This review of Persona 3 on PS2 has been updated to include a review of Persona 3 Portable, which was re-released on Xbox platforms and PC. The original review was written by Kevin VanOrd, while the re-release was written by Jessica Howard.
The PlayStation 2 may have reached its twilight years, but there is no shortage of great games being released for it. Enter Persona 3, the latest in the Shin Megami Tensei series to reach American shores. Luckily, you won’t need any previous experience with the Persona franchise to appreciate its uniquely dark sensibilities, though series fans will find plenty of familiar references in which to revel. This is a quality role-playing experience that weaves distinctive gameplay elements into a fascinating story that unfolds slowly but keeps you constantly guessing. It’s also atypically mature, but then again, any game that features your party members repeatedly shooting themselves in the head isn’t for the squeamish. Indeed, the game’s signature mechanic is this: To summon your inner self–or persona–you point a pistol at your head and pull the trigger.
At the outset of the game, you name your character, who has just transferred to Gekkoukan high school. But it’s clear that not everything is kosher at the seemingly average campus. Mysterious creatures called shadows are threatening the locals, spreading an enigmatic disease called apathy syndrome that leaves their victims as listless as the name implies. However, their activity is generally confined to the dark hour: an hour sandwiched between midnight and 1 a.m. Most people are oblivious to this hour, while others are distinctly aware of the creepy dark hour in which the undulating gloom seals most of humanity in gothic coffins. Those unseemly heroes are in touch with their personas, which can be summoned to fight shadows in the realm of Tartarus, where most of them are restricted. At Gekkoukan, known persona users have created the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad and are determined to wipe the shadows off the face of the earth.
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