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Review #178

Persona 3: FES
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Atlus of Japan
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 4/23/2008

I’m a huge fan of the Persona series. I have spent way too much time analyzing and writing about Be Your True Mind, Innocent Sin, and Eternal Punishment. The latter two tied as the # game in my Top 30 RPG Countdown. Persona is up there with Pokemon and Sakura Taisen as my favorite franchises.

So it might surprise you to learn that I was not that happy with Persona 3 when I first imported it back in 2006. Part of it was the loss of everyone on the dev side that really made the previously Persona games so awesome. Part of it was the different direction the series took. Part of it was the lack of continuity with the previous 3 Persona games. Part of it was that the whole concept behind Persona’s was massively dumbed down. Part of it was the neutering of Igor and the new Mary Sue character in Elizabeth. Part of it was that only the main character could change Persona, again completely missing the point of Personas in the previous games. Part of it was that the story and music was a noticeable step down in quality from the earlier games. Part of it that the game had turned into a quasi Fushigi Dungeon instead of better flowing and more natural game. And so on and so forth. I could go on for pages with what I took issue with. But I won’t.

Around August of 2008, when the US copy of Persona 3 came out, I found I had changed my opinion on the game. The problem wasn’t that Persona 3 was a disappointing game, or even that it was a bad game. The problem was that I was ” Phantasy Star 3‘ing” Persona 3. Like PS3, Persona 3 is actually a very good game with some excellent innovations and new concepts that it brought to the table. It’s just when you look at the game with an eye for continuity to what came before it, it falls apart. I was trying to fit P3 in with the previous games in the same way people had bitched and moaned that the PS2 Devil Summoner had nothing to do with the Sega Saturn Devil Summoner or Soul Hackers. So while everyone else was playing Persona 3 for the first time, I was playing FES and doing my best to not say “Well P2IS did THIS.” And you know what? I had fun with it. A lot of fun with it. It wasn’t as “OMG BESTEST GAME EVAR!” ala Innocent Sin , Eternal Punishment and Valkyrie Profile, but it WAS good enough to be runner up for not only RPG of the year, but runner up for GAME of the year by us here at Diehard Gamefan.

Now we’ve got FES here in the US. For $29.99, you’re getting the full Persona 3 game with not only new items, but an additional RPG half the length of the original featuring the cast and crew. So new stuff AND an entirely new adventure for half the cost of the original? Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Let’s Review

1. Story

We have two games here. The first is the original PS3 or “The Journey.” The second is “The Answer.”
With “Journey”, you are a nameless male protagonist who has recently transferred to the area. Your character gets attacked by Shadows, who inhabit a time beyond time known as “The Dark Hour.” This causes your Persona of Orpheus to awaken and bam, the game is underway. You become a member of SESS aka The Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. From then on you’ll be climbing into a tower of doom and fighting monsters, all while maintaining your social life and academic standing.

No, I’m not kidding. Both of those are nearly as important as combat. You’ll have to manage attributes such as Academics, Courage and Charm throughout the course of the game year, each of which has influences several other actions or story events in the game. You can also go shopping, clubbing, or enter the Velvet Room to gain new Personas or fuse them together. There’s a lot to see and do in the game, but unlike most RPG’s that give you all the time in the world to munchkin your way through the game, here you have a limited amount of time before the world, and thus the game ends. Each day gives you a limited amount of actions, so you have to be choosy. You also can’t dawdle in ye olde Tower o’ Doom, as your characters can get tired or sick if they exert themselves too much. There’s a lot of depth to each day, even if the characters and dialogue remain a bit shallow.

With “Journey” you have two possible endings, both of which are lackluster and conclude the game poorly. The “Bad” ending is actually the happier of the two, while the “Good” and correct ending is not just a downer plotwise, but arguably the worst ending I’ve seen in the Megaten franchise.

This was espoused not only by myself, but Persona/Megaten fans back in Japan and is no doubt WHY we now have “The Answer.” Please note that the answer can be played as a standalone game, but if viewed as such, well, it’s pretty crappy as you would need to know events, characters, places and various other things not explained in the game itself. You’d only know these events by playing “The Journey.”

Although I’m glad to see “The Answer” as a bonus, there are several issues I have with the add-on. First is that Answer fails in the same way Shining Force 3, Digital Devil Saga and Persona 2 succeed, in that all members of those families work as standalones as well as tie-ins. We don’t have that here. As well, the protagonist of “Answer” well, to put it bluntly is not a character I really cared about in the first game, as I felt they were forced, trite, and that they were a character that would never have been in a Persona game, had the previous team still been involved. But some people like them, and hey, more power to them. As well, all the things that made Persona 3 a really unique and fun game have been gutted. Mainly the Social and academic aspects of the game. The Persona Compendium is also lost. The story in “Answer” is weak and secondary to a lot of wading through dungeon levels and hacking things. I do mean a LOT. That’s pretty much all the answer is.

