(originally posted November 21st 2014)
(WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Persona 3)
Persona 4 quickly became one of my favourite games of all time, so I naturally became curious about its predecessor, Persona 3. Turns out there are like three versions of the thing; I settled on the PSP remake since it played similarly to P4 (I’m not fond of the idea of not having control over my own party members; I don’t trust the AI). I was worried that my love for its sequel would cause me to view P3 as a downgrade, and while P4 is certainly a superior title, P3 is still a good game and has plenty of great things about it. So, I’m gonna dedicate this article to all the things I liked. Let’s pull out our Evokers and get this started.
1. You Can Choose Your Gender
This feature is only in the PSP version, and it’s certainly a welcome one. While the idea of choosing your gender in a videogame is hardly a revolutionary one, it really makes a difference in a game that focuses on the relationships you make with other people. The bond you make with the likes of Yukari and Mitsuru changes greatly if you’re playing as a female instead of a male.
It’s a great way of encouraging multiple playthroughs, especially since playing as a female allows you to make Social Links with all of your party members (as opposed to playing as a male which only has Social Links with the female members of the group). The change in gender also shows new possibilities for romance, since you can now date the guys, which reveals new depths into their personalities which you don’t get by playing as a male. It’s something I wish P4 did and, hopefully, will be brought back for P5.
2. The Tone
P3 is a dark game. And I don’t mean ‘ooh it’s so gritty’ dark. I mean, people die and there’s a lot of rather grim imagery, helped by the slightly muted colour scheme and focus on the colour blue, which bizarrely creates feelings of mystery and calmness, as opposed to P4’s bright yellow to create an energetic and positive feel. Oh, and one of the main themes of the game is the idea of death.
In the first cutscene alone, we see what looks like a young girl attempting, and failing, to shoot herself, and the streets lined with coffins under a green haze and puddles of blood randomly spread everywhere. And in one scene, we see a random man turned into one of the main enemies of the game, a Shadow. Black ooze pours out of his mouth and eyes, as he screams and collapses into an inhuman mess.
And then there’s Tartarus; the looming, distorted tower that you explore throughout the game. From the outside, it just looks incomprehensible; in reality, it could not exist. No man-made building could look like it, structurally. Add in the fact that it’s filled to the brim with Shadows (including the Reaper – an enemy that you could potentially encounter at any point and will kill you if you’re not about level 80) and the bizarre interior that changes as you ascend it. All of this is further aided by my next point…
3. The Music
P3 has some mighty fine music, most of it matching the rather sombre mood of the game. While there are a few upbeat tracks (and at least one jazz track), most of the soundtrack consists of music that further strengthens the seriousness of many of the scenes.
And if it’s not making you depressed, it’s heightening the tension. You are frequently reminded of how easily you and your party could be killed; death is a constant possibility and the music helps make your enemies seem all the more threatening. Two of my personal favourites are Master of Tartarus and Shadow, though I’d recommend looking up the whole soundtrack if you’re in a melancholy mood.
4. Battling Shadows outside Tartarus
In P4, your battles were restricted to being inside the other world, whereas in P3, the majority of the major boss fights took place outside of Tartarus and in the real world. This greatly appealed to me as it led to more unique situations. In one fight, you took on a Shadow inside a monorail. That’s pretty cool on its own but that fight sticks out since you are also timed – the Shadow has turned the monorail on and you need to beat it before it crashes into another.
The rest of the bosses are slightly similar but I think part of the joy is that you are using your powers in the real world. Summoning a Persona isn’t restricted; you could potentially do it anywhere. And with the fights taking place in town, it means there’s also the risk of any damage to the town itself, which would just cause panic the following day. You feel like you’re actively protecting your home, and it’s immensely satisfying to succeed in protecting the things you care about.
5. Scanning Enemies
When I compare the two back-up party members from P3 and P4, I certainly find Rise to be the more interesting but Fuuka certainly has one advantage over Rise; she can actually scan enemies.
Unlike in P4 where you constantly had to hit enemies with every kind of attack to see what worked and what didn’t, Fuuka could tell you the enemies’ entire strengths and weaknesses in a few turns of scanning it, making battling foes less a case of trial and error. It’s the little things that can make a game that much more enjoyable.
