When people think of the biggest JRPG series, what do they usually think of? Likely Final Fantasy at this point but the series is no longer what it once was. There’s also Dragon Quest if you are in Japan or are a total weeb like myself, and the Tales series if you are a weeb as well. But the face of new console JRPGs for the last decade or so has arguably been the Persona series.
Persona 3 was the first new entry in the Persona series in 6 years when it originally came out. The original Persona was pretty popular in Japan but it just kind lingered in obscurity in the US since it was a JRPG released before Final Fantasy VII. The first entry in the Persona 2 duology was not even localized at the time and as far as I know the second one wasn’t successful.
It was Persona 3 that decided to change its entire approach and that was almost single-handedly responsible for putting Atlus on the map. I first played Persona 3 almost a decade ago and had yet to replay it until earlier this year. While it is not without flaws, it is an immensely powerful game and is likely to remain a cornerstone in the genre for quite some time. There is a lot to talk about with Persona 3 both good and bad.
I guess a good place to start is with the story. Persona 3 definitely starts off a bit shaky. The key problem with the opening is that you have nearly an hour of exposition with no battles or no social links. The story of Persona 3 is on the slow side for the first half, which may take anywhere from 30 to 50 hours to get through depending on if you are going for 100%.
The main appeal until then will likely be either the social link storylines or the dungeon crawling, and you don’t have any of that in the first hour. I should clarify that the first hour isn’t absolutely horrible story wise but some of us would like to play our games and not watch them. After that first hour though you are at least good to go gameplay wise.
The Persona series claim to fame is its social link mechanics. The way that this works is that the game is on a set calendar and you get to choose how to spend and manage your time. The choice generally comes down to exploring the gigantic labyrinth known as Tartarus, or spending time doing something normal people do like studying, eating out, and forming bonds of friendship with random people you never met who are way outside your age group.
Persona 3 was a revolutionary game that allowed many of us socially repressed nerds to experience the joy of going outside and talking to people for the first and likely last time, and it lets us know just how much of an impact a single person can make on the lives of others. Every social link plot line follows a different character with a different conflict that relates to their specific tarot card. Some examples for instance…
- Hidetoshi Odagiri represents the Emperor Arcana by valuing structure and discipline but is also cold, bossy, and stuffy in regards to rules to the point where he spends his entire social link route trying to find who left a cigarette butt in the boy’s bathroom.
- Kazushi Miyamoto represents the Chariot Arcana by seeking victory even at the cost of seriously injuring his knee and jeopardizing his future.
- Maiko Oohashi represents the Hanged Man Arcana with her feelings of helplessness in regards to her parents divorce and her in vain attempts to stop it.
- President Tanaka represents the Devil Arcana by being a sleazy business CEO who learns that his true passion is helping others become successful.
- Nozomi Suemitsu represents the Moon Arcana by swindling a child out of money with his made up cult like beliefs and learning to turn his passion for food into inspiration to become a genuine food critic.
I found it impressive how Atlus was able to create so many endearing side characters each with their own separate motivations and flaws, and how invested I got into each of these stories. There are a total of 22 social links in the game, three of which progress automatically along with the main story. Picking out my favorite social links is difficult simply because I liked so many of them, but my favorite would probably have to be either Akinari (Sun) or Aigis (Aeon).
Akinari’s is about a dying young man who has little time left to live and finding the meaning to continue on in those last few days where all hope seems lost. Over time he continues to pour his remaining energy into a children’s story. Aigis’s on the other hand is available only in the last end game month and touches on the very nature of what it means to be human. Detroit: Become Human can learn a thing or two from this game, and from NieR Automata for that matter.
I’ve made it known in the past that I was going through a very depressing period of my life while playing this game. At many points, I have had little will to live and have spent so much time deeply ashamed of myself for past mistakes. I felt like I had little hope left and that it wouldn’t make a difference whether or not I was alive. I would be lying if I said that randomly deciding to replay Persona 3 on a whim did not help me find the will to live at least a little bit. It may have even saved my life.
The main plot may be slow in the first half, but the payoff is absolute amazing! At around the half way point a certain major character dies in a scene that genuinely gives me chills every time I see it. People may sing their praises about classics like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI, but neither of them have managed this level of storytelling mastery. I’ve played very few games that feel this real to me… that feel this human.
From that halfway point, the tension just continues to build and build to the point that the initial hardship feels like child’s play by comparison. Near the end of the game, I figured out it was possible to get back the old equipment of the aforementioned party member that died, and when I saw that I suddenly felt a solemn sense of grief. This was close to 50 hours gameplay wise after this scene occurred.
