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The Persona series has come a long way since it started, and Persona 3 was an important step in that journey. Unfortunately, while many of the changes can be credited to Persona 3, it has flaws of its own, and doesn't hold up all that well in comparison to Persona 4 or Persona 5.
The game is the story of a high schooler with the power to summon Personas who joins a group dedicated to fighting Shadows to stave off Apathy Syndrome. While the plot is fairly compelling, with rich themes such as facing death, atoning for the past and dealing with seemingly hopeless situations, it isn't very well-paced. Unlike subsequent installments, which have more concrete goals of clearing the dungeons, you're generally expected to explore Tartarus and prepare for the full moons, when you have boss monsters to face. The pacing especially drags near the end of the game, when after a series of events shakes the team to the core, you more or less wait for things to happen for the last three months.
As for Tartarus, it's basically a tower full of randomly generated levels with the occasional mini-boss. It's a good place to level grind, and to search for rescue victims, but subsequent installments' dungeons were better-designed and more fun to explore.
The combat system, which strongly emphasizes good strategy and exploiting enemy weaknesses, is fairly engaging, even if things can go wrong almost instantly if you have a mistake or experience bad luck. That being said, one downside of the original version is that you can't directly control your party members, and can only give them certain suggestions as to what to do, such as go on the offensive, heal party members, or conserve SP. Since turn-based RP Gs generally require you to have a careful plan of attack and to use all your party members' turns well, this can be more than a little frustrating.
The Persona system allows for a good amount of strategy, as you can choose whichever Persona has the right skillset and resistances for the job. The only problem is that whenever you fuse two Personas, you have very little direct control over which abilities get inherited by the Persona that is created. Naturally, this makes it difficult to effectively build your Personas, or complete certain side quests that require Personas with specific abilities.
If you're familiar with the other Persona games, you may know about the Social Link system, in which you befriend (and possibly fall in love with) certain individuals, strengthening the Personas you create. Said characters tend to vary in personalities and how interesting they are, for better or worse. One advantage the Portable version has is that the female protagonist's route replaces some of the more forgettable Social Links with your party members, helping flesh out some of your companions.
While Portable makes a few improvements to the original game, it isn't without its drawbacks. The graphics are notably worse than the original, and the non-dungeon crawling segments play more like a visual novel than an RPG. It also lacks the extended Playable Epilogue known as "The Answer," although considering how controversial "The Answer" is (for reasons that involve plot spoilers), it's debatable as to how bad of a thing that is. All three versions of Persona 3 also lack some of the features introduced in the fourth and fifth games, such as the ability to tell whether a Social Link will rank up before you spend time with that person.
In short, Persona 3 is enjoyable in its own right, but doesn't quite compare to the fourth or fifth games. I'd recommend playing it if you enjoy JRPGs or the Persona series, but wouldn't recommend it as your first Persona game.
The original Persona 3 is probable one of the best, if not THE best JRPG ever made. So of course, when i heard that the Updated Re-release would include a brand new mode that shows what happened after the events of the game i got very excited.
...And then i actually played it.
To be brief, this mode takes EVERYTHING that made Persona 3 fun and unique, and just throws it out the window. Social Links? Gone. Day progression? Gone. Character Development? Gone. Instead the entire game basically becomes Final Fantasy meets Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. The story is awful too, it just destroys the original cast's development and reverts them to how they behaved at the very beginning of the game, which feels like a slap to the face after seeing how much they change as the story moves forward, and i haven't even mentioned the massive Ass Pull that Erebus' sheer existance is.
Overall, i'm glad i chose to pick up Portable now. It includes all of the cool stuff FES added to the original game excluding this awful mode. I suggest you do the same too.
Halfway through Persona 3 Portable, I realized that I'd ruined it for myself. I'd already played the excellent Persona 4: Golden, and I was hoping for more of the same. And I got it, only at a much lower overall level of quality.
Persona 3 is still an enjoyable game, for the most part, with its hybrid platonic dating sim/dungeon crawler gameplay. The characters are still vibrant and fun. But, and here's the rub, so many improvements were made in the sequel that it's hard to go back.
