Persona 3 is a game with style. The latest PS2 entry in Atlus's long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise, every aspect of Persona 3 shows an exquisite level of polish and attention to detail, the end result being one of the finest role-playing games in recent memory.
In Persona 3, you play as a Japanese high school student (who you name at the beginning of the game) who has recently transferred to a new town. Once there, you find that strange events are occurring all around you. People are suffering from a strange affliction known as Apathy Syndrome, and sinister beings known as Shadows arise during a mysterious time known as the Dark Hour, a time located between midnight and 1 AM, of which few people are aware. It is up to you and a group of fellow students to discover the secret behind the Dark Hour while fighting off the ravenous Shadows with the powers of your Personas, summoned alter-egos that possess incredible powers.
Persona 3 is a strange and compelling mixture of Japanese dating sim and traditional role-playing game. During the day you go to class, converse with classmates, go to movies, study, and build relationships. At night, you journey into a gigantic tower known as Tarturus in an attempt to find out more about the Dark Hour. The relationships you establish during the day directly impact your ability to engage in battle at night, melding the two aspects of the game together in a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The battle system is fairly simple to learn but holds a great deal of flexibility. You are only able to exert direct control over your own character, but are able to give broad commands to your allies, who then act on their own. This greatly streamlines the flow of battle and makes them go by extremely quickly. Enemies have a variety of elemental strengths and weaknesses for you to exploit, and successfully doing so allows you to perform a group attack, where your entire party descends on a group of enemies and pummels them into submission. The battles are fun and addictive, although later boss battles can be somewhat difficult without the proper strategy.
Graphics-wise, Persona 3 is a mixed bag. The 3-D character models are cute but not very detailed, but are balanced by the intricately drawn character portraits. The environments around town (such as the high school, mall, shrine, and train stations) all possess a great deal of charm, but the randomly-generated floors of Tartarus most definitely do not. While the visuals may be limited compared to next-gen RPGs, they do a serviceable job and are never a distraction. Highly stylized anime video sequences are interspersed thoughout the game as well.
Aurally, Person 3 is a treat. It features some of the best voice acting of any game I have ever played. This, combined with an absolutely amazing translation, manages to suck you in and really identify with the characters. The soundtrack, composed of multiple genres such as jazz, jpop, opera, and rap, is also quite strong. I found myself humming several of the songs as I went about my day. The battle theme is especially catchy, and I would often find myself letting battles run longer solely to listen to it.
Persona 3 packs a ridiculous amount of content onto the disc. This is a LONG game. Doing almost every available sidequest, I clocked over 90 hours. There are a multitude of Personas to create, many optional quests to pursue, and about a dozen different relationships to establish. If you are looking for a hardcore RPG experience, and have the attention span to see it through, you need to play this game. From the tense opening moments to the emotionally-gripping ending, Persona 3 provides an experience that few other RPGs can match.