Game Comment: “Persona 3” (PS2)

23 Oct


Info: Atlus Co. (Developer); Koei (Publisher)
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: M

Started: July 2008
Finished: October 2008
Playing time: ~ 110 hours (a couple of hours are due to not being able to pause the game and only two save points)

Links: Official Website; Games: Playing Right now;
Games: Playing “Persona 3” (PS2) with video


The Persona series is a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series. In Persona 3, you’re playing an unnamed orphaned male teenager who goes back to the city where he grew up. Shortly after you arrive in the city, you’re attacked by Shadows, beings that feed on the mind of people, leaving some of them ill. Thanks to the awakening of your Persona, a kind of other self from deep within, you’re able to defeat them. It turns out some of the other kids you go to school with have the same ability. They are part of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES), formed to hunt Shadows. You join SEES, and from then on, spent your nights defeating Shadows.

Shadows appear only during the Dark Hour, a time between times. It exists between one day and the next and appears every night at midnight. SEES members and a few other people are aware of it but most people don’t know. In order to hunt Shadows, you (and the other SEES members) have to go to Tartarus, a huge tower which only appears during the Dark Hour and which teems with Shadows.

The game follows a (Japanese) school year, and as the year progresses, you learn more and more about Tartarus, the Shadows and the Dark Hour. Your goal is to defeat all Shadows, or at least to make the Dark Hour go away, because more and more people fall in a state of unconsiousness because of it. Of course, it isn’t as straightforward as that and you encounter some twists and surprises on the way.

There are two distinct parts to the game: the dungeon crawling during the Dark Hour and the day-time activity with going to school, school activities and making and meeting friends. Persona 3 is a mixture of RPG elements and dating sim elements, although dating means you meet all kind of people, not just love interests, and try to establish a relationship with them (called social link).

What I liked:

  • story
    This is the part where Persona 3 really shines, IMO. Persona 3 features a story that tackles serious subjects in a much more thorough way than you normally see in other (RPG) games. Essentially, it’s a look at the meaning of friendship and love, and it asks questions about free will and fate. Each member of SEES has his own story and reason for fighting the Shadows, and when it comes to make the ultimate decision on New Year’s Eve – which comes down to a choice between free will and fate – their story influences the way they decide. Other games *coughFinalFantasyXIIcough* could learn a thing or ten from Persona 3 in regard to character development.
    Persona 3 has two endings; which one you get depends on your decision on New Year’s Eve. What is called the “bad ending” practically ends the game on New Year’s eve. You get to see the rest of the school year but you can’t play your character anymore and you won’t have to face the obligatory final boss fight. The “good ending” opens up another dungeon, you can continue to improve your social links, acquire new Personas, and you get to beat the final boss.
    The funny thing is, I wasn’t really sad after seeing the “bad ending” whereas after watching the “good ending” … oh my. The “good ending” expresses the “message” of the story most clearly and is therefore more powerful. It’s also the best example of how this game combines game elements (social links, fighting) and story and character development in a not-often-seen way for games.
  • mixture of RPG and dating sim
    Persona 3 is an unusual mixture of game genre elements. What makes it even more special is that these elements are linked to and influence each other and the story. For example, each person you can befriend and establish a social link with represents a Persona class called Arcana, modeled after Tarot cards like “Lovers,” “Judgment” or “Death.” The main character (you) is able to create (fuse) Personas, and since each Persona is part of a specific Arcana it’s: the higher your social link with a person, the higher the benefits for fusing a Persona that’s part of the Arcana that person represents. And the link between a Persona’s Arcana and Tarot cards connects this game play element with one of the main themes – fate – of the story. Neat.
    Also, each element is able to feed my compulsive nature like whoa (meaning there are lots of possibilities to max all kinds of things).

