Atlus used to be rather stingy about bringing games over. We received the first Persona, sure, but it was missing a large sidequest and the story was changed to make it take place in the US. We didn’t receive the first half of Persona 2, although the second half came introduced us to Atlus par: a good translation, but a small release that could not match demand. They are finally making up for their earlier slacking with Persona 3: FES.
FES contains the original Persona 3 (called “The Journey” here) with tweaks and improvements as well as an epilogue in the form of “The Answer.” Between them, we get about 100 hours of solid, story-heavy JRPG, all for the wonderful price of $30.
For those who weren’t reading the first time around, Persona 3 is about a group of highschoolers who find themselves wielding a power, called Persona, that they don’t fully understand. This power allows them to fight against the malevolent beings known as Shadows that appear during the Dark Hour – a “gap” in time between midnight and the following day that few know about. Confused yet?
How could they possibly get past this locked door?
Unlike Persona 1 and 2, the third game takes place in a day-by-day system. Most days you go to school (lame), hang out with friends during the afternoon (less lame) and have the option to battle the Shadows in their lair, a tower known as Tartarus. Moreso than in most other JPRGs, the player spend a lot of time doing non-battle things, such as backstory and characterization – you know, the stuff nobody in their right mind ever plays looks for from RPGs. I could go on, but if you’re interested in more details about the original, you should check out the review
What’s new in this remade version is mostly small stuff. Several new Personae and one new Social Link were added, the Social Link dates and details were tweaked, and there are new plot events both for links and the main characters. A whole bunch of quests were added, including taking the mysterious and clueless Elizabeth out on dates. All in all, it feels like “Persona 3.1” – definitely not a full-blown remake, but a “patch” of an already solid game. As a bonus, those who played through the original are given a “New Game Plus” that makes the game somewhat less tedious – some small advantages are given in Social Link-related areas.
Overall though, it’s still the game I’d recommend to anyone who likes a good story-driven RPG. Standard where it’s merited, non-standard in tone and story, it’s somewhat tedious but is nonetheless a great game.
New in FES is The Answer, a considerably shorter and tougher epilogue to The Journey. The Answer is much more combat-oriented, with 3-5 hours of dungeon exploration and bosses in between each story event for much of the time. Though I preferred the pacing of the original, I was still spellbound by The Answer. I hardly played anything else until I completed it, which is very unusual for me.
The tone in The Answer deserves special mention. While The Journey is somewhat upbeat (at least at the beginning), The Answer has a morose, lonely feel in both music and design. This gives it an atmosphere that sets it apart from The Journey, as well as most other RPGs.
That lock chain makes him look monstrous.
This shift in tone is the key difference between The Answer and The Journey. The characters, battle system, Persona handling/fusion, and so on are almost exactly the same. In many respects this sameness is a good thing. Persona 3 is one of the few JRPGs where voice acting enhances the game; there are no “duds”, and the main characters in particular are all well-done. The characters you get to know so well over the course of the first game continue to grow in The Answer, and I found my opinions of them changing throughout the course of the game. When I beat The Answer, I had mixed emotions because I had to say goodbye to them.
The sameness also has its drawbacks. The dungeons are still randomly generated monster-filled affairs, and the battle system is exactly the same as in the first 70-hour segment. The rewards for winning battles are increased in The Answer, but the danger is increased to match. I found myself relying more on my AI-controlled allies, who tend to make some stupid moves with their late-game skills (another trend from the original). This is by no means a game-ruiner, but it can be frustrating when a certain bow-wielding character set to “Heal/Support” decides to remove an enemy’s wind resistance rather than save her half-dead friends.
Fans of the first game will love FES. I would have bought it just for The Journey, and the epilogue is story-conclusive icing on an already plot-filled three-layer cake. If you’ve got a big appetite for JRPGs, this is a great game to try.