At this point in the Persona series, gameplay has truly become only part of the full experience. Persona 1 and 2 had plots too, and a lot of characterization, but they were still as much gameplay delivery engines as any other game out there. Starting in Persona 3, they put a lot more depth and content into their plots and characters, to the point where the gameplay is not the only selling point they have. And for a lot of people, the gameplay is not even the main reason they get into the game.
Yet, no matter how good your story, setting, characters, etc. are, if the game side of your, you know, game, isn’t up to snuff, the game as a whole won’t be good. It’s been tried, and good plot really doesn’t make up for bad gameplay. So even with the Persona series running head-first into the story-based wall, let’s start by taking a look at where you’re actually going to be spending most of your time when you’re actually playing the game.
By this point, we’ve already had two, but three, but really two, games in the Persona canon. That’s enough to establish a pattern, right? Although both of those games are rather distinct from each other, there’s still some common design elements that we can pull out here.
So, what is makes a Persona game, and how do those elements relate to Persona 3? Well, thus far, to make a Persona, you take the typical for the time Shin Megami Tensei design, strip out a bunch of the more unique to the franchise and complicated features to simplify gameplay a bit and make it more accessible to the typical JRPG fan. And then you come up with some crazy and experimental features that few if any other games in the genre are doing and make them absolutely central to the whole experience. And then, of course, there’s the whole plot and themes making heavy use of Jungian Psychology personified, and the main characters with the variable stats and ability loadouts, the butterfly motifs, the vast sum of humanity summoning their own demise, multiple endings but not really, etc. Etc. There’s lots of stuff in the recipe for a Persona, and it all carries through to this game.
And I suppose this is a good time to mention, for pretty much this entire retrospective, I’m going to be basing it off the FES version of the game. For those not in the know, there was the original Persona 3, then, less than a year later in the US, Persona 3 FES which was basically Persona 3 with a bunch of DLC before DLC was a thing that you had to pay for, including a separate playable epilogue that we won’t get into here just yet. Then, years later, there came Persona 3 Portable, which incorporated all the gameplay updates from Persona 4 into Persona 3, gave you a choice in the gender of your protagonist and with that vastly increased the amount of content, at turning a lot of segments from more directly interactive bits into visual novel scenes in order to fit it all on the PSP disc. There’s a lot of discussion on which is better. I roll with the FES version because… well, that’s just the one I have. As much as the games industry obviously hates me for it with the remakes and rereleases and updates and Hyper Fighting Championship Editions Turbos they’re putting out, I make a practice of not buying games that I already own. So, sorry, P3P fans. Just going by what I have available to me.