Why You Need to Play Persona 3

 

Among Persona fans and fans of JRPGS in general, I feel like the two entries in the Persona series that consistently get the most love and recognition are Persona 4 and 5. In all of my years as a Persona fan, I have personally never seen the same passion for Persona 3, which I think is a huge shame, as I think it has the most consistent and powerful storyline and themes, as well as incredible cast of characters.

 

I only played Persona 4 once several years ago and it never resonated with me as much as Persona 3 and 5, so in this post, I use Persona 5 ( I’ve played both vanilla and Royal, as well as Strikers), as a reference for comparison. In the hopes of changing your heart (wink), here’s a few reasons why you need to play Persona 3, from someone who admittedly learned to love Persona through this very entry in the series and has played it, in its different variations, many times.

 

1. The premise

Every night after midnight, there is a hidden thirteenth hour, called the Dark Hour. “Normal” people, aka those without the ability to summon Personas, are completely unaware of the presence of this time and are in fact, sleeping and locked in coffins for the duration of it. But people like the protagonist and his/her party members, dubbed S.E.E.S., use their Personas during this forgotten hour to fight shadows and to climb the mysterious and seemingly endless tower, called Tartarus, that only appears during this time.

 

2. The soundtrack

Persona 3:  Dancing in Moonlight | Atlus

Persona 3‘s soundtrack is just as good, if not even better than Persona 5‘s iconic soundtrack. There are so many bops, like “Burn my Dread.” And the battle music, “Mass Destruction,” didn’t have to go this hard, but it does. You’ll be singing, “baby, baby! ba-da-ba-ba-ba-da-bah-buh,” in no time at all. It’s easy to see why Persona 3 also got its own rhythm game, titled Dancing in Moonlight. 

 

3. The characters

The characters of Persona 3 are just as lovable as the cast of Persona 5, if not more so, due to their refreshing complexity outside of their relationship with the protagonist. Though Persona 5 makes a lot of its cast of characters’ lives and growths revolve solely around their relationship with protagonist, Ren Amamiya, Persona 3 displays a cast with their own independent motivations, relationships, and complexity outside of the protagonist and the development of their relationship with him/her. There is not a single character in Persona 3 that hasn’t been touched by death or some other form of personal tragedy and loss.

 

That same past trauma is what shapes much of their decisions, not their relationship with the protagonist or the player’s completion of a social link. Crucial character development is not hidden behind a “paywall,” so to speak, of maxing out this social link with the cast or behind the protagonist’s social stats. If players miss maxing out a certain main cast member’s social link, they will still see the party members reaching important realizations, pursuing their own beliefs, forming solid bonds with each other and other people outside of the protagonist, and so on, as part of the main story.

 

In fact, one could even argue that everything Persona 5 does, Persona 3 did first, albeit in a less polished and refined fashion. Persona 5 certainly doesn’t stray too far from the tried and true formula of Persona 3‘s archetypes of characters—perhaps that’s why I love both casts so much. Persona 5‘s fan favorite Makoto Njiima is very reminiscent of Persona 3’s Mitsuru Kirijo, who is also student council president (though admittedly, I find Mitsuru much more capable, likable, and interesting). Ann Takamaki is very similar to the holder of the Lovers arcana in Persona 3, Yukari Takeba, who is also well loved by the male population and ends up going into the entertainment industry. But unlike Ann, Yukari struggles with more than just her modeling career, her relationship with her coworker, and the “strength” of her heart.

 

Tech savvy Fuuka provides navigation in Tartarus (the Mementos of Persona 3), just like Persona 5‘s Futaba, but learns how to deal with her friend problems without the protagonist holding her hand every step of the way. Junpei is the never-do-well best friend type with hidden depths. However, unlike Persona 5’s loyal Ryuji, Junpei doesn’t immediately become best friends with the protagonist, and is in fact, jealous and resentful of the main character for becoming the leader and for being popular.  Likewise, Yukari, the protagonist’s other classmate, doesn’t immediately become close friends with the protagonist. The characters are given more realistic amounts of time to become close to the protagonist or even have varying degrees of closeness with him/her. This is in stark contrast to Persona 5, where it feels like Ren is the center of literally everyone’s universe.

 

But perhaps even better than this lack of a dependence on social links to get to know the characters, the cute “mascot” figure of this game is Koromaru, a loyal Shiba Inu who can summon his own Persona. And unlike Teddy and Morgana, Koro-chan doesn’t speak, rendering his cuteness completely unmitigated. It doesn’t hurt that players can take him for walks and meet up with their social links, effectively earning players more points towards social link completion.

 

4. the darker themes

Yukari trying to use her evoker.
Yukari Takeba | Persona 3 | Atlus

Though Persona 5 starts out pretty rough, with protagonist Ren being arrested for trying to save a woman from sexual assault from a powerful male politician, I’d argue that Persona 3 is still much darker. Instead of finding power, taking it, and using it to take down wholly “evil” adults, something that is pretty simplified and black and white in Persona 5, the characters of Persona 3 are continually faced with moral quandaries and the cost they must pay for their decisions. The cast must constantly grapple with death itself. Be prepared to cry, as multiple characters die or are murdered in the course of the story and there’s no third semester to come to grips with it.

