Video Game Research: Persona 3

Nearly two years ago I decided to try and get into video games. I kind of fell off the wagon on this hobby and I am trying to pick it up back up again.

This series of posts is about me playing through video games from the perspective as a noob. I am planning to play through a few games that most people have already played through, such as:

  • Zelda
  • Mario
  • Pokemon
  • Mass Effect

My only familiarity with some of these is of sitting on the couch at daycare watching the children of the person running the daycare playing these games. I was never allowed to play and it made me slightly bitter.

I am generating a list of games and franchises that are indicative of common game mechanics within modern gaming. I am also looking for examples of great gameplay and narrative.

The first game that I played all the way through from beginning to end was Persona 3. I started this game over a few times because I was playing it on my PS3 and I would go months without turning it on. I finally realized I could buy the game for the Vita and for about ten glorious months I had a fun game to play in the bath with a glass of wine after a long day at work. The fact that the Vita version came with the option to play as a female was a definite bonus!

This game is rather long. I beat the game after playing it 72 hours. I finished it at the beginning of the year before I started this series.

Since it is the first game I finished, I wanted to talk about it here even though I finished it a while ago.

Game Overview

Female Protagonist from Persona 3

Female Protagonist from Persona 3

You play as a high school student who has special abilities in this game. At midnight each night, your high school turns into a portal to Hell where monsters known as Shadows attach you.

You fight these shadows using a Persona. A Persona is similar to a Patronus from Harry Potter in that it is something that you have within yourself that can fight and protect you on your behalf. Most of the people in your team only have one Persona, but you have the ability to bring forward many Personas.

This game takes place over a school year. In addition to fighting these Shadows at night, you have to make sure you do well on your midterms and establish relationships with the people around you. Your relationships strengthen your Personas. They’re also the primary mechanic around how to advance the story so it’s not just a grinding exercise.

Combat Mechanics

A Shadow from Persona 3 with its strengths and weaknesses.

A Shadow from Persona 3 with its strengths and weaknesses.

The combat is turn based. Your team encounters a Shadow or a group of Shadows. Each Shadow and Persona has strengths and weaknesses.

There are six elements in Persona:

  • Fire
  • Ice
  • Wind
  • Electricity
  • Light
  • Darkness

Until you get to the last levels of the game, most Shadows have at least one weakness. The other students on your team have two strengths, which means if you have the right team of people you can always make sure you have any Shadow’s weaknesses covered. It’s important to lean on other members of your team because you have a limited amount of “spirit energy” to attack with. If you do all the attacks by yourself you will not get as far as you would by spreading this burden out to the rest of your team.

Your Personas also are capable of physical attacks, but generally speaking you don’t utilize those as much in the game.

On each turn, each Person and Shadow has a chance to implement an attack. If you sneak on a Shadow before it notices you, you can usually wipe it out before it has a chance to attack you.

I can understand why some people might find this combat system to be easy or repetitive. I actually liked this aspect of it. I set the difficulty as low as it would go.

I found it really soothing to have this mechanic in place where you don’t die very often. When I am mentally tired, doing the repetitive motions of killing all the bad guys in one or two attacks was incredibly satisfying.

The Orpheus Persona in both female and male configuration

The Orpheus Persona in both female and male configuration

I get discouraged really easily. I have played a few games where you learn by dying a lot. It makes me feel very hopped up and upset when I can’t kill things on the first few tries. I understand that this is the appeal to a lot of people who are hard core gamers, so I appreciated being allowed to have softball combat challenges thrown at me. It was also nice that it was turn based so that I was not in a hurry to mash buttons at just the right time. Right now I am trying to work through a game with combat and I am finding it frustrating.

I like this combat setup better than when I tried Final Fantasy. I know they’re both turn based strategy games, but I like this a lot better. It’s similar to the Pokemon battle mechanics.

So if you’re a noob looking for something that is a step up from a casual game, Persona 3 on the Vita is really good. It has less shallow gameplay than something like Bejeweled, but it has easy enough game play that it hits the same mental centers that something like that also hits.


The thing that separates something like Persona from a casual game is having a long running story.

The story revolves around the people you meet in the game and various events that happen throughout the school year.

When you first start a game, you have a limited number of people you can befriend and interact with. As time goes by, more people are added.

Elizabeth and Igor

Elizabeth and Igor

It’s important to make sure you manage your time properly to max out your social links. Some of your social links only have a short period of time when they are active. Some require you to max out some social skill, such as charm or courage. Even if a social link path is open, you may not be able to pursue that relationship until you up that stat.

There is a lot of time management involved with the game. If you spend all your time grinding away at the combat, you do not have enough time to do things that increase your statistics. If you don’t spend enough time studying you will not do well on your exams, but if you spend all your time studying you will never make friends, which help you do better with your combat.

I want to go back and play through the game again now that I have a better understanding of when things happen in the game. I have been holding off on it because I am trying to play a lot of different kinds of games rather than just playing the same one over and over again. But there are definitely different choices I would make if I do ever get to play this again.


If you’re not a gamer and you’re looking to play something, I definitely recommend this. It’s not something that requires you to have a large base of knowledge about how games like this work. The tutorial setup is useful without dragging on for too long.

Having the option to play as a girl was really awesome. I did find that there were certain things I reacted to differently as a female player than I did as a male player. One of the characters is friendly and when you’re a guy you don’t think about it. When you’re a girl, his behavior can come off as creepy at first. As the game progresses you get more comfortable with him, but it was definitely not something I expected to feel when I switched from a boy to a girl.

If you ever wanted to play a game where you could pretend to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is definitely a good choice. Even though the game is long and somewhat repetitive, it’s a good repetitive. I was incredibly sad when the game was over because I wasn’t sure I would find anything else I enjoyed this much.