A monument to compromise.

Shin Megami Tensei Persona 3 FES

By S.A. Renegade on September 1, 2008 in Reviews

Final verdict: A-
Final playtime: 170 hours

So FES. Words can barely describe how excited I was for this game. I mean come on. Persona 3 was the best game of 2007 hands down, no questions asked. Never before has shooting yourself in the head been this badass. They could’ve just released FES without any new things and it still would’ve been awesome. Hell, I would’ve bought it just to give them more of my money for making such a great game. But no. They decided to go the extra mile and give us a shit ton of extra content. From really cool small things like new questions and exams in school to slightly bigger cool things like new (re)quests to huge awesome things like new events and dialogue to unbelievably badass shit like a Hard Mode and being able to date Aigis. Fuck man, I would’ve dated Aigis nine times in the original if I could. That right there’s enough to get me to play the entire thing over again. And of course on top of all that we have the relatively short all new sequel/expansion/what have you to the original game. So yes, this review isn’t so much to discern whether or not FES is awesome, but to discern exactly how awesome it is. Here’s a hint: so awesome.

But rest assured, as always, I bring you nothing but divine truth. As such, I’m here not only to fanboy my head off about FES, but also to tell you its flaws and why it isn’t as good as Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. Or Digital Devil Saga, for that matter. Let’s get this ball rolling, yeah? I’ma start with comments on the original game, since I don’t have a review of P3 posted, and I did indeed play through all of it again.

The original game is called The Journey in FES, while the sequel/expansion/whatever thingies is called The Answer. So The Journey. It’s half RPG and half dating sim. We already know it’s awesome, so I’m not gonna bother praising all of the good things. Instead, I’ll bitch about the not so good things. That’s always more fun. First of all: Dear developers, a lack of challenge is NEVER a good thing. Unless you’re marketing your game towards pussies. In which case I hate you. And that was one of the problems with Persona 3. It was easier than getting laid at an American college frat party. The option to play on Hard mode in FES alleviates this problem somewhat. A few boss battles become kind of tricky. But honestly, it’s still pretty fucking easy.

Next, dear devs, randomly generated dungeons? Always lazy. Always boring. Actually, now that I think about it, P3 is a pretty lazy game. It consists of going through randomly generated floors and moving around the same 5 areas for an entire in-game year. It’s pretty amazing that it manages to be this good despite that. My hat’s off to them for achieving this, but it still doesn’t mean they’re good design choices, and it means Nocturne has a huge advantage over it in this regard.

Oh, and not using the press turn battle system from Nocturne and DDS? FAIL. Ok, no, the battle system in P3 isn’t really all that bad. But it’s definitely a step down from Nocturne. Not having full control of your party? Not a good thing. You can really only control your main character, but not the other people in your party. All you can do is give them general orders at the start of every turn. While this more or less works for simple things, when you want to get more sophisticated, it’s really not up to snuff. For example, the heal and support orders are bunched into a single order. Say you want one of your party members to cast a buff. Not only can you not tell them which one to use, but if someone’s HP is kind of low when their turn comes up, they may very well decide to use a medicine rather than whatever it is you wanted them to do. Or how about when you want to do something a tiny bit more complex, like, say, the enemy uses a skill that reflects a single spell. You want one of your party members to cast the spell which they are immune to, so that when it gets reflected, it’ll have no effect, but it will erase the enemy’s reflect status so that the others can use their magic. Is there an order for something like this? Of course not. And then there’s the occasional bullshit where you order someone to heal/support and they’re like “Nope! DEATHBOUUNDDUUUUU!!!” So yeah, the battle system? Good. But a step down from earlier games. If you already have an amazing system, why the fuck change it, let alone make it worse?

While we’re on the subject of bad design choices, who in the ten thousand hells thought it was a good idea to make a request that can only be completed using a previously more or less useless unique weapon that can be sold? The weapon had no use in the original, so how in the fuck is the player supposed to know he should keep it around? At least make it not sellable! The request may be optional, but it’s still a pretty bullshit design choice.

Let’s move on to something deeper though. I mentioned P3 is part dating sim. A very important part of the game is developing relationships with characters, triggering events with them to further the relationship, and answering multiple choice questions along the way. But I have an issue with the multiple choice questions in P3. Mainly, the fact that there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of actual choice involved. The choices boil down to a) right answer (what the person wants to hear) b) wrong answer (what the person doesn’t want to hear) Or maybe sometimes a) right answer b) wrong answer c) sorta wrong answer d) wrong answer. And the only difference between choosing the right answer or the wrong answer, other than a very tiny change in dialogue (sometimes there’s no change!) is when the next event with the person is triggered. If you chose the answer the person wanted to hear, the event will get triggered sooner, if you chose the wrong answer, you’ll have to wait longer. So basically it boils down to a) waste time or b) do not waste time. Now, I have no experience with the dating sim genre so I don’t know if they’re all like this, but come on. These sorry excuses for multiple choice questions don’t hold a candle to the choices in Nocturne which actually affected which ending you would get, or the choices in something like Mass Effect, where what you chose actually meaningfully impacted how a scene would play out, and where every choice had (more or less) equally rewarding if oftentimes diametrically opposed consequences.

