Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

John Fox - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: PlayStation 2 (Sony)
Produced by: Atlus
Price Range: $21-30
Learning curve time: 1-30 min.
Age level: Mature Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Reviewed By: John Fox
VOLUNTEER GUEST REVIEWER

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆
Genre: RPG
Christian Rating: 2 of 5 (poor)
Gameplay: 5 of 5 (excellent)
Violence: 2 of 5 (heavy)
Adult Content: 2 of 5 (heavy)

 

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES.  Illustration copyrighted.


Special thanks to boyward for help in editing this review.

The Dark Hour. Many people think that there are only 24 hours in a day, but they are wrong. At the stroke of midnight the Dark Hour appears. The lucky ones spend this time transformed into coffins. Any caught outside their coffins during the Dark Hour encounter the shadows– dark faceless creatures that suck the life from them and turn them into “The Lost”, an apathetic, almost zombie-like state. This is the premise of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 developed by Atlus.

The Persona series started on the Playstation 1 with Persona: Revelations, a spin off of the Japanese only SNES game “Shin Megami Tensei: If…”. It was later followed by a two part sequel, Persona 2: Innocent Sin (Japan only) and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment both for the PS 1. Those who had not played the other games need not worry however, as those games are not directly connected to Persona 3.

Persona 3 stars a custom player named “character” (let’s call him Mainto). Mainto is a transfer student to Gekkoukan High School in Port Island Japan. Orphaned as a young boy, he now returns to Port Island where he lived 10 years previously. Early in the game he is sought out by other high school students in his dorm, a group called the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) after he is found out to be a Persona user. Personas are physical manifestations of the psyche, summoned with a device called an evoker. Evokers resemble guns (though they fire no actual bullets) and are fired at one’s head to summon a Persona. Unlike the other members of SEES Mainto can summon different Personas and is helped in this aspect by Igor, the resident of the elevator like velvet room and his assistant Elizabeth. After joining SEES Mainto discovers (which I am sure most High School students have suspected for a long time) that at night their school turns to the giant menacing tower knows as tartarus. During the game SEES uses tartarus for training, fighting the shadows within so they can protect the public from their menace.

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The gameplay is spread out into two parts: Role-playing and high school simulation. Most nights characters can explore tartarus. Each floor in tartarus is randomly generated like that of a roguelike or Diablo clone. Enemies appear on screen and much like the RPG Mario series, they can be attacked or attack the party to gain an advantage in combat. Battles are turned based, but unlike most games you can only control Mainto while the other party members are customized with decent AI. The game uses a modified version of the “Turn Press” system from SMT: Nocturne and DDS 1 & 2. Most enemies and Personas have various elemental weaknesses and strengths that can be exploited. When a character is hit by an element they are weak against they will be knocked down and the one who attacked gets an extra turn. They will only get back up if they are hit again or when it is their turn (which uses up their turn). If all the enemies are knocked down and Mainto has at least one other party member he can use an “all out attack”, an ability that attacks all enemies dealing good damage. Because of this system I found battles more strategic than the usual RPGs. It helps a lot to know the enemy’s weakness. Overall as a an experienced RPG veteran I found the game fun and challenging but not frustrating. Using strategy and the right Personas is the key to winning most battles. It is not as hard as Xenosaga Episode 2 or Dragon Quest 8, but it is a nice challenge. In the game you have a fellow member of SEES who supports you from afar. She can analyze the enemies and can usually see their weakness. During the game she also levels up with the party and gains new abilities. Leveling up works differently than most RPGs; Mainto and his Personas level separately. Mainto only gains HP and SP (like MP) when he levels up, all his stats come from his equipment and Personas. His level also determines what level Personas he can fuse. Personas level up more slowly and gain stats and skills as they level. Also, Personas are gained by the item phase after battles known as shuffle time, or by fusing them. Shuffle time is basically like the old shell game with cards, by choosing the right card Mainto can gain new Personas, money, weapons, a bonus to experience or healing for the party. In tartarus the party members can split up, fighting enemies, finding chests and exploring separately. Every so often the party will fight a boss in tartarus and outside in the world. Too many battles can tire party members, making them weaker in combat. The whole of tartarus is revealed at a slow pace, keeping players from getting to the top the first month.

