You play as a nameless protagonist who is sent to live at a dorm, where upon arriving he meets a girl holding a gun. Well it turns out that gun is known as an Evoker, a magical device that is used to summon spiritual creatures from within certain people called Personas. These Persona users are among a select few who stay awake during a hidden hour called "The Dark Hour", where you and your party have to fight creatures known as shadows.
The story starts out simple enough, albeit not typically. Be patient, the RPG formula is turned on it's head in quite a few ways.For instance, we've seen plenty of games where the world is in danger, so much that it's pretty much expected in every game to the point but I've seen no other game that actually goes into depth about the possible end of the world. The depression, anxiety, feeling of hopelessness, this game actually uses the idea of apocalypse as more then "wow, uber cool man, look at like, all the fire" There are many RPG's that try to be dark and edgy but this one is.
The characters are all, for the most part, fully fleshed out and well developed. You'll fall in love with these characters, 3 dimensional and despite the fantasy element, very realistic.
But hey, it's not all gloom and doom. There are many lighthearted and humoruos moments throughout the game, some that will have you busting a gut for sure.
Graphics are solid for PS2 game. They won't blow you away but they are satisfactory. Of course the bigger players have an anime design when you see them talking, and there are well made anime cut scenes(though most cut scenes are the traditionaly done stuff) The environments are beautiful and the characters well drawn.
The sound is great. Voices are all clear and not muddled at all. The voices they chose for the characters are absolutely perfect, not a single voice didn't do justice. Of course I can't forget the music which was unique, using Japanese pop among other things, but also has some melodies that put some of the other heavily praised RPG soundtracks to shame.
Now for the gameplay. The gameplay is divided into 2 sections, and I will discuss each one individualy:
Stage 1:Normal Life
Part of this game's originality is that it's part high school dating sim. Monday through Saturday you go to school, usually with a brief cut scenebefore each day where you talk to a party member. From there you might have to answer a question, get a chance to catch up on sleep, etc. After school you can walk around the school, talk to characters, and form social links. There are certain characters you can form social links with. By either them inviting you to hang out or you find them, you can maximize social links and depending on the arcana of that social link, it can make the Persona of that same arcana stronger. In addition you can go to places like the mall or stations where you can buy stuff. You also have 3 social stats:academics, charm and courage. Studying at night and going to the library can increase academics, seeing a war or horror movie or singning at a karaoke can increase courage, and charm can be increased by answering a question right or seeing a romance movie. There are other ways for each of them of course but I can't possibly list them all. Doing this makes it easier to attract girls for dates, who may or may not be your main goal(although for the gays out there, sorry to say the most you can be with a guy is a good friend)When you go to your dorm, it automatically becomes night. You can go to sleep, talk with your party members, or go to Tartarus.
Tartarus is the only real dungeon in the game, and it goes for 250+ floors. Although you'll be required to have reached the top by the end, it's really more for level building then actually storyline development. Every floor has graphics representing shadows. If you hit them, your team get's an extra turn, but they can do the same to you. Although you can give your team mates strategical commands(heal only, conserve SP which is this game's MP, etc.) for the most party you only control yourself. By giving them the right strategical commands, you can prevent them from making too many stupid moves, although even without commands they're surprisingly competent. This game also has a unique element system. If you hit an enemy with an attack it's weak against, you can attack again and the enemy will be "down", which will require a turn for them to get up(careful, this can apply to your characters as well) If you can knock all enemies down, your team initiates an all out attack that can deal massive damage. Random encounters can be challenging but are fun so that the constant leveling up for the next boss isn't as tedious as other RPG games. On certain floors there will be guardian shadows, like mini bosses. On these floors special devices are set, markers you could say, that allow you to go right back to that floor. You'll be told in advance when you're about to enter this floor. You can simply use the device to return to the bottom, instantly restoring your party's stats, and then return up to fight(if you want to right then and there) One more thing to be aware of here is the fatigue factor. Too much time in Tartarus may cause a character to become fatigued. They'll miss more often. If you return to the bottom with a fatigued character, they will go home.
Oh, and beware, just about every month there's a boss battle. Just keep leveling up in Tartarus and you should be fine.
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