COGconnected Retro Review Series Episode 5 – Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES: Part 1 – The Intro  

There are all kinds of gamers out there, with all kinds of game passions. There are many people who play video games, who want more knowledge of games of the past; they want history, and review. So a series of articles was born: The Retro Review Series. The games covered in this series of articles are going to be gems; games that are beloved to some, which are not necessarily the best or most popular games. Although these articles have been released monthly, up until this one, they will see a less regular release from now on. As I wrote at the end of my last Retro Review, every now and then I’m going to take a break from intended release plan, to highlight something that I’ve recently played. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES is the first time this has happened. I recently sunk over 100 hours into my first play through of this updated version of Persona 3, and it blew me away! I’m having a difficult time not rambling on and gushing about how fantastic this game is, but I’ve got to have some kind of structure to this article.

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When I first heard of the Megami Tensei series, it was with the release of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. At the time, I didn’t realize that this obviously very Japanese game was the third main series game in a popular JRPG series that had been around since the 80’s. All I knew is that it was an RPG that was supposed to be like “rated-R Pokémon”, and that one of those Pokémon was Dante from Devil May Cry. I was never into Pokémon; it came out when I was just entering high school. I had some friends who liked it, and my brother liked it, so I had seen the cartoon. I thought the game looked terrible, but definitely liked the idea of an RPG where I could catch and battle with monsters. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne seemed like it would be a great opportunity for me to play something with this base mechanic. Keep in mind that games like Ni No Kuni and Final Fantasy XIII-2 hadn’t come out yet, and monster collecting/battling in a story-based RPG was still pretty exclusive to the Pokémon franchise. And no, I didn’t realize, at the time, that the Megami Tensei series predated the Pokémon series.

I was also a huge Devil May Cry fan. To me, it was the first great franchise of the PS2 generation, and I was snatching up every game that that series’ protagonist made any appearances in (which was basically just Nocturne and Viewtiful Joe).

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Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne was an Atlus release and I knew it was going to be rare, so I picked it up from EB Games right when it came in. I even bought the strategy guide, and I was so ready to love it… but found it to be visually bland and horrendously difficult.

The game had this horrible light grey color palette and all the environments seemed super vacant; that first hospital was so boring to look at. And the environments seemed too fat, which was a problem I had with some N64 games (mainly Mario Kart). After a while I realized that the environments were made to recreate the look of old PC dungeon crawlers: the same kind of repetitive, paneled, first person perspective rooms I had most closely known from Phantasy Star I and Jurassic Park for Super Nintendo. The world map had a generic cursor instead of a character. The combat was good, but the spells all had hard to remember Japanese names like Bufu, and Trafuria, and it was too difficult to keep track of what all my demons’ abilities were. The story took way too long to develop any sort of plot (except for the quick apocalypse, that was cool). And all of this might have been forgivable, except after grinding way ahead of the curve, and being at a point where enemies gave away very little experience, relative to my level, I fought a mandatory boss, and it basically one-hit-killed me. Nope, I was done.

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For whatever reason, I still really wanted to like this franchise, and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne had made enough of a splash, in North America, that the spinoffs and sequels were all getting released! The Digital Devil Saga games got good reviews, but looked similar enough to Nocturne that I figured I wouldn’t love them either, but when Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 was released, it had a different vibe. The game had this modern anime swag about it, which looked really slick. And the story featured high school kids, which summoned demons by shooting themselves in the face with guns. Seriously, how could I not try this game?

It shared some of the issues that Nocturne had, like the spell naming, but it looked incredible and the story was immediately captivating. And even though I did get cheap-shotted by some enemies, I felt like there was a chance that I could beat them. The game also had many ways to make it so level grinding didn’t feel like a chore, but I will go into them during the review portion of this article.

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Persona 3 has been re-released in three different versions: the original in 2007, a “director’s cut” called Persona 3: FES (which is what this article will eventually review), and a PSP version with further tweaks called Persona 3: Portable. Between it an its also-incredible sequel (as in Final Fantasy-style not-related story-wise sequel), Persona 4, the Persona series has eclipsed the Megami Tensei main series, in terms of sales/ popularity. Part 3 of this article is gonna tell you why.

Whenever these articles are released on COGconnected, they will be split up into 4 weekly parts: The Intro, The History, The Review, and The Verdict. So here ends The Intro. Next week: The History of what might be my favorite PS2 RPG: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES.