One of the more frustrating things for RPG fans in the United States is the concept of international editions or final mixes — special improved editions that come out after the title's original release in Japan. Games such as Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts, and Shadow Hearts: Covenant have all received these re-releases … but they've never been seen on U.S. store shelves. These special editions generally include extra features such as new weapons and bosses, but they occasionally contain new plot elements, such as Tidus' return in the international version of Final Fantasy X, or plot segments starring the enemy characters in Shadow Hearts. When Persona 3 was released in the U.S., it was not long after the improved Persona 3 FES had already hit in Japan, and it seemed like American gamers would be getting the short end of the stick once again. Luckily, Atlus heard the demand for this title, and only a scant 10 months after the release of the original game, Persona 3 FES is out for the budget price of $29.99!
The Journey, for the most part, is quite similar to what you encountered in the original Persona 3, assuming you've played it. The overall plot is functionally unchanged, the bosses, dungeons, and character plotlines are mostly identical, and if you played Persona 3, you're not going to see any major changes to the plot. Check out Worthplaying's original Persona 3 review. However, while the major details of Persona 3 FES are identical, the game varies quite a bit in the minor details. For example, there are a number of new scenes that are accessible throughout the game, depending on the actions you take. Some of these scenes can be accessed by taking Konomaru the dog for a walk, which gives you further details on certain characters and can even improve your relationship with certain social links. Others can be seen by viewing video recordings on the SEES dorm's computer or simply by talking to your teammates during the evening hours.
Furthermore, your schedule in Persona 3 FES has been altered to give you more free things to do. One of the major problems with the original Persona 3 was that if you maxed out your social states too early, your character would have to waste days sleeping just to advance the plot, unless you felt like doing pointless grinding in Tartarus. This has been fixed in FES. First and foremost, social links have been moved around a bit to ensure that there is more available to players on off days. The Moon Commu is available even during days off from school, and the Devil Commu is now at the mall during nighttime. Even beyond that, you can now spend your free time powering up your Persona or getting special bonuses that were unavailable during Persona 3. By going to the arcade at the mall or visiting an altar at the shrine, you can spend time doing things such as playing a boxing game or praying to a god, which in turn increases your Persona's strength or gives double experience that day at Tartarus. This ensures that you'll never be without something to do during your time off. There's even a new Commu to level up, Aeon, which is the combat android Aigis, the one female character who didn't have a Commu in the original Persona 3.
One of the major additions to Persona 3 FES is the Weapon Fusion system. After June 9, if you visit the antique shop in the mall, you'll be able to fuse weapons, which is a fairly simple process. After finding Nihil weapons hidden inside the Tartarus dungeon, you can give them to the antique store owner to fuse with one of the protagonist's Personas to create a new weapon. Different Persona create different weapons; for example, a Justice Arcana Persona will improve the equipped character to avoid wind attacks, while the Moon Arcana improves your chance of scoring a critical hit. The weapon's attack power and the effectiveness of its special attribute depend on the Persona's level, so the more powerful a Persona you fuse, the better a weapon you get in exchange. Certain Persona create unique weapons that can only be made by that Persona. Their level doesn't matter, and as long as you have this specific Persona, you're set. Generally, the Persona logically matches up to its weapon. The Odin Persona, for example, creates Gungnir, Odin's legendary weapon, while Thor creates Mjolnir, an incredibly powerful axe that boosts electrical damage.
The Persona themselves have also received a makeover. The vast majority are functionally unchanged from their Persona 3 incarnations, but that isn't to say all of them have been. Certain Personas are now more or less powerful, gained at different levels, or flat out have new abilities that they didn't have in the original game. A bit of a warning for returning Persona 3 vets: Rethink your fusion requests from Elizabeth because not all of your old plans will work. However, in addition to the changed Persona, there is an absolute bevy of new fan favorite Persona added to the lineup, ranging from minor low-level ones like Slime and Ghoul to higher-level monsters such as the, ahem, uniquely shaped Tower Arcana Mara and a new version of Lucifer, reprising his appearance from an older Shin Megami Tensei game.
By and large, all of these changes make Persona 3 FES an easier experience. That isn't to say that the game is a complete cakewalk, but the combination of easier-to-access social links, the ability to power up your Persona at the mall, weapon fusion, and new Persona mean that your character has a much wider array of weaponry at his disposal. For those who found the original Persona 3 too difficult or frustrating, this is a good sign, but for those who breezed through the game, it might be a bit worrying to justify replaying an easier version of the same game. Luckily, Persona 3 FES offers a Hard mode, which is most certainly not for the faint of heart. In Hard mode, enemies gain a significant boost in attack power, are more capable of surprising your party, things cost more, and in general, it more than offsets the bonuses offered by Persona 3 FES. In short, it's a lot of fun for those gamers who enjoy suffering, but regular folks will want to stick with Normal or even Easy modes. Easy mode is perhaps a bit too easy, but it's good for those gamers who just want to see Persona 3's story without fearing its enemies.
