Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Review

I admit it, I’ve never played a Shin Megami Tensei game before, and I’ve only heard of the Persona titles when talking about games that never quite caught on. That’s why I was pretty surprised when I popped in Persona 3 and found it not only fun, but genuinely refreshing.

It’s odd that as the PS2 enters its death throes we keep getting great PS2 RPGs. Is it because the smaller companies such as Atlus and NIS keep pushing out titles which never would have made it before the juggernauts switched gears to next-gen? Likely. All I can say, is thank you Atlus, NIS, and the other companies out there bringing these gems to the US.

Persona 3 is a very odd game. Half high-school dating sim and half JRPG, the game revolves around you (literally, if you’d like; the main character has no name at all, so it’s completely up to you) and a group of special high-school students (and a few older guys) as you fight against entities known as Shadows.

What are shadows? Well, every day, there’s an extra hour hidden away at midnight; one the normal populace can’t experience, because they’re busy trapped in coffins. A few people have the potential to stay awake during this dark hour, and a few of them have the ability to summon Persona, which are basically demons/spirits you can bring forth in order to battle the Shadows. The main character is so special, because, as you’ve likely guessed, he can use a lot more personas than most people.

The game largely centers around a tower named the Tartarus, which appears over your school during the dark hour. All of your non-school time (read: the traditional JRPG portion) takes place in this multi-leveled dungeon, as you attempt to reach the top, and solve the mystery of its existence, as well as the dark hour.

What makes Persona 3 unique, though, isn’t the fairly generic dungeon crawling; it’s the implementation of the school setting in the gameplay. Outside of battling and during at least half the game, you live your school life; go to classes, join a sports club, hang out with friends, etc. This isn’t necessarily pointless, though, as the social connections you make largely influence which persona you can use, and how strong they can become. One school chum, Kenji, for example, makes you better at using persona of the magician nature.

The gameplay really isn’t a whole lot of new elements; rather, it’s the combination of tried and true elements and the way they interweave which makes Persona stand out. Not only does this combination of completely different genres create a unique game, but the visuals are just really, really engrossing. From the completely animated cutscenes (some of which I still don’t understand…) to the whole "shoot yourself in the head to summon a persona," Persona 3 just has a lot of charm, and the story (while odd and convoluted at first) really starts to turn up a notch a few hours in, and starts spawning into something very involving.

Is it a game non-RPG fans will get into? Not very likely. For hardcore RPG fans waiting for the next onslaught of major titles to come out, and for those RPG fans who are getting bored with the oft repeated hero formula, Persona 3 is a nice diversion from the mainstream, and a good reminder that the good games don’t always come from the biggest companies.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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