Retro-Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

Retro-Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

Gameplay: 6/10 World Design: 3/10 Character Design 3/10 Story 5/10

Overall 5/10


Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES is a JRPG in the traditional sense. You have a group of brain dead teens running around saving the world from evil shadows in a modern setting with oodles of fantasy, deception, and romance elements thrown in. Combat is turn-based, there is stuff to collect, and you can go on dates. Like other Persona games, to cast spells you have to shoot yourself in the head - perhaps they felt that it would make the game more edgy - it doesn't.
This game is not very good... sorry all you die hard fans, but this is not an above average RPG. It's unoriginal and it has no outstanding, or even above average, qualities. Look at the pictures on this post. You will notice that the creatures look extremely generic, one being a blatant ripoff of Ghost Rider. The other pictures are of the environments which you visit over and over (and over and over). I think I walked into that mall at least 100 times in my game. I probably sat in that school desk mashing buttons another 200 times while pinching myself to stay awake. The game is, however, playable in the same sense that Enchanted Arms was playable on the Xbox 360; but it was not enjoyable. Persona 3 has overly repetitive combat taking place in only one dungeon named Tartarus that looks essentially the same through the whole game except for texture color. The enemies are also unimaginative and repeat over and over. Combat is turn-based and is basically the same 99% of the time with no thought required to win. The few times you do need to think is because the enemies are designed to be cheap. You are never defeated because of better AI strategy. Rather, you only lose because the designers wanted an enemy (like a boss) to be very cheap, and you simply have to rinse and repeat to find a solution. This is not fun; it's just tired, old design. There are very few areas to explore outside of combat, and they are even less interesting. Without solid gameplay, a video game is nothing more than a very long 20 to 40 hour movie, but this was not a high budget, cinematic game. This means that the game depended entirely on story, but that element was even weaker than the gameplay. Further, if I want a movie, I'll spend two hours and watch one. If I want a book, I can read one. But when I get a game, I really want interactivity unlike hands-off media such as movies or books. That is not to say that I don't enjoy a crossover of media; in fact, my favorite RPG of all-time was Morrowind, and that game had very deep lore and more story than any JRPG I have ever played. I also enjoy traditional JRPGs very much including classics like Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, the Suikoden series, FFIV, FFV, and more recently Lost Odyssey, which is incredibly underrated. The problem isn't the cookie, it's the baker (I'll explain this reference in the last paragraph).
Here is how I would break down my play-through of Persona 3 FES:
  1. A lot of time is put into character development, but it's done very poorly and without depth. I don't like or dislike any of them, but at about hour 15, I just wanted the game to end and I got annoyed.
  2. Turn-based combat is setup similar to every JRPG since the NES. This is not good or bad on its own, but the problem is that effects, animations, and enemies are simply unimaginative, and there is little strategy for the most part.
  3. The social simulator aspect is unbearably bad, and it's forced on you whether you like it or not. Again, the concept isn't bad, and I have seen it before, but the application in Persona 3 FES is bad. Click on a door, select an action, then wait 3 seconds and the game gives you experience... now do it again over and over... this is not PS2 caliber gameplay, this is NES quality.
  4. There is creature collecting by fusing 2 or 3 of them to create something new. Problem is that creatures feel repetitive because many are just the same as others in their class. Further, there is almost no interaction at all with them outside of combat so I really didn't care about them.
  5. It has a dungeon and dungeon crawling!... But it looks the same on every level with very little enemy variation. Again, this is a game on the PS2, not the PS1. Persona 3 FES needed better level design.
And that pretty much sums up Persona 3. Remember this game is not that old relative to similar games from the early 2000s. It came out in 2007/2008 and the story is similar to Final Fantasy X which came out in 2003 and had better gameplay by far. It is not as if Final Fantasy X was great either, yet Persona 3 FES was much lower quality all-around in comparison. Graphics were not as good; game play was less interesting; character progression was equally boring; and world design was non-existent with only a few locations to explore. Like Final Fantasy X, the story devolved into a tired philosophical perspective about how humans bring about their own horrors because they have no courage and cannot see past their own nose. Of course, as one gets older and hopefully, wiser, one realizes that this philosophy is not just false, but is a product of arrogance and the need to stroke ones own ego to make oneself feel better about oneself. As for more similarity (Spoiler alert! Skip this sentence if you don't want to see it), both Final Fantasy X and P3 FES have a mentally challenged hero who saves the world from itself via sacrifice; and in both cases, I couldn't wait for the game to end. I did manage to finish this game, albeit it took me nearly 3 months because I was not enjoying myself.
It's hard to talk about a game like Persona 3 FES without defaulting back to the subject of why JRPGs lost so much popularity in the last decade. It is my opinion that JRPGs have become a lazy way to try and milk money. They have become formulaic, and it just feels like there is no love in their creation. They are just pumping them out to a recipe and every studio has their own mixture. But no matter how hard you try to reinvent your recipe, ultimately a cookie is a cookie. I am aware that you can apply this metaphor to all games, but again, it's not the genre that is bad, it's the application of the genre and lack of courage. It's almost like some creators are burned-out and they just don't care to innovate the genre anymore, which is unfortunate because the genre is still fun when done right. The problem with JRPGs seems to be that they put too much emphasis on esoteric elements (like the color of the sprinkles), and they don't spend enough time on the most important part: the gameplay (or taste of the cookie). Perhaps they are doing this because it is tried and true for marketing purposes. Add over the top gore and sell y amount of copies. Add scantly clad women and you sell x amount of copies. This is really sad if you think about it because it means that the creators have run out of ideas. But I don't believe that this is the case at all; I think there is something else going on. After all, do you stop loving warm chocolate chip cookies after eating one, two, ten, or a hundred of them? No, you will still love those chocolaty, chewey, obesity-causing sweets. I think that it's all about greed by a handful of very wealthy developers who simply wanted to milk the genre shamelessly. To save money, they found ways to make development easier and cheaper. For instance, it's much easier to write a new story - especially if it is generic in itself and only requires a new setting and new names - than it is to create all new gameplay and develop a new system. Some developers might also say that it's better to make a mediocre game, make a few bucks, and walk away with some credit, than to take a chance, be ridiculed, and possibly lose money. At some point, however, the well of opportunity will run dry if there is no innovation. This is what has happened to JRPGs. It's not that people all of a sudden hate cookies, it's just too much competition all doing the same thing, using similar formulas that are turning the genre into a bore. Persona 3 is simply another personification of the problem... no pun intended.

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