What I didn’t like:

  • game control
    I thought the handling of the menus a bit cumbersome, the loading a bit slow and there’s only minimal info on things like abilities. When your Persona levels up, there isn’t any info about what the newly learned ability does. This is especially annoying when there’s no free slot available for the new ability (each Persona can have up to 8 abilities at the same time) and you have to choose which one to delete. There are A LOT of abilities and most of them have names that give you no clue what they do, like for example “Me Patra” (provides recovery from Panic, Fear, and Distress, targets all allies). You also don’t get info about the already learned skills on that screen, making this really hard and annoying. Really, I think the days where you had to play with a notepad beside you and write EVERYTHING down are gone.
  • game balance
    While I thought the mixture of RPG and dating-sim elements interesting and intriguing, it also can lead to some dull periods during the game, mostly depending on how much attention you pay to the social links part of the game (and how good you are at it). You can either have lots of extracurricular activities or periods where you just press a button to advance to the next day. How much you must fight depends in part on the rank of your social links. If you screw up there, it means more fights, and they and the dungeons are not all that exciting (Persona 3 is much more forgiving than Lucifer’s Call). I thought the balance was off there.
    Also: screwing up the social links is very easy. In fact, it’s said there’s only one way to max all social links in one go. For that, you have to follow a very detailed time-table and do everything in the right order. One mess-up to do something on a certain day, and all was for nothing.
    In Persona 3: FES, which comes out in Europe at the end of October 2008, the social link element is supposed to be easier (more opportunities to max the links), making the game better balanced in that regard.

Would I recommend this game? occasional player: not necessarily; (consloe) RPG players: yes

Would I play this game again? Yes (to max all the missed things)

Grade: 4 – / 5


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4 Responses to “Game Comment: “Persona 3” (PS2)”

  1. Christine Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 6:00 pm #

    Wow. You really are a gamer. You finished this in three months? Only 110 hours?

    I’ve been playing Sonic The Hedgehog since I was born and I still haven’t gotten to the final level without cheat codes! … okay, not since I was born. But since 1991. That’s someone’s whole life. πŸ˜‰

  2. Taja Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 8:52 pm #

    What do you mean? *laugh* You’re pulling my leg. I just don’t know which way. LOL! But that’s all right. πŸ™‚

    I’m not much into platform games. I think I tried one Sonic game but Sonic can go really fast and when you want to get everything (like I do with games) that’s not so good. Or it might be that I just suck at these kind of games. So you did more than I there, at least you keep at it!

    Thanks for commenting on a games post.

  3. Christine Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 10:24 pm #

    LOL! I meant it in the kindest and most playful of ways. I am honestly impressed that you played this game enough in three months and only 110 hrs. (which I don’t think is a lot) to actually “finish” it.

    I have question: Once you’ve “finished” a game, do you ever go back and play it again? I imagine it’s kind of like rereading a favorite book… only maybe better because it’s more interactive?

    Oh and on more question: What does “platform” games mean?

  4. Taja Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    Ahh! It’s the “finished” that impressed you. LOL I have a lot of unfinished games. Thinking about them makes me as queasy as thinking about books I should write a post about. πŸ™‚

    “in the kindest and most playful of ways”

    and I understood it that way! No worry. πŸ™‚

    There are two answers to my playtime:
    1. A LOT of people think playing games is a waste of time so admitting to so many hours is really bad in front of them (again, I didn’t think you meant your comment that way). And: it is a lot of time! πŸ™‚
    2. There are A LOT of people who finish(ed) that game in way less than 100 hours and/or in one week. Compared to them, I’m not a gamer. πŸ™‚

    I have favorite games and there are emotions/reactions tied to them when I see/hear/play them again. I even have a half-finished draft about my most favorite game (need to get to that). Watching the opening sequence or hearing its music – I want to play it again. The only trouble is, I’m mostly into RPGs and they’re loooong, but yes, I re-play some for the fun of it. Some even have a bonus for the second play through. Mostly it’s a super bad-ass boss fight (like in Persona 3 but there are also other goodies.

    “Platform” – ups, sorry. Platform games are games where your character has to jump to (moving) platforms (falling down often means losing one life) and over obstacles. You could also say “Jump and Run” games. The Sonic or Mario games or Donkey Kong are an example.

    I hope this helped! Otherwise feel free to ask again. πŸ™‚

    EDITED to add: RPG = role playing game

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