Persona 3 Import Hands-On

We score a whole new kind of headshot with the import version of Persona 3, an occult-themed role-playing game for the PlayStation 2.

Yes, Persona 3 requires you to shoot yourself in the head, over and over and over again. It's an unusual and certainly controversial gameplay mechanic, but if you can get past that you'll find that there's a lot more to the game than a group of high school students repeatedly committing simulated suicide. We spent some time playing the recently released Japanese version of the game to see how it plays once you get past the bizarreness of it all.

Persona 3 has a great sense of style that goes a long way in establishing the atmosphere of the game.

As made obvious by the title, Persona 3 is a sequel to Persona 2, which was released in two installments in Japan: Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. Of the two, only Eternal Punishment made it to North America. For all the history that the series has, Persona 3 is a stand-alone game. It shares the same style and similar themes as its predecessors, but the stories are not directly connected.

Persona 3 focuses on the story of a young male protagonist who is a high school student by day and a member of a demon-slaying syndicate by night. In the beginning of the game you assign a name to your character, and then you find and enter a seemingly average dormitory. Upon entering the dormitory you meet a young boy who presents you with a contract to sign. After you sign the contract, the boy mysteriously disappears and you're left on your own in the lobby of the dorm building. A girl shows up with a gun, obviously quite agitated at your presence. Before anything happens, another woman shows up to diffuse the situation. After some dialogue, the first girl shows you to your room, where you go to sleep and then wake up the next morning to head off to school.

Once you get to school, you meet some people and then find your classroom. The first hour of the game is made up almost entirely of dialogue, as well as some animated cutscenes to set the stage. The dialogue sequences can be quite lengthy, and although most of the conversations are predominantly one-sided, you're often given choices to make. For example, you'll be asked questions by your teacher during class, and you're given several different responses to choose from. Your stats will increase based on your response. Your character has stats for parameters such as "academic" and "charm." If you answer questions from teachers incorrectly, or choose to sleep through your classes, your different stats will be affected accordingly.

Between classes, sleeping, and story sequences, you'll see time progress. The day and night are divided into early morning, morning, lunch hour, afternoon, after school, night hour, late at night, and darkness periods. Oftentimes, you'll skip several periods, only pausing if there's an event occurring. There's also a calendar that shows days as well as lunar cycles, which are indicated by icons depicting the moon at different stages of fullness.

You don't have direct control over your party, but the AI seems to do a capable job of keeping up in battle.

The first few days of the game are fairly uneventful. The young girl you first meet introduces you to several characters and you're monitored as you sleep by the members of the S.E.E.S team, which is a group of demon hunters headquartered in your dormitory. You're eventually recruited as a member due to your apparent persona-summoning abilities. Along with the girl, you team up with a baseball-cap-wearing guy from school, who is also able to summon personas.

While your days are spent at school, your nights are often spent in a dark tower known as Tartaros, where you fight your way from one randomly generated floor to the next. Every few floors you'll come across a transport pad that will take you down to the lobby of Tartaros, where you can save your game, make adjustments to your party, or head back to your dorm. When you're in the dungeon you can choose to explore as a party, or you can split up and explore each floor on your own. Doing so means that you'll be on your own if you happen to get into a fight, but you'll also get all of the items that your friends come across. Each floor of Tartaros is full of enemies and treasure chests, as you might expect. You'll see enemies onscreen as you walk around each floor, and making contact with an enemy will draw you into a battle. You can press a button to swipe at an enemy with your sword, which, if you time it correctly, will result in a preemptive attack when the battle begins.

The battle system in Persona 3 is fairly straightforward, but it puts some unique twists on the standard turn-based combat found in most Japanese role-playing games. Once in battle you can attack, use items, defend, flee, or summon personas. You don't have direct control over any characters other than the main protagonist, but you can issue general commands to your allies. Although it seems strange to not be in full control of your party, we found the artificial intelligence to be plenty capable in battle. If a character is about to die, he or she will run away, but not before asking your permission.

Of course, the hitch of the battle system comes in the form of the personas. The personas are beings that can be summoned to fight for you, much like the summons in a Final Fantasy game. In order to call forth the personas, you have to force them out of your head, which is done by taking a pistol, pointing it to your head, and pulling the trigger. These are presumably special pistols, though, because you don't have to worry about seeing the side of your head erupt in a stream of skull fragments and brain matter. Instead, you get to see a slick animation as one of the huge and very bizarre-looking personas pops out of your head, does its attack, and then retreats back to the confines of your mind.

