Going To School Has Never Been So Fun
There’s something to be said for a good old fashioned turn-based RPG. Something about the mix of story and strategy will always keep me coming back for more, yet this is a genre full of clichés and stagnation. One company seems to be swimming against that current, and Atlas has attempted to do so again with their latest: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3.
You take on the role of a nameless high school student who has been orphaned, and soon discover you have an ability inside you called “Persona.” A Persona is a creature of sorts, ranging from snowmen to a jester, who possess magical abilities. Instead of you casting spells directly, Persona possess abilities ranging from fire attacks to defensive shields. These abilities can only be unleashed by shooting oneself in the head with a special pistol designed to release these powers. It’s quite the sight the first time you witness one of these teenagers put a gun to their head. We can see this story will be tackling adult concepts most games won’t even touch.
Gameplay takes place in almost two almost entirely different worlds. During the day, time passes, and some scripted events occur. The after school hours usually are yours to use though, and the decisions you make have a direct effect when the time comes to battle. Each of the Personas your character possesses is directly linked to a different social link. Decide to go to Kendo practice, then you can’t attend student council. Going to the mall to hang out with that cute girl? You might miss the chance to get into the art club, creating an entirely new social link. These links help to directly power up the Personas attached to them, so there is great cause to pick and choose carefully where your time and effort goes.
When night falls you may opt to go to the game’s main dungeon, Tartarus. This is where the game’s other side comes out. This multi-level dungeon spawns randomly each time you enter, with a few floors pre-defined and some floors having points that will allow you to return should your party grow weary. Battling is turn based, and you even have the chance to attempt to strike first at enemies on the map, granting you an extra turn; but watch out, because they can do the same to you. In battle, you control directly only your main character. You have the ability to give certain directions to your party, but they otherwise act of their own accord. Part of this system grants you an extra turn when you strike an enemy with one of their weaknesses, knocking them down, and should you knock them all down, you are able to storm the enemy together, doing even greater damage. Thanks to these levels of depth, random battles never seem to drag on or annoy unlike so many other games of this type. Another interesting mechanic is that as characters explore, they may eventually get tired, causing them to miss attacks, get hit more often, and eventually become sick, which may then be passed on to other members of the party. At this point, it is best to get them out and allow them a few nights rest.
The game’s graphics aren’t going to impress anyone whose been away from the PS2 generation lately, but the style used is a visual treat. Everything has a very manga flavor to it, and characters try to have a look, rather than going for realism. Control does everything well, save for the fact that I’d have preferred a normal menu in combat, instead of the wheel provided where occasionally I’d press in the wrong direction and it wouldn’t move, not game-breaking by any stretch of the imagination.