Video Game Review – PERSONA 3 – PS2

     September 22, 2007

Written by Aaron Roxby

Story

There are actually twenty five hours in a day. Most people never see the Dark Hour. Between 11:59 and Midnight, the moon turns red and humans become frozen coffins. That is when demons called Shadows come out, spreading a disease that turns people into zombies. On his first day at Gekkoukan High School, your unnamed protagonist is recruited into the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) a campus group dedicated to battling the Shadows. Besides being able to walk freely during the Dark Hour, the members of SEES can summon Personas magical manifestations of their psyches. Now, you must find a way to defeat the plague of Shadows, without flunking out of school.

Gameplay

Persona 3 plays like a mash-up of Final Fantasy, Bully, Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney, Pokemon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The gameplay is divided up into two distinct parts. First, you have a time management and relationship simulator. During the course of each day, you have enough time to do 2-5 different things, which will raise your various skills. So, after school, you can go to a Student Government meeting, to Kendo practice, or hang out with one of your many friends. Each of these activities is linked to a different school of magic and will raise your potency. You can also work on raising your stats. Studying in the library, to raise your “Academics”, singing Karaoke, raising your “Confidence” or Drinking Pheromone tea to raise your “Charm” are just a few of the activities offered to you.

As the Dark Hour rolls around, you have the option of studying in your room or getting the SEES team together and venturing into Tartarus, a massive tower filled with randomly generated dungeons. This is where the bulk of the action takes place. Once inside Tartarus, you do all the things one would expect in a traditional Japanese RPG. You fight monsters, summon creatures, gain XP, level up, find treasure chests, fight the occasional boss, upgrade your equipment, etc, etc. These elements are well put together, even if they lack the innovation of something like Final Fantasy XII. The only thing that is really striking about the combat is the method your protagonists use for summoning their Personas.

Personas, in the context of this game, function as your basic summoning spell. However, as the name would imply, they are meant to be manifestations of one’s personality. So, in order to call the beasties, you need to use this tool called an Evoker. Which just happens to look like a handgun. That’s right.

To summon their personas, your teen characters shoot themselves in the head. Repeatedly.

In the course of an average battle, your main character will put a gun to his temple and pull the trigger, causing an explosion of blue crystals, six maybe seven times. While I am far from over-sensitive about this sort of thing, I have to admit that it made me a bit uncomfortable at first. However, after causing six or seven hundred magical teen suicides, I was fine with it.

Graphics

While it most definitely looks like a PS2 game, Persona 3’s design aesthetic impresses more than it’s graphics. Standing in direct opposition to the Silent Hills and Resident Evils, Persona 3 exhibits a brightly colored, rainbow tinted, pop-art sensibility that is unique for a horror game. Even during the Dark Hour, the palette features more bright greens, purples and reds than the rusty crap color that most horror has drenched itself in since 1995, when David Fincher killed a fat guy with spaghetti.

Sound

Likewise, the soundtrack eschews the standard “Someone (a monster?) Banging on a Garbage Can” music that dominates the genre right now. Instead, you get a bouncy mix of pop and light hip-hop which actually helps set the high-school stage. In addition, a good deal of the dialogue is delivered via voice over. This is presented with quality just above what you generally find in dubbed anime. Not stellar praise, to be sure, but rarely is the voice acting bad or great enough to be distracting.

Additional Content

The US release of the game features a 52 page full color art book and a soundtrack CD.

Final Thoughts

While I had a great time at Gekkoukan High, I don’t know if this game is for everyone. If you take your horror overly seriously, or if you’re not a fan of Japanese RPGs, you may wish to steer clear. If, however, you are looking for an honest to god original RPG experience and you have sixty or so hours to kill, this one is worth the investment.

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