Persona 3 Fes

Enhanced re-releases and director’s cuts of games have become somewhat common among RPGs as of late, with the latter, given the tedium and expense of localization, typically not seeing the light of day outside Japan, although there are some exceptions, such as with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time a few years ago, and more recently, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, with its enhanced director’s cut, Persona 3 Fes, given the popularity of the original in North America, indeed seeing a release outside of Japan, and building upon an already-solid title, even if it has some occasional hiccups.

Fes is basically divided into two games: The Journey and The Answer. The Journey is essentially the original game, albeit with some additional scenes, Requests, and a new Social Link, while The Answer is an extra thirty-to-forty hour-long epilogue. The Journey follows a rigidly-linear calendar system where the player’s party attends school, and the protagonist can do various things during and after class to increase three social stats: Academics, Charm, and Courage, which are sometimes necessary to unlock certain Social Links, which the player can build up to ten levels and have significant effect on the battle system. The Answer is equally linear, albeit without the high school simulation, calendar system, social stats, and such.

At night, the player can visit Tartarus, The Journey’s primary dungeon, and ascend through its over-two-hundred levels to fight Shadows that wander its randomly-generated floors (with The Answer’s Abyss of Time following a similar formula). Enemy encounters are visible, and, much akin to Earthbound, foes charge the player’s party (with all of up to four active characters visible as well) if their levels are low, or run away if their levels are high. The protagonist can slash or shoot the enemy to gain the advantage, although the enemy can do so, as well. It is also possible for the player to split up the party and have them fight enemies automatically, although doing so isn’t recommended at lower levels.

Combat largely follows the same rules in both The Journey and The Answer, with the player only able to manually control the protagonist of each, while various A.I. options control the three allies. When the protagonist reaches his/her turn, he/she can attack normally, use an item, change ally A.I., pass his/her turn, attempt to escape, or use SP-consuming skills. Personas play a significant role in combat, with the protagonists of The Journey and The Answer able to carry more than one, while each of his/her allies only have one each. Each Persona has a certain set of skills as well as certain weaknesses and strengths to various kinds of attacks, with the protagonist able to change his/her current Persona once during his/her turn.

During the protagonist’s turn, moreover, enemies can be scanned for their own strengths and weaknesses, which are also a significant driving factor in the battle system. Convenient is the fact that after a scan actually executes once a number of turns have passed, the scan remains on the scanned monster type so the protagonist can recheck it later during his/her turn without any penalty. Actually exploiting an enemy’s weakness knocks that enemy down, with the exploiting character gaining an additional command. If all enemies have been knocked down, the player gains the option to “rush” the enemy, in which case the party deals massive damage to all foes, usually killing them in most normal encounters.

Enemies, conversely, can exploit the player’s own weaknesses and gain additional turns, as well. In both The Journey and The Answer, the protagonist’s death results in a Game Over, although playing the former on the easiest difficulty (the latter’s challenge being fixed), gives the player some room for error in the form of ten Plumes of Dusk that fully restore the party should the player choose to use them. Certain to dissuade novice gamers from playing The Journey on higher difficulties, moreover, is the cheapness of many enemies in the form of two kinds of instant death spells, although an item, the Homunculus (and certain types of Personas, as well), can prevent instant death for the protagonist.

Winning a battle naturally nets experience for all living characters, although occasionally, the player will participate in a Shuffle, where he/she can pick a card to gain additional experience, money, a weapon, or a new Persona. Since the protagonist has a cap on the number of Personas he/she can carry, the player may have to occasionally visit the Velvet Room to fuse them into more powerful incarnations. Personas come in a number of different Arcanas that have matching Social Links outside Tartarus, and after fusion, the new Persona will gain a certain amount of experience depending upon how far the protagonist has advanced that Social Link; however, Social Links and said experience bonuses are unavailable in The Answer.

Other Velvet Room features include the Persona Compendium, where the player can obtain a previously-used Persona for a price and “register” Personas if the ones the protagonist has have different parameters and skills from those in the Compendium, as well as Requests, with the player needing to perform a certain objective such as performing a certain fusion, finding certain items, going on a date with Elizabeth (new to Fes), performing combination Persona skills, and so forth, for a prize. Both the Compendium and Requests, like Social Links, are unavailable in The Answer, as are combo skills. In both games, though, the player can shop for equipment and items, and exchange jewels for special items such as Homunculi.