 

There’s also the startling imagery that pervades the game—the coffins that encapsulate “normal” people hibernating during the dark hour, the zombie-like figures of those succumbing to Apathy Syndrome, the color blue being used thematically to echo the melancholy of the main protagonist and of the game at large. It goes without saying that even the summoning of Personas is darker in Persona 3, with the party using special guns, called evokers, to shoot themselves in the head in order to summon their Personas. We see Yukari struggling to overcome her fear of shooting herself in order to use her powers. Personally, I think combating human fear is a much more interesting dilemma simply because of the fact that it requires a serious, conscious choice rather than a wanton summoning where teenagers confidently rip a mask off their faces or crush tarot cards with absolutely zero hesitation.

 

Persona 3′s evocation of the Persona with an actual gun obviously implies a much higher risk factor and renders the summoning of a Persona that much more significant by implicating that the action could require a much bigger personal sacrifice than a trip to a dermatologist for scarring. The characters must overcome their inherent fear in order to fight against shadows, which foreshadows one of the larger central themes of the game, sacrifice.

 

5. the Female protagonist

Persona 3 Portable | Atlus

 

The latest remaster of the game, Persona 3 Portable, features the option to play as a female protagonist, who is much bolder than the quieter male protagonist. A lot of her dialogue options will have players screaming at her audaciousness. Though Persona 3 Portable does offer this female protagonist with loads of personality and with her own unique social links and romance options, there’s sadly not the range of romance options provided to the male character. But having a female protagonist is certainly a step in the right direction and Persona 3 Portable is the only Persona title available on modern platforms that provides this choice of genders, making it a great choice for players who want more options.

 

Personally, I’d really love for future Personas to implement gender selection from the get-go and to allow for romance options that go beyond the heterosexual. It is ridiculous that both Persona 5 and Persona 3 feature romances between adults and minors, including but not limited to student-teacher relationships, but don’t allow players to choose the gender of their character or to date all characters regardless of their gender. After all, is a self-insert protagonist actually a self-insert when it only allows players a single choice—to pick a heterosexual male character?

 

6. the difficulty

Margaret standing in front of the twelve optional boss fights.

Persona 3 is first and foremost a dungeon crawler, with party members having to climb floors of Tartarus. When players first start climbing the floors of  the seemingly endless Tartarus, there is a teleporter that allows the party to return to the entrance, use the save point, and return back to the current floor every couple of levels, but as the game progresses, the teleporters are much fewer and farther apart. Thankfully, the latest remaster of Persona 3 Portable allows players to resume their progress from the current floor after death and a Game Over, but I definitely don’t remember this from my days of playing the much more roguelike Persona 3 FES, where I wiped on multiple occasions only to lose all of my progress, loot, and experience. This was incredibly demoralizing and I was happy to see this changed, as all it takes is one adequately timed Mudoon or Hamaon to kill even an overpowered protagonist, resulting in a Game Over in the blink of an eye.

 

On top of the progressively harder “regular” enemy mobs, there’s also boss fights every certain amount of floors in Tartarus, and even more difficult shadows to fight during story events. And if that weren’t already enough, there’s absolutely tons of optional boss fights, and even an entirely optional dungeon with even tougher regular mobs to tackle and with an optional boss for players to challenge without the help of their party members at the end of this dungeon. Another of the optional boss fights is the Reaper itself, which was honestly a joke for my party to defeat in Persona 5 Royal, whereas it is actually quite the challenge in Persona 3, if no short cuts are taken.

 

During my current playthrough of the Persona 3 Portable remaster, I’ve had to grind every single one of my party members to max level, level 99, and that’s still not even close to being enough for me to even attempt two of the optional bosses. I will have to craft Personas with certain skills and stats, gather ultimate weapons and level certain Personas for choice accessories, defeat twelve other prerequisite optional bosses before tackling the one waiting for me to prove myself to them before battling me, and then hope and pray I get lucky (and can do math to calculate when to perform certain attacks), during the fights themselves and don’t get immediately one-shotted. And that’s before I even fight the final boss of the game. Needless to say, I already have over 100 hours in my first playthrough of this remaster and am still quite a bit intimidated to take on these fights, which are required for the platinum trophy. At max levels, I’m still struggling to win many of these optional fights to even prove myself worthy of taking on the others. So if you are looking for more of a challenge than Persona 5, look no further than Persona 3. 

 

 

Though all of the Persona games have a lot going for them, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses, Persona 3, in all of its variations, will always have a special place in my heart with its darker tones, amazing music, and complex characters. I hope after reading this post, you’ll consider playing it and that the game gets the recognition it deserves. I also cannot help but to hope that one day we will see a definitive or remake edition of Persona 3, which combines the best of both FES and Persona 3 Portable, and implements some of the improvements Persona 5 made to the genre gameplay wise.

 

What is your favorite Persona game and why?

 

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Why You Need to Play Persona 3 - Blogging with Dragons

Posted March 23, 2023 in Games

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2 responses to “Why You Need to Play Persona 3

  1. Shazam

    Sadly,FES is just an objectively better experience, especially for people who’ve already played 4 and 5. Wish that would have been made clear.

    • My goal in writing this was to get people to play any form of Persona 3, but as I said in the last paragraph, I wish ATLUS had made a definitive edition combining the best of P3P and Fes.

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