The characters also feel real. Even though Yukari and Junpei have some aspects of their character that I find irritating, they still felt like real people. Their flaws are human and they instead make the cast as a whole all the more endearing. Persona 3 may take its time to get going but when it DOES get going, holy fuck does it get going!
So yes, Persona 3 was a grandly touching and emotional experience all the way through. I felt a serious bond with this world and its cast of characters. Which only makes it all the more depressing that I need to bring THIS up…
It may just be a brief gag scene that is meant only as a joke, but that’s the entire problem. Atlus, listen closely… trans people’s existence isn’t a fucking punchline for you to laugh at! You made an entire game about the importance of bonds and friendship, you had a literal subplot about how a robot may not be technically human but she is in the way that matters, yet you think trans women are not only men, but that they should be subject to ridicule and mockery for wanting to be accepted as women? That all of us are just perverts who are trying to snag a few boy toys?
You do realize that trans people exist that play your games right? A lot of trans women I know of have deep connections with the Persona series yet I am still hesitant to recommend one of my favorite games of all time to other trans people because of this scene. I can no longer say that Starless: Nymphomaniac’s Paradise was the only game to make me suicidal, because I happened to view this scene on a particularly bad day. I knew this scene was coming but I didn’t expect it to get to me as badly as I did.
It doesn’t matter how good a game is, if it poses the risk of causing significant harm to someone then I can’t give it a blanket recommendation. It’s the same reason I’m so cautious about recommending Euphoria or Saya no Uta to anyone, although they at least have a much more understandable excuse than Persona 3 does. And no, I don’t want to hear any excuse about the time period. Persona 2 had a gay romance route that was commonly praised as the best in the game. That game was released in the late 90s. Yet the guy responsible for Persona 3, 4, and 5 has had anti LGBT material in all three of them. I will refrain from going into specifics on Persona 4 and 5 since I haven’t played them yet and am only going on the testimony of other queer people, but I will just say the following about Persona 3.
If Persona 3 gets another remake in the future, “localize” the fuck out of this scene. And just to avoid any miscommunication, I mean censor it, cut it out, send it to Hell where it belongs. The well being of your trans playerbase is more important than appeasing the pricks who will inevitably throw a fit if it’s removed that are “totally not transphobic” but don’t give a shit about how glorifying bigotry towards an already heavily marginalized minority group may affect said group and justify the already existing hate group that is currently growing in power in today’s society.
If said remake is made and removes or changes this scene I will buy multiple copies of this game, and I IMPLORE anyone else to do the same! Atlus needs to be shown that doing the right thing will be rewarded and if enough people do so en masse then it may be enough to set a precedent. On the other hand, if a remake is put out and it still has this scene then I will not buy it or put up anything Persona 3 related on this blog until it is removed. And no if they release it with the scene unedited then edit it after backlash then my promise to buy multiple copies will not apply.
And once again I will not listen to anyone who tries to tell me otherwise on this. If you try to justify this scene’s existence, then you are a transphobe. End of story.
This one gag scene aside, the story of Persona 3 is among one of the most powerful I have ever encountered, and while the game as a whole is a slow burner, it becomes a fucking incinerator when it gets going. The only real obstacle in one’s enjoyment should be that transphobic gag, but any serious cis allies out there have my permission to enjoy this game despite this scene and not feel guilty. That shit I just said about a boycott only applies to a remake and not a straight port like on PSN. The director of the last three games has left anyway so hopefully we get someone who gives a shit about LGBT people for Persona 6.
Graphics wise, Persona 3 is a bit on the meh side. Everything looks like it is supposed to and all that, but I wouldn’t exactly describe the game as especially pleasing to look at. I would like to draw specific complaints towards how little background designs there are for Tartarus with only 7 palettes used throughout the entire game, one of which is a palette swap.
Additionally I need to put it out there that the in game anime cutscenes are WAY off compared to the in game models. Half of the time the anime models looked like relatives of the slenderman and gave off an uncanny valley effect that I cannot tell whether or not was intentional.
The voice acting is thankfully more than enough to make up for the janky animation. The voice actors really nailed the performance and I heard genuine emotion in each of their voices. The sound effects are handled very well for the most part. Every hit feels satisfying and those critical shots have all the more impact because of them (although the slashing sound effect doesn’t quite work when Junpei is using a bat as a weapon).
The music is a bit of a mixed bag. None of the tracks are particularly horrible but a good portion are heard WAY too much over the course of this game. This is especially egregious in regards to the cutscene tracks that play constantly whether or not they are heard in social links or the main storyline. The main battle theme “Mass Destruction” is often seen as a fan favorite, but I cannot for the life of me see why with such a bland melody and arrangement.