The second part of the game is the high school simulator aspect. The game is split up into many months during which Mainto will go to classes (taught by an array of interesting and wacky teachers), take exams, and explore the town. The most interesting part of the game is the social link system. With social links Mainto forms bonds with people and classmates by spending time with them, making friends and learning about them. Their stories vary from the an old couple who owns a used book store, a dying young writer, even playing (though you yourself never play it) the MMORPG Innocent Sin: Online. Not only does each of these tell interesting and compelling story, but they also level up as you interact with the characters, giving Personas of the matching type bonus XP when fusing them as well as unlocking a powerful Persona when the link gets to level 10.

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Persona 3′s graphics are simple but well done cel-shading in the Anime style. The character models are a little “chibi” with un-proportioned features. Most of the Persona models seem to be based on or taken from SMT: Nocturne. Throughout the game are also scattered various Anime sequences which are nice and help add to the story. Music is a good mixture of various types such as Rap, Jazz, J-pop and Classical and all are pretty good depending your like for these genres. A lot of the songs have some vocal in them. This is a good thing in my book but as you hear the same songs over and over again the music can get repetitive, such as when you hear the same rap song literally for the 200th time when you enter your dorm. The voice acting for the main characters are good, besides your support character, who can get annoying at time. Some of the supporting NPCs and villains are mediocre, but you won’t hear them much anyway.

The story is good. It is mostly character based, so during the game you see how the characters interact, develop and grow. The overall story deals mainly with discovering what causes the dark hour, tartarus and the mystery of Mainto’s power. The overall story is well written, interesting and not very cliché as RPGs go, but it is not very deep. It is fulfilling though and I never felt cheated story wise.

Content:

Violence:
The battles are standard RPG violence, besides the evoker. The evoker looks like a gun and sounds like a gun, but does no harm to the characters (besides jolting their head back) and does not contain bullets. They fire it at their head every time they summon their Personas, basically to use all their skills besides attacking during the game. There is no blood when this is done, but white stuff comes out, it is never explained what it is. Even though the characters shoot themselves in the head, the game really does not condone suicide. I think the designers just aimed for the shock factor when they choose to use this. Suicide is talked about a little, but in negative light. It is not a theme in the game. The evoker is really not talked about much, except one part where a character mentions that its stupid that it looks like a gun, because who in their right mind would point a gun at their head. When the evoker is used in battle upbeat music is played and all the models are chibi and cel-shaded, so it is a little hard to take it too seriously. The only part where it really stylizes the use of it is in the original Persona 3 game startup Anime, where it shows the party members with silhouettes with their guns pointed to their heads. Also, at the beginning where you see a girl with a gun pointed to her head, so you are wondering why she is doing this and is she going to kill herself (it’s an evoker though). This is really the only time this happened. I thought the beginning of the game was one of the darkest parts in the game really, besides maybe the end. Two party members you get mid game do not use evokers, but Mainto has to use one to summon his Personas.

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There are a couple other things of note. In the game there is a evil group that takes revenge requests through the internet and kills people for them, but this is only touched upon a little in the game and is more of a way to introduce some of the villains. During the dark hour there is some blood on the ground and walls, but this is all for atmosphere. Some of tartarus’ dungeon floors have blood on the floor and walls, but again everything is cel-shaded so its not realistic. About three parts of the game and two anime cutscenes there is blood covering the whole ground. There is also a part in the game where someone gets shot and blood pours out. Mostly though it is not anything any worse, or even close to some M rated games such as Oblivion and Half-Life.

Language:
They throw pretty much every word at you in the game, besides the “f-bomb” and godd*mnit (though they do say “stfu” twice and “f-that” once). The frequency of swearing is about the same as your high end T-rated RPG, such as Final Fantasy VII or VIII or Xenosaga. Mostly they use D*mn, h*ll, a*s, “pissed” and once every so often sh*t , and they use some of the ruder words such as -crud- and friggin. Some of the characters swear in battle. There is also some language in the rap music, but if you like me you won’t be able to understand the lyrics much anyway. The max courage score is named “bada*s”.

Adult Content:
Some of the female Personas could use more clothes or are provocatively dressed, such as the angel. Some are topless but covered up in strategic parts or are undetailed. There are a couple Persona that are more detailed, the high pixie for example that has nipple marks on her armor and one of the Persona seems to be detailed on her chest with tattoos. There is a Succubus and Incubus Persona, the Incubus being a male version of the Succubus and is portrayed having a large phallic spike-like appendage coming out of his crotch. All of Mainto’s Personas are optional and you can use whatever you like, however you are bound to see some of these when choosing what Personas to fuse during the game. All of your party members’ Personas are well dressed.

