The next-gen consoles are sexy as hell, but it's not all bad being the reigning last-gen champ either. With over 100 million PlayStation 2 consoles sold, software companies can afford to be a little adventurousafter all, even if their game appeals to only 1 percent of that audience, its destined to be a smash. That's why some of the most unique games appear near the end of a consoles life cycle, when developers can take a few chances and try something different.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is a great example of this, destined to be remembered in Best Role-Playing Games for the PS2 lists for years to come. This relentlessly unique RPG has the vibe of great anime, a snappy, addictive battle system, weeks worth of content, andmost importantone of the most bizarre, thoughtful, and enjoyable plots around.
Heres the premise: As a student in a Japanese high school, your days are spent like those of any other teenager -- going to class, making friends, hanging out at the mall, or maybe playing sports after school. By night, though, youre a member of a special club of gifted students who hunt demons known as Shadows. Each night the group ventures out to push the Shadows back a little further, as best you can before it gets too late. It is a school night, after all.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Platform: PlayStation 2
ESRB Rating: M (for Mature)
Score: 10 (out of 10)
Each member of the team can conjure up spiritual allies, known as Personas, which are released by pointing a mystical firearm (an Evoker) at ones temple and pulling the trigger. The Personas themselves are plucked from everything from Egyptian myth to European folklore to the Bible. This makes the games combat a spectacular and somewhat disturbing sight, with teenage characters blowing their psychic brains out over and over to release unicorns, Hindu deities, and maybe even St. Michael into the fray. And it all takes place in a blur: Most battles are over in less than a minute, thanks to the game's finely tuned, brisk combat system.
To top off the strangeness, Persona 3s picture of high school life is, simply put, extremely Japanese. Whether its the odd holidays (no school during Golden Week!) or the notion that paying attention in class and answering all the teachers questions correctly will make you more popular, theres a lot for Westerners to find alien.
If you look past all thatthe suicidal imagery, the smorgasbord of religious icons, the school on Saturdaysyou'll see something remarkably genuine about this fantastical war between high school kids and the powers of darkness: Teenagers grappling with issues the games adults seem oblivious to, fighting their demons on a battleground thats an eerie, nightmarish version of the school they attend by day. And your only hope, it turns out, is the group of friends youve surrounded yourself with; strengthening those relationshipswhether by helping someone study or talking to them when theyre downenhances your ability to fight off the darkness.
Quoth Keanu: Whoa. Not a bad break from slaying dragons and shooting aliens.
Film critic Roger Ebert recently drew the ire of the gaming community by asserting that video games arent art. In truth, most of them probably arent. But some gamesthe kind that tell a story through metaphor rather than kinetics, the kind that tell us something about ourselves, the kind that make us feelare hard to define as anything but art.
And yes, Roger, Persona 3 is one of those games.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in New York.