Entertainment mediums can be used to make the viewer feel every range of emotions, from the peaks of happiness and laughter to the pits of despair and agony. Films and books have provoked all sorts of responses from audiences for ages, but as technology became more advanced, video games slowly started to have the emotional weight on-par with contemporary media. One of the most famous genres for pushing the narrative envelopes in gaming are RPGs, which typically have engaging stories which take dozens of hours just to reach a conclusion. By utilizing what sets video games apart from other mediums — user choice and input — RPGs have the potential of creating unique experiences which are impossible to replicate. For myself, that captivating video game experience was felt throughout Persona 3. What I initially thought would be a slog through an older RPG turned out to be one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time, and Persona 3 ended up being a game that I cannot stop thinking about. The emotional power of Persona 3 has impacted my thoughts on video game narratives, as well as my own personal life in a manner I could never forget.
Gekkoukan High is a private school found on the middle of a gigantic, artificial land known as Port Island. As the new transfer student, the player goes through daily life increasing their social skills while conversing with the locals. However, Port Island hides a mysterious secret in the dead of night — an extra hour to every day named the “Dark Hour”. During the Dark Hour, normal people are transformed into coffins, and the manifestation of human apathy transform into shadows which hunt down and feed on unsuspecting civilians. However, a contingent of people managed to unlock a special power known as a “Persona” which can combat the ruthless shadows. By ascending a tower named “Tartarus” and defeating shadows along the way, the player and their team might be able to find the root of the dark mystery that surrounds them.
Persona 3’s gameplay is split up into two main portions. During the day, players are able to choose from a variety of activities in order to boost their social status or converse with a friend in order to become closer to them. At night, the player can choose to ascend Tartarus, where the player chooses from a group of Persona users and go through procedurally-generated floors full of shadows. When the player encounters a shadow, they initiate combat in a typical turn-based formula, where the player can attack or perform team management. Every attack has a specific element or type associated with it, and exploiting the weakness of your enemies is key to survival throughout Tartarus.
Unlike other traditional or contemporary RPGs, Persona 3 only allows the player to control themselves with the most input possible being specific orders given to teammates. Team members are mostly autonomous, choosing the best action they see fit in any given situation. This system is both a blessing and a curse since by having AI-controlled party members, there was less of a focus on balancing the characters themselves which is a problem later games suffer. By covering the weaknesses of each party member in order to increase their chances of survival, Persona 3’s battle system did not feel too rough despite being rather archaic.
Persona 3 is the type of game that does not come around very often, but when it does, it should not be missed out on.
The most important part of any RPG is how well the story is executed, and Persona 3 is worth an entire playthrough for the story alone. The main story follows the protagonist along with SEES, a group of Persona users who each have their own quirks and motivations which become more evident as the game progresses. While the story takes a while to ramp up, the pacing works well to ease players into the world of Persona 3 before thrusting them into a rollercoaster of emotions. By the second act, Persona 3’s story begins to shine, and it has one of the best final acts in any game that I’ve played. When performing daily duties, the player can also talk to their “social links”, friends who each have their own struggles and hardships which players must help amend. While some social links leave a lot to be desired, there are a couple that managed to bring me to tears despite only occasionally meeting with the characters. Even if not every character is particularly likable, they all feel organic and real without resorting to ridiculous levels which are all too common in ‘anime-inspired’ games, and this level of relatability is one of the biggest strengths of Persona 3.
Like many newer Persona fans, I started with the newest installment, Persona 5, and worked my way back through the series. I was initially dreading Persona 3 as the game seemed far too archaic and rough to enjoy, with much of the community lamenting Tartarus and the battle system. When I finally buckled down and got into the game, all of my worries disappeared as I enjoyed a majority of what Persona 3 had to offer. The characters are some of the most memorable that I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with, and the story was so much more gripping and compelling that I thought it would be. What ascended Persona 3 for me past a simply great RPG is the message that it told throughout its story.
During my playthrough of Persona 3, I was in a particularly dark place in my life. Much like the characters in the story, I felt apathy and confusion as to what I wanted out of life and what I would be able to accomplish. However, seeing these characters grow and be able to move past their plights to live another day resonated with me and made me realize that I should do just the same. “You don’t have to try to save the world to find meaning in life”, and it is the acceptance and ability to move forward despite hardships that I managed to swallow thanks to Persona 3. During the final moments of the game, I couldn’t hold back my emotions and cried all the way to the credits. The time I spent playing Persona 3 made me grow so attached to the characters and I truly felt a kinship with them, so seeing that come to an end was almost heartbreaking. But much like in real life, even if it can get rough, there is always a world that keeps turning, and I knew that I had to finish the game even if it was bittersweet.
Persona 3 is the type of game that does not come around very often, but when it does, it should not be missed out on. The story that it has to tell is worth every second of grinding and battling shadows, and the bonds that the protagonist makes with characters is one that will surely resonate with players as well. While Persona 5 is the newest and hottest on the market, I would urge any and every fan of RPGs and Persona, in particular, to play through Persona 3 at least once in order to personally experience the story. Even if it has aged and it could be rough around the edges, Persona 3 has garnered up a legacy and it’s worth it to see exactly why for yourself.