The real selling point to Persona 3 faithful isn't the expanded access to The Journey, but the new segment, The Answer. Although it is accessible as soon as you turn on the game, The Answer is a sequel to the events of The Journey and should not be played until the gamer has already completed The Journey. The first five minutes of The Answer unleash so many major spoilers for the events of The Journey that it would ruin the game even to watch the opening. Be warned that it is nearly impossible to discuss the events of The Answer without spoiling the ending of Persona 3, so I would advise those who wish to avoid spoilers to read no further. However, if you've already completed The Journey, there are no further spoilers within.
The Answer takes place on March 31, a short while after the events end of Persona 3. SEES is preparing to move on, with the senior members going on to college, the rest of the team moving to new dorms, and the SEES dorm is closing down. The only person — or android — who isn't moving on is Aigis, who is still haunted by her failure to protect the protagonist. However, on the SEES team's last day together, something unusual happens. At the very hour that the day changes over to March 31, an unusual pulse of energy traps the team inside the dorm, along with a homicidal android of the same make as Aigis — her "sister" Metis, who emerges from a mysterious pit that opened up in the floor. Metis is about to slaughter the SEES when Aigis awakens a new power: the same "wild card" ability that the protagonist of The Journey had, defeating her sister. The SEES team is left unable to escape from the dorm, and to make matters even stranger, they appear to trapped à la "Groundhog Day" on March 31. The only way out lies in the mysterious Abyss of Time that has opened in the dorm floor.
The Answer replaces your main character with the combat android Aigis, and much of the game changes to match this. Unlike the hero, Aigis can't equip most armor and can only equip guns. However, she does have the hero's ability to switch Persona at will, allowing her to make up for, if not completely replace, the hero's absence. Likewise, Aigis is the character you control during The Answer, and the other characters remain AI-controlled partners, with Aigis herself being replaced by Metis, her sister android who fights using an axe. Aigis, despite her access to the wild card, isn't as powerful as the hero. She's unable to gain social link bonuses, can't access the Persona compendium, and only can perform two- and three-Persona fusions. Luckily, Aigis can create almost every Persona in the game through these fusion combinations.
The Answer plays much like a stripped-down version of The Journey. There are no school days, no social stats, no weapon fusion, no social links, and no getting tired. Instead, your team, made up of the surviving members of the SEES, travel down into the Tartarus-like Abyss of Time, seeking to reach the bottom. Weapons, items and equipment can now be gained from the Shuffle Time. Shops are available once you reach a certain point as well, but that is the limit to your non-combat experience. As you advance deeper into The Abyss of Time, you encounter new and nastier enemies, find more powerful Persona, and discover the secret behind why the SEES team was trapped inside.
To put it bluntly, The Answer is more challenging than The Journey. Without social links or a Persona compendium, your Persona are more difficult to level up, and switching and mastering your Persona becomes far more important. Enemies tend to come in nastier groups, have fewer exploitable weaknesses, and your own team choices become a lot more important. Grinding becomes quite a bit more vital, and you're best off going into The Answer after a refresher run through The Journey. However, while it is quite interesting to discover exactly what the SEES did after the sudden end of Persona 3, the actual segment is … a bit lacking. It's so heavily focused on the gameplay that you've already run through that it gets a bit tiring, especially without the enjoyable "real world" segments that The Journey had. The gameplay is as fun as ever, but it lacks something to really make it shine. Die-hard Persona 3 fans will love more of the same gameplay, but those interested in the plot will be more eager to see the new post-game interactions and less to play through a stripped-down and less interesting version of Tartarus.
Whether you're a newcomer or veteran, there is very little reason not to buy Persona 3 FES. Almost every addition to The Journey makes it a superior experience to the original Persona 3 , and the addition of The Answer increases that value. Even if not every new addition is perfect, there is nothing here to make the game worse, with the possible addition of the Aeon commu, which takes the symbolic value of the Arcana Commu and laughs at it. That can be easily ignored, though. On top of that, the budget price of $29.99 makes it a deal you simply can't pass up, whether you're someone who missed Persona 3 the first time, or a veteran whose primary interest involves The Answer.
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