Persona 3 is among the most popular JRPGs to ever release for the PlayStation 2 and PSP, representing a massive shift in the franchise from Atlus. The Persona 3 overview guide is going to give you the details you need to know about playing this game for the very first time.
In some ways, Persona 3 is one of the best games in the series to start with since it is where Atlus started to change the gameplay to better match what fans expect these days from the series. With the start of so many now-iconic features, this Persona 3 overview is going to let you know about all of them.
Bottom Line Up Front: Released in 2006 for the PS2, Persona 3 is one of the most important games in the series as it shifted to the series we know and love today. It introduced school life, beloved Social Links, part-time jobs, and redefined the turn-based gameplay. While it has aged some over the years, it is a great place to start the series and the modern tropes that are now commonplace in later titles, like Persona 4 and 5. The story follows a newly transferred student who joins SEES, a group that fights shadows in the Dark Hour.
What is Persona 3?
Persona 3 was released on July 13, 2006, as the fourth main entry in the Persona franchise, which was itself a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series from Atlus. After basically a trilogy of games that were interconnected and featured a different gameplay style on the original PlayStation, it was time for something different.
Atlus delivered with Persona 3, which saw a major shift from the games before it into the modern era of Persona titles that most fans know and love today. This was the foundational game from which the beloved Persona 4 Golden and the unbelievably successful Persona 5 would come.
In Persona 3, Atlus revamped the series entirely, changing up the turn-based gameplay considerably while introducing full 3D graphics all around and a slew of new gameplay features. Though some of the elements would be a little rough around the edges at first, Persona 3 is the most experimental game in the series that we have to thank for completely changing up the series forever.
The game originally came out for the PS2 late in its lifecycle and right around the time that the PlayStation 3 was about to arrive around the world. This was the first foray in the series for the PS2, but not the last. The game follows an unnamed protagonist who transfers to a new school and finds themselves enveloped in the mystery of the Dark Hour.
Persona 3 was a beloved game and it would receive not one but two different versions that would release after the initial edition. The FES and Persona 3 Portable versions would give players the chance to check out the entire game with different features and elements that are not in the original.
Persona 3 has the single largest group of party members that fight and can be part of your team. This massive cast, compared to the previous game that was rather limited and Persona 4 after it, there are so many different characters that players can get to know across the story.
That said, like in the other Persona games, the player plays as a silent protagonist that is at the heart of the story. In the original Persona 3 and its expanded FES version for the PlayStation 2, there is an unnamed male protagonist that the player takes the role of and can freely name.
However, the key difference here is that Persona 3 is the only game that would let players pick their gender. Unfortunately, this option is only available in the PSP version known as Persona 3 Portable where players could pick either the male hero or the female one.
Persona 3 was not the first game in the series to have a female protagonist but it is the first game to allow the user to pick their gender. As for the character themselves, no matter the gender, they are a new transfer student at Gekkoukan High School after returning to this town where they were born after being away for a time.
They move into the school dorms where the majority of the main characters in the party also live. One such character that the player meets early on is Yukari, a classmate in the same grade as the protagonist who happens to live in the same dorm as him or her.
Yukari is a somewhat upbeat girl who is also dealing with inner struggles and fears that are holding her back from becoming the fighter that she could be as part of the group.
Another classmate and the first real bro character in the series is Junpei Iori. One of the first characters that you meet and another dorm mate, Junpei is the classic goofy guy and sports fan who will crack jokes while also being a little bit flirtatious at times. That said, he is a rather emotional person overall and deeply cares about his friends.
Mitsuru is the daughter of one of the heads of the Kirijo Group, a conglomerate in Japan. She is seen as one of the leaders of SEES, which the main character joins, and is the initial supporter of the team. She is a calm and cool third-year student who provides a steady tactical hand to the team.
Another third-year student on the team is Akihiko Sanada, a guy who is obsessed with his muscles and protein. One of the original members of the SEES group, he hits with his fists first and asks questions later, but is a valuable member of the group as a powerful fighter.
Rounding out the group of third-year students is Shinjiro, a former member of the team and a lone wolf-style character who later returns as a helpful teammate later in the story.
