Persona 3 FES Review

After playing Dark Arisen I was on a dungeon-crawler kick, and thus I now have about 3 reviews I want to do all related to Atlus games.  Persona 3 FES is a game available on the PS2 and the PSN store for around $10, and as a 100 hour game it’s very much worth the investment.  Persona 3 was the marked change in the series, where the addition of taking classes, joining school clubs and leveling up Social LInks livened up the dungeon crawling in a unique way.  FES was the somewhat better version with a few variations making the social links a tad easier if you chose to hit every single one in a single playthrough.  

1, in which we meet a dungeon and fall in love.

I love the games dungeon, even the disco has novelty.  If Buffy was “high-school as hell” Persona 3 is “high-school as a dungeon crawler.”  Tartarus is an enigma for Persona adepts, a type of randomly generated dungeon that while not loved by everyone definitely sets some sort of standard.  While it just seems to keep going up and up, by later sections of the game when you hit floor 100 or 200 you do feel as if you’ve achieved something.  

2, in which friends become our greatest enemy. 

The dungeons might come naturally, but making friends in a game can be challenging, getting a link almost to mastery, only for summer break to appear and leave being able to call that ultimate persona off for several months will leave you feeling somewhat terse with these challengers to your affection.  Though abandoned in Persona 4 the female Social Links, or girlfriends if you want to get technical, will reverse on you or break if you don’t spend time with them or cheat.  

A word of explanation on this entire idea-Social Links are relationships all tied to specific groups of personas, each classed by arcana.  Yeah, the game has a Tarot motif, which makes sense as the “Fool’s Journey” works as well as the Hero’s Journey for fulfilling an RPG dynamic.  As I was writing one girl might be the Lovers arcana, by leveling up this relationship by meeting with her and giving her gifts on dates you’ll eventually max the link, getting a big boost in experience for any Lovers persona, but also the ability to fuse a special persona-the Ultimate Persona.  

While some ultimate personas are so-so, many are the only ways to get the highest grade of spells, whether fire or healing, the game offers.  And given that the only way you can get these spells is by hanging out with your friends the game creates a bizarrely addicting dynamic-who should I hang out with that can help me out the most.  Yeah, feels more like University but whatever.  The time management aspect can be peculiar, downright infuriating to newcomers at the start, at lunch several people might walk up to you “I want to talk to you when you have some free time,” I might not have experienced popularity in my real high-schooling years but in a game world(where we all save universes and have our choice of beautiful, exotic counterparts) Atlus did something interesting by providing the problem of being popular.  

3, so what does it really mean?

Shin Megami Tensei games are notoriously tough.  Even if you read a review online for SMT IV, which isn’t really tough or grind-ey, you’ll see reviewers and their ilk pondering the games difficulty and need to grind.  While we can all question their gaming credentials on our own time, Persona 3 attempted to deal with that problem.  The Social Link system, when handled well, was a great opportunity to speed through many problems dungeon crawlers and RPGs of a certain ilk have.  Players might feel like grinding(near obsessive killing of enemies or clearing of boring quests to gain Experience Points for raising levels, and thus stats) is a necessity in many games(which might be a case) but Persona 3 attempted to temper that situation.  Yes, levels allow you to summon your personas, but your friends at school allow you to easily get 2 or 3 levels raised on them immediately, and the automatic 5 from maxing a link meant you would be able to create a persona, get it’s best skills, and immediately fuse it into one you wanted, to create your own ultimate personas.  

4, no seriously whats it all about?

P3 might or might not deserve it’s reputation as a dark game, but it is almost all about death.  From the uproar in the media when the game came out as the youths “called” their personas by simulating shooting themselves in the head(with evokers-basically plastic pistols) many people involved publicly with games had to go on TV and talk about the game.  It was a tough image of games as we all know the greater culture never quite knows what to do with the medium, much like comics more and more games aren’t meant for kids.  But each of the games Social Links had a story, with a preponderance of them dealing with death.  It wasn’t an inordinate motif, it was the theme of the game.  You can’t appreciate life without appreciating death.

A reason the developers started making these games in the first place was the fact that Persona allowed them to deal with certain ideas and philosophies because it was set in a high school.  Yes, while SMT deals with adults, Persona games use youths as their protagonists because not only the games get to deal with certain ideas but they retain a freshness.  Think about when you were young, ideas seemed important, you wanted to listen to peoples problems, you get older and it seemingly falls into the same problems you’ve always heard.  Persona cuts through that, one story revolves around trying to get an older man to make contact with the family he’s left, any adult would probably say if someone talked about leaving their family that last thing you’d suggest would be to go back.  Or the dying young man, listening to someone deal with dying isn’t easy but think back to the first time that happened, that’s the feeling the Persona games can get away with.

5-summation of the themes 

The game is a classic, not because it’s perfect, but it’s the first time they’ve tried something and they do it well.  Well, technically FES(the version I’m recommending) is a second attempt, but it’s even better.  The game is constantly trying to find ways to make your life somewhat easier, like at the end of a fight several cards appear allowing you to chose to raise the amount of money you get from the fight or the amount of experience.  And in the last month of the game you can get into an optional dungeon where if you can beat the tough enemies you’ll level very quickly and actually be able to use some of those ultimate personas you’ve worked to get.  The developers don’t let you do this right off the bat, but they from the inception of the game are doing their best to make a game that while hard at times is rewarding in both gameplay and story.  

6-Best part, The End

The game is pulling you to the roof of Tartarus from the first hours, and the payoff is worth the effort.  That’s really all I should say on the games direction towards an end.  If you enjoy RPGs and would like some sort of a challenge give it a shot, if you like it I’d suggest(if you really want a challenge) picking up SMT 3: Nocturne.  Persona 4 was released, again for the PS2, and made a huge splash.  Lighter theme, more relatable(i.e. dumber) characters, easier dungeons, in your face symbolism, it’s a bizarrely easy game yet I can’t finish it.  I’ve made it to the last month of Persona 4 and I don’t have a drive to finish.  This wasn’t a problem with Persona 3 FES.  Give the game a shot if you have some time to spare to a game that isn’t quite cutting edge graphics wise.  A 5 out of 5 as the flaws are easily outweighed by how much is right.