There are several different types of personas in the game--some will heal your party and others will attack your enemies. Some personas require you to sacrifice some hit points in order to summon, and others require magic points. You can earn new personas and attacks by collecting cards, which can be found in chests or won in battle. The different attacks and abilities of your personas have unique properties, and some personas work better on certain enemies than they do on others. Each type of enemy has a specific weakness to one type of attack. For instance, we found a flying creature that was vulnerable to the arrows fired by the female character in our party. When you hit an enemy with an attack that it's vulnerable to, the enemy will fall down. When all of the enemies in the battle are on the ground, you can initiate a group attack where all of the party members rush the weakened enemies, inflicting major damage.

Shooting yourself in the head is a good thing in this game, but seriously, don't try this at home.

The battle animations are all very slick and stylized, but the ones we saw weren't so drawn out that they dragged down the pace of the game. The dark look of the game carries beyond the battles to the characters and environments as well. The high school looks normal enough, but the dark, blood-soaked hallways of Tartaros give you a distinct feeling that something is very wrong. The enemies and personas are all very bizarre and elaborately designed. There are dancing hands, flying demons, strange ethereal puddles of ooze, and more. There are also some high-quality anime cutscenes that match the style and look of the game very well.

Based on our time spent with Persona 3, it looks like it will offer a distinct role-playing experience that fits well with the Persona universe but also brings its own higher level of weirdness to the series. But even beyond the bizarre and highly stylized look and feel of the game, the mechanics seem solid. The game is currently scheduled to be released in North America sometime in 2007, so be sure to check back with GameSpot for more story details as Atlus works on the translation. Also, be sure to take a look at the newly posted videos and screenshots from the import version of the game.

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Discussion

47 comments
lefonginc
lefonginc

Kool game. Worthwhile to explore more.

solidus2_1
solidus2_1

I wouldn't be to worried about this game going under any changes, i mean you all mentioned gta and nothing in those games was taken out (except hot coffee) that and Atlus is pretty good at that kinda stuff.

Kool212
Kool212

Shooting yourself in the game to bring out monsters? Sweet.

shuyin2256
shuyin2256

hmm, you shoot yourself in the head....? That's wierd. Does anyone know the ESRB rating for this game?

mav_c
mav_c

"diffuse the situation"?

jeffandleigh
jeffandleigh

Sweet!! Can't wait for this one. Looks good. Just like the previous ones. You should play the other ones if you haven't already people.

ICEclear
ICEclear

how come parts of this "preview" has the exact same wording as the video preview from gametrailers.com? or is it the other way around?

clivehvg
clivehvg

Atlus never cease to surprise me, it does not matter if it was for making amazingly well narrated RPG's with mature themes or because they port rare, very nice and appreciated, Japanese games like Disgaea, Steambot Chronicles or Skygunner. I really think that Persona 3 is the best "adios"

Truth01
Truth01

Sounds interesting, but I'm worried that there will be too much micromanaging within the school and different time periods.

saoirche
saoirche

i wonder if we'll ever see a PAL version of this... I wish they would release more European ports of Japanese rpg's for us over this side of the Atlantic

Zentih
Zentih

well personally i see this a little bit childish...well i played the other two personas and i think it's a serious type...

TckeyTheGlove
TckeyTheGlove

That sounds really.... bizzare. Like most of Atlus' stuff. So, you have to blow the Personas out of your head with a special bullet? Heh.

caveturd
caveturd

Sounds awesome. What system is this for again? Oh.... I see

FallenAngel
FallenAngel

gogeta85, sigh...you're a fool. I don't think anyone here thinks suicide is cool, and for god's sake, the characters in the game ARE NOT KILLING THEMSELVES. It's a mechanism to trigger the unleashing of the persona hidden in the deep recesses of their minds. This mechanism which looks like they're shooting themselves in the head is what's cool, NOT suicide itself.

gogeta85
gogeta85

man this world really has lost it people who think suicide is cool lol

FallenAngel
FallenAngel

I don't think the game will be changed for its US release. Mainly because this isn't a mainstream game like say GTA. As such, it should pass under the radar of self righteous pricks like Jack Thompson (or whatever the heck his name is). This game will, just like the other Personas and Nocturne and the Digital Devil Saga games, be a cult classic, and in the past few years, game such as these have been released without any kind of modifications in the US release. Think, Nocturne had TONS of controversial stuff in it, but no one said anything, because it was not a mainstream game. Atlus is releasing Rule of Rose later this year, and they've promised not to take out any of the controversial elements from that game either. That's a sign that Persona 3 will reach our shores unaltered too, because if you ask me, Rule of Rose has the potential to be much more controversial than Persona 3 if you ask me. The only thing controversial about Persona 3 is the whole persona summoning bit, Rule of Rose is controversial in its theme, its portrayal of demented little girls, blah blah. But, as I said, self righteous senators and lawyers are only concerned with mainstream games such as GTA, not with these games that get released with much less hype among the general public, only among us who look out for games which are out of the ordinary. Heck, if you ask me, the upcoming Yakuza might create more controversy among the Jack Thompson crowd than Persona.

