I have been taking a break from the game for a little bit longer than I intended, but I am already getting back into Persona 3 FES. I am really glad that this break from the game wasn't as permanent as the break I took in the middle of my first Persona 3 playthrough. Anyways, I want to write a bit about the major plot twist that occurred right before I took my break. Major plot spoilers for the game follow.
For most of the early stages of the game, the characters are given a clear goal: defeat the Twelve Shadows that appear during a Full Moon. The characters believed that, by defeating those twelve enemies, they would end the Dark Hour (the source of all of the problems facing their world) and bring their battle to an end. As such, the battle against the last of the Twelve Shadows, Hanged Man, would have been their final battle. Many events in the game point towards this battle as being the final one. For one thing, in the month before the battle against Hanged Man it became possible to actually reach the top of Tartarus, which has been one of my most important goals in the entire game. In the the last few weeks before the battle, the characters spent a lot of time talking about the upcoming final battle and their hopes for the peace that would come afterward. Even more importantly, the number of giant Shadows that serve as bosses was explicitly limited to just twelve, and the only other enemy, Strega, makes their last stand right before the battle against Haged Man, so after Hanged Man was defeated it seemed like there should be nothing left to fight. With Tartarus fully explored and no more bosses, it seemed difficult to imagine how the plot could continue.
Yet, even though a number of signs pointed towards the defeat of Hanged Man as the end of the game, it could not be ignored that there were countless indicators saying otherwise. From the beginning of the game, it was made clear that the player would spend a whole year in that world, but the battle against Hanged Man was nowhere near the end of that period of time. At the same time, there were all kinds of game elements that made it clear it was not the end yet. As just a small example, there were countless Personas left to create, there were many of Elizabeths requests left unfinished, and many characters had not yet undergone a transformation of their Personas. In fact, some of Elizabeth's few outstanding quests specifically mention areas of Tartarus that supposedly do not exist. Alongside all of this, there were a number of plot elements left unresolved, such as the true nature of the mysterious boy Pharos, the nature of the "end of the world" that Pharos speaks of, and the reason behind Aegis's desire to stay by the hero's side. With all of these factors, it is fairly clear to anyone playing the game that the defeat of Hanged Man would not be the true end, even if the aftermath of its defeat would be a complete mystery. This combination of the character's certainty of the end, the player's doubt, and the uncertainty of what will happen makes the build up to the plot twist quite exciting, and is a great success.
The final phase of the lead-in to the plot twist is one of the best parts of the whole thing. Right after Hanged Man is defeated the characters move straight into getting ready for their celebration, but signs that their goal was not really achieved appear immediately. Even though the Dark Hour was supposed to end after Hanged Man's defeat, it did not end immediately after the battle, and even though the characters do not take much notice of this fact, it may stick in the player's mind. After that, time passes in the same manner it always does, but the hero wakes up in the morning to discover that Pharos, the mysterious phantom boy and Death Social Link who has only appeared during the Dark Hour, is in his room during the daytime and speaks ominously of finally having his memory fully restored. At this point, a lot of really odd events throughout the game suddenly clicked into place for me, and Pharos' true (dangerous) nature suddenly became a lot more clear. After that, time continues on (again just as if it were a normal day of gameplay), and the characters all gather for the celebration, with two characters mysteriously absent. At the end of the celebration, though, the game cuts to the usual "broken clock" image that heralds in the Dark Hour, and a series of events occur in which Ikutsuki, a man long thought to be an ally, suddenly reveals a sinister hidden agenda, betrays everyone, and reveals that the heroes might have unwittingly doomed the world rather than save it. This betrayal is hardly hinted at (in fact, it is only really hinted at by the fact that Ikutsuki's connection to the the dark Hour problem and his ability to move freely during the Dark Hour were left unexplained, as well as the fact that he seemed unusually eager in researching the Shadows and pushing people to join the fight against the 12 Shadows), but the very fact that the player is expecting some kind of drastic plot twist at this point helps the betrayal feel more like a interesting development and an awesome moment than it might otherwise have seemed to be. Finally, Ikutsuki reveals the name of the ultimate Shadow, Death, and his intention to bring about the end of the world using Death's power, making any remaining doubt about my earlier guesses regarding Pharos to vanish from my mind.
I still have not gone very far past that point, but I am really curious as to how the game will go from here. This plot twist not only extends the length of the game, but it transforms the nature of the story entirely. So far, the game has mostly been a story about the heroes following orders given to them by Kirijo and Ikustuki as they slowly defeated the "Monsters of the Month" one by one. Now, the characters have no clear goals, no one more knowledgeable than them to guide them, and no clear "Monster of the Month" to fight. The structure of the game itself has not changed, but the plot can not remain as it has, which means that this next part of the game may have an even more complex and interesting plot than the first part.