Perhaps late to the much-vaunted party, but I have been very slowly working my way through Persona 3 FES. I didn't exactly plan on it (I still have Freespace 2 to work on, courtesy of Good Old Games), but after spending a fruitless span of time attempting to articulate my thoughts on Spice and Wolf, I popped the disc into my PS2 for a break.
As the story usually goes, it became rather more than a break.
It's certainly one of the more anime-related games I've seen; now I understand the excitement among other, more timely anime bloggers, when the sequel anime was announced. (I don't remember what their reactions were after it aired; I need to start keeping track of that sort of thing, I think.) Even apart from the art style, there's plenty of anime-familiar dialogue choices, which would probably not make much sense to anyone who has never heard the "-tan" suffix before.
All the names are also in Japanese, and when faced with the Enter Name Here screen, I felt compelled to follow suit. So far, "Akira Hirazawa" (I wanted "Hiiragizawa" ie Eriol for various poorly-thought-out reasons, but the first and last names can only allow eight characters each; I hear his unofficial official name is "Minato Arisato") has struck me as the sort of laconic asocial JRPG player character (see: Neku Sakuraba) who probably has a snarky running commentary in his head on the various absurdities occuring around him. Since the game does not provide this, I've supplied my own.
The game is broken into two simultaneous phases, where the player party has to deal with school in the daytime, and fighting evil eldritch abominations in the night. Cram things together too much, and you get tired and sick, which interferes with both phases to a severe degree. Along the way, the player must deal with incredibly clingy friends, of whom one (of the females) will end up being the player character's girlfriend. Keeping everyone pleased will take up most of your time, and you'll end up actually grinding levels maybe once every two weeks in-game time or something.
Did I mention that you only have one year total to save the world?
Normally, I try to collect everything I can in a game, since I'd rather not have to find out three hours to the end that I missed a certain crucial item or procedure five minutes after the start. With P3F, though, I welcomed the news of a New Game Plus option which carries over at least all my non-combat stats, since grinding those have proven to be the most tedious part of the game. I would probably not mind as much if my goal were to live an everyday school life, or defeat the shadows and save the world. Both at the same time is a bit much, and my fellow NPC allies join me in bemoaning precisely that. I'm currently concentrating on Academics (for exams and such) and Charm (for a certain requirement), in that order; Courage can wait until the next playthrough.
And then there's the romantic entanglement aspect of the game. I kind of know how the main character in a harem comedy anime feels now; all (well, almost all) the girls are in some way desirable, in the sense that if they were actually in a harem comedy anime that I'm watching, I'd be switching loyalties pretty often. As it is, I'm probably going to stick with Yukari Takeba (the first girl you meet at the dorms and designated battle healz0r) this playthrough, if I can meet the minimum requirements; otherwise, Chihiro Fushimi (the shy bespectacled student council treasurer) seems like a choice I'd stereotypically make. I get the feeling that being greedy will likely result in what is generally known among certain anime fandoms as an ending worthy of a pleasant sea-going vessel.
The story itself is very… well, anime-serious is about the best I can put it. There's a great deal of introspective dialogue about the nature of self as we relate to others, as well as how Making Friends and Connecting With Each Other is the answer to all your stat-grinding needs, which strikes me as sort of a common theme among anime which purport to be "deep" and "complex". Maybe they're trying to tell us to stop playing games so much and go out into the world or something.
Of course, this kind of veers into surreality when the primary method of evoking one's Persona is to shoot yourself in the head. Repeatedly.
Being that I'm only a short way into the game, I have to admit that I'm enjoying it so far, but I'm well aware of the tendency of such games to turn out to be grindfests near the final boss. This is like stopping the plot just before the final episode, and inserting a 156-episode filler tournament arc. You'll eventually finish the story, but the payoff never seems worth it.