There are certain things that we start looking back on with a certain amount of nostalgia, Super Mario Bros. is one of those titles that come to mind as is Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. There are some titles that have come out in the last 10 or so years that are no longer considered new, but they still evoke the same kind of nostalgia. One of those titles for me is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3.
I had heard a bit of the Shin Megami Tensei games, but I hadn’t heard much about Persona. It wasn’t until I had friends that kept talk about Persona 3 and I asked what it’s like did I find my curiosity piqued.
There have been 4 things related either directly or partly to Persona 3: Persona 3, Persona 3 FES, Persona 3 Portable and Persona Trinity Soul.
The first game to be released was Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. This is the game that brought a lot of people to the Persona franchise and possibly more people to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as well. In the game you play a male main character (who has no name so you’re allowed to name him). The game plays like a cross between traditional JRPG and a dating sim. Persona 3 was the first game in the series where social links and the dating sim simulation shows up. It wasn’t a part of the first 2 Persona games.
The story was about a boy (the main character, hence TMC), who transfers to Gekkoukan High School. On his trip there he experiences his first Dark Hour (a period between midnight and 1 AM). It’s a period where most people transform into coffins. The ones that don’t are the ones with “the potential” or random people who happen to wake up and then become Shadows (Shadows are bits of human personality… hence Persona) or they become inflicted with Apathy Syndrome (an illness that leaves the person catatonic… more or less).
He winds up in a dorm with Akihiko Sanada, Mitsuru Kurijo and Yukari Takeba. His first night there the dorm is attacked by a large shadow. TMC takes Yukari’s evoker (shaped exactly like a gun) and brings forth his persona.
That is how the game starts.
As the game proceeds you gain additional allies to fight with you. They are (in order of joining): Junpei Iori, Fuuka Yamagishi, Aigis (a battle robot), Koromaru (a Shiba Inu), Ken Amada and Shinjiro Aragaki. They are collectively SEES (Special Extracurricular Execution Squad).
The game is a balance between daytime social action, school and Dark Hour fighting in Tartarus. The is actually broken down into morning (school time), after school, evening and Dark Hour. All of which is important to the game. The Dark Hour is important to level both the characters and their personae. The social links are also important… and I will get into that reasoning shortly, but first I’ll explain Tartarus.
Tartarus is a huge tower of, what one guesses is of indeterminate height. Tartarus changes itself every single night. So, there’s no guessing exactly how many levels it has and the map changes every night, even if you went on that floor the night before. The only floors that don’t change are the ones with special, more powerful shadows (or mini-bosses).
Social links are important for a couple of different reasons and only one of them is plot-driven. The main reason social links are important is for persona fusion. TMC is special because he is the Fool (from the tarot deck). He takes on the aspect that the Fool appears as number 0 in the tarot. It means he has infinite potential. That infinite potential is that he is the only one capable of calling forth different personae (the other characters only get one).
Now that I’ve covered the mechanics I’ll talk a bit about the plot.
I covered how the game starts. After that, you begin school at Gekkoukan High. The year proceeds like any other school year. TMC makes new friends and creates stronger bonds with his fellow classmates. At night the plot deepens. You learn that there are twelve larger shadows that need to be killed. These differ greatly from those you fight in Tartarus. They much more powerful and show up outside of Tartarus. As the story progresses you learn that Gekkoukan High was ground zero for the Kurijo Groups experiments on shadows. When that building exploded, it created Tartarus and the Dark Hour. Of course, there is much more to the story, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played the game yet. This is the basis for everything that happens through out the game.
This plot is the same plot that you find in both Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable.
The difference between Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES is largely that FES contains an after game called the Answer. It’s the story of what happens to Aigis after the end of Persona 3. It’s a relatively short story but gives you more background about Aigis and the other characters beside TMC. They also made some changes to the game play. They found that most American players of the first game had problem answering some of the questions that are asked in school (to help boost your social stats). So, they made them easier for American players. They also made the social links a lot easier to get than they were in the original Persona game.
Persona 3 Portable is almost the same version as Persona 3 FES. It came out for the PSP and was actually released after Persona 4. They made some programming changes, the most noticeable of them is instead of repeating the same text after every time you level a social link, it just does a quick notice that that social link has leveled up. It’s simpler in many ways. I actually prefer that rather than the written out bit of “I am thou and thou art I…” every single time you advance a social link.
For the portable game they also added a female main character that you could play instead. You can also use all the members of SEES for social links (you could only use the female members with TMC). Otherwise, it’s still pretty much the same game that you were playing before.
Then there’s the series, Persona Trinity Soul. I include this with Persona 3 because there is a link between the two. While Persona Trinity Soul is in a different city with a different set of high schoolers fighting shadows. The plot line itself is also very different.
The police are investigating a series of “reverse” cases where the victims are turned inside out. They’re not sure how this is happening. Along with the “reverse” cases there’s an outbreak of Apathy Syndrome.
That is part of the connection to Persona 3. The other connection comes from the fact that Akihiko Sanada comes to town to help on the case. This is the same Akihiko from SEES.
The story revolves around three brothers who haven’t seen each other in 10 years. The oldest (Ryo) works as a police officer in Ayanagi City and is a persona user. His brothers, Shin and Jun, come to live with him. Their parents were killed in an incident that happened in Ayanagi City 10 years earlier. In that time, Shin and Jun had lived with other family members in another town.
Shin transfers to Naginomori High School where he meets his friends, Takurou Sakakiba, Megumi Kayano, Kanaru Morimoto, Yumi Tasaka, Toruu Inui and Mayuri Yamasaki. The first three are also persona users, the latter are somehow connected to personae and the case. The high school students engage in a practice called “Extraction”. They’re not exactly sure what it’s doing or how it works, but it leaves the students with a sense of euphoria. In reality, it pulls the persona from the individual. It is how Takurou comes to his persona.
With these aspects, you still get the makings of a great Persona story. You also get a pretty decent mystery where the presented plot is only the beginning. The story does get more complex and the cast gets larger as the story progresses.
It’s also interesting to see an interpretation of what happens to Akihiko after Persona 3 and the Answer from FES. Of course, that is one interpretation of what happens to Akihiko. There is another interpretation that comes from Persona 4 Arena. I’ll talk about that tomorrow when I talk about Persona 4.
I do highly recommend this anime. It’s a great Persona story and manages to hold well on its own as well as an extension of Persona 3. Thankfully, it’s available in the US by NIS America. I’m not sure it’s still in print, but it was released in the US.
Persona 3 has become a nostalgic favorite for me because of the intricacies of the story line and the ability to create interesting characters and a great amount of character development. I suggest picking up any of the games, if you can.