Persona 3 FES is a unique role-playing experience that's essential for just about any fan of the genre.
The story revolves around an organization known as S.E.E.S., which consists of people who wield the power of a Persona. The members of S.E.E.S. work in unison in order to rid the world of a mysterious time of day known as The Dark Hour and the secrets that lie within it. The story is shocking throughout, and it's always interesting, but it doesn't tie together especially well in some areas. The Journey is where the game's main plot is, but The Answer helps tie up the loose ends. The overall story carries a depressing tone, but its depressiveness isn't laid on too thickly. The characters also help sustain the story, and you really grow to like them throughout the lengthy duration of the game.
The graphics are stylish and fairly impressive for the PS2. However, because this was on the PS2, limitations were only inevitable. Character models, although they look good, don't have facial expressions. This is compensated for by using character stills that appear above dialogue boxes, but it's still worth noting. Character models will also make repetitious motions to convey anger, but it's hard to take them seriously when they're doing so. Therefore, it's best to divert your attention to the character stills. Another problem with the graphics is the framerate. When battles get hectic, so does the framerate. This occurs rather frequently, but it doesn't ruin the presentation overall.
The soundtrack is unique, albeit odd, and it's fairly upbeat. The vocalized tunes are sung in English, but in actuality it sounds more like Engrish than anything else. This in turn makes the singers sound like they are singing in Japanese, but they're actually poorly singing English. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because it gives the soundtrack a flavor of its own. A lot of the songs are seemingly odd at first, but they do grow on you. "Mass Destruction," the battle theme, annoyed me at first, but as the hours wore on, I found myself humming along to it.
The gameplay, in some ways, is unique. The biggest thing that separates this from other RPGs is its social links. It's a light sim aspect that takes up a solid portion of the game. In these social links, you spend time with people whom you befriend and get to know. These social links help give power to Personas upon fusion, so they're actually quite important.
Persona 3 has traditional turn-based combat, but this is where the game starts to show its major issues. The concept for the combat is undoubtedly done well, but your allies are controlled by an AI. The AI isn't always the most reliable decision-maker, and changing battle tactics won't stop Mitsuru from spamming useless attacks. On the bright side, the combat is involving and rewarding. Exposing an enemy's weakness will give you an extra turn, and if you manage to knock down all the enemies, you can perform an all-out attack. Boss battles are, for the most part, challenging, but if you do a decent amount of grinding, then they won't be terribly difficult.
Dungeon-crawling is another big issue. You explore the same dungeon the whole time, and the scenery only changes every 20 or so floors. Even then, it still doesn't stop the dungeon-crawling from being monotonous. The music that plays throughout the dungeon stays relatively the same, and there are some subtle changes to it as you progress. This only worsens the monotony. There are different songs you can listen to whilst you dungeon-crawl, but in all honesty, they aren't very good, and they don't help break up the monotony.
Players who are dissatisfied with how The Journey ends can choose to torture themselves by playing The Answer, which fills in the gaps leftover from The Journey, but it's nothing but a difficult grind-fest. I personally just watched the important events of The Answer on YouTube, and I was perfectly content with that.
Overall, Persona 3 FES is an amazing game, even with its flaws. Its macabre story, great characters, involving battle system, and innovative sim aspects make it an experience that's essential for JRPG fans. Perhaps it's more story-driven than it is gameplay-driven, but it's still an amazing experience. If you're not sure which version of Persona 3 to get, be sure to either get Persona 3 FES or Persona 3 Portable. Between those two, it really depends on what game system you own. If you have both a PS2 and a PSP, then that depends on what's more important to you. Persona 3 FES is better story-wise because its cutscenes are more impacting and emotional, but P3P has combat control and more social links, though it doesn't include the answer. Either way, Persona 3 is still amazing no matter how you play it.