22 March 2013

'Persona 3' Part I

... okay.

It took me a long time to recover after my first impression post. Now that I underwent extreme psychotherapy and a lobotomy to erase that inexcusably f'ing awful event from my mind, I'm back to normal and ready to review.

Other than that one moment that I cannot remember details of, Persona 3 was a lot better than I originally expected. For once I found a JRPG that is interesting and its developers competent.

'Tis a shame that I have over 130 hours of two playthroughs to reflect and comment on. By this point, it seems that video game reviews will be a billion times longer than anything else I'll ever post. Looks like the Mass Effect trilogy won't be the only one getting this special treatment.


My Experience


To add some context to my biased ramblings, I will first address my general experience with Persona 3. My first time playing this game was on my PS3 as a PSN download of Persona 3: FES, the base game with an extra epilogue chapter. Due to my overprotective instincts and lack of a high-def TV in my room at school, I barely completed 20 hours. While at school, however, I was still interested enough in the game to go on Youtube and watch a few walkthroughs. It satisfied me for a while... then debated on buying a Vita just so I could play the updated Persona 3 Portable. So I ran with it and completed two saves, one clocking 93 hours and the other about 50. Currently, I'm working on a third full play through, though it's still pretty early in the first five hours.

I prefer playing P3P, if only because of convenience. There is also the option to play as a male or female, which is not available on FES, so having two perspectives adds a few more points.

For future reference, I don't want to always refer the main characters by MC or FeMC for a boy or girl. Furthermore, I'm not too fond of calling them Minato and Minako/Hamuko either. Instead, I'll give them names I used for them in my games... which are just as lame, but whatever. (My creativity with Japanese names is embarrassingly bad.)

Minato Arisato Hiro Uchida and Minako Arisato Rin Hanajima. 
So, Hiro and Rin will be the names for the male and female protagonists respectively. Enjoy.

My other biases will pop up as the review marches onward.


Gameplay

Persona are supposedly "manifestations of one's psyche". In terms of gameplay, they are like badass-looking Pokemon for the "mature" crowd with their love of SERIOUS BUSINESS. The enemies you fight are called Shadows and they represent the more negative, repressed facets of one's psyche. Unfortunately, unlike Persona 4, this game - and its remakes - does a pitiful job at explaining these concepts or integrating them into exposition. So for the sake of this review, Personas and Shadows are monsters constantly influenced by the human mind, but only Persona are capable of being controlled.

Both Shadows and Persona can correspond to a certain arcana, as in the 22 Major Arcana in tarot card decks (1). Each Arcana has some kind of reoccurring theme, such as Magicians being fire spell casters or Chariots being skilled in physical attacks. Because the plot demands that Hiro and Rin are chosen ones, they are capable of controlling multiple Persona, which makes gameplay more challenging for us. Their teammates, however, can only control one Persona with specific advantages, skills, and weaknesses. You know, the typical setup for all groups of heroes.


Atlus Hard: Take That, Nintendo!

I'm not going to lie here. At first, I thought it was because I am not a very skilled gamer. I don't dare to find ways to break the game or take shortcuts (unless it involves Silver's billiards puzzle in Sonic 06). Whatever mechanics a game uses, I never fully understand them, even after I've played for hundreds and hundreds of hours. If a game gets too hard, I chicken out and pick the lower difficulty. I would never bring myself to try anything above normal mode.

Junpei would catch a grenade for you!

That being said, developer Atlus has a wonderful reputation of making games hard. As in brutal. Pretty freaking brutal. As in old-school Nintendo hard. Knowing this, I picked the easy difficulty. P3P has a "beginner" mode, but I heard in many places that it is so simplistic that the game is insulting you for it. So I picked Easy, and even then the game has still kicked my ass a good number of times. However, it is more of a fair kind of challenge, since it never got so bad that I had to throw up the white flag and give up for several days.