Then there is Ken, the youngest member of the group as only an elementary school student who happens to help out. He may be young but he is strong and has his tragic past that makes him a good fit for the team.
Ken’s best friend on the team is Koromaru, the first animal companion in the Persona series who is a loyal dog who just so happens to be able to summon Personas. Unlike other animal companions later in the series, he does not talk but is just literally a normal dog with certain supernatural powers.
Aigis is a unique member of the group, being a robot who is designed to fight the shadows in the Dark Hour. While having a fairly robotic personality, understandably so, she is an intriguing character who develops throughout the game with a central role in the story.
Last but not least for the main party in Persona 3, there is Fuuka who is one of the last members to join. A classmate of the protagonist at school, bullying, and a tragic story eventually leads her to the SEES group and join them in their fight against the Dark Hour. She has a key role on the team with her strategic planning abilities.
While that is it for the core cast in the main Persona 3 story, there is another party member that joins in The Answer epilogue that is only found in Persona 3 FES. She is a robot-like Aigis and considers herself to be her sister. In The Answer, she joins as a party member temporarily.
SEES is the group that the protagonist becomes a part of to defeat the shadows in the Dark Hour. SEES stands for Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad and is the crux of this game’s story. Your party members and your character are part of this team, having the goal of investigating the Dark Hour and Tartarus.
SEES is a group that exists before the main story of Persona 3 and the protagonist moving into the dorms at their new high school. The group has already been formed by the events of the game and has gone through several iterations of members already by the time that you join.
The SEES team gets new members as the story goes on and the above-listed party members join the team to fight the shadows. The SEES group was formed by the Kirijo Group that Mitsuru’s family runs and is composed of basically only students.
The story for Persona 3 is that the main character transfers to the high school in the hometown where they were born but have not lived for a while now. Soon after transferring, the player is thrown into the midst of the story surrounding the Dark Hour and its evil denizens.
As part of the SEES group, the plot follows the hero and their teammates as they investigate the mysterious Dark Hour and why it exists. At the same time, the team makes sure to save people who are affected by this strange time of day and ensure that they are not hurt by the shadows.
Along the way, players will find out more about the mysterious Dark Hour and the other people involved with it. It is a long story that takes place over about a full year of school with major events happening along the way about once a month.
Dark Hour Explained
The Dark Hour is the main crux of the story, representing a side of the shadow world where the Personas are found. The Dark Hour is a period that happens in the middle of the night and is essentially the lost hour that most people are not able to perceive.
Most people around the world, will simply keep sleeping or be in a stasis where they are unable to sense the Dark Hour that happens around them. However, there are a select few that are awake during this time and can roam around while the Dark Hour is happening.
What makes matter worse is that the Dark Hour is when the shadows come out to play and can go about their nefarious business. This leads to moments where someone could become trapped in the Dark Hour aware of their surroundings and in danger of being attacked by the shadows.
Much of the gameplay that the Persona series is known for began with Persona 3. It can be divided into two main parts: the battles and school life. As a high school student and a member of SEES at the same time, there is a balance between going to school and fighting the shadows of the Dark Hour.
Combat and Exploration
For many players, the hook of Persona 3 is going to be the combat and exploration aspects of this turn-based JRPG. The Dark Hour is where the action happens as the members of SEES will have the player form a party of four characters who will compete in battles against the shadows.
In combat, the player and their party members will use their Personas, or other selves, to use abilities to defeat the monsters. The battles can be as slow as the player wants, with the ability to strategically plan out every single move that you do.
Except for Persona 3 Portable, this game has the player only control their protagonist while the other teammates will choose their moves on their own. You can select skills, normal attacks, use items for recovery, and analyze the enemies that you are facing.
The goal in much of the Persona 3 combat is to figure out the weaknesses that the enemies have and use that to your advantage. While this game does not emphasize this part as much as later games, the goal is to use weaknesses to gain extra turns in battle, which is helpful for this challenging title.
Outside of battle, the player will explore the dungeon in 3D with the ability to move around at their will and start fighting against the shadows that they come across. The player also has the chance to pick their party members and influence what their moves are going to be.
