When the clock strikes midnight the dark hour begins. Ordinary people rest in coffins, but the protagonist and his pals from S.E.E.S. do not. With the power of Persona they can explore the eerily calm town, uncover the mystery behind the shadows and as you guessed save the world. The shadows are the cause of apathy syndrome, a growing epidemic that turns regular people into zombies. Their quest begins back at school where Gekkukan High transforms a twisted dungeon known as Tartarus.
Floors in Tatarus are random, but encounters are not. Shadows freely walk around and you can engage combat by thrusting your sword forward. If you catch the enemy off guard you will start the battle with a full round of attacks. However, if you miss and the shadow touches you first the shadows get to strike first. You don’t have to fight shadows to get through Tartarus. The real goal is to find the staircase on each floor and walk up to the next level. Every few floors up a boss monster will block your path and you have to slay it to keep moving forward. It’s the test to see if you fought enough shadows or not.
Fights in Persona 3 are similar to other PS2 Megaten games; the battle system is still about exploiting weaknesses. If you hit a shadow’s weak point with one of your Persona skills it will fall down and you earn an extra turn. On your next turn you can exploit another shadow’s weak point and gain an additional turn. As long as you can knockdown shadows you can keep getting extra turns. But once a shadow is knocked down, you can’t earn anymore turns by hitting its weak spot until it gets up. If you can knockdown all of the shadows, an opportunity for an all out attack will appear where your entire party rushes into a comic-like dust cloud and they hit all of the shadows for heavy damage. To help the team out you always have an assistant who can identify the shadow’s weak points and reiterate obvious news. You really don’t need Fuuka to tell you one of your teammates is low on health or needs a Dis-Posion, but she will needle you anyway.
Persona 3 deviates from other turn based RPGs because you can only control one character, the hero. You can give the other three party members general commands like heal, knockdown shadows, or to wait by selecting options from the tactics menu. But they still act on their own. Thankfully the AI is pretty smart and even if the other three characters act on their own accord you shouldn’t have a problem winning battles. It sounds odd, but leaving the other characters out of your control balances the game. If you exploit weaknesses and use the all out attack you can win many fights with a single turn.
The hero of the game has the unique ability to switch Personas, but you can only do this once per turn. You can earn new Personas by fusing them at the Velvet Room and by collecting them from Tarot cards at the end of each battle. Each Persona has a new set of abilities, which means the hero is the most versatile character out of the entire S.E.E.S. team.
Junpei starts out with Agi (fire) magic. Later his Persona learns physicals attacks such as Kill Rush, which can hit shadows twice. Like the hero Junpei wields a sword, a two handed katana that Junpei uses like a huge baseball bat.
Yukatari uses a bow in combat and early on she is the only person with a pierce attack. Her Persona lets her cast Garu (wind) magic plus healing spells like Recarm (life) and Dia to recover HP.
Mitsuru has a mixture of status altering spells like Tentrafoo to put enemies into a panic, powerful single target healing spells like Diarama and an arsenal of ice attacks. She uses the same weapons as the hero, short swords and rapiers.