During the 90+ hours that I played Persona 3, I indulged in the game far too much to be considered healthy. Every day that I played it, I woke up, went straight to my console, and played it until the sun went down (or in many cases, the sun came up!) I guess because of this, you could say I was suffering from the "Apathy Syndrome" that keeps being broughout up through-out Persona 3.
That being said, Persona 3 features some of the most addictive and enjoyable game play that Atlus has created thus far. It features a streamlined version of the Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne combat system. It also has a very wacky and amusing "real life" school simulator, and of course, the always compelling fusion system to keep the player determined to create the "ultimate" demon (or Persona, in this case.)
The game play overall is a standard turn based RPG dungeon crawler. Unlike the past few SMT titles however, there are no random encounters. All of the monsters can be seen on the map, and in turn, you can hit them to cause a surprise attack. Vice versa, they can also hit you, and (usually) cause an ambush. This little addition to the "SMT game play" is very much welcomed, as it helps eliminate the much tired cliché of having to wait for a battle when "leveling up" or having to kill off monster after monster when you're just trying to get to a save point. As mentioned above, the combat engine itself is a streamlined version of the "press turn icon system." The player is given one turn, but they can theoretically have unlimited turns by either landing a critical hit or exposing the enemies weakness (which results in an extra turn.) Best of all, the player can execute a massive damage attack where all of the party members assault the enemy if the player manages to land a critical blow or expose the weakness of ALL the enemies in battle (and this works for bosses too!). As one may not suspect, critical hits are very common, and the ability to exploit enemy weaknesses is also very common among most enemies. Suffice to say, the combat in SMT: Persona 3 is arguably the most enjoyable part of the game. It is somewhat easy, but at the same time, it is also very fast paced and action filled.
The only drawback to the improved combat engine however is that aside from the protagonist, all of the party members in the battle party are controlled by AI. They can be "directed" via using tactical commands, but unfortunately, the AI for the party members is surprisingly weak. Even though they are smart enough to heal when someone else is hurt, or exploit enemy weaknesses when they are discovered, they tend to do things that many times, are just plain illogical. An example would be the party member exploiting the weakness of an enemy. Since the whole enemy party consists of the same monster, it would be logical to exploit the rest of their weaknesses in order to end the battle faster. Rather, the party member will just continue to attack the same enemy and blow their extra turn. While this can be avoided with using some tactics, the tactics are somewhat of a nuisance to constantly be turning on and off. Thus, battles can end up taking longer than they should, mainly due to the player having to find ways to compensate for the weak party AI.
There is also a minor problem with the dungeon crawling. While the game does something interesting, and features predominantly only ONE dungeon (but it is a dozy, a 250+ floor tower), the crawling is a tad redundant. The dungeon floors only change appearance after every 20-50 floors. They also use the same monster graphic (aside from bosses), which seems a little lazy on the part of Atlus. On the plus side however, many of the dungeon's floors are randomly generated, which could lead to potential replay value. Still, the random generation sometimes leads to irritatingly huge floors, which can turn a reasonable 20-30 minute exploration into a 2 hour exploration if the player is unfortunate enough to get a string of "bad floors". Thankfully, the game generously allows for numerous save points and teleportation terminals, but some of the terminals are very far spaced out. As a result, it is not advised to play Persona 3 if you do not have very much time on your hands.
Aside from the combat and dungeon crawling, much of the game takes place in the "real world". During the time in the real world, the game flows like the days of the year. The player can only do a certain number of things each day, and they naturally, cannot regain days. So certain things that are missed or not explored will end up being permanently lost until the next "cycle". In order to encourage playing in this "real world" however, the game makes it so that in order to create many of the stronger "Personas" in the game, the player has to create social relationships with many of the games NPCs. Doing so unlocks different personas, based on the personality of an NPC. This approach is also surprisingly interesting, and the player will most likely find themselves trying to budget their time in order to obtain the maximum social relationship with a specific NPC in order to gain a desired persona.
The graphics of the game are decent, although "different" when compared to previous SMT and Persona games. The most shocking part of them is that series "brain" Kazuma Kaneko is absent, thus his trademark artwork and character design is not present. In his place however is an artist who is equally talented, and he does Kazuma justice. In fact, much of the game features wonderful artwork, so the absence of Kaneko is not the most damaging fact (although one would have to wonder if he would have had more influence on the game's story if he did do the artwork.) Aside from Kaneko, the graphics of the game are almost all done in a "dirty" but still detailed 3D style (and some cell shading ), with the exception of the 2D anime style "talking heads" shown during conversations, and the anime cut scenes. The anime scenes are a little disappointing however, as they are drawn in a more "sloppy and wacky" style than the more stylized and consistent drawings found through out the game. Overall, the graphics are not on par with other last generation PS2 games such as FF12, but they get the job done.
The game also features a very eccentric soundtrack, which is somewhat of a mash up of pop music, "pop" music and the classic SMT techno-industrial music that we have come to love. This music however can grow irritating, mainly due to the fact that the songs are over-used throughout the game or the songs are simply just not LONG enough and they turn into redundant loops. By the end of the game, I found the soundtrack to be mostly dull and tired as opposed to fresh and interesting when I first started playing. This was rather a disappointment since most of the previous SMT games seemed to feature more varied (and longer) songs.
Last but not least, Persona 3 is also somewhat disappointing in the storyline department. While the story is for all intents and purposes, GOOD, it is less thought provoking than the previous 3 Persona titles. This can hamper replay value, as someone will most likely "get" the whole story after one play rather than having to replay it to gain more understanding. There also seems to very weak continuity in the game with the previous Persona games, which is disappointing since the game has been stated to take place in the same universe and timeline as the previous Persona games. The game is also decidedly less dark and grim compared to previous Persona titles, which is interesting considering the dark atmosphere of the majority of SMT-related titles that have come out on the PS2.
Also, the pacing of the storyline in Persona 3 is a tad slow. While it is understandable that it is fleshed out over the "year" the game takes place in, some of the conversations and events in the game feel like "filler" or "incomplete" events. Also, many of them are overly-lengthy, which like the dungeon, can lead to obscenely long amounts of time spent reading the text and listening to the voice acting (which is very good!)
All negatives aside, Persona 3 is a gem. It isn't for everyone (and that's come to be expected with SMT titles.) It features lots of fast and fun dungeon battles, plenty of controversial images (wait till you see how the Personas are summoned), tons of voice acting and a very good story. It is disappointing that the game has so many short comings, but it is still one of the definite best RPGs of 2007.