Between no non-romantic social links for the opposite-sex characters, a murky plot with no real forward drive, a shifting set of antagonists with confusing motivations and almost no real depth, the storytelling in general is much poorer, too shackled to the style of previous titles in the series. Character have depth and development, but their introductions are clumsier and their development shorter than in 4. And you're just climbing Tartarus because it's there, with no real motivation for doing so except grinding before, later on, victims start wandering into it.
The battle system is... okay. I prefer the better-rounded characters from 4, but a team of specialists is still interesting and puts a greater emphasis on strategy. Unfortunately, while splitting the physical damage types was theoretically a good idea, its implementation leaves much to be desired. Maybe if characters could shift damage types with different weapons?
I will say that, from what I can glean, P3:P does an excellent job of implementing 4's improvements to the gameplay. Direct control over characters is possible, especially nice since the originals suffered from Artificial Stupidity, and Social Links seem to take longer to reverse. And while I've yet to finish the female campaign, it's amazingly good, trimming out all the weaker Social Links to include every member of the main cast, and offering, to avoid spoilers, a chance to save one of only two sources of Strike damage from plot-mandated death. I'd go so far as to say I wish I'd done it first, and consider it the definitive version of the game.
P3:P is still a good game and an excellent remake. But I can't help but hold it to a higher standard than I really should.
And I will have to make amends to change that.
It took me a long time to beat Persona 3. Way back in 2012, I picked up it up, enjoyed it, and then got frustrated and put it down. In 2013, I picked it up again, and this time got further and enjoyed it even more. However, in surprisingly meta turn of events, due to my real life student schedule I had to put it down.
2014. I download from the PSN store, determined to this time finish. And I did.
And it was magnificent. Let me break it down for you, dear reader.
The gameplay is excellent. Both the "social link" and "Tartarus" parts of the game are well formulated, accessible, challenging, and surprisingly inventive. The battle system is familiar to anyone familiar with turn based JRPG's, but with the extra twist of the press turn or "one more" system, that gives extra hits for weaknesses.
The fusion system for personas makes the game REALLY hard to put down. So many combinations, and when you keep doing it, the increase in strength feels tangible. The game's level progression is excellent, and even if there IS quite a lot of grinding, there are plenty of places to grind, so it's never "difficult" to level up when you need to.
The social side of the game is also great. The characters you interact with are all fleshed out, believeable, and likeable (mostly) so you'll want to max links anyway, even if there wasn't persona levels to be gained.
The story is also great. Operating in an almost Buffy the Vampire slayer style, a group of high school students must fight "shadows" during the dark hour, a time most do not know exists. From this premise, we get plenty of great characters and several genuinely shocking twists. Don't wanna spoil it for people who don't want to know though. It has a very beautiful ending.
The graphics are amazing for the PS2, making the very best of the system, and the music is godlike thanks to Shoji Meguro's genius.
I now need to play Persona 4, for comparison and well, fun.
Oh, and watch the new movies based on this game.
Anyway, ciao! Buy this game. It's only Ł7.99 or whatever your country's equivalent on the PSN, so you have no excuse not to play it.
On another note, the final boss gives some great life advice.
I have some rather fond memories of Persona 3, having first discovered it just a few years ago. At the time I played it every day and loved it, and it was my favourite video game. And I still appreciate it, while I haven't really played a whole lot of JRP Gs I do like this one a lot.
Instead of most RP Gs which have you explore a large world, this is a day-to-day structure which sees the events of a whole year in-universe unfold, with the story progressing by itself. But it's not at all linear - you have to explore the labyrinth Tartarus, and bond with many different people and create 'Social Links', which is vital to the game. With all the Social Links you can get, there is a lot to do in this game.
But of course, there's also the story. The story is deep and fulfilling, and the characters go through a lot of development throughout the events of the story. You really start to feel for these characters, and rather than just being your allies in battle, they're your friends. Some really good characterisation here.
The gameplay during battle has a few minor flaws, though. For one, you can't really control your team mates, only yourself. The best you can do is assign your team mates to different tatics. Though this is only the PS2 version, from what I hear the PSP port gives you the option to control them. Also, if you are defeated in battle, it's an insant game over, which becomes very infuriating when you are suddenly hit with a fatal attack that kills you, and if only the game just let you heal yourself.
But all in all I would definitely recommend Persona 3 if you're into JRP Gs and haven't played this one yet. It's a very well-made JRPG and is at least worth playing for its good story. I'm glad I picked it up when I did.
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