Sailing the Blue Skies since 2001.
Persona 3 (PS2)
Pub: Atlus/Dev: Atlus
ESRB: M/Players: 1
W- Persona 3 is probably the one game, out of all the games that I have ever played, that I have been the most conflicted by. It does so many things right, yet manages to do one thing so incredibly wrong that it completely counterbalances the experience. I have never been genuinely as pleased, then pissed, at a game as I was when I beat P3. And it's a very strange emotion that I now hold for a game that at one point could have toppled Skies of Arcadia as my favorite I've ever played. I want to focus on what made the game so endearing to me first, and then I'll explain why I feel so soured currently.
First off, Persona 3 has an incredible cast. And it absolutely needed to. The game's "social" half is very enjoyable because of Atlus USA's delicate care into peerless casting and a mostly excellent script (I caught a few typos here and there, and a couple were really bad, but all and all, a solid translation). Your party members shine brightest (Junpei, in particular, was perfect in just about every way), but the game's supporting cast at school and around town also manage to be well thought out. I have no qualms about this aspect of the game, and it's easily the best part about it.
The high point in P3 lies within its Social Links - befriending (and dating, if they're one of the five girls at school you can date) various people, and helping them get through their various issues was brilliant. I loved it. Unfortunately, the designers dropped the ball AFTER you max your Links out. I got very deeply involved with these characters thanks to the aforementioned script and casting joys, but once I got through the link's max, there was nothing more to do. And after going through a ton of emotional highs and lows with them, it was a huge letdown to suddenly have to move on and leave your friend/girlfriend behind because they won't have anything more to say outside of "You changed my life, blah blah". Which is nice, sure, but if I did make such a huge impact on you, why won't you do anything else with me now? At the very least, recycling the "You spent time with so-and-so after school" bit could have softened the blow a touch.
The game's other half, the dungeon crawling, is also fun. Wandering around Tartarus' random dungeons can become boring, but P3 manages to sidestep that issue most of the time. The game's battle engine forces you to only control your main character, who has the ability to use any weapon or Persona he can get his hands on. Your teammates are AI controlled, but will take orders from you and make mostly educated decisions (for example, if an enemy is resistant to Fire, Junpei, who uses Agi, the game's fire magic, will not cast his magic at that monster) on how to best tackle the situation. The game's fighting is nowhere near as engaging as Tales of Symphonia or Grandia II, but it suffices quite nicely. The battle system's greatest strength is the main character's versatility; since he can change out his Persona, which determines his attacks, magic, and his potential resistances/weaknesses, which is a balancing act that requires some strategy. Should you risk missing an enemy with a spell that would knock it over and disable its turn, or use a Persona that negates the magic it casts to focus on healing instead? When wandering the halls, you can split your team up and have them search the area individually, which is a nice plus.
The Velvet Room, a place to mash your various collected Personas together, is also quite a bit of strategic bliss, too. Will you sacrifice your strongest Personas to make one that features the best aspects of the Personas, but is a bit weaker level-wise? Or instead put your weaker Personas together to create one stronger one, at the risk of losing various spells that could assist you later on? Thankfully, if you regret your decision later on, there's a Compendium that stores the records of your Personas last recorded that you can repurchase. If you keep it up to date, there's little fear to mixing Personas of a higher level, which is a relief.
To sum up the pluses of the game, Atlus managed to combine the social aspects of a dating sim with the best parts of the dungeon crawling subset of RPG's to create a very compelling game. As you battle alongside your new friends, their hopes and their dreams, their fears and their darkest secrets, will bubble up to the surface, and you, through the main character, become a part of the team. They pin their goals of defeating the Shadows (the evil force within the game) upon you, and it's a bond that has outdone any other I can think of in gaming. Alas, that is exactly how and why the game shoots itself in the foot, unraveling all of the time, effort and connections that it had made with one poor plotting decision.
This game is long. 90+ hours long. And during that time, you spend most of your days at school, interacting with your fellow students and building said Social Links. Some nights you'll travel to the dungeons of Tartarus, running through the floors with your comrades and destroying Shadows to build up your levels and finding treasure. This is all well and good. But thanks to the long playtime and the meticulously detailed characters you're involved with, I got REALLY caught up into the game's world. But the game's ending took all of that time, all of those friendships, all of the glee that I had gained by playing it, and then proceeded to desecrate it.
The game's final moment, after the credits have all rolled, has your main character slipping into a coma, which they will die of shortly afterwards (which is revealed in the prologue of FES, the game's expansion). I couldn't believe it. Why would Atlus make do that? Why kill off your avatar, the primary connection to the world of Persona 3? A world that so much attention was poured into, one where you felt at home, one that you became an intimate part of through the suddenly dead protagonist? I will never comprehend the reasoning behind such a heinous decision. That one moment, that took maybe 15 seconds to conclude the game, shattered every bit of enjoyment that I had achieved in the 90 hours prior.
Maybe some time will manage to cool my anger towards the game. But it's pointless to try to resist being upset about it right now. This game was an incredible ride, and it crashed and burned like no other game I've played in its final moments. Maybe you will not be as bothered by the game's sudden plot jerk that twisted my feelings towards it. But I have no intention, as of this moment, of having much more to do with this game ever again.
Note - Persona 4 has pretty much made this game obsolete. Every issue, every complaint, no matter how minor, thus far has been resolved in P4, and every joy has been vastly improved upon. It's amazing. You can read more about it here.