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.
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.)
My other biases will pop up as the review marches onward.
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.
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!
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.
Oh right... therapy. Don't start asking questions, Fangirl. Keep forgetting what is meant to be forgotten.
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
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.
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.
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. -_-|
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...
(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.