Every few years, I play a videogame that takes me completely by surprise, far surpassing my expectations of what a game should be. Three years ago it was Fate/Stay Night, and a couple of days ago I just completed a brilliant gem called Persona 3: FES.
WARNING: Massive spoilers await. You know the drill. If you don’t want to know what happens in Persona 3, stop reading now.
Towards the ending of P3’s “The Journey” chapter, one character, Ryoji, repeatedly warns the cast about Nyx, the final boss, saying that there is no way she can be defeated. Ryoji then offers the player the choice of skipping the final month of January, resulting in the “Bad Ending” but allowing the player to skip the boss fight altogether and jump straight to a New Game +.
Of course, being the completionist that I am, I chose to continue the story and press on to fight Nyx. Never beyond my wildest dreams was I prepared for what was going to happen in the final battle. I didn’t manage to time myself, but I am pretty sure the entire fight, from start to finish, lasted close to two hours. I remember coming home at 10.30pm that day, switching on my PS3 at 11pm+ to fight Nyx. By the time everything ended and after the closing credits had rolled, it was already 1.30am.
Yup. In true Persona fashion, I fought the final boss during the midnight Dark Hour. A fitting setting for one of the most insanely infuruating, and longest battles I’ve ever played. Suddenly, I remembered what Ryoji had said earlier. It was as if Atlus was deliberately trolling its players: “All right, so you want to fight the final boss? YOU ARE NOT PREPARED…”
I was not prepared for the new-age rock soundtrack playing in the background for the boss battle. Shoji Meguro, Atlus’s signature composer and musician, is very famous for making majestic-sounding endgame themes. This is without a doubt, one of his best works:
Imagine the song looping over and over for almost two hours. Now you understand why I’m so hyped up about fighting Nyx. The icing on the cake for me, were the brilliant Major Arcana quotes as Nyx was cycling through each of her Arcana forms:
There are many different ways to interpret the meanings of the Major Arcana in a Tarot deck. But Atlus’s localisation team has done a wonderful job in describing them with a flavour text that is a reflection of humanity and society as a whole. Fighting Nyx isn’t just about saving the world, it’s a journey (hence, the main game is titled “The Journey”) to better understand yourself and your fellow human beings.
This is why I insist on playing the English translated versions of Atlus games. My Japanese is still not quite good enough to pick up certain subtle meanings, especially for philosophically and sociologically dense themes such as the Major Arcanas.
(Extremely long and technical rant about Nyx battle tactics below:)
I don’t know why the player in the above video brought along Yukari and Koromaru, especially with his Yukari’s max HP at only 370-ish (unless you equip her with Source Bow). It’s simply not enough to survive Nyx’s Almighty Attack spam towards the end. Koro’s Null Darkness is great for avoiding Nyx’s Mudoon spam for one of his Arcana Shifts, but that’s about it because Koro’s damage output is pretty low and he doesn’t have any buff or debuff spells. I’d rather bring along Junpei, for his Marakukaja buff + Vorpal Blade/Laevateinn damage, and Akihiko for his debuff spells. Aigis is there to assist by casting the other Ma-kaja buffs. and help out with Akasha Arts or assist the MC’s healing with Diarahan/Samarecarm where necessary.
As a matter of fact, you should always bring Aigis and Akihiko for all boss fights. Their buff and debuff spells are simply too important to pass up.
I am probably one of the very few, and very fortunate players to have defeated Nyx on my first try without having to restart. But I almost failed. I almost cried when Nyx casted that bloody Night Queen spell, charming my main character (MC) and knocking out Aigis and Aki. The MC proceeded to KO Junpei with a 500-damage attack from an equipped Mjolnir, then casted Mediarahan (a full healing spell) on Nyx. Oh my fucking gosh. By some miracle, my MC held on and recovered from the charm with just 70HP remaining. I casted Mediarahan on myself, then revived Aigis the next turn with a Balm of Life.
This is where the weird, AI programming of P3 actually screws up. Nyx could have finished me and Aigis off with another round of Night Queen spam, but she proceeded to cast a debuff spell and weaker elemental attack spell instead (we both survived it). That’s because Night Queen is an “enrage” spell, triggered when Nyx’s HP drops below a certain level. But because I had casted Mediarahan on her earlier, she was now at full HP and not in “enrage” mode.
Aigis proceeded to revive Akihiko and Junpei with Samarecarm while I maintained the Mediarahan spam to keep everyone alive. And so I had to whittle down Nyx’s HP all over again. Thank goodness I had enough Somas in my inventory (full HP+MP restoration), because mana was the only factor that would limit my strategy. No mana = cannot cast anything = you die.
This time I was prepared for her second Night Queen spam as Nyx’s HP approached the enrage threshold. I switched to Raphael, who had Null Charm, so as to avoid being charmed again. Everybody survived the Night Queen barrage together (nobody got charmed either, phew!). Nyx wasted time casting Moonless Gown, giving me the much needed opportunity to cast my party buffs and Magic Mirrors, and from then on it was an easy victory as long as my buff spells were constantly up.
(End of battle tactics rant.)
An epic battle was only deserving of an epic ending cutscene, and the final cinematic sequence almost had me in stitches because it was so ridiculously over the top, but in a good way. One of the main issues I had with the Gurren Lagann anime, was that the show simply teaches you that raw determination and blind courage would solve anything. There was no “growing up” process, no “journey” or discovery for the characters to uncover their true potential.
Persona 3 does it right. The entire game itself was the journey, as you, the protagonist, could now witness the fruits of maxing your Social Links with the rest of cast. All of your efforts from the past 100 hours+ of gaming had finally come full circle for the game’s grandest moment, and its biggest lesson about humanity and life.
It was inevitable that the protagonist would die in the end. I knew that it had to happen. A power of that spectacle could only mean that the hero had to sacrifice his life in order to achieve the miracle of defeating Nyx. But he held on for one month, in order to fulfill the promise he made with his classmates: to graduate from school together.
As he lay dying in Aigis’s lap, she proceeded to deliver one of the most meaningful quotable quotes ever:
“You don’t have to save the world to find meaning in life. Sometimes, all you need is something simple, like someone to take care of.”
A truly bittersweet and poignant conclusion. Not since Max Payne 2 has a videogame left me with such an emotionally powerful impact at the ending credits.
Well done, Atlus.