As a whole FES is a mixed bag. “The Answer” is weak in pretty much all aspects, but “Journey” has been improved in a lot of different ways with new social options, missions, and so much more. “Journey” is an improvement on P3 in every way (but with the same sucktastic endings), but “Answer” is pretty much dead weight that drags the overall quality down simply because you find yourself wading through it and saying, “This is it?.” I wish I could just review the improvements to “Journey” on its own.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

There’s no graphical upgrade in the game. Just some new monsters, personas, and costumes for you to look at. The new costumes are a lot of fun and one of those little fan service touches fans of the game will appreciate.

I really like the character design artwork. It’s also interesting to see Jack Frost and Igor as the last real stadnby’s from the old games, not only in terms of continuity, but character design. Jack Frost is mascot of sorts not only for Megaten, but all of Atlus. You can defintely tell they are both products from long ago, one over a decade old, the other even longer. It’s not really a clash of designs per say, but when you’re seeing the new characters interact with monsters from previous games or with Igor, you can certainly tell the difference.

I also really liked a lot of the boss designs as well. Yes, the game doesn’t push the PS2 to its limits ala some Square-Enix game, but it’s still visually impressive, and most of all original with the art design. Personas though? I’m not really liking any of the default Personas in design. But they do get better. Orpheus was and still is particularly ugly to me, and I remember going, “Man, visually Orpheus looks like it should be the Persona of XXXX” who nicely enough does get said Persona in “Answer.” The designs of the Personas were still interesting and unique, but half the time they seemed to miss the boat on what Personas were originaly meant to be in the game both reference wise and folklore wise.

P3: Fes is a pretty game, but nothing mind blowing or groundbreaking in the visual department. Also, no one has somehow turned black and started dancing crazy in this version.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

My favorite song from all of gaming is the Velvet Room Operetta from the Persona series. It’s been different each time, but always amazing. It’s sublime and chilling all at once. So obviously, I’m a little biased here.

The rest of the music? Well, you’ll remember me saying there was a sharp decline in quality from the previous Persona games. This is true. P2 (both) were a 10/10 for me, while Persona 3 was a 7/10. So again, as I’ve been saying all along, it’s still GOOD, it’s just not AS good.

FES however adds over a dozen musical tracks to the game, all of which are quite impressive and enjoyable in their own right. The fact Atlus went in and added these tracks was a really nice gift to Persona fans when they good have just easily reused the same music and risked the previous score getting stale.

Voice acting is top notch as always. Atlus did a nice job casting voices to characters. There wasn’t a single character I felt was miscast. I know Atlus has taken some shit in the past for their actor to character meshing. I seemed to be the only one that appreciated a certain character in DDS going Jamaican, but here Atlus USA did a better job than Atlus of Japan did. Oh Shuji, you just did not sound right.

A definite improvement over the first version of Persona 3.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Control and Gameplay.

I have to really strongly point this out. If you are looking for a game that feels and plays like the previous Persona games,LOOK ELSEWHERE. You can’t dance crazy or brirbe or bully demons. You can’t friends with them or drive them mad with rage either. That was one of my favorite aspects in the previous games. But that’s gone. So let’s suck it up and look at the engine we do have, which is pretty damn solid.

Think of Persona 3 as a life sim game combined with the constant frolicking into a single dungeon that you find in games like Dungeon Hack or Azure Dreams, but without the losing of levels or the randomly generated floors.

During the day you’ll go to classes or join a school team or hang out with your friends. After school you’re feel to wander around town or maybe a special event will occur. During the “Dark Hour”, you can explore the Tartarus dungeon or just go to sleep. There’s no right or wrong here, although some times you are given some pretty concrete goals to reach by a certain date.

The social aspects of the game are by far the most fun part of Persona 3. Mainly because there is always something new each day, and it’s exciting to see what wackiness will happen next.

Exploring dungeons (in either) game is pretty similar to most RPG’s. You wander around, finish a level and then head on over to the next level. Repeated until boss fight, or you need to leave for some reason.

