Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
- Platforms: PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network)
- Suggested Platform: Debatable
- Developer: Atlus
- Genre: RPG, Visual Novel
- Release Date: 08/14/07 (NA)
- Why Play It?: Great story and music with a unique gameplay balance.
- Why Skip It?: If you’re not a fan of RPGs or Japanese stuff.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is a game that just happened to strike the right chords with me. It’s got catchy, memorable soundtrack, wonderfully fleshed out characters and a great story line, and plays half like a turn based RPG, and half like a Japanese visual novel or dating simulator. Not only that, but its background is very heavy into tarot and various mythology, both topics that I have a deep interest in. In a way, this is one of my perfect games. Normally, I talk about the gameplay before the story, but today, we’re gonna switch it up.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 starts you out watching a girl trying to put a gun to her head and pull the trigger who you’ll later learn is Yukari Takeba. Afterwords, you’ll play as an orphan on your way to a dormitory where you’ll be living while you’re in high school. Your train is pretty late, so you end up not getting back to the dorm until around midnight. As you’re walking the streets to the dorm, suddenly the scenery goes dark. Blood pool appear, people turn into coffins, and the sky turns a eerie green. But whatever. This is normal for you, main character. After arriving to your dorm, you sign in with a creepy little boy and receive a strange introduction to your dorm mates, Yukari Takeba and Mitsuru Kirijo.
The scenery returns to normal and it’s off to bed. After all, school starts tomorrow. After a few days at school, something crazy happens. In the middle of the night, monsters attack the dormitory, and you’re roused from your bed to run to the roof with Yukari where you’ll be safe. Unfortunately, the black, shadowy monsters climb up the building and attack the two of you. Yukari pulls her gun and puts it to her head, trying to pull the trigger but is too nervous. The Shadows attack her and the gun falls to your foot. You put it to your head and pull the trigger revealing your Persona, a physical manifestation of your psyche, that fights off the shadows, but drains you and puts you in a hospital for a week. Apparently only certain people can summon Personas. After you fully recover and another member, Junpei Iori joins your team, you begin to actually learn what is going on. Every night at midnight, time stops for an hour revealing what they call the “Dark Hour”. During this time, everything freezes, except a few people and the Shadows come out to stalk humans. Some humans “transmogrify” into coffins during this time, but others can either use Personas or some can’t and are merely food for Shadows. At this time, your school turns into a giant tower called Tartarus, a sort of nest for the Shadows. During the night, your team will investigate the tower; they believe that reaching the top will give us a clue as to why it’s there.
During the day, Persona 3 is sort of like a visual novel mixed with an RPG. You go to school, talk to people and make friends, which turn into Social Links. You can then level up your Social Links by spending time with that person, making your Personas stronger. Spend enough time with someone and you can max out their Social Link, and unlock the ultimate Persona for that Arcana, as each Social Link is associated with a tarot card from the Major Arcana. You can also choose instead to do various other activities that raise your Academics, Charm, and Courage during the day, which you’ll need for other activities and Social Links. During the night and the Dark Hour, you’ll head to Tartarus to explore and investigate. You’ll run around in the third person, running into Shadows and attacking them in RPG-style turn-based combat.
Here, you can attack with your equipped weapon or attack with your Persona. Your Persona can use far more powerful attacks, but requires you to drain your HP (Health Points) or SP (Spirit Points) to do so. It’s a unique battle system because most enemies have a weakness. If you exploit that weakness, you’ll knock the enemy down and they’ll have to spend a turn getting back up. Not only that, but it gives the character that knocked the opponent down an extra turn. Be careful though, as Shadows can also utilize this system, as Personas (which is where your main stats will come from) tend to have weaknesses too. If you manage to knock down all the enemies, you’ll be able to execute an “All-Out Attack”, having your entire party attack the enemies for heavy damage. Each party member only uses one Persona and tends to have a specialty (physical attacks, healing, etc.) except your main character. The main character can have many different Personas and can switch them mid-battle, making them a very powerful character. You can win new Personas after battle, or by fusing two or more of them together.
As Persona 3 goes on, you’ll meet many new characters, learn about their stories, and discover all about Tartarus, why it’s there, and what happened on Tatsumi Port Island. The music is catchy and the characters and story is memorable. Persona 3, however, has a few different versions and variations, and I feel it is important to talk about them next.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 first came out on the PS2, and this is the only version I’d suggest you stay away from. It simply has the least amount of content compared to the other two. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES is the pinnacle on the PS2. You can also download this is a PS2 Classic on the PS3. It adds a few updates and costumes to the original game and a whole extra story that takes place after the events of the main story. The second story is almost like a challenge mode; it’s extra hard, far shorter than the main campaign and is only a dungeon crawler; there is hardly any social aspect, but it does help to flesh out a little more about what happened after the events of the first game. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable came out on the PSP and allows you to choose your gender, and as a result, many interactions and Social Links end up being different. It is suggested that you play the male story first, but the differences aren’t that dramatic if you really want to play as a girl.
It also allows you to directly control your entire party in battle. In the PS2 versions, you can only control the main character and give your teammates certain tactics to follow, and they’ll perform to the best of their AI’s abilities. In P3P, you can directly decide what they do every battle. P3P does however remove the (beautiful) animated cutscenes and replaces them with stills. Another main gripe is that they removed the 3D 3rd person mode when walking around during the day. Instead, you’ll receive an overhead view of the area and will control a little cursor around the map and decide who to talk to from there. P3P does add some extra music for the girl story. Also, in the original P3 and FES, if you push yourself too hard during the night, you’ll get tired or sick, and won’t perform as well in Tartarus. You’ll have to take a few nights of a break from Tarturus. In P3P, however, it completely removes this. You can spend as much time in Tartarus as you want.
Ultimately, I vote Persona 3 FES as being the ideal for a first time play through. Missing the cutscenes and the 3rd person mode during the day kind of breaks the immersion that FES can do. After you’ve played and if you want to play again, I would then suggest P3P. That being said, Persona 3 is still a fantastic game, and you should play whichever version you can get your hands on.