Persona 3: FES - Review

After releasing the cult hit Persona 3, it is only natural that Atlus would want to move onto Persona 4, right? Wrong. Rather than jumping head first into the next main entry in the Persona series, Persona 3: FES went into the works soon after Persona 3's release, and it greatly expanded upon what had already been set. Although most of FES is in fact the same game as Persona 3, new gameplay features have been added in, the Personas themselves have been expanded, and even a semi-sequel titled "The Answer" can be played through which explains the game's ending, and sets the stage for future installments.

Because of the nature of this game, for this review we'll be doing something a bit different. Most of this review will in fact be the same as our original Persona 3 review; however, new sections have been added to discuss the differences between the versions, a review of "The Answer" has been included, and the final game's score has been changed as well. Now with that being said, as always, let's get started.

The Story of the Dark Hour:

Persona 3's story takes place in a completely new world created by the events of the second game. Other than a blue butterfly seen in a few cutscenes (whom long time fans will recognize), and a character in the "Velvet Room," the game features a completely new cast, and storyline; making it a great starting point. While it is technically the fourth entry in the series, in reality, its the first in this new world.

When the game first opens up, things are a bit confusing. The game first opens up with a scene where a girl holds some sort of gun to her head, and struggles to pull the trigger, but it then quickly shifts over to the main character (who's canon name is now "Makoto Yuki," but you can name whatever you want) riding a train. The game doesn't bother to give you an explanation to anything at first, and once Makoto steps of the train, things get even weirder. Upon setting foot outside, the clock strikes midnight, the sky turns green, coffins appear to line the streets, and the world becomes distorted. Rather than being scared by the strange city he had just entered, Makoto continues on foot towards the dorm for his new school on the man made island of "Tatsumi Port Island." It had been ten long years since the tragic death of his parents, and after jumping from school to school, Makoto had finally returned home.

After reaching his new dorm, Makoto is greeted by a strange little kid who then presents him with a contract. According to him, it is a contract that Makoto agrees to take responsibility for his actions from that point on. Although his words don't make sense, Makoto signs it (assuming it has something to do with registering for school), and watches as the kid vanishes right before his eyes. Shortly after the girl seen with the gun to her head comes down the stairs, with the very same gun, and asks Makoto just who he is. She seems shocked that Makoto is there, but once another girl shows up to explain he's the new resident, she relaxes. At that moment the green tint of the world vanished, and all the electronics in the room came back on.

Shortly after the strange intro, Makoto finds himself enjoying his new school life. He learns the girl's name is Yukari, he meets some new friends at school, and life goes on like normal. Although each night things turn green, Makoto sleeps through it, while the others living at the dorm watch him. This is how things continue, up until one strange night. Apparently this time of night is called the "Dark Hour," and it takes place between 12:00 AM and 12:01 AM. It is a full hour the world is completely unaware of, unless you have "the potential." The potential to awaken a Persona. While normal people turn into coffins during this time, anyone who has the ability to awaken their inner self can remain in human form during this time, and possibly fight the "shadows" which thrive during this time; however, for anyone who can't fight back, they may become a "lost one." While not much is known about the shadows, they are creatures which devourer the minds of living things, leaving anyone who encounters them in the Dark Hour in a zombie like state. While the rest of the world sees such victims as ones who caught a disease, those who live in Makoto's dorm know the truth. While to the school and the rest of the world the dorm is just a normal school dorm where members of the "SEES" club live, but in reality, it is much more. In reality, the SEES club is a group of students who have the ability to summon their inner selves, and fight the shadows during the Dark Hour. The group is ran by the world famous Kirijo group, with Mitsuru Kirijo as the leader, and it is their job to put an end to the Dark Hour and set everything right. And that's when Makoto gets pulled into things.

After chasing another member of SEES back to the dorm, a giant shadow unlike anything seen before attacks. The thing climbs the walls of the building, and Yukari quickly rushes to Makoto's side to get him to safety. Upon reaching the roof of the building, Yukari pulls out her "gun," and points it towards her own head, but it is quickly then knocked away by the shadow. At that moment Makoto hears a voice inside his head, he walks over to the gun, whispers the word "persona," and fires. As the bullet seemingly rips through his skull, Makoto stands his ground, and a giant human like creature appears behind him; one in which he has full control of. Making use of this new found power, Makoto proceeds to rip the shadow to shreds, leaving only a bloody mess behind, before finally passing out.

