Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review // Persona 3: FES

I'm not usually a fan of RPGs without Mario or Earthbound somewhere in the title, but halfway into Giant Bomb's Persona 4 Endurance Run, I couldn't resist picking up Persona 3: FES for an Endurance Run of my own. After thoroughly enjoying the main storyline, I thought Persona 3 could do no wrong. Then I played the bonus campaign.

The Journey Is All That Matters

Persona 3: FES's main storyline, The Journey, feels a lot like Pokémon for adults. It's a darker, more grounded experience that replicates the life of a teenager who has to balance saving the world with being a regular guy. He goes to school, studies, hangs out with friends, goes on dates, and oh yeah, at midnight, he explores a giant tower full of monsters called Shadows.

Other RPGs lose me because they all seem so generic and serious. It's always the same fantasy tropes with the same character archetypes and serious dialogue and nothing I can relate to personally. The Journey is nothing like that. I often went several play sessions without ever seeing a fight and spent the entire time social linking with friends and going to class and, well, just living.

Thankfully, battling in this game is pretty fun too. Like Pokémon, it's all about exploiting weaknesses and finding the right creature for the job. Where it takes a step beyond Pokémon is by letting you fuse new creatures, called Personas, out of the ones you already have. It's confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it all, it's actually really addicting.

The Journey was a fantastic experience, full of laughs and real emotional connection to characters I spent an absurd amount of time with. It easily made it onto my short list of favorite RPGs and I can definitely recommend it to anyone.

Some Questions Are Better Left Unanswered

Persona 3: FES's bonus campaign, The Answer, on the other hand, I wouldn't recommend to anyone, but especially those who really enjoyed The Journey. The Answer caught me totally off guard by completely reversing everything I loved about The Journey: The storyline is weak, forced, and always serious. You never social link or go to class or even leave the room you're stuck in, and every moment is spent either in battle or preparing to be in battle.

Even the characters don't seem to want to be back, all grumbling and griping and saying, "Can we just get this over with?" It reminded me of Heart of Darkness when, about 10 pages in, characters in the novel are already falling asleep listening to the story. I set the book down at the point. I should've done the same here.

Perhaps the most infuriating thing about The Answer isn't the structure, but the awful writing. The Journey was at its best when it was light-hearted fun, but here, it's the same emotional, clichéd garbage that ruins most RPGs. By the end of it, I was muttering things to myself like, "If I have to hear one more line that only consists of one character saying another character's name, I am going to snap the fucking disc in half."

The Answer was so unbearable that I could only play it while keeping the volume down and listening to podcasts. So yeah, you should absolutely buy Persona 3: FES, but do not be tempted by The Answer. The Journey is so much better.

Persona 3: FES / $39.99 / PS2

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