Warning: Being a direct sequel, this review contains unavoidable spoilers of Persona 3.
Nine months after Persona 3 hit store shelves in Japan, Atlus graced us with Persona 3: FES (short for “FESTIVAL” and pronounced with a soft ‘s’), a “director’s cut” version of the original game, Episode Yourself, accompanied by a new addition, Episode Aegis. Although at the time of this writing there are no plans for a domestic release of Persona 3: FES, the amount of fresh content definitely makes it worth importing.
Episode Yourself tells the story of a nameless hero who works together with his companions from the Moonlight Mansion School to eliminate the “Shadow Hour,” a phenomenon which results in the manifestation of a tower called “Tartarus” on the school campus (and hordes of demons known as “shadows”) past midnight. I won’t delve into the finer details of Episode Yourself in this import review, since domestic reviews of the main game should provide a good idea of what Persona 3 is like. Rather, I will focus on the enhancements to the main game which can be found in Persona 3: FES. These enhancements include a “hard” difficulty, new Personae that are available through the “Aeon” Commu (Social Link), the ability to “go on walks” with Koromaru to find items and encounter Commus, special costumes for each character, weapon fusion (which allows for a great deal of new customization), and best of all, some secret scenes which flesh out the story of the main game. The best of these scenes revolves around Junpei and his relationship with Chidori, which veterans of the original will recall as some of the most poignant moments in the game.
Similarly, Episode Aegis opens in the student dormitory. It is March 31, 2010, and approximately one month has passed since the final battle in Episode Yourself. Aegis, Fuuka, Junpei, Ken, Koromaru, and Mitsuru are having a dinner gathering in the lounge. Eventually, the clock strikes 0:00 but something unusual is amiss; according to the newscast, it is still March 31st. Nervous glances at their cellular phones reveal the same strange coincidence. Unlike the “Shadow Hour” from the previous game, though, the atmosphere outside has not changed, so a recently restless Aegis retires to her room for the night.
Aegis explains that the “hero,” who closed his eyes and fell asleep in her lap in the final scenes of the first game, never awoke. It can be assumed that he passed away from the strain of the final battle. Although the “Shadow Hour” disappeared and peace was restored to the world, Aegis suffers from internal torment; her mission was to protect him and to stay at his side, at all costs. At first, she dreamed of him every night, but eventually the dreams stopped and she began suffering from mild insomnia. This night, too, Aegis finds herself unable to sleep.
Fuuka then knocks on the door, inquiring if Aegis is still awake. Apparently, an enemy has entered the dormitory and there is a battle impending in the lounge. Aegis rushes downstairs and discovers an android similar to herself, but dressed in black and wearing a crimson butterfly mask, confronting the rest of the party. This android introduces herself as “Metis” and says she has come to protect Aegis from the rest of the dormitory residents, because they are “dangerous existences.” Aegis refuses to conform to her demands, so the android engages her in combat as she sees necessary to protect her.
Metis eventually subdues Aegis and turns her attention towards Ken. She assaults the boy, lifting him over her head and presumably preparing to kill him. At this time, Aegis summons her persona, Athena, which suddenly evolves into Orpheus (which, as veterans of the first game recall, was the default persona for the hero). She then loses consciousness and is taken to the Velvet Room, where Igor and Elizabeth introduce themselves and endow her with the Contractor’s Key. They seem to have information about the hero, but are vague at best in terms of revealing information to the new heroine.
When Aegis regains consciousness, Metis has calmed down substantially and explains that time has come to a complete stop. The residents of the dormitory are unable to leave the building, and moreover, their existences (and the dormitory itself) are supposedly connected to the phenomenon. The only way to correct this, according to the android, is to eliminate them. Aegis finds this unacceptable and requests cooperation from her. Metis agrees and leads them to the “Time Interval,” another Tartarus-like dungeon which is conveniently located beneath the dining table in the first floor of the dormitory. It is in this dungeon that Episode Aegis’ story begins to unfold. What is the connection between this new phenomenon and the Shadow Hour, and how is the dormitory and its residents involved? What is the role of the seemingly-deceased hero, and how has Aegis inherited his unique ability to summon multiple Personae? Are Metis’ intentions really good, or as a machine, will she act out of necessity and betray them? These questions, and more, are asked and answered in the Episode Aegis section of Persona 3: FES.