Not too long after this event, Makoto officially joins SEES, and agrees to help them destroy the shadows. Junpei joins the team, Makoto gets to know the other members, and soon they are all sent to their real test. They are sent into "Tartarus," the giant tower which appears only at night. While not much is known about this tower, it is believed to be the root of the Dark Hour, and if that is the case, SEES must destroy it. This is how the game's story progresses from that point on. At the end of each month a new giant shadow attacks, and during the normal weeks, Makoto must balance his personal life, along with his life as a SEES member exploring the tower. As time goes on the confusion of the opening begins to clear up, and we slowly get an inside look at each character's past, and their connection to the whole ordeal. The story becomes one of drama, mystery, and horror, with unexpected twists around every turn.

The Gameplay:

Persona 3's gameplay, isn't so simple that it can be explained easily. There are many different systems in place here, and the game is just flat out massive. When someone tells you an RPG takes 100 hours to finish, normally that means it'll be around 30, but in this case, they would be telling the truth. Even if you don't make use of every single gameplay element, or try to complete the game 100%, there is still a lot of content in this one, and it is sure to keep you busy for quite awhile. As such, the following will be broken into sections to farther explain just what this game all includes.

Daily Life -

One of the main focuses of Persona 3, which also sets it apart from the earlier entries, is the life sim system. The game takes place over one year, and it actually has you live the life of the main character; who just so happens to be a high school student. Each day you wake up, go to school, sit through classes, and do after school activities. Sometimes you'll be asked questions in class, other times you'll take part in special school events, and every now and then, you'll even have to take tests. While these segments do speed by pretty quickly, after school is a different matter, and you are in complete control of what you do or don't do. Early on you can join a school club (such as swimming), but even going to practice is optional. Unless said otherwise, you can select almost any area in the city, and walk around it till your heart's content. Although, there are limits.

After school, you are only given so much time to do things, and it is up to you to completely manage Makoto's life. While the clock doesn't advance by just standing around, it does advance the moment you choose to do some sort of action. While you can talk to towns people, go to stores, or search objects as much as you want,  talking to a key character, or choosing to do a key action will advance time. Often you are forced to choose between spending time with friends, studying for that upcoming test, or completing some other task you want to accomplish, and because of that daily life can sometimes be a challenge.

Just about every aspect of Makoto's life plays a key role in the game, and because of that, nothing should be ignored unless you have no choice. Increasing Makoto's skills (such as his social skills) will unlock more dialogue options, help him do better in school, and access new events, but increasing his friendship levels with other characters (which may require Makoto's skills to do so) will help out in battle and help advance sub plots; which do in fact make up a large majority of the game. It's just, deciding what you should do with Makoto, and when you should do it, can be hard to decide.

Once the day has gone by and night comes, Makoto has even fewer options to pick from to advance time; however, that is a good thing. Night is basically a time where you can either study, or go out and hit the town to improve other skills. Most of the areas on the town map are locked at this time, but main areas (such as the mall) are still open for you to make use of. On the other hand, this is also the time where you can decide to enter Tartarus, and experience the second half of Persona 3.

Dungeon Crawling -

While Persona 3 isn't a full on dungeon crawler like the previous entries, it sill plays a key role in the game. When you enter Tartarus you are asked to select a party of three characters, and you are then tasked with trying to make it to the top floor. Each area of the tower is randomly generated, with different treasure locations and exits, and it is up to you to try to advance as far as possible. Enemies appear on the map at random, which you can easily avoid if you wish, but as you advance through floors for the first time it really isn't such a good idea. While most of the gameplay Tartarus provides is just your basic dungeon crawling, the main attraction is actually the battle system you use in it, and really, it is the only truly interesting part. Sadly the tower itself is a bit of a grind, and the areas are pretty generic. During each month you can only go so far in the tower before being stopped by a wall, but getting to it can be a pain. At least there is a boss to take on before reaching it to help change things up. A challenging one at that.