I’m very happy with the lack of random battle. I HATE random batles. Here, you see the monsters coming and you can avoid them or run away if you want. How you come in contact with the monsters determines who, if anyone, has an advantage,

I also really liked the fact you can split your team up to better explore the levels. Sure there might be a risk of a teammate being outnumbered, but it’s a nice option to have.

Oddly enough the game does a bit of plagiarizing as well. I was a little shocked to encounter the Reaper from Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land. Straight up same name, purpose and even a far too similar for my liking physical similarity. If you’re wondering what the reaper does, it does very bad things. Run. Run away. Do not let it touch you or a teammate. I liked the function of the reaper back in TotFL, but it was just a little odd that it was THAT exact with something another game has a legal trademark on.

Let’s talk Personas now. Only the main character can change Personas. Everyone else is stuck with what they have. This is a huge thumbs down from me and again shows the new team missed the point of WHAT Personas are and what they represent. Still, at least someone can switch around, right? Your main character can get new Personas by either receiving them via a luck of the draw at the end of battles, or by fusing old ones together. Every Persona has their own level that is separate from the main characters level, and both level up independent of one another. It’s fun to see what Personas you can make via fusing, and also to see what happens when there is a fusion error.

Battles are similar to most turn based RPG’s. Your stats determine attack order. You can use an item, your persona, make a normal attack, or run away. If you don’t feel like thinking, you can turn on “RUSH” mode and let the game play itself (Not advised). IF you’ve played one RPG, you know the drill by now. Fire attacks on Ice creatures. Water or cold attacks on Fire creatures and so on. The game is pretty much as you would expect in this area.

FES adds a new aspect to the game with the weapon fusing ability. Basically you find materials in the dungeon and bring them to a certain store in the game and you fuse it to your Persona like you fuse two Personas together in the Velvet Room. It adds a new level of gameplay and it’s fun to tinker around with.

Neither the gameplay nor the new additions are revolutionary, but its still a lot of fun. There aren’t a lot of RPG’s in the states that go this deep with a life simulation, and the battle system is simple, but solid.

Controls and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

On one hand, the game really falls short in this area due to the lack of customization and branching paths found in the other Persona games. Even with the life sim, little to nothing changes on your second cycle. Everything is still going to happen in the same order on the same days.

On the other,there are many different options within those days. If you did one event your first play throug or spent a lot of time with character A, you’ll find new things open up if you go a different route on your second playthrough. It’s not a huge difference, but there are still nearly limitless combinations that you can play with here.

There’s also multiple difficulty modes (One up from the previous version of P3) and a lot of new things to check out and monkey with, including that second new RPG that will hopefully make up for the endings you get in “The Journey.”

Another thing dragging down replayability is that the game is simply TOO long. Between both games, you’ll be putting in 100 hours of time into a single RPG. If you work 9 to 5 and you put three hours into the game a day, that’s over a month of playing nothing but a single game. That kind of commitment to a single game is hard to do when you have a social life, and thus means picking up FES for a second playthrough when you could fit in another 2-3 RPG’s with better plot in their ENTIRITY is a hard sell.

There’s so much here, but as with games like Makai Kingdom, there’s too much to the point of overload. I respect and appreciate the offering, but Having now played through Persona 3 times in any many years, I can’t see myself ever touching it again. The fact I have played it that many times even though I consider it the weakest Megaten title says something.

Replayability Rating: 6/10

6. Balance

This is the most noticeable area of change in the game. To say the original version of Persona 3 was met with criticism about how unbalanced it was would be an understatement. Okay, well in Japan. In the US, every reviewer was trying to show how “HARDCORE” they were with this game even though they hadn’t played any of the other Persona games (and some, not a single Megaten game) that they somehow missed the one constant Japanese critics had with the game.

Events that gave you a ton of stuff for little effort have now take more time in order to balance things out, Both super easy and super hard questions have been removed to balance things out, and for some reason the game decided to make it easier to max out social links.

Combat though is still pretty damn easy. Nyx remains not only the easiest end boss I’ve faced in a Megaten game, but one of the easiest endbosses I’ve played in a turn based RPG PERIOD. On the other hand is the “Ultimate” opponent in Elizabeth that is insanely overpowered and cheap. It’s not that there is any strategy to beating her, it’s find the one possible combination of moves and Personas that will allow you to win. It’s just the worst case of trial and error there is.

If you’re looking for a challenge, you really won’t find one on either Normal or Easy difficulty settings, FES has added a new Hard setting, but all it does is increase the damage you take and the amount given out. The actual AI hasn’t changed at all, meaning you just heal more. “The Answer” is definitely the harder of the two games, but that’s not saying much.

