Persona 3 for the PS2 changed the Persona series as we know it, leading it in a completely new direction, as well as adding several staples that would carry over to the later games.
First, we should probably start with the question “what is Persona?” for those who aren’t familiar with the series. Persona, or Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, is a series of role-playing games developed by Altas, based around saving the world from Demons (although the main threat depends on the game). Persona was originally a branch of their Shin Megami Tensei series, with Persona 1, Innocent Sin, and Eternal Punishment sharing a similar style of gameplay, as well as having several mechanics from the Shin Megami Tensei series, such as Demon negotiation, the enemies being demons instead of “Shadows,” and the dungeon crawler-based exploration style (the latter being more attributed to the style of games that Atlas produced at the time, contrary to being a staple of Megami Tensei). However, from the third game onward they changed to be a different series, with the games being more based around the connections you make while fighting a great evil and fostering the growth of your character.
Now to prevent people from getting lost, I should follow up with another question: “what is a Persona?” as those who are not familiar with the series will also fail to understand that. A Persona is the manifestation of one’s spirit; they can take various forms and can also evolve to become an Ultimate Persona. The way you manifest these Personae differs depending on the game you are in, but from 3 onward there are specific ways of manifesting your Persona. For Persona 3, the rules are that you must be in the Dark Hour, and you must use an Evoker on yourself. The general theme for starter Personas in Persona 3 is Greco-Roman gods, with Io, Hermes, Orpheus, and Cerberus, along with many others.
Now then, we should get onto Persona 3. Specifically, I am going to split this into three categories: Gameplay, Story, and lastly the Music. I will note here that I played Persona 3 FES, instead of the original, which is mostly just a remastered edition along with another chapter taking place after the main story (which I have yet to play).
Gameplay. Let’s start with the basics—Persona 3 is a role-playing game as previously mentioned; however, it has several mechanics which make it unique for that genre. This game is time slot based, with three main slots: Morning, Afternoon, and Evening, in which you can complete miscellaneous tasks I will mention later. Secondly, I should mention that character stats, and the stats used for fighting are separate, as your Persona has stats to be used in combat. Your character has 3 main stats being Academics, Charm, and Courage, whereas your Persona has 5 main stats being, Strength, Magic, Endurance, Agility, and Luck. Now, onto the Dark Hour I mentioned earlier, in which you can summon Persona: The Dark Hour is a special time slot which can be accessed by asking the current navigator of the group to go to Tartarus (see the Story segment), where you use your Persona to fight “Shadows.” These are similar to demons from Shin Megami Tensei, but cannot be negotiated with. The goal of Tartarus exploration is to reach the top of the tower, which is split into several layers and reaches over a hundred floors high. When you are in Tartarus, this is one of the only times you can summon your Persona (the other time being a full-moon event, which features a boss at the end). One interesting note is that each Persona falls into an arcana which tells you about what they focus on. For example, those of the Magician arcana tend to have excellent Magic stats. Now that I have covered the major arcana, I can lead into Social Links, which are bonds you have formed with other characters. Typically you have to spend a time slot to hang out with a character that has one, with each one being linked to a specific arcana. These give XP boosts when you fuse Persona to get one of this type. Speaking of fusing Persona, let’s consider that next. At the end of some battles in the game, there is a card minigame, which gives out items, health, money, and sometimes Personae. You can then use these Personae in your party, which most people cannot do as they are usually limited to one Persona. However, the main character has the ability to have several at his disposal, which is an ability exclusive to Wild Cards (this is the only benefit that you have from being a Wild Card to my knowledge). From there, you can go to the Velvet Room—a strange room inhabited by the character Igor and some others, mainly being Igor’s assistant Elizabeth. While in the Velvet Room, you are given the option to fuse Personae into a stronger Personae of a different type; however, some Personae cannot be fused due to either their arcana type or the specific Persona. There are two types of fusions: a normal spread, which is two cards being fused, and a triangle spread, which uses three cards instead of two.
Verdict: Now that I have explained everything albeit poorly, I can give an evaluation to this section. I enjoy the combat of Persona, I am a big fan of the Social Links system, and I enjoy trying to find different combinations of Persona through fusions, Persona 3 may not have my favorite gameplay of all time, but I still largely enjoy it. I give the gameplay a 4.5/5
Story. Now for the story. The story of Persona 3 focuses on the team of SEES (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad), which is an after school club comprised of teenagers attending Gekkoukan High School in Iwatodai, Japan in 2009. The story is based around the team of SEES trying to discover and get rid of what is causing the Dark Hour to occur, which leads them to fight their way through Tartarus—a massive dungeon that consumes Gekkoukan High during the Dark Hour, which only Persona users can experience after midnight every day. Several things get in the way of SEES, such as “Shadows,” drama, or just school. Along the way, they get new companions and discover things about the past that led to their current events.
Verdict: I somewhat enjoyed the story; I thought it was interesting at the very least, but I had a hard time getting invested in it. Though that might not be the case for others, I much preferred the side stories present in the Social Links. I give this section a 3.5/5.
Music. This category shall be a little biased, as Persona 3 has one of my favorite soundtracks (I’ve been listening to it while writing this review), only matched by Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (which I might review at a later time). The soundtrack for Persona 3 is less like what you would expect a game soundtrack to be, and more like pop music for some songs, which lends itself very well to the game. The soundtrack has classics like “Burn My Dread,” “Mass Destruction,” “Master of Tartarus,” “Living With Determination,” and one of my personal favorites “Blues in Velvet Room.” While I do think of the Soundtrack highly, one thing I do not like is how the game handles it; whenever you enter or exit combat, it resets the music track, meaning that you’ll be hearing the starts of songs a lot, which can get annoying.
Verdict: Overall, I’d say the music is one of my favorite parts of the game. I give this section a 5/5
Final Verdict: Overall I give Persona 3 a 13/15
It’s quite a good game and I would recommend most people at least try it out at some point.