Yet I will admit that I was a cheating, whiny baby that frequently looked at GameFAQs to help me fight off some cases of That One Enemy and/or That One Boss. (Damn you, Hierophant, Fortune, Strength, The World Balance, and the Mushas, you assholes. T-T)

Still, I think I made the game a lot harder than I needed to.


Changing tactics in combat exists in all versions of the game, but only P3P allows you to chance to control your teammates directly. You don't have to worry about crappy AI, but combat can take a lot longer. Other options are available, such as conserving energy, healing/supporting the party, or pounding enemies head-on. No matter what tactic I picked, the AI is not that bad most times. Usually I will switch between "direct control" and "act freely" to spice up the experience. Because I needed it badly.


In my 93-hour playthough at least 3 hours were due to me pausing to look up help from guides on GameFAQs, and another 5 or 6 from doing nothing but fusing personas. Other than about 10 hours of doing nothing, I spent the vast majority of the time level grinding. Simply put, this playthrough was supposed to be long and drawn-out so New Game Plus would be me in God Mode and taking a cakewalk. Well worth it in the long term, just not the short.

Simply put, level grinding must fall in a pit and die. After starting four games in all and completing two, I can official say really hate it. Yes, this is a dungeon-crawling game, and crawling through Tartarus at the speed of molasses is annoying.

Not even the quick and efficient All-Out Attacks make the
battles and grinding drag less!
Since you must explore about thirty floors per month, the design and layout of Tartarus is extremely repetitive. Everything looks and feels exactly the same on each floor. Each "block", or subsection, has its own color scheme and theme, but there is nothing to differentiate between the many floors you must set foot on before the next two or three boss fights and the occasional barrier that marks the end of your ascent for the month. Add on the various requests to find certain enemies that must drop a specific item so you can have that one reward that will make life swell and peachy. And if someone recommends you to grind until you obtain a certain Persona or reach a certain level... have fun cutting yourself!!

This is the point when one must question how to manage such torture. In vanilla and FES, you are forced to tackle Tartarus in small, short bursts. Your teammates get tired very easily and will often ditch you once you return to the entrance to save your progress. This works nicely as the repetitive nature of the dungeon crawling does not ruin your patience or enjoyment of the game. Yet P3P removed the "I'm tired, so I'm gonna leave" aspect, threw in a healing station, and gave you the option to return to the highest level you visited. Basically, you can tackle all the floors for the month in one go if you wish. This gives you the chance to spend more time with friends and developing friendships as you get all the leveling up done in one go.

It all comes down to wether or not you want to take small bites or gobble everything down. Usually I would take the latter, since I enjoyed interacting with people more than running around a large maze of sameness. Hence my bitching about grinding.


The only other bright side to my extensive grind fests is that many of the boss fights during the full moon events were hilariously easy. Hierophant was only a pain when I tried out a boss rush addition thrown in late in the game. The various types of Musha are just mooks in Tartarus, but they are really, really evil. In the main storyline I only struggled with the Fortune and Strength bosses, as you needed a good bit of luck to understand the mechanics of AI Russian roulette. Then again, it was the October full moon event. That day was a pain in the ass in more ways than one. Too bad I can't remember why...


Oh right... therapy. Don't start asking questions, Fangirl. Keep forgetting what is meant to be forgotten.


...Anywho.



Three pieces of advice that serve more as nitpicks than actual criticisms.

First, do not be surprised if you were grinding for an hour and a half, only to run into an enemy that casts a light or dark-based spell that instantly slaughters your entire party, including you. If you did not save during that long time of grinding... TOO BAD! The only way to prevent this is to have a good stock of an item called "Homunculus." Sadly, it is quite rare and costs a few well-sacrificed mountain trolls to get, but it's worth every painful, long second to have 'em.

Second, if you see an enemy that looks like a tank... always use zio-based spells. If an enemy looks like an hourglass, always use slash or strike attacks. It works every single time.