This isn’t the full extent of my gripes with the dating sim aspect of the game though. Oh no, I have something else to bitch about. It’s simply this: the game trivializes relationships with girls. What do I mean by this? Well, there is no way to keep your relationship with any of the girl characters from becoming “intimate” after some time. In spite of this, the game wants you to develop a relationship with every character all the way. In short, it wants you to be some kind of pimp playah who doesn’t get emotionally invested in anyone. So what happens if you do what the game wants and go all the way with every girl? I think we all know what happens. Ultimately, every relationship becomes less meaningful. Less important. Less personal. They become another stat that you want to max out because some personas can only be created when these relationships are maxed, or because some requests can only be completed if you have said personas. Well, you know what? FUCK your shit, you asscrabs! I’m a renegade. Not even the siren call of 100% completion will get me to cheat on Aigis! That’s why I maxed every social link except the girls. And it was totally worth it. It made the Aigis events all the more beautiful. Interestingly enough, she’s the only girl who says she doesn’t care if you go out with others, and even says she feels bad for hanging out with you because it hurts your chances of getting a real girl. Now seriously people, how could I ever cheat on someone like that? It just ain’t happening.

And speaking of Aigis, dude, how does Karen Strassman make such a beautiful voice? I don’t know either! It’s almost enough to steal a man’s soul…

Uh, where was I? Oh right. Voice acting. Excellent. I don’t even want to bring up names other than Karen since almost everyone does such a good job. Oh fuck it, I can’t help it. Vic Mignogna, this is the only game I’ve heard you in, but your great work voicing Junpei is enough to say I love you man. Liam O’Brien, Derek Stephen Prince, excellent work as always.

But yeah. Despite all my bitching and complaints, legitimate though they may be, it’s still an awesome game, and definitely worth playing through again to see the few new things it introduces.

But we still have yet to talk about The Answer, right? Ah yes, the… largely unnecessary continuation of P3. While it explains things a tiny bit more clearly, nothing actually really changes between the end of the Journey and the end of The Answer.

Maybe this doesn’t really matter if it’s as fun right? But truth is, The Answer isn’t as good as The Journey. Not by a long shot. It strips out way too many things that made The Journey great. There are no requests, no social links to develop, no school. In fact, there’s no outside world. So what’s left? Not a whole hell of a lot other than much more of a pure dungeon crawler. Stamina’s gone as well. While it could be a little annoying sometimes, it was a good system that told you when to go home so you weren’t dungeon crawling forever, which is pretty much what you’re doing in The Answer. Dungeon, buy equipment, dungeon, dungeon, cutscene, dungeon, buy equipment, dungeon. And the dungeons are still randomly generated so it’s not like they’re even good.

So ok! That all sounds pretty bad. But we’ve still got the good battle system, persona fusion (albeit no compendium), same old lovable characters (with the same voice actors! Finally a sensible decision.), boss battles to break up the dungeon crawling, trademark progressive music as you go deeper into the dungeon, and one thing it does better than The Journey: it’s actually much harder. I had to actually get serious at one point because a boss kept killing me. So yeah, it’s a disappointment compared to the proper game but at least it’s playable, unlike some other games. And don’t let anyone trick you into believing it gives Persona 3 the narrative closure it needs. Like I said, absolutely nothing has changed by the end of The Answer. It doesn’t solve any problems that it didn’t introduce itself.

And if you’ve played Persona 3 you know what that means. That’s right, if you decide to take the plunge, get ready to fall into a severe depression by the end of the game. Unless you’re an emotionless prick. But seriously here people, what’s up with all these depressing games lately. Who likes getting depressed? That’s right, no one. And if you’re seeking out that emotion, then shit, you have some problems, son. Now I’m not saying sad endings are bad or anything, but fuck, when you’ve become so emotionally invested in a game, in its characters, an ending like the one in FES can really leave you crippled for like an entire day. Perhaps it’s even more depressing because you realize how closely tied it is to real life. Death, loss, goodbyes… all tragic inescapable facts of life. Memento mori, indeed. An ending like this is doubtless much more powerful and meaningful than the classic fairy tale ending, but at the same time… I kind of wish every game had an unrealistic happy ending. Real life is too imperfect. I’m not sure I want my games to follow suit.

Shit, son. I better shut the fuck up before I get myself depressed all over again. I guess I gotta be thankful the human mind is so adept at, if not completely ignoring its mortality, at least not excessively dwelling on it.

So yeah. When a game causes this strong of an impact on you, when you’re finally done with it and you’re putting it away, and you feel a sense of loss, like a part of yourself is going with it, you know it has succeeded in its story and characters.

Final Verdict: A-

Final Playtime: 170 hours

In conclusion, FES is amazingly awesome and you should buy several copies. Unless they’re not in production anymore. You know how Atlus is.

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