Persona 3 FES – Staff Review

Under normal circumstances, when a Japanese company releases an expansion for a game, the rest of the world is left out of the loop. Thankfully for us in North America, Persona 3 FES is a rare exception to the rule. Offering a number of changes to Persona 3, FES adds some nice bonuses to the initial package, while adding on a good deal of new content and doing some overall re-balancing. FES‘s changes range from the nice but inconsequential (new costumes), to the significant (an all-new 30 hour epilogue), to the inexplicable (Mara), but overall, FES is a solid and worthwhile addition to Persona 3.

Persona 3 FES is split into two major sections. The first, entitled The Journey, is the mainline quest that made up the entirety of Persona 3, plus a few adjustments and some small bits of new content. The second part, called The Answer, is an entirely new epilogue to the game, dealing mostly with the ramifications of the end of The Journey and the attempt by the cast to come to terms with the events that closed the story out.

In The Journey, the player takes control of a high school student, newly transferred to Gekkokan High. Arriving late at night by train, the city is suddenly transfixed. Every electronic device fails, the lights go out, and the people are transmogrified into huge, looming coffins. The player has experienced something called the Dark Hour, a space of time that normal people know nothing about. People who can experience the Dark Hour are rare, and only those that can wield the power called Persona survive in it for long, but the protagonist is unusual even amongst this rare breed – rather than being confined to one Persona, he can shift Personas at will. The only price he pays for this power comes in the form of a strange young boy, who asks him to sign a contract stating that he will take responsibility for his actions, a theme that runs through the entire game. In short order, the protagonist is inducted into a group called S.E.E.S., the Special Extra-Curricular Execution Squad, a group dedicated to eliminating the Dark Hour and the dangerous Shadows that inhabit it.


The Answer, on the other hand, follows the aftermath of the final events of The Journey, acting as an epilogue of sorts. The player takes control of Aigis, a robot that served as an anti-Shadow weapon, and who formed a close bond with the main character. Without spoiling too much, The Answer deals with Aigis’s attempts to come to terms with the flood of unfamiliar emotions unleashed by the final events of The Journey, and the mysterious appearance of a dungeon called the Abyss of Time, which seems to be causing March 31st to repeat over and over again.

The two parts of the game have slightly different themes, but they dovetail very nicely. The Journey, with its focus on developing relationships and the paths characters choose in life, is a look at the relationship between life and death. The main message of The Journey is the idea that the relationships we form and the accomplishments we leave behind can not only transcend death, but defeat it entirely. Conversely, The Answer is more about coming to terms with the death of another, and the need to reject the idea of death as a potential source of comfort – the idea that dying can solve all of our problems.

Persona 3 FES handles its message rather deftly, giving the game a strong sense of purpose and direction. Character development in particular is a strong point, giving all of its characters a fully fleshed-out feel. There is a significant shift in pacing between the two parts of the game, as The Journey is a bit leisurely-paced, while The Answer moves at a more normal clip for an RPG. This is mainly due to the fact that The Journey uses a rigorous calendar system that determines when specific events in the story will occur, while The Answer does not. Consequently, there are parts of The Journey that drag a bit simply because the major events are sometimes spaced a bit far apart. Both narrative styles have their merits, but The Answer is going to be a bit easier for most RPG veterans to swallow.

The combat system, on the other hand, is the same for both parts of the game. Persona 3 FES uses a somewhat simplified version of the Press Turn system seen in Digital Devil Saga and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, called One More. Basically, the game plays out like a traditional turn-based combat system, but whenever a character hits an opponent’s elemental weakness, they’ll get an extra turn. In addition to this, the enemy will be knocked down, lowering their stats and forcing them to either take a hit or waste one of their own turns standing up. Of course, each player character has their own weakness as well, meaning the system can be used against you.

In The Journey, the strength of the Personas that the main character can use is determined by the Social Link system. Basically, whenever the main character forms a new friendship, a new Social Link opens up, and is assigned one of the arcana of the Tarot. As the main character’s relationship with that person matures, the Persona that share the Link’s arcana will gain larger and larger EXP bonuses. Of course, this has a flip side, too, as the game also demands that, in accordance with the contract you signed, you take responsibility for your actions. Ignore a friend or blow off a date, and there will be consequences. If you’re particularly cold to them, their arcana may Reverse, meaning that Social Link won’t be able to increase until you reconcile. FES does introduce a rebalancing of the Social Link system, making it a lot easier to increase the levels of each Link. This is a very welcome change, as it lets players see more of the side stories that make up the majority of the plot in Persona 3.