All in all, the game systems are fairly solid, with The Journey nicely combining the high school simulation and Social Links with the battle system, although enjoyment of The Answer, which is more dungeon and battle-driven, largely depends upon which aspect of The Journey players like more. The inability to manually control allies will bother some, and it can create issues at times, especially if the protagonist of either game is knocked down, in which case the player can only wait and watch until he/she gets back up (with a turn penalty for being knocked down, no less). The Answer itself can be grueling, although a select few items and skills, mainly those that reflect physical and magical attacks, can be the difference between victory and defeat. Still, the various gameplay systems of both games are solid for the most part, and, despite their flaws, are inarguably superior to those in the original two Persona games.

The game interface, though, leaves more room for improvement. Shopping for new gear, for instance, can be tedious since the player can only manage allies’ equipment by talking with them. The save system can create issues, as well, and make leveling characters somewhat risky since the player doesn’t have direct access to save points while navigating Shadow-infested dungeons. Completing some of Elizabeth’s Requests, furthermore, can be tedious without a walkthrough, and it is possible for certain Social Links to go undiscovered without a guide, as well.

The inability to pause can be problematic too if the player sets voiced events to automatically advance, and to be able to skip non-anime cutscenes would have also been welcome. Irritating, too, is the Persona fusion interface, since after picking Personas to fuse, the game randomly selects skills for fused Personas instead of allowing players to manually select them, a flaw, ironically, present in previous installments of the Megami Tensei franchise. Other areas of interaction aren’t too bad, but this whole aspect is still perhaps the weakest part of the game.

Though a sequel, the third Persona is nonetheless a superb epitome of innovation, with its story being especially original and the gameplay having plenty of new elements while preserving the good ideas from its predecessors and discarding most of the bad ones. It still does have the general feel of previous entries into the Megami Tensei franchise, as many skills and enemies demonstrate, but is still plentifully fresh.

The story is decently-executed for the most part, with the high school simulation providing a steady flow, and some extracurricular events like forging Social Links with schoolmates adding nice depth. Story events and character development are believable, as well, with The Answer adding further backstory to the characters. The only real annoyance is that the localization team opted to keep Japanese honorifics like -san, -chan, -senpai, and so forth in the dialogue, which somewhat clashes with the English slang (as well as the whole concept of “localization”), sound somewhat stilted when spoken by American voice actors, and certainly won’t make sense to most Anglophones. Still, the plot is another high point of the game.

The voice acting itself is mostly tolerable during cutscenes, even if it’s largely a step down from the superb work in the Digital Devil Saga dilogy, mostly because of a cast of teenage characters. The award for worst performance definitely goes to Fuuka’s voice actress, with some genius at Atlus thinking it would be cute to have her narrate every trivial action taken by the player’s party and the enemy during combat. Granted, there is an option to turn off the voice acting, an option that is unfortunately universal, and even so leaves some voices in battle, despite mercifully silencing Fuuka for the most part. Still, separate options to turn on and off the voicework in and out of battle would have certainly been welcome.

The music fares significantly better, with series composer Shoji Meguro providing a fitting soundtrack largely combining piano tracks in dungeons and during cutscenes (with a bit of Japanese pop occasionally thrown into the mix) with reasonably upbeat battle tracks, with the normal theme being an interesting combination of pop music and gangster rap, and boss battle themes having a techno feel. The main theme songs of both The Journey and The Answer excel as well (with the former serving as something of a central theme, something all RPGs should have), and while certain tracks such as the dungeon themes could have used more diversity, the third Persona still sounds more than adequate, even if some of the voicework is horrendous.

Fes uses a visual style that’s neither fully realistic nor fully anime-style, with decent scenery and character models, and most cutscenes narrated by character portraits taking up the screen while their respective characters are talking. Battles graphics shine as well, with nice Shadow and Persona designs, and short but nice spell animations, as well. Some anime cutscenes rarely show up, as well, which are never a bad thing. The only major flaws are the incredibly asinine dodge animation of enemies (moving to the side and back into place without lifting an appendage, which looks incredibly stupid) and some minor choppiness during a few spell animations, but otherwise, the visuals leave little room for improvement.

Both The Journey and The Answer, finally, are surprisingly long for rigidly-linear games, with the former taking about eighty hours and the latter up to forty. Overall, Persona 3 Fes is a solid director’s cut, building upon an already-great game, with its gameplay systems and other aspects shining as well, in spite of some flaws with usability and one annoying voice actress. Regardless, the third installment is still much-improved over its predecessors in the Persona subseries, making it a superb entry point into Atlus’s ever-expanding Megami Tensei franchise.

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