The Persona series is one with a rocky history in North America. The first title, Revelations: Persona, was released
on the original PlayStation during the early days of the system, and was largely ignored. The second iteration of the series, which was split into
Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, received complaints that it was incomprehensible, largely
owing to the fact that North America saw only Eternal Punishment. Despite the fact that Persona 3 has already received an
expansion in Japan that we likely won't see here in North America, it feels like much more of a complete game than either of the first
As with many games in the Shin Megami Tensei line, Persona 3 deals with some heavily mythological and mysticism-inspired
concepts. The player is cast as a transfer student attending the Gekkokan High School in Japan, who starts the game by
arriving late at his new dorm. He is suddenly confronted by a mysterious boy with bright blue eyes, who asks for his signature
on a contract. From this point forward, the game begins a descent into a world that slowly becomes less and less familiar. The
player is introduced to concepts such as Persona, powerful, hidden aspects of a person's psyche that can be called forth to
protect a person from harm, and the Dark Hour. During the Dark Hour, a slice of time that starts at midnight, electronic devices stop working
and every normal person on Earth is transformed into a black coffin. During this period, bizarre creatures known as Shadows roam the city,
devouring the soul of any human unlucky enough to avoid transformation. The only link between these creatures seems to be Tartarus,
the strange, twisted tower that seems to be the center of Shadow activity, but which only exists during the Dark Hour. The main character
is quickly caught up in a conflict between Shadows and Persona users, a conflict which nevertheless doesn't mean he can skip school.
"The main character is quickly caught up in a conflict between Shadows and Persona users, a conflict which nevertheless doesn't mean he can skip school."
Though the main character may be an extremely powerful Persona user, during the day, he's just an average high schooler.
Players guide him through the trials and tribulations of everyday life, which the game ties into the combat system by allowing
the player to forge Social Links, in the form of friendships and extracurricular activities, that provide a bonus to Persona
created through the Demon
Fusion system. The stronger the Social Link, the more bonus EXP a Persona will gain when it is created. Get a Link strong
enough, and the Persona's level may even exceed the player's. A good deal of each day is skipped, with the
focus being far more on social interaction than high school academics, but the game will occasionally peek in on a class to
ask the player a question, or have them make a decision that could affect their overall condition. On the whole, it's an
unusual take on character development, and really adds a lot to the supporting cast, as forging Social Links usually
involves helping people with problems in their own lives. For example, joining the Kendo team after school means eventually
finding out why the star member of the team has to go to the Nurse's Office on occasion, and why the team manager thinks she
needs to go on a diet.
The combat system itself is a slight variation on the Press Turn system seen in the Digital Devil Saga series.
There are no Press Turn icons to worry about, but scoring a hit on an enemy's elemental weakness will still net the player
an extra turn. But that's not all - it'll also knock that enemy down, forcing them to recover before they can take another
turn. If the player manages to strike all of their foes prone, they
can activate a special attack that nails all of the monsters at once for a significant amount of damage. Of course, this
also works against the player; a character hit by one of their weaknesses will have to take a turn out, too. The fact that you
essentially receive two turns for scoring an elemental weakness may seem to make Persona 3 significantly easier than
other SMT games, but the fact that the player's allies are a good deal less flexible than the main character, having
only one Persona each, as well as the fact that they're all AI controlled, does seem to balance things out a bit. So
far, ally AI has proven fairly able to keep up with player strategy, though it doesn't seem quite as eager to knock
all of the foes on their rears.
Visually, the game uses a combination of the dark, Gothic design the series is known for and some geometric pop art
style. The combination gets a little garish at times, with harsh contrast between blue and red being one of the reoccurring
visual themes, but it seems to work for the most part. The music is similarly strange, with Shoji Meguro's usual style being
combined with a fair amount of rap. The soundtrack looks to be quite a departure from the usual Shin Megami Tensei style,
and a refreshing change of pace for Mr. Meguro's work. Unlike the recent Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, Persona 3 also
features full voice acting. The cast feels very solid, and it looks to really add a lot to the game.
So far, Persona 3 seems to be shaping up nicely, so stay tuned to RPGamer for updates as they become available, as
well as the full review on the game's July 24 release date.