The battle system itself is very unique. Each character has a basic weapon to strike with (which Makoto is actually allowed to pick his main weapon at the start of the game) and armor to protect them, but the real focus is on the Personas themselves. While the other characters in the game all have their own unique Persona to use, Makoto is a special case. He has the "wild card" ability, and that allows him to summon multiple Personas. Each Persona has their own stats and set of skills, and whichever Persona is currently active, directly effects Makoto. Not only does the Persona control what special attacks Makoto can use, but they also control how strong he is. If one minute you are using a level 30 Persona, but then switch to a level 5 Persona, then Makoto's level will drop from level 30 to level 5. With this system it becomes very important that you either balance out your Personas, or you stick with one until you can actually create ones that are stronger.

To get new Personas, there are a couple of different things you can do. You can kill enemies and play a sort of card shuffle game after the battle to unlock them, which is one of the easiest ways, or you can visit the "Velvet Room" to fuse your Personas together to create new ones. Here is where you'll meet the strange character Igor and his assistant Elizabeth. These two odd characters help guide Makoto through his journey from the sidelines, but they are also the people you go to for all your Persona needs.

Each Persona is grouped into different arcana, and so are Makoto's friends. By hanging out with friends during the day, you can increase your social links with them, and increase their specific arcana. This is what actually controls how strong of Personas you can create by fusing, and becomes very important if you want to survive. By having a strong friendship, you'll have stronger Personas, but if you neglect that friendship, you'll have weaker Personas. Of course it isn't required that you get too deeply involved with this system, but it does make the game easier... Which you may find you wish it were.

Persona 3 is not an easy game. Many first time players are recommended to play on easier difficulties, but even then it can be quite the challenge. When you are exploring the tower, you actually have to think about your actions, and play it smart. Every single time you get into a fight, you use up some of your invisible energy meter, and if you become tired, it can mean the death of you. This system is put in place to prevent you from simply running from the bottom floor to the next wall in one sitting, but it really adds to the challenge. On one hand you need to train, but on the other, fighting also hurts you. While you could go into the tower almost every night to train until you get tired, doing so will also mean that you'll have to neglect your "real life." It is a system which forces you to consider both your social life and your SEES life, but at the same time, it also helps break up the grind. Still, this is only one small system which plays a key role in the overall battle system.

If you do choose to fight, the battle system itself is all about strategy and weaknesses. Just about every shadow you fight will have some sort of weakness to exploit, and if you do, it knocks the shadow down, and gives you an extra turn. The idea is to use elemental attacks from your Persona to knock every shadow in the battle arena down, so you can then preform an "All Out Attack," which is an attack where your party members rush the downed enemies, and basically obliterate them. It is just about an auto win attack, but pulling it off requires quite a bit of strategy, memorization of different enemies' weaknesses, and it requires quite a bit of Persona management.

Although the other party members in your team have their own Personas with their own elements, they cannot be relied on. These party members cannot be controlled by you, and are completely controlled by an AI. Sometimes they'll do something smart like heal you, buff you, debuff the enemy, or hit the enemies' weakness, but most of the time, you're on your own. You'll have to be able to provide support for them, you'll have to be able to figure out weaknesses, and you'll have to keep everyone alive. Since the game is in fact turn based, that isn't always the easiest task. Sometimes you'll just have to plan ahead, and hope for the best.

Full Moon -

Once you have rushed through the tower and made it to the next wall, a checkpoint is set for you to warp back to, and you are then ready to advance on with the main story. At the end of each month the moon becomes full, and a giant shadow (like the one at the start of the game) attacks. During these times you are actually sent to a unique dungeon located somewhere in the city, where you are then faced with a large boss fight. Although these bosses are the "big boss" of each story chapter, they are actually easier than the ones fought in the tower; assuming you're ready for them that is. When it comes down to it, the entire month is more about planning for the boss, than it is anything else. Sure you have to manage the other aspects, but everything you do needs to pay off for the very moment you're face to face with your next major foe. As for the tower, it isn't possible to actually fail the game if you don't reach the top in time, but if you aren't strong enough to beat the month's boss, then that is a real problem. Even so, as already mentioned, these bosses are much easier than what you see elsewhere, so normally they don't cause too much of an issue.