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Besides Personas there is a hotel in the game that is heavily hinted at that couples go to spend the night with each other. You go there and it is a mini dungeon, you see two coffins standing next to each other on a bed. Also in a part at the hotel you get separated from your party with one of the girl party members. You find yourself in a room and she is taking a shower (it shows this in an Anime cut scene during this time, it only shows her legs, arms stomach etc, not any private parts). During this time you are sitting on a bed and are tempted by a mysterious voice, but you have to resist temptation to proceed the game. There is also some misunderstandings, like at the beginning someone says “thanks for last night” (she means you protecting her from shadows) but it gets taken the wrong way. During one social link, there is a kid at school who is in love with his teacher and thinks she is in love with him, but it turns out that it was a misunderstanding on his part. Also during one social link you find out that of the teachers has a crush on you, but this is only mentioned once and it is never explored in any detail. There is some obligatory high school stuff such as some of the guys are talking about how they like the girls and how the school has the cutest girls around. One part in the game where the characters go to hot springs (some guys plan on trying to peek), but everyone is wearing a towel during that time. You also see a girl and a guy together standing in a room, they tell you to leave them alone. One time SEES goes to a beach, so they are wearing bathing suits but nothing very immodest. One of the male party members cajoles the other guys into picking up girls. They don’t succeed except for the last one but before anything happens it is discovered the “she” is a man who wanted a “toy boy”. There is also a girl in school who has a crush on one of your female party members, but nothing happens besides her changing her dialog every month. During the Online social link “Maya” says one of the co-workers stuffs her bra and has “fake tits” and one time they slid down and it look like she “has four of them.” During the devil social link the business man has plans to make you his model for his company and mentions how he should put an ad with you in your underwear for a adult magazine, to advertise a x-ray glasses type product (which does not actually work). This never happens however and at the end you don’t work for him.

All the social links with girls around your age seem to end with you spending time alone with them when in a bedroom. None of these really tell what exactly is going on and it does not show anything. It may seem like a lot of stuff, but its scattered throughout a 70-90 hour game so its not ever-present, besides stuff like Junpei (a party member) or some the high school kids drooling over the girls.

Spiritual Content:
The SMT pentagram on the cover of Persona: FES is not in the game as far as I know. There is a symbol that appears when you fuse Persona, but it is not a pentagram and to my knowledge it is not an occult symbol. There is also a death cult late in the game, but it is only the last part. They believe the world is going to end and “if you believe (presumably in the cult) you will be saved” (from the destruction). There are no demons in the game but some of the Persona are demons (most in the eastern sense). Technically they are just physical manifestations of their psyche and not actual creatures that are summoned; unlike the Final Fantasy games. In school after about 1/2 of the game you are taught magic by a weird male nurse. This is real magic. Persona 3 is set in a modern non-fantasy world, but mostly all he says is strange words at the beginning of each lesson and tells you how people have used magic historically. He usually asks the main character to answers a question and if you get it wrong he places some kind of silly curse on you: “A little test, to see if you were listening… Get it wrong, and you’ll get a scary guardian angel. Sebna uru quah…”. It has no impact in game if you get the question wrong. He also goes into details of what each tarot cards mean. The Personas and items are organized by some of the Tarot cards (fool, tower, hanged man, magician, devil, cup, sword etc.) and Personas look like cards when you fuse them. In a social kink of the characters says how he is going to buy a fortune telling book, but to my knowledge this is the only time it is mentioned. Also the last boss talks about “The moment man devoured the fruit of knowledge, he sealed his fate… Entrusting his future to the cards, man clings to a dim hope. Yes, the Arcana is the means by which all is revealed… Attaining one’s dream requires a stern will and unfailing determination.” It is probably referring to tarot cards, after that it says, “The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed” and goes through what the various card themes as the battle progresses. Also, in a night club there is a fortune teller and her daughter who tell your fortune (which gives hints on what will happen next in the game) but it never shows how she does this. In the game there is an eastern shrine that the character can give money to increase his social status (courage, bravery, charm) and is the backdrop of some festivals.

