Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Persona 3 by ATLUS

A teenager who as orphaned as a young boy returns to the city of his childhood. Shortly after transferring to Gekkoukan High School he is attacked by Shadows - creatures that feed on the minds of their victims. The assault awakens his Persona, Oerpheus, his only chance at defeating this creatures of the night. He soon discovers that he shares this special ability with other students at his new school. From then he learns of the Dark Hour, a hidden time that exists between one day and the next, swarming with Shadows. He joins the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES), and with his new friends confronts this evil threat...

If you like a little gothic horror in your life, try Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

Atlus' new role playing game (RPG) for the PS2 opens with a scene of bustling city streets. A blue-haired high school boy steps from a train just as the clock ticks midnight and time stops. He makes his way to his newly-assigned dorm, passing coffins and stepping in blood-reflected puddles. Once inside, he signs a contract to bear responsibility for his actions and thus he unknowingly takes on the fate of humanity.

Every night at midnight, time stops for everyone but your blue-haired protagonist, a handful of high school allies and an army of demons. These demons, or Shadows, prey on your frozen-in-time neighbors. It is up to you and your allies to return the small world to a sweeter, demon-less status before the end of the year.

Back to school
Like nearly every other RPG, your actions are driven by stats and victories. Yet, only half of Persona 3 is spent fighting. Your character passes much of the game inside Gekkoukan High, making friends, failing midterms and listening (or not) to boring professors.

Really, it's not that bad. Your character breezes through the school day by skipping uneventful lunch periods and classes. (Time only slows when necessary, and for the most part it's worth reliving painful grade-school memories.) By listening to your peers complain about life's Catch-22s, you open dozens of stat-enhancing side quests. Even if you're not a fan of reliving your high school days, the relationships you create and maintain are always well-rewarded.

During the Dark Hour
The real action occurs, however, during the Dark Hour. You return to school only to find it transformed into the taller, darker Tartarus Tower. To fight the Shadows, your allies shoot themselves in the head to evoke pent-up guardian forces — an action guaranteed to floor you at first sight and the main culprit of the game's "Mature" rating. You can choose to use up all four character slots or to go it alone. Combat features amusing tactics that shake up the monotony of turn-based systems. My favorite, the "all out attack," sends all allies at the enemy in a chaotic cloud of flailing bodies and comic-esque 'WHAM's and 'THUMP's.

Like previous Megami Tensei titles, Persona 3 heavily emphasizes battle strategy. Exploiting enemy weaknesses gives you (and your enemies) extra turns, making it possible to take out four enemies in a slew of well-planned attacks. The series' signature Personas also make a reappearance. With the aid of Igor and his Velvet Room hostess, you are able to fuse Personas in order to create powerful new entities and spells.

Yet the battle system has its flaws. The most appalling is that the computer controls all teammates except the your character. You can give blanket orders to your allies, but detailed commands are impossible. Thankfully, you're not working alongside some dumbed-down AI; the only real downsides are encountered during those rare 'everything goes bad' situations, like when all other teammates are poisoned and on the brink of KO.

One bonus of computer-controlled teammates is that they make dungeon exploring a quicker, less painful ordeal. You can order your teammates to split up and search Tartarus levels for Shadows, treasure or access points without your painstaking guidance.

Blood, guts and gore
Persona 3 is certainly no Final Fantasy relic when it comes to graphics and sound, but it thumbs its nose at the traditional feel-good RPG themes. Its disturbing anime in-game illustrations and cut scenes set the dark mood. The graphics flit between cheerfully normal school backdrops to the unnerving fountains of blood and gothic masks, keeping you on edge and constantly awaiting the next horror.

You'll see a similar transformation is the game's soundtrack. The switch from gothic Tartarus songs to more j-pop and retro-esque tunes keeps the music fresh. Character voices bring their personalities to light, bringing the panic, excitement and humor in every situation.

If you've time to kill, Persona 3 offers enough to discover, befriend and fuse to last many Tartarus years.

By Whitney Rhodes, USA TODAY

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