Game: Shin Megami Tensei’s Persona 3
System: Playstation 2
High School (Much Like Love) is a Battlefield At least, that’s what Shin Megami Tensei’s Persona 3 would have you believe. Set in a Japanese boarding school, the latest in the Persona series has you dating, joining teams, making friends, oh yeah, and fighting evil creatures of the night that only you and several others can see. Sound simple? Believe me, it’s much crazier than it seems.
First of all, the name Shin Megami Tensei should tip you off to the fact that this is going to be another bizarre (but incredible) RPG, and the game certainly doesn’t disappoint. You start off as a transfer student to the boarding school with a mysterious past, and immediately encounter some Shadows, which are the aforementioned creatures of the night. They only come out during the Dark Hour, which is the 25th hour of the day and takes place between midnight and 12:01 a.m. During this hour, which most humans are unaware of, you and your dorm mates must fight the Shadows by using Personas, which are parts of your personality that you summon to cast harmful magic on the enemy or heal yourself and your teammates. That sounds similar to the summons of most RPGs, with the main difference being the fact that to summon your Persona, you shoot yourself in the head.
If you’re thinking "huh? This game is totally messed up!, you’re not alone. Still, despite the weirdness factor, this is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. The turn-based battles are intense and allow you to decide the level of control you have over your teammates. Exploring Tartarus, the tower where most of these Shadows appear, is a lot of fun, especially when doing scavenger-hunt-like side missions. As you level up, you can use and create more and more Personas, and fusing them is pretty damn cool.
Another unique aspect of the game, which sets it far apart from any other RPG I’ve ever played, is that the Personas you use grow stronger depending on the social links you make during the day, so the social activities you do during the day affect how you fight at night. Believe me, your social calendar fills up pretty quickly when you’ve joined the swim team and the art club, befriended random townspeople old and young alike, and are dating two girls (while at the same time trying to keep them from finding out about each other… I’m fairly certain this can’t end well).
I’ve found Persona 3 to be both refreshing and addictive; my poor 360 and Wii have been nearly abandoned since this game came out, bringing my PS2 out of what could have been an early retirement. And, with 70+ hours of gameplay almost guaranteed, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. Overall, I’d say that Persona 3 is a strong contender for PS2 Game of the Year.