The story, overall, is quite excellent. The characters avoid falling into common clichés for the most part, although I couldn’t help but compare Aegis and Metis to KOS-MOS and T-ELOS on a semi-frequent basis.
Gameplay remains unchanged for the most part but is more limited. Commus are no longer available in Episode Aegis, for obvious reasons; it’s hard to be social when confined inside the dormitory! Similarly, the Academic, Charm, and Courage statistics are now static. Since Aegis is an android, she has no need for coffee shops and karaoke to enhance her interpersonal relations and test scores. The lack of these elements makes Episode Aegis feel more like a dungeon crawler and less like a dating simulation when compared to the original game. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on which aspect of Persona 3 was the most appealing to each individual.
Unfortunately, the Persona Compendium has mysteriously vanished in Episode Aegis, which makes raising Personae much more tedious. Up against a weak-to-wind boss, but don’t have an appropriate Persona for the job? Well, it’s not so simple as taking a trip to the Velvet Room and purchasing one of the old anti-wind Personae you had collected earlier. Now, you will actually need to farm for new cards. A little disappointing in this regard, and the absence of the compendium is the main factor limiting Persona 3: FES from receiving above 90% in the gameplay department.
Graphics, too, are mostly unchanged. There are some new battle backgrounds in the Time Interval, but most of the enemy designs are the same. The game’s definitely blessed by Shigenori Soejima’s presence, however. Some may recognize his name from the [extremely underrated… shameless plug!] Strategy RPG “Stella Deus,” in which he served as the main character designer and illustrator. His art has a unique style and it is one this reviewer definitely appreciates.
Control, too, is the same for better or for worse. On one hand, dungeon navigation is extremely convenient, with a rotatable camera and a radar for detecting enemies and treasure boxes. Menu navigation, however, needs work. Why can I only purchase one item at a time at the accessory and equipment shops? If I want to buy six suits of the newest armor, one for each of the human members of my party, it’s extremely inconvenient to purchase them in quantities of one over and over again. Why do I have to talk to each member individually in order to view their equipment and make modifications? It should be selectable from the main menu. There are several small oversights, such as these, which render “control” as the weakest element of the Persona 3 package. On the whole, however, it’s a very insignificant complaint.
As for the sound, Persona 3: FES recycles much of its music from the first game. However, seventeen new tracks are brought to the table, and they’re excellent. In particular, Mass Destruction ~P3: FES Version~ is an awesome remix of the original battle theme. The opening theme, creatively titled P3: FES, is a catchy remix of Burn My Dread and features some of the nonsensical rapping that the game’s soundtrack has become known for. The new songs serve to enhance an already strong soundtrack, so this reviewer has no complaints in the sound department.
On a final note, import friendliness. This game, which features a character cast mainly consisting of high school students, is heavy on the youth slang. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have understood a good portion of the dialogue if I weren’t working as an English teacher in a Japanese high school at this time in my life. Therefore, I recommend an above average level of Japanese reading/listening ability in order to get the most out of Persona 3: FES’ character development and storyline. If you can’t understand simple slang like, “Maji kayo? Arienee…” then pretty much 90% of everything Junpei says throughout the course of the game will be incomprehensible.
Overall, the release of Persona 3: FES was a delightful surprise for fans of the original game, and I applaud Atlus for releasing an excellent append disc. In terms of both enhancing Episode Yourself, as well as providing Episode Aegis (which adds another 25-30 hours of solid gameplay to the experience), Persona 3 has turned out to be one of the most high-quality titles on the PlayStation 2 and definitely a shining star in the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole.