Persona 3:FES is the fourth in a series of role-playing games that have become exceedingly popular in Japan. Persona 3 focuses on a group of high school students tasked with saving the world from unimaginable evil that stalks the world during the “dark hour” – a time that can only be accessed at midnight. Theses students combat demons by calling on their “personas”, a physical manifestation of their inner-will and strength. To release their personas however, our heroes must push a gun-like device to their heads – and pull the trigger.
The game is roughly 20 hours long, potentially longer with side-quest and the optional 2nd chapter mission. Since the game requires the kids to call on their powers for most battles and the fights are numerous and lengthy, these high school students will blow their brains out thousands of times throughout the course of the game. Initially, it can be difficult to stomach, especially since the game’s opening cinema shows a character clearly struggling with the “transformation” process.
Any action that requires the use of the characters’ powers requires a bullet to the head. For example, when healing is needed, pretty and bright archery student Yukari happily eats her gun to summon Io, her persona manifestation. Junpei Iori, the son of a violent alcoholic who harbours a crippling inferiority complex, operates as the team’s main muscle and “offs” himself constantly to save his weaker friends.
The game seems to go out of its way to fully flesh out its characters, which only serves to make their “summoning” more unsettling – at least at first. As the game wears on, it’s not unusual to grow numb to the spectacle as it plays out for the hundredth time. The main character has the ability to upgrade and improve his persona through continued combat, so it’s not uncommon to quickly adhere to the act of “blowing the brains out” to display what new unique and fanciful creature has been crafted.
When the kids aren’t attempting to save the world, they are engaged in normal teen activities such as going to school, getting good grades, making friends and building relationships. Persona 3 contains a pretty compelling high school simulation that rewards diligence to studies with bonuses in the dungeons. As the lead character draws closer to the other people in his school, played out in a dating-simulation fashion, the stronger he becomes.
This does result in some delinquent behaviour as in order to speed up the levelling-up process, the game encourages “dating” several characters at the same time. Predictably and humorously, the objects of the main character’s affections can and will deduce what’s going on and the main character will spend weeks trying to repair and restore relations. For a basic high school simulator that acts as a tacked on element to the game’s dungeon crawling game play, it’s a pretty accurate depiction of high school life.
Persona 3 is an odd mix. While the high school elements are highly engrossing, the dungeon elements are repetitive and oddly boring at times, despite the fact that the heroes repeatedly commit suicide. In fact, it’s disturbing how ordinary the offing can become, given how much detail the game lends to their day-to-day lives.