6. Dating Elizabeth/Theodore
Throughout the game, you can take on side-quests from Velvet Room residents Elizabeth and Theodore (the latter only being available if you pick a female protagonist). These are usually collecting items from enemies and the like, but a recurring quest involves you taking them out on dates into the real world.
While they are technically not Social Links, it is a joy to seeing them react to the most mundane things like fountains. Elizabeth dumps a ton of money in one so as to make a wish, only to realise she never thought about what to wish for. Hell, she manages to misconstrue everything and yet be strangely accurate.
The idea of having a character misunderstand things that we are very familiar is nothing new; I feel like it’s hard to do it without it coming across as annoying. With these two, it’s more amusing than anything, but not at their expense. You can’t help but enjoy seeing them so bewildered by the world around them, making them some of the more interesting characters in the series.
7. Shinjiro’s Death
Though he’s not in the party for very long, Shinjiro’s death is still a painful moment. Throughout the game, we’ve occasionally seen him but he’s always been rather stand-offish; constantly blowing off Akihiko’s attempts to get him to re-join SEES. Despite his thuggish appearance and rough nature, there’s a still a few moments that show that he’s actually a perfectly nice guy. It’s just such a shame that you never got to know him properly.
It’s even worse if you play as a female since it’s entirely possible to not only become friends with him, you can even romance him. And I’m sure nothing hurts more than seeing your boyfriend bleed to death and being unable to do anything. Even I felt hurt when he died despite knowing little about him.
The only plus side is that he went out like a badass. The dude not only took a bullet to the chest, but he then took a second in order to protect Ken, whether it be out of a sense of decency or as a means to atone for accidentally killing Ken’s mum. For that, he will never be forgotten.
8. Fighting Strega
Strega are hardly the most memorable of villainous organisations but I always looked forward to fighting them, since they had the exact same powers I did. You spend most of the game fighting giant monsters, so there’s something enjoyable about taking on a human for a change.
It’s because that you feel like you’re on equal footing; they have Personas just like you and are just as proficient with them; in fact, they’re probably stronger since there’s four of you and you usually fight them one at a time – never all three at once. Not to mention that two of them were just bastards. Well, Takaya was, with his constant desire to bring Death to the world (plus he killed Shinjiro). Jin was just an annoying prick that got on my nerves. And Chidori… well…
9. Junpei Gaining his Ultimate Persona
All of your party members (with the exceptions of Shinjiro and Koromaru) have their Personas evolve throughout the story, due to their resolves strengthening e.g. Yukari choosing to keep fighting upon learning of her father’s final wish. But my personal favourite of these scenes is easily Junpei’s.
Despite Chidori being the enemy, Junpei develops quite the attraction towards her, regularly checking on her in the hospital when SEES capture her. And in turn, Chidori begins to open up slightly to him. Eventually, it’s revealed that Chidori, as a result of getting her Persona, knew the day she was going to die and thus, saw no reason to live, shutting herself out from people. But through her interactions with Junpei, she found meaning.
So when Junpei is shot by Takaya, she uses her Persona’s ability to heal his wound but at the cost of her own life. It may be melodramatic for some, but Chidori dying in Junpei’s arms, admitting that she had fallen in love with him, really got me in the feels.
But what really makes this scene is what happens directly after. Instead of his Persona evolving like everyone else’s, Junpei’s fuses with Chidori’s, creating Trismegistus, which Junpei immediately uses to wreck Jin. He was worn out as soon as he did it, but it was undoubtedly Junpei’s finest moment, and his desire to live for both him and Chidori is what made this usually cocky slacker one of the best characters in the game.
Speaking of development, let’s talk about Aigis, shall we? A robot designed for the sole purpose of eliminating Shadows and was somehow given a Persona. When she first joins, she is very much a typical machine and is only able to pass as a human through physical appearance only. Yet she has some strange desire to protect the protagonist. The reason for this is that Aigis sealed the personification of Death inside him at a young age when she was unable to defeat it.
