Most helpful critical review
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A Pretty Unusual RPG...But does "different" equal "better"?
on October 25, 2009
Well, this is my first exposure to the Shin Megami Tensei series, and I must say that I find this game is pretty different from traditional RPGS, at least in terms of gameplay. Being as this is my first Shin Megami Tensei game, I won't be comparing this to others in the series. So, on to the review!
Graphics (score 8/10): Graphics aren't bad. They're not as spectacular that they could be for the PS2 but I've never really been one to nitpick over graphics. The art style is very anime-ish, so if you don't like that, beware. I really like that style, though, so it was not a problem for me.
Music (score 7/10): Well, how much you like this music will depend on how much you like Rap and J-pop with nonsensical lyrics. I'm not really fond of it, but neither do I hate it, so I was pretty neutral towards the music. The thing that really bugs me, though, is that the songs start to become really repetitive after awhile. Part of this is due to the fact that there aren't many locations in the game, so you hear that location's song a lot. The music does change up as you progress past certain points in the game, but it does little to alleviate the feeling of "song overload". There IS voice acting, and it is very good. So, no complaints there.
Characters (score 9/10): Well, the main characters (aside from your avatar character, which I'll get to later) are very well developed, and the NPCs even have very good character development. Everyone has great character depth and feels like they could be a real person, with real personalities. However, your main character is a strange anomaly in a game filled with deep personality characterizations. He doesn't even have a default name (let's call him Minato for the purposes of this review), nor does he possess a personality of any kind. Yep, it's another "silent protagonist"- a tired RPG convention that I'm frankly getting sick of. I mean, when Dragon Quest VIII did it, it was pushing it, but now I'm just sick of it. Main characters are just not memorable or likeable when they are mute. Well, glad I got that out of my system. At least the other characters make up for it. Another thing of interest, the social link system has you talking to various NPCs, which is basically a dating/friendship sim. Answering "correctly" for each person will increase your social link strength and benefit your Personas (which are monsters you can summon to aid you in battle). I must say that after playing through this, I'm starting to feel that Minato is either a social whore or a sociopath. You spend all your time simply choosing whatever answer will please the person you're currently with, even if it blatantly contradicts what you just said to another person. Minato is basically manipulating these people for his own gain (the Personas' strength) just like a sociopath. And the way that he just gives whatever answers will please people is kinda whore-ish. If you think about it that way while you're playing, it's hilarious. I would've liked the ability to choose whatever answer I want without being penalized (if you choose wrongly, you won't strengthen the social link and power up your personas). Although I suppose the game developers had to give you some incentive to talk to people, otherwise their dating/friendship sim would've been completely worthless. Anyway, I knock a point off for Minato's lack of personality.
Story (score 9/10): The story itself is very interesting. It involves a bunch of Japanese High School students discovering that there is a special extra hour in the night called the "Dark Hour" that most people do not experience, and that there are monsters that come out during this time called Shadows. And, of course, only they have the power to fight the Shadows. The story just evolves from there, and is very entertaining. I also liked the themes of the story, which include elements of Jungian psychology, various philosophies, suicide and mortality, responsibility, and even a little bit of existentialism. On the negative side, while I love the story itself, the pacing could've been better. I really complain about this more in the gameplay section (and knock points off the score there), but I'll make mention of it here. You must wade through bunches of only mildly interesting filler consisting of just going to school and talking to people before relevant portions of the story are revealed. If only the pacing of the story was better, this game could've been that much more enjoyable.
Battle System (score 8/10): Well, battles are turn-based, which I like. The party is AI-controlled. I would've preferred to control them myself, but their AI is pretty darn good, so hat's off to the game developers. I do wish they had replaced irritating magic names like "Agi" and "Bufu" with simple to understand thing like "Fire" and "Ice". I don't see why they couldn't; every other RPG has already done this and it is very helpful. You can see enemies on-screen, which is also pretty cool (no random encounters here! ...not that I really mind random encounters). Anyway, there's not much to else to say here.
Gameplay (score 6/10): This is a bit of a catch-all category for me. Well, Persona 3 has several aspects which normally spell doom for an RPG: randomly generated dungeon floors (I'm not a fan of these), a time-based gameplay system (this game operates on a "day by day" system, where time passes in a day by entering certain locations and choosing to "spend time" with people), AI-controlled party members, being limited to a single town/dungeon for the duration of the game, and a dating/friendship sim that constitutes a huge portion of gameplay. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? Surprisingly, it isn't as terrible as I thought it would be, but it's still bad. That's right, you heard me. First, let's discuss the good points:
The randomly generated floors of the dungeon aren't too difficult to navigate, so that's good. The AI of your party is pretty good, especially compared to other games, like Kingdom Hearts (in which your A.I.-controlled party members are idiots). The dating/friendship sim isn't too bad since the individual stories of the NPCs are pretty interesting.
Now, having gotten the good points out of the way, let's discuss the bad:
I must say that this game is really tedious and there is a feeling of excessive grinding throughout (which I despise). I mean, all RPGs have a little grinding (and I love RPGs) but this is just ridiculous. You spend most of your time courting various "friends" in the ONE town of the game and the other half of your time is spent grinding through the ONE dungeon in this game. So, you see how this can get tedious after awhile (and this game is long!). I kind of wish they had cut out 70% of the grind and just made it a shorter game because the pacing feels like your crawling along. If you've ever wondered why other RPGs have teenagers unrealistically skipping school and traveling across the world, it's because doing it the realistic way by having them attend school every day (like Persona 3) is tedious as all heck. I sort of felt like I was going stir crazy after awhile from being stuck in the same repetitive locations--the couple times that the characters went on vacation to somewhere new I was like--OMG! Something different!!! Unfortunately, the vast majority of your time is spent in that one town or that one dungeon. Despite its flaws, strangely, I still found this game to be fun, but it just doesn't merit a higher score in this section. There is one really good thing that would make you want to replay this game--there's a new game plus option which allows you to keep all your weapons, items, Personas in the compendium, money, and your main character's level. So, if you play it again, you can breeze right through (well, sort of, it still takes a long time). I'd probably enjoy this game much more on the second play-through since the majority of the grind is already done.
Overall (score 7/10): NOTE this score is not an average; it's my subjective overall score. I feel so conflicted about this game; on the one hand, it's tedious and irritating to wade through all the dreck to get to the interesting bits of story, but on the other hand, the game is oddly compelling and enjoyable to play in spurts. In fact, I think this game would have been much better if it were shorter. I don't normally say things like that, but if they had cut out some of the calendar days so that the game takes place over half a year instead of a full year (so that the game concludes in 50 hours instead of 100+), then maybe it wouldn't have felt so tedious and grinding. They could've cut out some of the filler and more concisely told their story, which would have made this game amazing. Still, I enjoyed this game enough to try playing other games in the series. However, I honestly can't decide whether I should recommend this game or not. This game seems to be rather hit or miss for people, so I suppose the best way to know whether or not you will like this game is to just rent it or buy it, and just see for yourself.