This week we were blessed with the release of Persona 5. It’s honestly one of the best JRPGS I’ve played, and a contender for Game of the Year. I figured now would be as good a time as any to talk about the game that put the Persona franchise on my radar. I didn’t know much about the series, just that it had more mature content for an RPG, and took place in a “real” world setting. Persona 3 to me, was like Final Fantasy 7 to other people. It was the one that pushed me to try the series.
This is not your typical JRPG. As a huge fan of Final Fantasy, it was quite the departure. The game is a hybrid of a dungeon crawler and a dating sim (best way I can describe it). It’s also a lot darker in tone than I expected. In order for you to summon a Persona, your character puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger, essentially shooting the Persona out of his sub-conscious. The first time it happened I was in awe. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. This is Persona’s way of using magic. No special wands required here. In order to have your Persona attack it does require a bit of your health, so it’s a risk/reward type deal you’ve got going on with your ghoulish buddies. However, you only directly control the main protagonist in combat, your party members (which includes a dog if you like, how badass is that) fight on their own. You can set up tactics for them to use, but that’s where the control ends. It’s kind of like Final Fantasy 12’s gambit system in a way.
The game begins with you returning to the city of Tatsumi Port Island, ten years after your parents had died from an accident. You arrive at your new school as a transfer student. This is a recurring theme in the Persona series. There’s always a school setting, the main characters are students, and you’re gonna run into a creepy little dude named Igor (think Cid or Biggs & Wedge from Final Fantasy, except scary looking), who helps you fuse your Personas to make stronger ones.
Every night at midnight, time stops, and a mysterious phenomenon known as the “Dark Hour” occurs. During this time, strange things begin to happen around town, including the appearance of a mysterious tower called the Tartarus, that erupts from beneath the school. This is where the dungeon crawling comes into play. You make your way through the Tartarus, going up each floor, higher into the tower. It’s all randomly generated, with some boss fights peppered throughout the battling of all the demons (which you can see, so if you want to avoid fights you can, or you can attack them to ambush them). The nice thing is if you find a teleport point, you can go back to the school and rest, easily picking up on the floor where you left off the next day.
During the day, you attend class, talk to fellow students, join various clubs and explore the city. In these parts, you build up various statistics, including Intelligence, Charisma, and Courage. You have to juggle the various things you want to do, which makes time management critical. Your statistics then influence the people that you meet and befriend. This is important, because these relationships, dubbed “Social Links” (which was new at the time for the Persona games), have an effect on how each of your Persona levels. The game takes place over the course of a year. For most of it, you’re simply going to school, then fighting in the tower. The only problem I had with this is the Tartarus is pretty basic, there’s not a lot that separates one floor from the next. The social aspects are cool, I just wish I had more time to strengthen those relationships (damn you Tartarus!!). This is where the grind sets in, but then again, what would a JRPG be without the grind (NOTHING). I did enjoy the story though and there’s plenty of twists and turns (and New Game +), to keep you playing to see everything you missed the first time around.
If you’ve been on the fence about trying the Persona franchise, I feel like Persona 5 would be a great place to start. It retains the turn based combat, but it’s accessible. Everything’s been streamlined and it makes for an enjoyable experience. Persona 3 isn’t a bad game by any means, but the grind is strong. If you don’t mind that, then by all means let Persona 3 be the first one you play. It doesn’t matter which one you try first, they all have their own stories so you can just start wherever and not have to worry. If you’re interested in trying Persona 3, you can play it on PS2, PSP, PS Vita or download it off the PSN store on PS3. Plenty of options to choose from. There were updated versions of the game that fixed some of the issues people had with the original. You can’t go wrong with whichever version you play. – NVJ