Wankese
Wankese

I'm a bit worried that some of the darker chunks of this game may end up left on the cutting room floor when it makes its way across the ocean.... Then again, I could just be paranoid... I'd be really sad if summoning your Persona's ends up changing/making the game become import only...

Shinobi-Neo
Shinobi-Neo

if it really comes out in 2007 i´ll surly buy it. such a sad game about school, fighting and suicide. i love itXD

vageta89
vageta89

When that game comes out I,ll be the first to buy it.

StayFrosty
StayFrosty

woah dats krazy man! im good to check this game out, sounds sick! i might try out the other ones in the series! GG!

Platyphyllum
Platyphyllum

Shooting yourself in the head heals you? That's weird but I'll definitely check Persona 3 out.

glitchgeeman
glitchgeeman

Sounds cool to me. I bet the Senate is going to have a hissy fit over this game though. But honestly, I can't see this game being M rated. I mean, when you shoot yourself in the game, there's no gory blood and violence right? Just weird stuff and the persona comes out. I hope it isn't M rated or else the government and Jack Thompson will have another game to hate on.

nappan
nappan

Leave it to Atlus to make a game that any other company would mess up, but they undoubtedly aced. I can't wait to get my hands on this puppy. I mean, SMT as a series is amazing, and this sounds like the same creative people getting a chance to work outside of the SMT box. (err, not that it's a very confining box...) "wow... its like simulated suicide!!! Jack Thompsons gonna have a field day! " Best case scenario: Jack Thompson demonstrates what he fears will be an "imitatible act" by blowing his brains out in front of a senate subcommittee with an inadvertantly loaded prop gun. Oh god, I'd loooooove to see that... or better yet, maybe a mob of enraged 12 year old fanboys can slowly lower him feet-first into boiling pitch... just a thought. For the record, this is not a result of videogame violence, I've always had a vicious and heartless streak in me :)

VijiMaria
VijiMaria

wow, looks great! I love j-rpgs, I'm sure this one won't disappoint me. I just can't wait for it anymore >_

Katosepe321
Katosepe321

wow... its like simulated suicide!!! Jack Thompsons gonna have a field day!

AntoniustheGrey
AntoniustheGrey

Shooting yourself in the head...that's crazy. I almost bought Persona 1 and 2, but I never did, I don't remember those having to shoot yourself in the head though..

joezer3003
joezer3003

Shooting yourself in the head eh? My bet this one is going to be released as M for Mature...

yasae
yasae

I........ Hope you're still able to talk to enemies......... That's half of what made the first two so original.

S_Pac_316
S_Pac_316

I've been a fan of Persona games since the PS1 game 10 years ago. I'm not too keen on the whole school thing,but I'll be looking forward to this next year.

kawakev
kawakev

I can never get enough of japanese wierdness!

planeswalkerx
planeswalkerx

I've been hyped about this game since news of it first came out. I watched the OTS preview for it, and the lack of insight offered about this game makes me wonder why it was feaured at all. If you wait until a few months before the US launch, you would have more resources to work with. From what i understand, you really need to know some Japanese to get the story besides that shooting yourself in the head will summon Personas. I noticed that Ricardo Torres does a very good job with Japanese games. Why didn't he take this game? Anyways, Atlus is bringing so many foreign RPGs stateside this year, that my wallet will be completely empty come January, as I'm gonna snatch up every one of them.

Albinorage
Albinorage

I can't wait for the release. Sounds great and the concept of shooting yourself just makes me want to play it more XD

rohver
rohver

I've played SMT NOCTURNE, hope it will be somewhat similar. Atuls wont dissappoint, I'm sure.

joeamis
joeamis

sweet Persona is back.

serioustom
serioustom

I think i going to be pick this up. when it comes over to canada.I hope it get a M rated becuase i like the idea of shooting yourself in the head to heal/kill mobs is cool idea in it self.it make a rare game you get to play like "Killer 7".