Overall, the combat system is fairly strong, and much more tactically challenging than it seems at first. The game likes to create unusual challenges for the player, especially in The Answer, which pairs up parties of foes who resist each other’s weaknesses, forcing the player to find a way around their resistances. The game’s fully AI-controlled allies can make this a bit of a challenge at times, given that the player is limited to issuing general rather than specific orders to allies. The AI does remember weaknesses and resistances, though, meaning your allies won’t be completely helpless, but they do require a bit of a nursemaid approach at times.

FES offers a few major alterations from Persona 3, and some more minor ones. The most visible changes to The Journey are shifts in the game’s balance; the easier Social Links, the new Personas, and the ability to create weapons. This shift in the balance doesn’t affect the overall difficulty of the game very much, but it does make it run a great deal more smoothly, with fewer bare patches during which Social Links and mainline plot both stagnate. The Personas that have been added to the mix are mostly returning characters from earlier Shin Megami Tensei games, adding a nice callback to earlier games in the series. It doesn’t have quite the effect on players outside Japan that it otherwise might, however, given that a fair number of these newcomers are from SMT games that never made it to our shores. Overall, the changes FES makes to Persona 3 are nice, but the addition of The Answer is really what makes the game a worthwhile purchase for those who already own the game.


The game’s control is pretty solid and sports some very nice pop art design. There have even been a few improvements to the interface since Persona 3, though there are still areas that could use adjusting. A major improvement is the ability to see a move’s description when selecting what moves to learn when a Persona levels up. Unfortunately, this addition wasn’t extended to the Persona status screen, which is a bit inexplicable, and makes it a bit difficult to figure out what a move will do outside of combat. The lack of a Persona Compendium in The Answer is also a bit odd, especially given that its disappearance means that there isn’t a whole lot to spend your accumulated loot on. The short length of The Answer and the ease of getting low level Persona through normal combat means the Compendium’s disappearance doesn’t have a major impact on combat, but it is a bit inexplicable and makes fusion accidents much more of a problem.

The majority of the voice acting is quite good, but there are a few characters whose VAs are a bit shoddy. This is especially a problem with Fuuka, who acts as your support for most of the game, scanning foes and reporting on your allies’ health and overall status. Her voice is the one you’re going to be hearing the most, but the actor’s delivery is rather flat and stilted, with awkward pauses between words, making it a bit grating at times. Strangely, in the new material FES introduces, Fuuka’s voice is much less problematic, which makes me wonder what the problem was in the original.

Persona 3 FES‘s music is a bit of an odd turn for Shoji Meguro, the series composer. Known most for his guitar-driven combat themes, Meguro opts for a much more pop-ish soundtrack, with strong infusions of hip-hop. And, of course, the game still retains the haunted, wispy music that gives Shin Megami Tensei its creepy atmosphere. Taken all together, Persona 3‘s soundtrack is quite varied.

The game’s visual style mirrors the pop style of the soundtrack, presenting a lot of geometric shapes and designs in blue and red. There is a strong shift, however, between the everyday world and the Dark Hour. During the day, the player moves through a world that is ostensibly normal, but at night, the sky turns green, and water turns a ghastly blood red. The vast difference in color palette without a major alteration to the landscape itself really brings home the alien nature of the Dark Hour. The strangeness of the Dark Hour is mirrored wonderfully in the bizarre design of the Shadows and Persona. As always, Kaneko Kazuma’s design is bizarre and imaginative, and contrasts with Shigenori Soejima’s more mundane character design in the same way the everyday world contrasts with the Dark Hour, making Kazuma’s demons seem even stranger by comparison.

Persona 3 FES offers multiple difficulty levels on The Journey, but not The Answer. The Journey ends up being fairly easy regardless of difficulty setting, since the player can keep their Academic, Courage, and Charm stats from a Persona 3 save file, along with any Personas registered in their compendium, although they will be reduced to their base state. The Answer, on the other hand, with its lack of a Compendium and its much more challenging enemies, is pretty uniformly difficult. On the whole, neither of the two parts of the game are maddeningly difficult, but The Answer will require a bit more planning and care when deciding what Persona to take into battle. Another thing that deserves mention is the incredible length of the game. The Journey should last a good 100 hours, while The Answer will end up being around 20 to 30 hours long, meaning that the final combined total is somewhere on the order of bloody enormous.

Taking the wonderfully executed plot and solid combat of Persona 3 and tweaking the overall balance, FES is a thoroughly worthwhile play for gamers who missed out on Persona 3. For those that have already played and completed Persona 3, The Answer offers a good deal more closure to the game, and although the much simpler plot does make it a bit less interesting, its unique tactical challenges make up for the lack of depth in plot. In the end, Persona 3 FES improves on what was arguably one of the best RPGs we’ve seen in years, making it a great choice for fans of RPGs in general.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.