Persona 3 FES
The PS2 just keeps giving and giving. Every time a big release comes out it seems as though it’ll be the console’s swansong, and yet, pleasingly and beyond all expectations the old girl just keeps on going. Persona 3 FES is the latest cult Japanese RPG favourite to make its way to the west, and while it has a fair number of cliches and standard ideas, it has enough unique aspects and touches of innovation to feel like a fresh entry to the genre, particularly when measured against most of the disappointing current-gen examples such as Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant.
Persona 3 FES is an updated addition of the regular Persona 3, with significant extra content and a bit more insight into the game’s complicated and refreshingly abstract plotline, and the events which takes place in the wake of Persona 3. The plot follows a young blue-haired boy (who you name yourself), who joins Gekkoukan High School and before long learns he is one of a chosen few who can summon the titular Personas and battle the demonic Shadows, who every night at midnight feed on the minds of the populace and leave them an empty shell of their former selves. Recruited into a task force of fellow Persona summoners called S.E.E.S., every night they must enter a realm called Tartarus to exterminate the Shadows and try to restore normality. True to form though, before long you discover there are larger forces at work and what you have accomplished is merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
Finding and bonding with the Personas forms a huge part of the experience. While you might be this demon-battling warrior by night, by day you are still a normal teenager and have to attend high school; much of the game is built around the relationships you form with your school friends, and depending on how you play out these conversations this gains you personality attributes which strengthens your Personas. It is this social interaction which largely lends Persona 3 FES its uniqueness, and helps make it stand out from the bustling crowd of me-too current generation JRPGs. Theoretically speaking, depending on how you develop these relationships and build up your Personas, you could play through the majority of the game very differently on subsequent re-plays.
Combat is fairly standard turn-based fare. The best element is that enemies can always be seen before battles, allowing you to get pre-emptive strikes if your timing is good, or even avoid them altogether if you’re fast. You take up to three characters into battle and it is a strictly menu-driven affair. The Personas themselves play a fundamental role in the battles, being far more powerful than your characters, and able to deal and receive significantly more damage. There are over 100 Personas to collect, and their design is fantastical and excellent – think Pokemon designed by Studio Ghibli.
Graphically, Persona 3 FES is a good effort, but it succeeds more through style and artistic design rather than high levels of detail. The game is peppered with lovely anime sequences, and your characters are very Manga-stylised; copious floppy coloured hair and big eyes are the order of the day. Voice work is pretty good on the whole, and the script has clearly been compiled (and translated) with great care and attention. The music is one of the best aspects of the whole package, with a collection of funky, contemporary tunes which perfectly fits the high school mood and sombre, slower-paced music which suits the more sinister feeling of the night time events and the battles.
Persona 3 FES is a very good JRPG which stands out from the crowd by having a unique setting and lots of sass and style. It’s not really revolutionary, but it is an extremely likeable and solid effort with really good plotting and characterisation which fans of the genre would be advised to check out, and one which frankly runs rings around pretty much all JRPGs that the PS3 or 360 have received. The Persona series could very well prove to be the PS2’s swansong, which would be an excellent way to see the console off.