Persona 3 is a JRPG and Bully light mixed together to form one cohesive game whose major elements complement one another
Persona 3 is like a JRPG and Bully light mixed together to form one cohesive game whose major elements complement one another. There might be a lot of grinding involved but you can skip it for a few days and build your personal relationships to empower your character and if the relationships are all dead ends for a while you can go back to grinding. I think it's this very aspect that helped me enjoy the game because I see grinding as a primitive gameplay element that artificially extends the game time and I usually can't stand games that feature it.
My major complain about the game is the AI, I mean if a game that is turn based menu driven combat in which enemies never seem to press their advantage can be considered to have AI at all. It seems that the only time a player will see the game over screen is if the enemy accidentally kills the whole team. Accidentally is the key word because sometimes foes will find the weakness to one of the party members and instead of using the bonus turn to cause further damage, they target a different party member and that attack may heal that other character. Next round I would expect the computer to learn from its mistake but again, it randomly picks targets. This made the game very easy and seem strange to me. I don't recall any other game that doesn't try to defeat the player on purpose.
The music is hit or miss. I should say it is a hit at first but after playing 10 hours and listening to the same 90 second clip of J-pop music, sanity can slowly unravel. I noticed I started singing vulgar lyrics to the songs talking about death and killing the composer after a while. I'm sure there are fans of this music that enjoy it but I can't count myself among their members.
Lastly with the negatives; well this isn't so much a negative. The story revolves around a bunch of school kids so the story and characters are what one would expect from a game like this. There's the quiet emo lead, the rich beautiful girl, the intelligent tomboy, the tough jock and the feeble little kid dress as Huckleberry Finn. There's also a ninja dog and an android thrown in there for good measure. Now none of these characters are mind blowing or deep per se, but they are all functional and despite their stereotypes, they never seem overbearing or annoying…except the young boy in capris.
I did however enjoy the scenes populated by the antagonists. They seemed rather dark for this game and almost a shocking contrast of the hero party. They are ruthless, brooding, insane and somewhat suicidal which is pretty impressive seeing as the writers made the leads as typical as can be.
The story is straight forward for most of the time then about mid game starts making some interesting twists and turns. It seems there is an extra hour between days in which most normal people are changed into coffins while some special people are left roaming the world. This time between days is also populated by Shadows, creatures that prey on the awakened individuals who are left in a catatonic state after being defeated by Shadows. The lead character is transferred to a school that has a special unit called SEES who trains to fight these shadows and unlock the secret as to why their high school turns into a giant ominous tower during this dark time.
From that basic plot there is betrayal, the origin of the Shadows is made clear and other mysterious figures in the game are explained. There are also some touching side characters some actual funny moments thrown in to make the whole romp enjoyable for the most part. Like I stated earlier, don't expect any surprise moments from the rather bland lead cast but there really are no low or dull points either.
Gameplay either involves the school aspect, tweaking Personas and the grinding aspect. Schooling involves some short cutscenes where you're taught a few things, answer a few questions correctly and you get bonuses and it also prepares you for the finals. It's hear you also build relationships with other characters that can improve certain arcana that then go on to effect the personas the main character uses. There isn't much depth in this portion, pretty much all one has to do is pay attention and either choose the right answer if it's a question or pick the choice the other character wants to hear.
Tweaking personas is where most of the depth is at but to be honest, I never delved very deep into this portion. I can see there are formulas that dictate what mixture makes what kind of card but the system doesn't punish you if you don't know what mixing a Chariot persona with a Tower persona nets you.
Finally there is combat which is a fast, turn based, menu driven portion of the game. There's very little control one has over the party members but they do a decent job of being support characters and knowing what they have to do. The best way to play the game is to find the weakness for all the foes and knock them down; it's then that you can do a group attack that makes short work of most enemies. Sometimes it's hard doing this because of the different types of enemies faced and the party one has accompanying them.
So days pass, there are 12 larger shadow bosses to fight at certain intervals in the tower and the game progresses in this same manner for most of the story. I'll admit I lost interest in building characters about ¾ of the way through because of the lack of challenge the game had so I started rushing through the relationship building, didn't care what personas I had and just beefed up equipment. The game lasts about 50 hours or somewhere in that neighborhood so some gameplay elements might seem pointless at a certain part if you're like me and just destroying every enemy you come across.
Overall, like I said the game was a nice surprise that has a bunch of things I don't like about JRPG's but does enough different to make them either enjoyable or even worth sitting through. This is one game I don't feel bad about recommending to others.