Thursday, September 06, 2007

VG REVIEW: Persona 3

Atlus, for the PlayStation 2, rated M for Mature (blood, language, partial nudity, violence), $49.99.

I’ve played video games where the main characters have summoned powerful gods and otherworldly creatures. I’ve played games where they’ve transformed themselves into fabulous monsters or harnessed arcane magic to perform impossible feats.

But I’ve never played a game where the main characters had to shoot themselves in the head to summon their powerful alter egos.

That’s just one of the central conceits behind “Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3” an inventive and engrossing role-playing game designed, like most titles in the “Shin Megami Tensei” series, with a more complex, mature audience in mind.

The game takes place in a world much like ours, but with a twist. In this world, there’s a secret, dark hour between midnight and 12:01 a.m. (but, magically, an hour for the game) when deadly monsters come out and prey upon unsuspecting humans.

Your character (you get to name him) is a high school transfer student who, imbued with the ability to summon powerful creatures called Personas, joins a team of demon-hunting fellow students. Together you battle the “dark hour” monsters in a labyrinthine tower called Tartarus.

When not chasing ungodly creatures in this enormous dungeon, you’ll be trying to improve your abilities by making new friends at the high school.

Your personas gain strength from the different social relationships you have with others in the school and surrounding neighborhood. Doing things like joining the student council or the swim team can gain you access to new types of personas, while visiting the karaoke bar or studying for a test can increase your courage or academic levels.

“Persona 3” offers a great deal of strategy. You can fuse personas together to create new ones. And knowing your enemy’s weakness (to fire for example) can often make the difference between victory and defeat in a battle.

The game boasts a colorful, anime-based art style, even during the somber sequences. Perhaps most jarring of all is the sunny pop soundtrack that offers odd counterpoint to the frequently sinister goings-on. Not to mention all the shooting-in-the-head stuff.

“Persona 3” suffers a bit in that, as with most rpgs, you’ll have to do a fair amount of level grinding and repeat certain floors of Tartarus to progress through the game. But the variations and clever ideas — regardless of how disturbing they might be — make the game worthy.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



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