Persona 3 was my entryway for the Persona series of games. Probably because it was the first one that had mainstream success and cemented the series as great games. I was smitten with Shigenori Soejima’s promo illustration of the game, and that picture is still one of my faves. In the spirit of a “rebirth” for the game franchise, Persona 3 was the first to have an overarching theme surrounding the game: death—more specifically, remembering and acknowledging one’s eventual death. Persona 4 deals with truth, and Persona 5 talks about personal freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.
Please be aware that this article contains spoilers!
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 arrived on PlayStation 2 in 2006. It marked a big change to the Megami Tensei franchise because it became the first truly different offshoot from the Shin Megami Tensei games. It features different gameplay mechanics compared to the original SMT games with contemporary settings that started in the first Persona game. Persona 3 features cool yet thematically dark art direction from Shigenori Soejima. Shoji Meguro, who became a favorite of mine after playing Persona 3, composed a blend of the hip-hop, electronic, rock, soul, and ambient music for the soundtrack.
The PlayStation 2 vanilla version received great reviews. Atlus later released Persona 3: FES in 2008, which contains an epilogue to the original game. In 2011, a remaster for PlayStation Portable called Persona 3 Portable arrived with many enhancements and game mechanic changes inspired by Persona 4. P3P also features a different route: a female protagonist’s story with bits of story moments unlike the male protagonist’s. The female lead has different friends, romance options, and school activities that she can partake in.
I am anticipating the release of a rhythm game based on P3 called Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night!
Persona 3’s story
You, the protagonist, are moving to Tatsumi Port Island to attend Gekkoukan High School. As you reach your destination late at night, strange things keep happening. You experience your first Dark Hour, sign a contract with a mysterious boy named Pharos, and learn how to fight Shadows with your Persona all on that first night. Soon enough, you get drafted into a student group named SEES that fights those Shadows in a creepy tower named Tartarus. How are you going to juggle your school days, make precious friends, and save the world?
As the story goes on, you learn what is behind the appearance of the Dark Hour, the purpose of Tartarus, the meaning behind your contract, and make a crucial choice that will affect all of humanity. Death follows you and your friends as you climb up Tartarus to try to win the final battle for everyone’s souls. It is tough being the chosen one, is it not?
My close experience with death
Here is a confession: I survived an apartment fire with less than ten minutes left to spare. My wife and our roommate were stuck in a burning apartment for a while before the firefighters rescued us. After we walked some distance away from the fire and sat down, the roof above our unit collapsed. We nearly did not make it.
I had many different thoughts while we were waiting to be rescued. I was in an acceptance that at least if that were the end of my line, I was not alone. Then I remembered thinking about my family who would get the second-hand news sometime later, my short life of not accomplishing anything significant, trying to consciously control my breathing to inhale as little smoke as possible, keeping some important belongings next to me (which I eventually lost anyway), and having a small flashlight to help the firefighter locate us (which was useless because the smoke was very thick). It was extremely relieving once we got out and inhaled some oxygen. I can tell you that the air from the oxygen tank was very refreshing.
How do I see Persona 3 after that?
This is an introspective and a rather persona-l (=p) piece of writing about a game. We know that death is inevitable and that it, metaphorically speaking, follows you. However, for the protagonist, the entity Death was sealed in him when he was a little boy. Death appears in many forms in Persona 3. Ryoji Mochizuki, a character that befriends our hero, turns out to be the human form of Thanatos, the bringer of death. Pharos, the mysterious boy I mentioned above, is the metaphysical manifestation of Death from within the protagonist. He appears when Death is awakening and when our main character is ready to summon his persona power.
Real life is not like the game and you do not get superpowers, but we can reach acceptance. That has a certain kind of potential that can transcend fear. For the duration of that struggle before getting out of the burning house, I was at peace with the idea of dying. Perhaps this is one of the things that go on in the protagonist’s mind when he knows he cannot defeat Death.
In the game, the protagonist gives his life up to act as a seal, preventing humans’ wishes for death from reaching Nyx, the end of things. Whereas the protagonist leaves a lasting legacy because of his sacrifice, I am at a constant bickering with myself regarding what I will leave behind. I wish I could tell you straight away that if I leave this world tomorrow, I would have left something that people can identify with. Life is not that straightforward, but I like to think I am working on something right now.
The ending to Persona 3 is the one of the most bittersweet, effective, and thematically unifying in the many JRPGs that I have played. The protagonist leaves behind his precious friends (his parents died years before the game takes place) and trades his life for other people’s. While the game shows him leaving peacefully, I worried and was saddened thinking about my family and friends. It was not the thought of leaving them that made me sad, but the grief that they would feel after hearing the news. The ending drove me to tears a long time ago and now I can look at it from a slightly different perspective.
What do I do now?
Looking back at Persona 3 gives me a sense of comfort and determination. It is not because of the heroic deeds that the protagonist does, but as a reminder to do as many positive things as possible while one is alive. Sometimes, the pain of someone’s death can be lessened by the good memories you have of the person.
I wish I could say that I am 300% nicer to other people now. I wish I could say I work 200% harder now. I wish I could say that I am a much more generous person now. Because I clearly am not. But I do little things such as trying to be more understanding of people, spending more time with my friends and family, and be more appreciative of little things that give me a sense of contentment. I also want to encourage you to do some small positive things for other people whenever you can.