Third, all of your spells - excepting most physical attacks - have Japanese names. I kid you not. The descriptions help immensely, but it will take many hours to remember that "bufu" refers to ice and "hama" to light. If a spell has the prefix "ma-", the spell affects multiple targets; the suffix "-dyne" refers to heavy elemental attacks. As for status effects... have fun because even I still screw them up.



The Other Drawn-Out Feature

While exploring Tartarus is grand and all, you have access to the most important place in the entire game: the Velvet Room. Here is where you can record the personas you've obtained in a compendium for easy future access, accept requests with rewards ranging from equipment to consumables, or fuse new persona with 95% accuracy. The requests can be very quick and easy, although the items found in golden boxes throughout Tartarus can cost an arm and a leg to find without wasting time. The rewards are worth it, however, especially if you burn your money quick in the beginning.

As for the Persona Compendium...

At some point, I'm going to run into a mechanic that I will absolutely abhor. For a while, the Persona Compendium was pretty damn close to being it. That's when I realized one thing: it's not Mass Effect's abomination of an inventory system. At least I could find a few guides to help me fuse Personas without much trouble. At least the Persona are organized by their arcana!

Still, the compendium is annoying as hell if you really want to complete it. I only did this so my NG+ playthough would be smooth, easy sailing. Otherwise, it's especially helpful when trying to keep track of the Persona you have obtained thus far as well as what abilities they have learned. It costs money to take out a persona you need, but when you have somewhere between 7,000,000 and 9,000,000 yen, coughing up 100,000 for a level 60 persona is a sneeze.

Fusing Persona can be frustrating as some provide explicit information about the Persona you need. Sadly, this is only true with the most powerful ones, available when you max out a Social Link. Every other one is based on pure guesswork. Some Persona can be obtained after some battles, but fusion is many times the only way to get some of the more powerful with the more effective abilities. You will need a guide at some point. Do not feel awful if you must resort to this. GameFAQs has saved my life many times over with this game.

Even with that help... I still could not find all 170+ Persona. By the end of my second run, the Compendium was still 99% complete. Dammit.


Out of the Dungeon and into the Classroom

At one point I mentioned "Social Links", which are the relationships Hiro or Rin has with other people. They can range from his/her teammates living in the dorms, classmates, or other people in the town. Each Link corresponds to a particular arcana, very much like the Shadows and Persona. As you spend time with people, you develop a Social Link rank by rank until you reach 10. These Links provide leveling benefits when fusing Persona.

For example, you have the Priestess Social Link at rank 6 and you want to create Parvati via fusion. Because of the state of the link, Parvati will gain a bonus bunch of experience points and gain a few levels. As a result, she might gain learn a new ability much sooner than simply level grinding for three hours without that fusion bonus.

Social Links are essential as they allow development for minor and major characters as well as providing new opportunities to improve your strategies in combat. FES and Portable even give bonuses for maxing out Links: a super-special rare Persona for each Arcana and the ultimate Persona tailored to fight the final boss. At the very least, I do recommend maxing out as many Links as possible, since many of the best Persona with the best abilities can be obtained this way. Don't worry too much about the "ultimate Persona", though. Even when I finally created it, I never needed it.

This system heavily relies on dating sim mechanics. Pick the one response that will not piss the person off and allow the Social Link to rank up. Sometimes you will have to kiss ass, sometimes you have to be honest, and sometimes if you ignore people for too long, a Social Link will go in reverse. If that happens, run to the shrine and beg the gods to reverse the curse.

This was easily the most entertaining aspect of the game. Emerging yourself in the day-by-day life of going to school, attending clubs, hanging out with friends might seem even more repetitive than Tartarus; however, it is time for you to use freely. You can do whatever you want with your time and not have to worry about insta-kill "mahama" to screw you over. Some events are mandatory though: a short vacation at the beach or the school trip to the hot springs of Kyoto. At both times, shenanigans ensue.