The normal boss themes “Master of Tartarus” and “Master of Shadow” are pretty good tracks that I didn’t really appreciate until replaying this. “Unavoidable Battle” is flat out badass and “The Battle for Everyone’s Souls” I have stated more than once is a masterpiece. There are some other standout tracks such as “The Path is Open” “Memories of the City,” “Mistic,” “Living with Determination,” and the immensely beautiful ending credits theme “Memories of You,” but the issue with the soundtrack is more so the repetitiveness of the cutscene themes rather than the quality of any individual track.
What really makes Persona 3 shine is how well its fantastic story intertwines with the gameplay. If anyone was reading this and thought that “social links” are just optional sidestories that hold no baring on the gameplay, then you may need to guess again; and you better guess right this time because there are only two options.
The tarot motif mentioned earlier was not just for thematic relevance. Each social link will give a persona that matches that arcana an automatic experience boost when they are created, and the more a social link is leveled up, the bigger the experience boost. On top of this, maxing out a social link will give you an item that allows you to create the strongest available persona of that arcana.
Here is a brief explanation for those that don’t understand a word of what I just said. “Personas” are, as the game describes, “the manifestation of one’s psyche.” They each take the form of a mythological creature that can range from either Greek, Egyptian, Christian, or Japanese mythology (as well as some that are just references to the mainline Shin Megami Tensei titles). There is a whole other layer of symbolism in regards to the personas that each of the main characters come with but I don’t want this review to go on for TOO long.
The function of a persona can be best compared to that of a Guardian Force from Final Fantasy VIII in that your main stats, aside from HP and SP, are whatever those of your current persona is. While every other persona user only has one persona and thus functions like every other RPG character ever, the player character has 170 personas available and can swap between them on the fly.
In addition to this, the ability to fuse your personas together to create entirely new personas is carried over from the previous games. Unlike the previous games however, the player has the ability to access their older personas via the persona compendium. This saves every persona the player has obtained at one point with either default stats or “as is” for the purpose of buying them back later on for either use in battle or additional fusions.
There are some inconveniences that come into play such as not being able to choose between the defaults stats or the last saved stats considering that the latter ups the price and one may want the defaults in some cases while not in the others.
Another is the fact that some of the special “we require four or more personas” fusions will list the personas you need but will not tell you the level of the persona being fused. The reason this is a problem is because the player character can only fuse personas of their current level, which means that if the player character is below that level then they gathered all of these personas together for nothing. This is even more frustrating considering that the player has limited persona slots available AND that it means they wasted a shit ton of money.
It also needs to be said that Persona 3 could seriously use a way to store personas similarly to how Pokemon are stored in the PC. Your only options for removing a persona from your currently lineup is either through fusion or full on deletion. Considering that there is a price tag on personas, there really is no good reason to not allow you to keep your current ones. But I guess that’s capitalism for you now isn’t it?
One neat feature of persona fusions in Persona 3 is the fact that fusions will often carry over a move from the personas used to fuse it even if that move is not normally part of their skill list. While this is a neat mechanic in its own right, the problem is that the player does not get to manually choose what skills carry over. Instead they are randomly selected, but the player can just continually exit out of the fusion screen and enter again until they get the right combination. Given that some of the sub missions in the game require the player to fuse a persona with an ability it doesn’t normally have, it’s clear that this was how the game intended the feature to be used. So this begs the question of why they didn’t just let the player pick the abilities they wanted fused?
I am hopeful that the later games in the series improved upon these issues considering that this was the first game to attempt this formula. It is understandable that there would be a few hiccups here and there so I can’t really fault Persona 3 for these things too much. What I CAN fault them for was the idiotic idea to make your party members AI controlled.
I genuinely don’t get their reasoning for why they did this. The previous Persona games did not have this, and I can’t see any advantage to having AI controlled characters IN A TURN BASED RPG! This makes no fucking sense! People gave Final Fantasy XIII a lot of crap for only allowing control of one character, yet it at least kinda made sense since the game was in real time. The pace of Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is simply too fast for the player to manually make these choices for all three characters, so it was instead set up to use paradigms to direct these characters to take specific actions.
In Persona 3, you have all the time in the world to think of what action to take. There is no advantage given to putting the AI in charge of vital decisions. Similarly to Final Fantasy XIII, Persona 3 also allows you to set each character’s strategy to a specific strategy, so it shouldn’t be too much of a big deal as long as you don’t mind a little more menu action right?
You really need to get better at detecting rhetorical questions reader. The key problem is that the few AI scripts given are not enough to stop your characters from taking horrifically stupid actions like casting Marin Karin on a boss or using a low level healing item when you are in critical HP even though they still have CLEARLY have enough SP to cast diarahan.
