I bought this game off of Amazon as an early Christmas present to myself at the beginning of this month. I'm usually not one for purchasing much of anything online, but as any gaming buddy of mine will tell you, my normally fiscally conservative spending habits tend to buckle when my eyes spot a critically acclaimed Japanese role-playing game. When it's only $19.95 plus shipping and handling and comes with a free soundtrack and art book, well, even my rather obstinate and unreasonable case of online shopper's stigma is eradicated almost instantaneously.
I finally popped the game disk into my ps2 this morning, and I played for a good, oh, hour and 30 minutes or so. It was enough to get the general gist of the game's storyline premise, but that's about it. There's alot of in-game cut-scenes thus far, and not very much of anything else. Frankly, given how long I played, I'm surprised I remained as engaged as I did - usually, the first hour or so of role-playing games tend to be dominated by tutorials, and I 've grown to expect this over the course of many years as a gamer. I know when I can "zone out" without missing anything crucial. There really hasn't been any point so far where I've really "disengaged" in this way, and given how the game has done very little to engage me in terms of actual gameplay so far, I'm downright impressed.
Basically, you play as a high school transfer student who discovers that his dormmates are part of a secret school club dedicated to defeating people-eating monsters called "shadows." These shadows only appear during the "dark hour," beginning and ending at 12:00 midnight - the "hidden" time between one day and the next. How do you fight these shadows? Well, you take an "evoker" - a pistol - and shoot yourself in the head (!!!!) to summon a "persona" - a physical manifestation of the psyche that takes the form of some mythological god/goddess. When it's not "the dark hour," you attend school as a student, and the academic performance in classes and relationships your character develops with your friends effect your persona(s) ability to battle. When that "dark hour" comes again, it's time to take the fight to the shadow's nest - Tartarus, a gigantic skyscraper that just happens to render itself directly atop the school building where you attend classes during the day. The school, then, plays an crucial role in the game, an irony that is not lost on this college student currently enjoying respite from the drudgery of grueling schoolwork.
In summary, my Persona 3 experience thus far: its very Japanese, an interesting combination of two video game genres, very Japanese, and most assuredly deserving of it's "M for Mature" ESRB rating. And very Japanese.
Obviously I can expect suicide to be a prominent thematic in the game's story. Whether or not it retains the morally problematic depiction shown thus far (suicide as a way to unleash "inner power" is so unabashadly Nietzchean) remains to be seen. I'm a firm believer in not finishing games if they are not worth my time, and if the game communicates nothing but a morally evil message, well, it's certainly not worth my time. But whether or not that's the case with Persona 3 remains to be seen.