Related read: Comprehensive Persona 3 Bosses Guide.
Tartarus is a tower-like dungeon that is at the heart of the Dark Hour. It is the main place that players will fight shadows in for the majority of the game with numerous levels to it. What is unique about this location is that it is procedurally generated, meaning that most levels are completely randomized.
Players will be searching for the next staircase that will lead them higher up the tower. What is also intriguing about this dungeon is that it is somewhat optional, despite being almost the only one in the game, but it is also a major part of the story at the same time.
It is recommended that players visit Tartarus at night when they get the chance to level up and save people who are trapped here. As mentioned, not everyone is frozen during the Dark Hour and some innocent civilians will find themselves trapped in Tartarus at times.
Players will have a limited amount of time to find these trapped people and rescue them before they are gone for good. Players have to be careful, too, as they can receive status ailments for spending too much time in Tartarus that will negatively impact the other aspects of gameplay.
School Life Explained
When not in Tartarus, the player will go about their everyday high school routine. You will go to class, answer questions that the teacher gives you occasionally, and have free time after school. Persona 3 is the title that introduced school life and limited time for activities that you can do.
Essentially after school and at night, players will have the chance to explore the city and do optional objectives at their leisure. Some of the activities include visiting Tartarus when you are not required to, spending time with friends, or buying items from the shops.
You can even work part-time jobs and earn money. The problem is that players have to be careful as each of these major activities will use up their precious time and fast forward to the next part of the game. There is only so much that the player can do in a limited time.
That said, one of the most important parts of school life is the Social Links that were introduced in this game. Social Links are the relationships that the main character has with the people that they meet along the way. Each main person in the game is represented by an arcana.
This arcana is useful in fusing new Personas for you to use in battle and you can enhance your fusing capabilities by raising your Social Links with specific people. There are several of these in the game and each Social Link has multiple ranks to it.
Spending time with that person and picking the right dialogue options will give you the chance to raise your Social Link with them and enjoy better benefits in the process. Even better, you will find out more about that character and possibly have the chance to romance them.
Certain characters can be romanced, depending on your gender, and the conversation choices that you pick. The Social Links include the main party members in Persona 3 but there are other characters outside of the group that is involved in this as well.
Your First Few Hours in Persona 3
The first few hours that the player spends in Persona 3, like some of the other games, are going to be a bit more restrictive than the rest. Without going too deep into the story territory and where this tale goes, it is important to know that this is a more linear game in general than 4 and 5 to an extent.
As such, the story gets off to an immediate start with the player rolling into the dorms at Gekkoukan High School. It does not take long to find out about shadows, Personas, the SEES group, and more. From there, the player joins the group and calls their first Persona.
From there, you are introduced to the gameplay and turn-based battles while starting to explore the Dark Hour and what is happening with it. You will go to school, get acquainted with the world and characters, and even have some new members join the group after you.
It is worth noting that much of the first few hours will ultimately depend on your personal playstyle and how you go through everything. If you take your time with battles, you might not see as much in the first five or so as someone else who will breeze through the more tutorial-like sections.
As for tips for these opening hours, we recommend that newcomers be sure to pay close attention to how the gameplay and Personas work. That said, do not worry too much about fusing Personas and all that right now as you should first figure out the other basics before getting too deep in the Compendium.
Persona 3 vs. FES vs. Portable
Before you even start the game, though, you need to figure out which version you are going to play. There are three different versions of Persona 3, though the original is a Japan-exclusive title and far inferior to both of the other versions.
Instead, the real argument will be Persona 3 FES versus Portable. In the case of FES, it is the PS2 game but expanded upon. The problem is that you would have to bust out a PS2 or PS3 to play it. Or use one of the darker and less legal means that are available on the internet.
In the case of Persona 3 Portable, it is a bit more readily available on the PlayStation Vita through backward compatibility with the PSP. The problem with these versions is that they both have their pros and cons. For one, FES does not have the female main character or part-time jobs.
