|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Atlus||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atlus||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 22, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
The Megami Tensei series (known as MegaTen by its fans) has been around for a long time. Megami Tensei (literally translated as "Reincarnation of the Goddess") started in book form during the '80s. Written by Aya Nishitani, the books focused on tapping into the world of demons through computers and held the subtitle "Digital Devil Story." Starting on the MSX, a series of games were created, and by the turn of the 16-bit era the word "Shin" was added to the front of the familiar phrase, changing the full title to mean "Reincarnation of the True Goddess."
The series evolved over time, experimenting with different gaming mechanics and aesthetics. For the Megami Tensei series, the continuity thread has had less to do with specific characters and more to do with the play between two worlds - one, a shadow world inhabited by demons, and the other a depiction of modern Japan. The Persona offshoot of the series has its own ingredient list: take one part demons, another part high school simulator, and mix them together.
Persona 3 FES is made up of two parts: "The Journey" and "The Answer." The former is a retelling of last year's Persona 3 (with a few tweaks), and the latter is an entirely new chapter focusing on later events. In The Journey you are put in the role of a transfer student at Gekkoukan High. You quickly discover that at midnight the "Dark Hour" occurs - citizens become coffins and shadows flood out of Tartarus (a transformed version of the school) to cause trouble. A select group of students seem to be immune to the effects of this magical hour, and you just happen to be one of them. Quick to recruit, this group inducts you into the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES). Your job? Help them exterminate shadows during the Dark Hour.
In order to fight the shadows, personas are needed. The game describes them as "manifestations of psyche," and they resemble mythical creatures. The more sensational aspect is how you summon them. Using a tool called an evoker (a magical gun), characters shoot themselves in the head to release these allies. Sure, it's a little over-the-top, but not nearly as graphic as it sounds. Once summoned, personas can perform special abilities and help turn the tide of battle.
When the Dark Hour occurs, you have the option of venturing to Tartarus with your SEES partners. With your party assembled, you explore the randomly generated dungeon one floor at a time from an isometric perspective. No need to worry about random battles. Shadows appear on the screen, and you can attack them to gain an advantage at the start of a battle or try to hoof it past them. Since the dungeon is randomly generated each time, enemies, staircases, and loot locations are always different. To help with the massive scale of the dungeon, random checkpoints are placed around that allow you to return to the start; there are also warp points every couple of levels that allow you ascend or descend Tartarus quickly.
Battles are a unique affair. Instead of placing you in control of the entire party, the game only offers you complete control over the main character. All the other SEES members are A.I. controlled, and the most you can do is change their battle tactics. This lack of complete control might turn off some players, but since it is paired with decent A.I. it doesn't end up being a deal breaker. Sure, you can dish out normal melee-based attacks, but the game is about the personas and using them effectively against your enemies. This mechanic plays out in an exploitation system - fire works well against ice-based foes, ice against fire, etc. The only problem with it is the naming conventions and your huge stockpile of personas. For example, a fire-based attack is not called "fire" or "flame" but rather "agi." Pair that with the fact that spells are tied to specific personas and you can only summon one persona per turn, and it quickly becomes apparent you might need to keep a pencil and paper handy.
After certain battles, you're presented with a reward in the form of a tarot card shuffle. The reward always correlates to the type of card you select: some reward you with money, others increase experience, some heal party members; you can even earn new weapons. But the biggest draw of the shuffle is the chance to net new personas. Once the persona card is selected, the particular creature is added to your database and you can access their default skills right away. You also have the option of taking personas to the Velvet Room and merging them together in two combinations: normal and triangle. Normal represents merging two personas together; triangle means a combo of three. Merging is essential as it creates new personas to add to your arsenal.