Official Website: p3.atlus.co.jp
Japanese Release: July 13, 2006
Rating: Cero B (12 years and older)
Retail Price: ¥6,800 (¥7,140 with tax)
Special Edition Retail Price: ¥9,800
Konami Style Special Edition Retail Price: ¥11,520
US Website: atlus.com/persona3
US Release: August 14th, 2007
Rating: M (17+)
Retail Price: $49.99
This section is divided into a few different components. If you'd like to read more about specifics on how the game works, please visit the sub-sections listed under "Overview" on the right.
At an event to hype up the release of Devil Summoner: Kuzu no Ha Raidou to Chouryoku Heidan, Kazuma Kaneko and Kazuyuki Yamai spoke briefly on the future of the Persona franchise. At this point, the only announcement to have been made regarding the franchise was that the next iteration would be hitting the PSP; whether this was a new title or a remake was any one's guess. However, at the event, Kaneko explained that Persona PSP was announced before any actual development teams were informed of the plans. He refused to get into specifics, but Yamai did state that there was a possibility that the game would appear on the PS2 rather than the PSP.
Mere days later, Persona 3 was unveiled suddenly in an issue of Famitsu. The three page article explained the basics of the game and showed off the first images and character art that would be present in the title. A nearly eighteen minute long video accompanied the piece, which showed a good deal of game play and anime style cut scenes. It was also revealed that the character designs and art direction were by Shigenori Soejima, rather than series mainstay Kazuma Kaneko. Soejima's work in the past has included Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers and Stella Deus. The title is produced and directed by Katsura Hashino, who is most recently known for his work on Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, but has worked on the series since the original version of Shin Megami Tensei If.... The game's subtitle (or at least slogan) appears to be "Time does not wait".
General Game Information
Persona 3 takes place in modern day Japan and focuses on an un-named 17 year old, male protagonist. He has just transferred to a new high school, in an area known as Minatoku. This consists of the harbor city of Iwatodai and a nearby, man-made island known as Port Island. His co-ed dormitory is located on Iwatodai and each day, he and his friends take the monorail to school on Port Island. For the Protagonist, day time in this area plays out like it may for any one his age: a day of school and then an afternoon of hanging out with his friends.
However, at the stroke of midnight, a period known as "Shadow Time" begins (Dark Hour in the US). During this time, creatures known as Shadows wander the streets hunting and looking for battle. Early on, the Protagonist and his new friend, Yukari, are attacked by one such Shadow. Yukari is already a member of a group dedicated to fighting the shadow, known as the Special Extracurricular Execute Sector (or S.E.E.S. for short). Unfortunately, Yukari seems unsure of herself when using the required Persona summoning device and is left open to attack. The Protagonist decides to try this item for himself and here it is discovered that not only is he able to summon personae as well, but he can summon more than one at a time. Following the attack, he is asked to join the group, which also includes fellow classmates Akihiko and Mitsuru.
A vast majority of the city is unaware of the existence of Shadow Time or even the Shadow itself. This is largely thanks to the fact that those unable to summon personae are crystallized into a shape resembling a coffin during the Shadow Time transition, awakening the next day with no knowledge of the previous night's happenings. The protagonist and his friends, however, are fully aware of this time and space anomaly. Thanks to this newfound power, he is chosen as the "leader" of a the S.E.E.S. who plan to dispose of the Shadow once and for all. He joins the current ranks, as do other characters as time goes on.
However, being 17 and living in the real world also means that these so-called heroes have more normal things to deal with. Persona 3, more so than previous entries in the series, attempts to mimic a general school year for a student. Thanks to this, the game takes place over a full, 365 day year (which Atlus had stated should last about 50 hours of game play). During school time, weekdays are filled up with classes, tests and even sick days. After-school clubs and activities are available for the characters to participate in. You can make plans with others for weekends, vacations and holidays or just spend your time wandering about town shopping, participating in events (such as Sports Meets) or even just talking.
