanese RPGs (which includes the latest Final Fantasy games) Persona 3 was a welcome twist on the age-old formula. It never feels revolutionary you understand but it does manage to add a bit of life to the genre and is worth a look if you’re still clinging onto your PS2.

Best Bits

- Gorgeous graphics
- Genuinely different storyline
Worst Bits

- Maybe a little too weird for some?
- Too much hand holding at times

by: Pedro

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