The game is enjoyable, but ultimately disappointing with the lack of challenge contained therein, especially compared to the previous Persona games. Part of it comes from the lack of experimenting with different Persona in this game. Instead of managing a full team of “What does this one do?”, you only have the protagonist to monkey with. It’s “Baby’s First Megaten Game” and it shows.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

Again, the game is fun and it is a nice departure from the earlier games, but it doesn’t really do anything that highly innovative. Innovative for Megaten or Persona games, YES, but for a standard RPG, not so much. It’s a combination of multiple gaming genres into one well made disc. But everything else, from the Reaper to the Personas themselves have come from games that only only did it first, but did it better.

In the end, Persona 3 is more a well made but generic JRPG than a true Megaten game, as each Shin Megami Tensei game that came before it really did something wildly different or innovative, be it storywise or gameplay wise.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Appeal Factor

Even taking into account Persona 3’s lack of difficulty, this is probably the first Megaten game with true mass appeal. It’s not super intricate storywise. There’s not some huge metaphorical point the game is trying to make. You don’t have to know great deals of legend and lore to get the full comprehension of what is going on. Persona experimenting is limited to a single character so you don’t spend dozens of hours grinding simply to see what happens only to learn you wasted a lot of time. What the series has lost in innovation, depth, and elitism, it’s more than made up for by being gamer friendly, and accessible to all. It’s that perfect bridge game between the casual gamer and the “hardcore” gamer. Persona 3 is this decades Final Fantasy VII where a huge explosion of American gamers will be introduced to a franchise that is huge in Japan but has merely been a cult hit stateside. Of course, like FF7, a decade later everyone will be saying how it hasn’t aged well and how the older games in the series were so much better and how the casual gamer ruined the franchise and so on and so forth.

Really, whether you’re new to RPG’s or just curious why this series is held in such high regard by the creepy kid in your college that spends all day in the computer lab on some message board with the handle “Philemon,” this is your gateway into Megaten. The only people that won’t have fun with this are people who can’t take the length, or people that dislike the game because it is SO different from the previous Persona games.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

9. Addictiveness

Persona 3 is very easily to get into. The story is tight, if not simplistic and the gameplay is solid, if easy. What really draws you in are the little collectibles. The costumes, the collecting Personas, the social links, the quizzes, and all the other outside of battle activities. It’s not the first game to do this, but it’s arguably the best life sim style RPG to hit US shores in a very long time. Just because the game play is simple and easy to learn doesn’t make it a bad game. In fact, it’s what makes it so inviting and entertaining. The end game drags a bit, and it really is about 10-15 hours too long (Not even counting “The Answer”), but it was P3 was definitely one of the best RPG’s released in the US last year, and FES is one of the best this year. If you’re looking for a solid quality RPG released in 2008 that ISN’t a fushigi dungeon, this is it.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

I could sit here and talk about how FES to the first release of Persona 3 is a gigantic dropped ball compared to the dualism of Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, but there’s no point seeing as US gamers will never get Innocent Sin.

Instead I’m going to say this: For 30 bucks, you will not find a better deal for your PS2. “The Journey” is a huge improvement in every way over the original PS3, except in the areas they didn’t really bother to change like graphics and story. “The Answer” is a nice bit of fan service, even if it is a Monty Haul at best. With all the new added bits to the game, it shows that Atlus of Japan listened to its pretty fanatical Persona fanbase and made corrections where both the players and developers felt they needed to be, and threw in an extra RPG to make up for the endings. If only US gamers had discovered Megaten a decade ago, we could have had Atlus USA doing something like this for Be Your True Mind which was HEAVILY edited and/or had both Persona 2’s released on US shores.

This is a perfect example of a video game company giving fans a combination of fan service and apology and with the price FES is going for, there’s no reason every gamer reading this shouldn’t go and pick it up. It’s a GOOD game, and the best thing is the earlier entries in the series are even better. Except that Be Your True Mind is pretty fugly by todays standards…

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Story: 6
Graphics: 7
Sound: 9
Control and Gameplay: 8
Replayability: 6
Balance: 5
Originality: 5
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 10
Total Score: 70
FINAL SCORE: 7.0 (GOOD GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary
Persona 3: FES is a solid RPG through and through and a definite contender for best Remake/Re-Release of the year, as well as best PS2 game. There’s a huge drop in quality with story and gameplay compared to the two Persona 2 titles, but that’s like saying having your weight in silver isn’t as awesome as having your weight in gold. You’ll be hard pressed to mind a better $30 title released this year.

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