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Retroactive Posts: A Soapbox Ramble About Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Fes

May 8, 2013

(Originally posted on January 13th, 2013)

(This article will be spoiler free.)

PS2CoverSheet10_06At the end of the year I had more-or-less named Persona 4 my 2012 game of the year. While numerous stories in video games had caught my interest (with Metal Gear Solid being the very first) and ensured I was engaged throughout the storyline’s duration, I can’t recall being so emotionally invested in a video game’s story.

I said a decent amount about Persona 4 (and it can still be found here on the Soapbox) and yet I still missed out on mentioning things such as the game’s terrific soundtrack. Persona 4 truly is a masterpiece, and if you’re the kind of person who is capable of being enveloped by a story, you owe it to yourself to at least give it a chance.
But I’m not here to talk about Persona 4. This time I’m talking about the game that preceded it.

Since Persona 4 had drawn very heavily from the mechanics set up in Persona 3, there are a great number of similarities between the two games. So much so, that once I was finished playing Persona 4, Persona 3 sort of felt like an expansion of sorts; a similar story told in a different setting.
You still plan how to spend your day roaming around town (juicing up Social Links, purchasing equipment, developing your personal skills, etc.), you still collect a repertoire of Personas to use in battle, and the manner in which time passes and the story progresses is all handled in the same way (from P3 to P4). This made Persona 3 incredibly easy to get comfortable with quickly, as it was essentially the same mechanics I had loved before, but with a fresh new face.
Even with that being said though, Persona 3 is a much different game than the one that followed in its footprints.

Here’s a quick disclaimer: This isn’t going to be as much of a review of the game as it’ll be me rambling for a little while about the two games’ differences; what each one got right and what each one got wrong.
If you want a review: Persona 3 is fantastic. While the story isn’t quite as well realized as Persona 4’s was (which makes sense considering  P4 came later), everything that makes these games great is found here, and some things in particular are even arguably done better in some respects.
If you’re interested, but don’t know which to choose, do what I did and just grab both. Copies are readily available and relatively cheap nowadays.

But about Persona 3… where to start…
I suppose the easiest thing to talk about are the things Persona 3 and 4 do differently, and which I personally think get those things right.

The first thing that comes to mind is the manner in which you equip your teammates: In Persona 3, you’re required to walk up to the character you wish to equip and speak to them in order to access their equipment. In Persona 4, it’s all done via menu screens.
This is a very small thing, but in my opinion the act of requiring interaction with your teammates in order to equip them adds to immersion in a small way.
It may have been more convenient in Persona 4 to quickly bring up the menu screen and swap stuff around, but looking back on it I think I actually enjoyed the extra step of walking up and talking to a comrade to change their equipment, even if it made managing said equipment more of a chore than absolutely necessary. To receive healing from a teammate (instead of using your own SP or expending consumables) in Persona 3 you’re also required to speak to them on the game field. Again, I found that to be a neat little caveat to how the mechanics are laid out.
Another difference in somewhat the same vein is your ability to control your teammates in Persona 3 versus its later sibling. Back when I had played Persona 4 I opted to take full control over everything my party members would do in battle. I wondered “who would ever have them automated?”, but after playing through Persona 3 where there was no way to specifically control what each member does on their turn, again I have to say I enjoy how Persona 3 handles it a little better.
While it can be irritating to see someone like Mitsuru cast something like Marin Karin (which has a small chance at charming enemies, causing them to attack one another or even heal your party) when she could have easily used an elemental ability to knock over an enemy on that turn, the manner in which your party members would take the information you had collected about your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses and (through the miracles of AI) would choose how best to act gave the feeling that they were thinking on their own; that they could handle themselves without you having to hold their hand all of the way.
I think back about playing through Persona 4 and wonder how different the game might have been if I hadn’t have been such a control freak.
I suppose the take-away here would be that making something more convenient by making it more mechanical can be harmful to immersion, and that it isn’t always the ideal choice when making changes in a sequel.

While I enjoyed my time as a member of SEES quite a bit, Persona 3’s story seemed a little lacking by comparison to P4. If you play 4 first (as I did), you can certainly see by playing Persona 3 that they were still figuring out how to handle things such as pacing when it came to the story beats. There was a period near the latter end of the game in which I was out of Social Links to chase after, and all of my personal skills were maxed out, so there would often be several days in a row in which nothing exciting happened at all.
Persona 3’s story is also a bit more far-fetched than the game that proceeded it(I would have described it as “more anime”, but then I remembered that I love anime). This is mostly reference to a couple of the characters that eventually join your potential crew, and their state of being.
The storyline itself is darker in tone than Persona 4’s, which I found was pretty interesting. While Persona 4 had its darker moments as well, it seemed like a lightshow with how things like the UI and dungeon designs were presented when compared to the pale blues and greens of Persona 3.
I won’t spoil anything about the game’s ending (and be mindful where you seek info about the story online, for it would be easy to spoil to those who aren’t careful), but I will say that while I enjoyed the ending for what it was, and that I found it well worth the just over 100 hour playtime leading up to it, I wasn’t nearly as outright bummed to see it end as I was with Persona 4’s. The end boss(es?) felt more climatic than the one(s?!) at the end of P4, mostly due to the choice of music (more on that later).
I’m unsure if P4 was just the right story at the right time or what, but the story in Persona 3 just didn’t hit me the same way, and I’m unsure how to articulate why..
Also worth noting is that Persona 3 Fes, there is an included storyline called The Answer which follows the events of the main game. My opinions of the overall story exclude this chapter, for I’ve only just progressed to see the first dungeon in it, but it begins in an interesting fashion and has me curious enough to want to see it through. I’m sure I’ll come back to comment on that when I manage to finish it. One of the best and worst things about these games is that they require a tremendous amount of time to finish, and I’m sure The Answer is no different.

The music was one of the best parts of Persona 4, and the same holds true here.It’s a nice change of pace to hear vocals used in background music for a video game, and while the hot raps found in some of Persona 3’s music might not make a ton of sense, the music suits the style and setting perfectly and adds to it a tremendous sense of character.
It’s hard to compare Persona 3’s music to that of its later sibling, because each is different but still suits its respective game perfectly.
The dungeon music is one theme that continues to expand and change as you progress, and the music found elsewhere in the game changes depending on the story or season.
The pieces used in the last few battles of the game are so excellently realized that they give me chills every time I hear them. And I think that’s notable in itself; how many other games (especially RPGs) can you see yourself listening to the soundtrack of outside of the game?

While Persona 3 isn’t necessarily a better or worse game than what came after it, it’s just different enough to be equally as appealing. I would enjoy to make the Journey again at one point, and I can’t help but suggest that if you haven’t already, you should try to make it as well.

From → Games

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