After a few months of distraction, I have finally got around to playing through "The Answer", the bonus epilogue story for Persona 3 that was added in the FES version. It has been a lot of fun getting back into the game, but I am surprised at how much a few changes can make to the game experience. The Answer has no passage of time, no Social Links, no Persona Compendium, none of Elizabeth's requests, and even no need to worry about character condition. The only goal is to reach the end of the new dungeon, the Abyss of Time, and every other distraction is simply gone. It makes the game a lot more focused, which matches well with the fact that The Answer is supposed to be a shorter extension to the main game, but also makes it a lot more repetitive. If it were not for Persona 3's great combat system and tactical variety, it would get boring.
Of all the changes between the main game and The Answer, one of the most notable is the fact that the story is now told from the perspective of former teammate Aigis, rather than the original protagonist. Using a different main character is necessary because of the story, but Aigis is an interesting choice. Based on the story of the main game, I would have expected Junpei or Yukari to have taken on that role. However, with the story being told in The Answer, it makes a lot sense for Aigis to take the lead, so it works well. I am glad that they gave Aigis the ability to use multiple Personas, just like the main hero did, since otherwise the game would be nearly impossible, but I wish that I didn't have to lose Aigis' Athena Persona in doing so. Giving Aigis a reliable fallback that leveled up with her would have helped differentiate her as a new main character a bit more, and would have helped balance out the fact that she can't make use of a lot of the tricks that made the original main hero so powerful. Of course, being able to ambush Shadows with a gun is nice, and I don't really mind the loss of Aigis' Orgia Mode thanks to Metis joining.
Metis is certainly one of the aspects of The Answer that I was not expecting. I knew that the character existed, but I had no idea that she would join the team, and I am glad she did. She has similar abilities to Shinjiro (heavy emphasis on raw power and physical skills, uses and axe), as well as access to multiple kinds of elemental magic and status attacks, which makes her very distinct from any other available character, adding something fresh and new to the game experience (which was very much needed). The fact that she uses Strike-damage Axes and Rods helps balance the weapons out a bit (since otherwise only Akihiko would have one), and the introduction of another user of wind and ice means that all four attack elements finally have two different people to use them. Rather than being a replacement for Aigis, Metis balances out the team perfectly in her own unique way, adding a lot. Also, her Neo Orgia Mode works beautifully, since the added ability to have free skill use and longer timer balance out an ability that was already too heavily limited by reduced control and limited time, turning Orgia Mode from something I forgot exists into something I regularly use in battle. Finally, mechanics aside, Metis is simply a good character who brings a new perspective to the characters and story that makes the small bursts of plot throughout The Answer more fun.
Another thing I was not expecting in The Answer was the fact that the Abyss of Time simply does not work the same way that Tartarus did. In Tartarus, bosses were always found immediately after shortcuts that let you freely move between that floor and the entrance (where you automatically healed and could save), so you could always fight a boss at peak condition. However, in the Abyss of Time, you need to defeat the bosses in order to reach the equivalent shortcut, which means that attrition brought on by fighting through the previous floors stays with you for the boss fights, so if you had to ditch a character on a previous floor, or your main healer has no SP left, defeating the boss may be impossible. Fortunately, boss fights come with some warning and you can save beforehand, so you don't need to worry about getting ambushed by one or having to fight your way down to one again because you lost, but it still adds a new element to the game that changes things up and adds to the challenge. It is not as hard as it would have been if the main game had this set-up, since there are much fewer floors to climb in each section of The Answer, but it does make me worry about saving SP a lot more than I used to.
Thanks to all of these changes, and my desire to finish this up before Persona 4 comes out, I have actually been getting through The Answer very quickly. It took me well more than 120 hours to clear the main game, but I cleared half of The Answer in only around 12 hours. This is mostly because The Answer is more focused and shorter than the main game, but it is also because the added focus has pretty much removed my desire to do anything but progress forward. In the main game, I constantly wandered aimlessly and worked hard to clear every optional objective and keep my whole team leveled up, but I don't see any reason to do that in The Answer. There are no side-objectives and Metis balances out my favorite Yukari/Aigis/Junpei team so well that I do nothing but progress onwards with that one team. It goes by quickly, but that speed is the one thing that keeps The Answer from becoming annoyingly repetitive.