Even worse is the fact that the MC dying is an instant game over, yet your AI controlled party members don’t seem to realize this. A vast majority of the strategy in Persona 3 comes from trying to manage your own party members and compensating for their own unreliability. For the most part, the battle mechanics are exceptionally well balanced and greatly reward familiarity with the system, but the final boss battle against Nyx Avatar is the lone exception.
The atmosphere and build up to Persona 3’s final boss was incredible, but the boss battle itself… kinda sucks. In theory, you can tell how they went all out with not only 14 phases, but also with just how long the battle is. In practice… you start to realize that they basically made Final Fantasy XII’s Yiazmat into a required storyline boss. Nyx Avatar is not quite AS bad as Yiazmat, but keep in mind that Yiazmat at least allowed the player to save mid battle and come back later. The fight against Nyx Avatar can last for up to an hour and there are NO BREAKS!
The final phase is especially frustrating considering she spams a move that requires the player to wait a turn until they continue attacking, a move that adds no challenge to the fight and just makes it take longer, AND she uses a move that not only does a crap ton of damage, but also can charm a party member…. which can lead to them using Diarahan on her and making the player starting the final phase right from the start… the same final phase that takes just as long as the other 13 phases combined.
Unless the player has had everything planned out in advance and has got just the right items (that often can only be obtained by level grinding a persona until it gives it to you) and persona, you will either have to brute force your way through the absurdly long fight and hope you don’t get screwed over with any status ailments at the end, or grind your way up to about level 90 and use an overpowered persona like Lucifer and spam megidolaon and thus remove all the challenge from the battle, but still have it take forever and a century. Of all the places to drop the ball, they just HAD to choose the final boss didn’t they? No boss in the game gave me any trouble aside from Nyx Avatar. Even the infamously difficult bosses like the Sleeping Table and the World Balance were easy pickings if you knew how to use the right strategies, and the story line bosses were an easier win than against a Trump supporter in a spelling bee. Also for clarity’s sake, I did not get to fight Elizabeth due to not completing every sidequest.
But it is worth reiterating that the main game, otherwise known as “The Journey” is well worth your time and makes for a fantastic experience despite the flaws present. There is the elephant in the room known as “The Answer” though. The Answer is the name of an added chapter given specifically to the FES re-release of Persona 3 that is not included in any other version of the game. I have not mentioned Persona 3 Portable up to this point precisely because the ability to manually control your party members AND all the additional content makes it a significantly different game that I would like to give its own review some day (but not for a while), but I feel I should mention that it DOES NOT include The Answer segment.
The reason it did not include the segment is mainly because many fans did not care for The Answer, and I can understand why. When I first played Persona 3 about 8 years ago, I rage quit midway through The Answer due to how many problems there were. I made a point to play The Answer to the end for the purposes of this review, and despite the fact that there were a fair number of points where I wanted to quit, I am glad I finished it.
Unlike the main game of Persona 3, there are no social links in The Answer portion. Instead The Answer is meant to be more in line with Persona 1 and 2, but forgot that those games played like ass. Firstly there is no compendium, so if you fused away your best personas, your only solution is to reload a save file or grind in a previous area until you get it as a drop.
There also are no healing points before dungeons, so this will often mean stricter item management or having to retread dungeons if you don’t have the right party setup (although they at least kept save points). The game is also significantly harder with a lot more bosses that were just outright bullshit (FUCK YOU NEO MINOTAUR!!!). A major issue is the fact that the player cannot buy SP restoring items and can only get them through trading gems dropped by random enemies, which is a very unreliable farming method. I was lucky enough to get a Mage’s Mark item as a random drop that restores SP, but you got that and the upgraded Wizard’s Mark item through sidequests in the main game.
The main issue with The Answer is that it’s just a major grind. The Answer is about 30 hours long, and about maybe 2 of those hours are story content. Everything is just so spread out over the course of the main game with little story development, and what was previously an incredible game devolves into an average dungeon crawler. The flaws mentioned are manageable on their own, but those who just want to see how the story ends are just going to find themselves frustrated.
To be fair, each of the boss battles in the final stretch of the game were amazingly well designed (far better than the main game’s final boss ironically enough) and the story telling was absolutely intense. The new music in The Answer is especially good, and the dungeon backdrops…. are still on the bland side, but at least they have more variety to them.
The Answer portion makes for a fairly decent dungeon crawler, and there is at least a nice final stretch for those that push through to the end of it, but there is no denying that the meat of Persona 3 is the original game. If one has not played Persona 3 yet, then it is HIGHLY recommended to give it a go and to try and stick with it as much as you can. In fact, it’s almost too fitting that a game about pushing forward and finding the good in even the worst of situation requires the player to do just that in the some of the early game.
..hopefully that wasn’t intentional.
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