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The Personas are based on various characters from myths, religions and mythologies; demons, gods, monsters, creatures and angels. Though the game takes liberty in their appearance such as some of the angels don’t look very angelic looking, besides the bird wings and Loki looks like a purple elf in a loin cloth. Most of your party’s Persona seemed to be based on Greek mythology (Hermes, Athena, Cerberus, etc). There is also Satin, two Lucifers and a Beelzebub Personas. There is a “messiah” Persona, but it is suppose to be a general messiah for all faiths and does not look like Jesus. Some might be offended by the fact that the Personas design are based off the demons from SMT: Nocturne, but like in Persona 3, the demons from Nocturne are based of various mythologies and religions.

During one of the social links someone is in a Christian based doomsday cult, but it is obviously a cult. Basically he believes that the world will end soon and true believers will be given perfect angelic forms, you have to pay to join the cult too and recruit enough members. There is also some religious parts in the magic class, like he says that it was thought that Moses practiced so and so magic but it was actually so and so people. There one part in the game where the characters are in the crucified position on metal girders and are going to be sacrificed. It is not religiously portrayed however.

Other Negative Elements:
Some young people (late teens, 20s) are showed drinking beer and smoking a couple times during the game. One time during Innocent Sin online Maya logs on drunk. Also are some parts of the game that encourages the character to try drinking when he is old enough.

Positive Negative Elements:
One theme in the game is the strength that people get from the bonds of friendship love we form in our life, and how these bonds can shape us into better people. The game also encourages to never giving up even in face of impossible odds and protecting people and doing the right thing even though you may never receive recognition for it.

Persona 3 FES
Note: The content of the FES Persona 3 expansion pack is treated as separate and is not calculated into the main review score. We will detail that content below.

Persona 3 FES (festival) adds a number of improvements to the original. It boasts more Personas, a new social link with Aigis in the last month in the game as well as more events (aka cutscenes) and music (music is still a repetitive though). Persona’s levels have been twicked and the devil social link has been changed to night. There is are also a new arcade games Mainto can play at the mall which helps a lot in maxing out your charm, courage and academic scores. There are also now 99 Elizabeth requests, in one of the new ones where you take her on dates. It also boasts a new hard mode, character costumes as well as other features. Those who played the original can import some of their data to Persona 3 FES.

The biggest attraction is the new episode “The Answer”. This takes place right after Persona 3 and stars Aigis who gains the ability to access the velvet room and change Personas. The characters find themselves stuck in their dorm, the day repeating itself. Early on they are attacked by a humanoid robot known as Metis (who does not use an evoker), who claims to be Aigis’s sister. The party with the help of Metis must search the dungeon under their dorm and find out what is causing the time loop, trapping them in the dorm. They also are chasing after a strange shadow creature who reminds them of someone they know. The Answer is all dungeon crawling with not social interaction or school and will take players around 30 hours to complete.

FES Content:
Note: At time of writing the author has not finished The Answer and cannot comment on its content.

There are several things added that people will want to be aware of. Most of the character costumes are fanservice i.e. bathing suits or, for the girls, maid uniforms. The character models are not very detailed anyway, so they show mostly just skin. In the last Elizabeth request she wants to see your room, and at the end she says that she is not naïve enough not to know what it means to ask a gentleman to his room and she wants you to walk her through “it”, you can decline however and regardless it does not show anything anyway. When you see her in the velvet room she tells you not to tell her master about it.

Late in the game the magic teacher now can give you optional lessons on how to read tarot cards in detail. You never see them being actually read however.

The worst of what got added to FES is a Persona called Mara. It looks like a large green penis monster on a chariot with a mouth and tentacles. But it is entirely optional and easily to skip since it takes more than three Persona to fuse.

Conclusion:
Some review sites toted Persona 3 as RPG of the year for 2007 and I can see why. The game successfully combined a high school social sim and dungeon crawling in one unique and interesting package. However there a lot of things that may offend people, especially the evoker, real life magic references, blood and some Personas.

Even so I think the game is a light M. Without the large about of blood in some places and the evoker it might have squeezed by with a high T and I certainly would have bumped down an age rating. But because of some elements and especially the evoker I can only recommend the game to mature Christians without any suicidal tendencies.

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Year of Release — 2008

[tags] 3 stars, RPG, PlayStation 2 (Sony), M (Mature), Atlus [/tags]

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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