If either of these is a deal-breaker for you, then Portable is the place to be. On the other hand, Portable does not have The Answer or full exploration movement outside of dungeons. You have to deal with moving a cursor to explore the city, talk to people, and so on.
As someone who had never played Persona 3 before, playing Portable first was a good idea as I did not know what I was missing out on when it came to being able to move around the environment. In this way, if you plan to play both, I would recommend Portable first. If you’re only playing once, pick based on which game’s exclusive content is more appealing to you.
Persona 3 Spin-offs
Persona 3 has a plethora of spin-offs and pseudo-sequels for those out there who want more time with these characters. There is Persona 4 Arena and Ultimax, which sounds like a Persona 4-only 2D fighting game, but it includes some of the cast from 3.
There is also Persona Q and its sequel on the Nintendo 3DS that features 3 and 4, and later 5, gathering together for a first-person dungeon-crawling RPG. There is also Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight for music and a rhythm-based game where the characters are dancing the night away.
Last but not least, there is the Persona 3 anime adaptation which is a set of four feature-length films that repurpose the story and characters for a new format. What is interesting is that I think that the Persona 3 anime films are much, much better than either the Persona 4 anime series or Persona 5 one.
Since this game is so story and visually-driven, the films do a good job of capturing the major moments in a way that is still haunting and emotional. I think they are really good and worth watching, but mainly for those who already played the game.
Question: Is Persona 3 The Answer canon?
Answer: For starters, it is worth mentioning what The Answer is. The Answer is a special episode of Persona 3 that comes in the epilogue of Persona 3 FES on PS2. This is the only version of the game to contain this special episode as the PSP version did not include it for whatever reason.
The Answer follows Aigis from the main game and a new party member that joins her on a quest that involves events that take place after the main story in Persona 3. Given that this is a sequel episode to the main game, it has some players wondering if what happens in it is considered canon or not.
It only makes things even more confusing when you have a later version like Persona 3 Portable that does not include The Answer. That said, we do not technically have an official answer on whether or not this epilogue is considered canon to the Persona 3 story.
Even still, we can speculate that it is essentially canon given that nothing that happens in it necessarily changes the main story from Persona 3 or causes issues for later games in the series. The Answer is even hinted at in Persona 4 Arena, lending some credence to the possibility that this story starring Aigis is potentially canon.
Question: Is Persona 3 a horror game?
Answer: Persona 3 is not categorized as a horror game. That said, it is the most sinister of the six mainline games in the series to date and there are some horror aspects to it. Everything about this game from the graphics to the character designs to the Dark Hour is fairly horror-like.
If you compare some of the screenshots from Persona 3 to 4 and even 5, you will see some distinct differences with even the party members having this unnerving quality to them at times. And then there is the Dark Hour itself with the Tartarus dungeon, which is a creepy and dark place that players visit often.
While Persona 3 is not horror, it is certainly the closest game in the series to being so. It does not help that the story is quite tragic and grim at times, only adding to this. If you are someone who does not like horror at all, it might be worth keeping in mind but this is still not a horror game. And that is coming from someone like myself who is not a fan of scary stuff.
Question: Does Persona 3 have dating?
Answer: Yes, Persona 3 was the first game in the series to introduce dating on a wide-scale level. Both of the male and female protagonists can date someone in this game, however, it is recommended that the player only select one person to get romantically involved with or suffer some literal gameplay consequences.
Dating in Persona 3 is something that the player can play the entire game and never see since it is optional and hidden behind the Social Links wall. Social Links are the aforementioned bonds that you have with the other characters. If you raise your link with someone high enough that you can romance, you may have the chance to date them.
Persona 3 is a highly recommended JRPG that is among some of the best to ever release. With a dark and gripping storyline that follows SEES trying to save the world from the Dark Hour, it is harrowing with some of the best characters in the franchise to date.
This Persona 3 overview was only meant as the starting point for learning about this game for those who are new to it. Now that you have found out the basics about this title, it is time to move on to more specific parts of this wonderful game. We recommend checking out our full guide on the Persona 3 Evoker weapon and how it plays into the game, both as a narrative fixture and a controversial piece of this game’s history.
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