As the story progresses, she gradually begins to develop human emotions; she’s unable to kill the group when under Itkutski’s control and feels responsible for the death of Mitsuru’s father. Naturally, she becomes very confused about these emotions; she doesn’t understand what they mean or where they came from. It’s tragic because, as a robot, she’s always trying to understand things and emotions can’t be. Even we humans, who experience things like love, happiness, sadness and fear can’t properly explain them, but we accept them because we’ve always had them, as opposed to Aigis.
Her Social Link sees her trying to come to terms with her increasing humanity, and at one point struggles with her own identity, since she feels she’s no longer a machine but not a proper human either. It’s arguably the best character arc in the whole game, and it brought joy to my heart to help her overcome it all. Oh, and at one point she cries. Actually cries. With tears and everything. *sniff* Excuse me; I have something in my eye.
11. The Final Battle
The outcome looks bleak. Our heroes have decided to take on Nyx, the being that will end all life on the planet, despite being told by Ryoji, the very harbinger of Nyx, that she can’t be defeated. They have scaled Tartarus and reached the top, where they are confronted with the Nyx Avatar, a boss fight that essentially has fourteen phases. Yes, FOURTEEN!
After a long and arduous battle, the team seemingly defeat it. But that fight was nothing more than a delay. The Nyx Avatar shrugs off any damage it took and connects itself to Nyx herself, whose true form is the Moon. It begins to emit a shockwave that paralyses the team; they’re unable to move. The people below are thrown into a wild panic at the sight of the Moon gradually getting closer, and Shadows begin to swarm.
It looks like there’s nothing the team can do, until the protagonist uses the bonds he’s made over the last year (along with Igor’s help) to create the ultimate Arcana: the Universe, and uses its power to ascend into the Moon, where he takes on Nyx one-on-one. He is struck down multiple times by Nyx’s power, but the voices of his friends reach him (including the voice of Shinjiro), giving him the power he needs to perform the Great Seal. He pulls of the impossible: preventing the Fall and saving everyone.
Both of these boss fights were very engrossing to me, partly because of the music. The Nyx Avatar fight has The Battle for Everyone’s Souls, which comes with a now tenser and quicker version of the chanting that you hear in the Velvet Room, and the Nyx fight has the main theme, Burn My Dread, playing, which somehow becomes encouraging, raising your determination. It’s probably helped since throughout the fight, you hear the cries of the party supporting you. Honestly, it’s hard to put into words. Play the game yourself, and you should have the same feelings I did.
12. The Protagonist’s Death
Eliminating Nyx causes the Dark Hour (the time when Tartarus appears and the Shadows run rampant) to no longer exist. But with it gone, so do the heroes’ memories of everything they’ve been through. The bonds between them have vanished and they’re no longer the tight group they once were. Before they fought Nyx, though, they promised they’d remember on Graduation Day – which they do. Somehow, their memories come back and all’s well that ends well, right? Wrong!
Turns out, the protagonist not only retained his memories but also used all his life force to seal Nyx away. Despite the exhaustion, he keeps himself going for almost three months, just so he can see his friends and fulfil the promise they made. On Graduation Day, he and Aigis head to the roof of the school; he’s lying down with his head in her lap; she knows he’s dying and is struggling to come to terms with the fact that the one she dedicated her life to will be gone. She fights back the tears and tells him that he needs to rest. She promises that she’ll be beside him and protect him forever. And just as the rest of the gang are about to arrive, the screen fades to white.
What I love about this scene is that it’s never stated that he’s dying; it’s only implied and when you realise that that’s what happening, you find yourself unable to get to grips with it yourself. I mean, the hero doesn’t die! That’s not what’s meant to happen. What makes it worse is that the others don’t get the chance to say goodbye. We don’t see it but they only just regained their memories; they rush up to reunite with him, only to find that their friend has died. It’s the ultimate definition of bittersweet.
That is how I’d describe Persona 3 – bittersweet. You have a fun time but at the end, despite all the good you’ve done, you can’t help but feel saddened. That’s why it’s worth giving this game a go, whether it is the portable version, the FES remake or even the original.