Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is really two games bundled into one package. By day you play as a high school student in Gekkukan High. During the dark hour, the school transforms into a labyrinth known as Tartarus and you enter it to fight shadows. I’ve been playing Persona 3 for a little while and it is awesome, one of the best games I have played in a long time. One of the reasons why Persona 3 is great is because it isn’t your standard save the world from oblivion by wandering in caves until you get the next cutscene cookie cutter RPG. Persona 3 is set in modern times and the pace is decided by the player. Since there are two styles of play in Persona 3 it’s going to get two sets of impressions. The first is about life during the day in Gekkukan High.
In the morning the protagonist is an average high school student. He goes to class and the teachers will randomly ask you multiple choice questions. The trivia in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 has a Japanese bias, so expect to get some of some of the questions wrong unless you’re you know whose face is on the 2,000 yen note. Other questions are related to science like “what is the pH of soap?” and “who created the principle for contact lenses”. The answer to the latter question might surprise you, it was Leonardo da Vinci! You don’t have to get any of the questions right to progress through Persona 3, but it helps. Each time you answer correctly or whisper the right answer to Junpei, the class clown and a fellow Persona user, you get bonus charm points. Charm is one of three stats you “level up” by living a normal life and a high charm level opens social doors. Also you want to remember to what questions teachers ask you. During midterms and finals the same questions will come up.
The actual time spent sitting at a desk is minimal. If there aren’t any events Persona 3 zips through the day to after school where you are free to hang out. And there are lots of things you can do with your free time. You can head to the library to study, watch a movie marathon, spend some time bumming around Paulownia Mall looking at new accessories or grab a Wild Duck Burger to increase your courage. It’s up to you to decide how you want to build your character. After all he is supposed to be you! Each activity has a different effect on the primary three personal stats: academics, charm and courage.
You can spend all of your time in the library to max out your academic ranking, but if you want to give your Persona power a boost you need to socialize. Take Jack Frost as an example, he is part of the Magician Arcana. If you become friends with Kenji, a classmate who has a crush on a teacher, you can boost the power of all Persona associated in the Magician Arcana. Some days Kenji will be sitting at his desk with an exclamation point over his head. When this occurs you can talk to him to hang out and build your social link. However, you don’t want to spend all your time with Kenji, there are many other social links to build. If you join a sports team (track, kendo or swimming) you can make another friend and you can meet more people in student council. If you explore outside of the school you can find other NPCs to build social links with like a little girl who is saddened by her parents divorce and an old couple who runs a bookstore. Unlike other RPGs you choose what your character says when you are hanging out and what you say affects the growth of your friendship. This is a really novel system that hooks you into being the hero of the game.
On nights that you don’t go to Tartarus you may get a phone call from one of your classmates to hang out on Sunday, the only day where you don’t have school. You can accept or reject invites, but if you turn someone down your social link may reverse and you have to repair the friendship. If you choose not to hang out with anyone you can spend Sunday playing Innocent Sin, a faux MMO with references to past Persona games. In Innocent Sin you will meet a friend who goes by Maya and build the Hermit Social Link. Very funny Atlus. Maya speaks in internet talk with smiley faces, misspelled words and slang like “lol”. I had to point this out because the localization of internet lingo and most of Persona is spot on. Persona 3 goes so far to include elements from dating sim games. You can take out girls like Yuko, the manager of the track team and Chihiro, the shy class treasurer. If you max out your stats you can even date fellow Persona users.
I love how Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is open ended during the daytime. You’re given an unusually large degree of freedom and if you are the type of person who likes to replay your games there are multiple paths to take in Persona 3.
Coming up next are impressions of combat in Persona 3 and more on the story.