Side Quests -

Along with the main game and social links, there are side quests for you to complete as well. While most of these just involve finding someone lost in the tower, they are nice little extras for you to complete. Although, sometimes you're left with no choice but to complete them, as failing them may prevent you from continuing social links. With Persona 3: FES, new side quests have also been added.

New to FES:

In Persona 3: FES, a few things have been changed. Besides the addition of more side quests, new Personas have been added to the mix, a new harder mode has been included for anyone who wants even more of a challenge, there are new Social Links for you to encounter during your daily life, new equipment has been added, and a new weapon fusion system was added in as well. With this new system, you can fuse weapons and Personas to create stronger equipment, including the game's Ultimate Weapons. Still, all of these additions are minor compared to the final one, and that is, the new story mode titled "The Answer."

The Answer:

Although Persona 3: FES is not Persona 4, it is what one might call Persona 3.5. The Answer is a brand new story mode which can be selected from the game's main menu, and it picks up directly after the ending of Persona 3. This time around, instead of taking control over Makoto, you play the story from the party member Aigis' eyes. Just like Makoto, Aigis awakens to the power of the Wild Card, allowing her to use more than one Persona, and soon the cast soon finds themselves in yet another situation. This time around, things are a bit different though.

While the main game was half life sim where you have to manage Makoto's life, and balance his school and social life with his life as a SEES member, in The Answer you only have to focus on being a SEES member. This game within a game is a full on dungeon crawler, and does away with just about all of the limits set in Persona 3. For example, you are no longer limited on time since time no longer passes, and you don't have to worry about becoming tired, as this mode follows in the footsteps of classic dungeon crawlers where grinding is key.

As for the story in The Answer, well, it is best we don't spoil it. The mode itself does take place directly after the ending of Persona 3, and it is used to explain just what happened during the game's ending. Originally there were a lot of unanswered questions about the game's final scenes which threw fans for a loop, but also a lot of the character's background weren't fully explained either. The Answer tries its best to provide just that, an answer, and it succeeds in doing so. It tells the fans what they want to know, and it paves the way for the future of the series. While it isn't as long of an adventure as the main game, it is a story well worth playing through. The main adventure may take only around 15-30 hours to complete, but if you're planning on doing everything (such as getting every Persona), get ready for an almost never ending quest. Unlike the main game you can make this last as long as you want; without the need for a New Game Plus.

The Good and the Bad:

Persona 3: FES is the game Persona 3 should have been. Just like the original it has amazing music, an amazing world set in modern times, the story is dark, mature, and still just as mysterious, the battle system is fun, the life sim elements are a very nice break away from the norm, and the game is packed full of content. For anyone who likes collecting monsters and raising them, the Persona system is sure to please you, and the characters themselves are great. The game even has some comedy, and a New Game Plus mode to keep you coming back for more. Sure the game can be really challenging, but if you're willing to charge through it, you'll find that Persona 3: FES is easily one of the best JRPGs on the PlayStation 2, and possibly one of the best ever made. As for the additions in FES, they help improve the game even more. The addition of a second story which is a pure dungeon crawler is sure to make long time series fans happy, the new weapon fusing system is nice, and the extra Social Links and side content helps keep an old game fresh. It is a major improvement over the original. Still, two issues do remain.

If you're not a fan of dungeon crawlers, then going through the game's main dungeon, as well as the one in The Answer, may be hard for you. The environments are bland, the goal in each room is nothing more than "find the exit" (except when there is a boss), and after awhile they can become a chore. Still the game's main story will drive you to press on, so it really isn't as bad as it might sound. Of course on the other hand if you love this sort of thing, then this isn't an issue. Although, the other problem is something that can be hard to ignore. The fact that your party members still cannot be controlled, can make the game much harder than it needs to be. The AI will often make dumb mistakes, and although Makoto (as well as Aigis) are basically parties of their own thanks to the Personas, you still have to wait your turn, and watch everyone's back (since they don't always want to help themselves). When it comes down to it, your party members just make the game harder than it needs to be, and that can be quite the issue.

Overall, Persona 3: FES is a much better version of Persona 3. With its release the original game has become obsolete. Still, Persona 3 in general is a great game, and well deserving of a 9/10. If only the AI was just a bit smarter, and the dungeons were a bit more varied. Ah well, the game is amazing, and a must have for JRPG fans. Even in the year 2014, it is still just as great!

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