The last gameplay feature to keep track of are your characteristics. Academics, charm, and courage are ranked from one to six and depending on the level, you can interact with new people and initiate new Links. These traits can be improved as you engage in various activities: staying awake in class, watching movies, drinking pheromone coffee, playing arcade games, singing karaoke, etc.
Maxing out charm is relatively easy and can be completed quickly. As a bonus, level six charm improves your chances of progressing through your Social Links. Academics is much harder, though, and it might take until September or October to max it. Thankfully Academics is not really needed until near the end of the game anyway.


In Case Anyone Is Dizzy

That was a ton of info. To wrap up this section:
  • Combat is interesting with the various Persona to obtain and use in combat, despite hours of grinding and vague fusion mechanics.
  • Atlus makes fair, but brutally hard games if not prepared. 
  • Do not be embarrassed if GameFAQs looks like a good compass every now and then.
  • Fangirl prefers the dating sim-based Social Link system over dungeon crawling.
  • There are a lot of things to keep track of.
And you'll be harassed constantly by phone calls. -_-
A bunch of other details can be added, such as fusing Persona with weapons, but that is also not needed to beat the game, even on Normal mode. So no worries. Experiment with that when you are comfortable with the game.


Next time I will dive into characters... which might take an entire post as well. Looks like I'll never get to the plot or technical features. *sigh*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Now for a few laughs...

"Hiro's" Version:


"Rin's" Version:



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


~~~~~~~~~~NOTES:~~~~~~~~~

(1) - Technically the 22nd Arcana, Aeon, was one that Atlus based on the Thoth deck's interpretation of Judgement. Some might call it redundant, but Judgement and Aeon have different connotations and themes that they represent, hence Atlus adding another Arcana.

4 comments:

Voltech said...

And once again, I find myself regretting giving my copy of FES to a friend. It feels like there's a lot of content I walked away from for no good reason...though to be fair, I'm not 100% sure I want to take the plunge with a full compendium. Even a madman has his limits.

It's been a while since I've played the game, so the details are EXTREMELY hazy for me. Still, if there's one thing that I remember, it's that I didn't really get in too deep with making uber-Personas. I relied pretty heavily on Thor, because (besides the fact that Norse Mythology/lightning powers are cool), I had a spear that boosted my Elec attacks -- and combined with Thor's fusion attack (or whatever it's called; the name escapes me at the moment), I could do some MONDO DAMAGE!

Also I found that Kohryu was my go-to Persona for healing and defense. And across both games, inexplicably.

Well, whatever. I guess what's important is that you're not left wanting for content OR power when it comes to the Persona games. I'd rather not imagine what lengths one has to go through for 99% completion, but I've got to give you some serious respect for making it as far as you did.

.:Melanie~Light:. said...

*bows*

I did deserve a nice, stress-free NG+. I was a boss, dealing a crap-ton of damage with my ultimate weapon. The game was a breeze up until November or so.

In my NG+, I remember using Titania, Scathach, Suzaku, and Seth pretty darn often. Titania was probably the best Persona I ever used as I kept her longer than any other. Decent healing, ice, wind, and fire tricks to keep me afloat. Throw in Aki, who was always in my squad, and I could pick anyone else to team up with me. Smooth and happy sailing.

As I mentioned, I'm not the best at finding the best tricks to play the game efficiently. So when I read about how to beat the final boss with Orpheus Telos, I was pretty mad when I ended up using much weaker Persona and still surviving on Normal mode.

So yeah, the farthest I'll go for being a completionist is maxing all social links. The Persona Compendium is just not worth it unless you're playing Hard or Maniac. @_@

Sean Fearnley said...

The 22nd Arcana you call 'made up by Atlus', The Aeon, is the name of Judgement in Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, where he called The Magician The Magus, The High Priestess The Priestess, Justice Adjustment, The Wheel of Fortune Fortune, Strength Lust, Temperance Art, and Judgement The Aeon. It wasn't made up by Atlus at all.

Melanie~Light said...

Yes, Sean, you are correct. I said "made up by Atlus" in the sense that it was an Arcana they added that is not found in some Tarot decks. But I should have been more clear on that.

Thanks for the correction.

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