Beyond this, the game contains a variety of other options. Voices can be turned on and off, cursor memory can be disabled or enabled and so forth. At the start, the player may choose between Normal or Easy difficulty levels. Among other things, Easy mode allows you to continue without loading a save up to ten times per game.
Persona 3 is the first completely 3D entry into the series. The characters in-game closely mimic the original artwork to a degree previously impossible in the series. This is further emphasized by the use of far more dynamic camera work in the battles, which is now more similar Digital Devil Saga or Nocturne. Like Persona 2, this title also makes use of animated cut scenes. However, this time around they are far more impressive in overall quality. The official trailer from Famitsu drives this point home very quickly.
The art style is in a similar vein to Kaneko's work, but as mentioned is now handled by Soejima. The game features a bit more of an anime/manga flair in many ways. This is further exemplified by character images that appear suddenly when someone is surprised, angry or so forth. These images are very similar to frames in any readily available manga. In addition, in some cases, certain sounds will also be represented by onscreen words. Sudden knocking on a door, for example.
In terms of music, the game is a semi-unusual entry within the series. Most of the music is composed by Meguro, the main man responsible for the music in the last several Megaten titles, but other artists make appearances. While it does fit into the more "pop" styles Persona is known for, there are more modern hip-hop, blues and rock influences to be found. The game really has some unique music, with vocals (both normal and distorted) making surprisingly frequent appearances. It is not heavily guitar dependant like Nocturne or Digital Devil Saga, but rather more along the lines of the more electronic influenced music in previous Persona titles. A good example of this can also be heard within the official trailer.
In addition, the Japanese version features a good amount of voice work throughout the game. The anime cut scenes are all voiced, as are most important strands of dialogue between all sorts of characters (both major and NPC). Various Japanese seiyuu (voice actors) are used, most of which are known for their roles in popular anime. For Western release, the game has been completely dubbed in English. Thankfully, Atlus's track record in this field as of late has been extremely positive. Japanese voice-overs are not an option in the US release, but players may disable the voice-overs entirely if they wish to.
Japanese Release Information
Persona 3 was released on July 13th, 2006. The game is available in both normal and special editions. The normal edition includes the game and, for a short period, a bonus CD containing wallpapers, voice recordings and music. Those who pre-ordered this item through the KonamiStyle website also received a crystal art version of Thanatos.
The original special edition was only available for a limited number of pre-orders on Playstation.com. This package included the game, a Persona 3 mouse pad, a set of Persona 3 based tarot cards, post cards, a notepad, a small plastic picture holder for the post cards and a pin based on the high school emblem.
Konami and Atlus have also joined forces to create a second special edition package, this one far more expensive and seemingly only available from KonamiStyle. The items come packed in a scaled down replica of a school bag, which is made of leather with brass clasps. These items include the game, a felt S.E.E.S armband replica, a CD with sound and wallpaper concerning the game and the crystal art Thanatos.
An official guide book was also made available for purchase on the same day. The official OST will be released a week later.
US Concerns and Pre-Release Information
The "summoning gun" issue has caused some small controversy among fans as it brought up concerns that Atlus of USA might be forced to pass over this title due to increasing political and parental concerns over the nature of violence in video games. When considering this, it is also important to remember that these characters are obviously not literally killing themselves, the violence is not beyond readily available anime in any store, Persona 3 is not the first game to deal with suicidal concepts or imagery (or even the blatant act of it, such as in Indigo Prophecy or Call of the Cthulhu) in any form and many games still remain beyond this in both the scope of their violence and sales popularity.
However, these fears were effectively laid to rest during E3 2006 in California. Despite being on display only in Japanese, Persona 3 made an appearance at the Atlus USA booth and was included in their press packet. The playable version of the title at the show was near completion; this obviously implies that the "controversial" summoning method was clearly on display.
During the Spring of 2007, Atlus announced that the title would be hitting in the Summer. It would be sold as a special edition, including a soundtrack disc and art book. The official US site opened just before E3 officially kicked off in mid-July.
Persona 3 was set for release in the US on July 24th, 2007. This is just a little over a year later than the original Japanese release. Unfortunately, the day before it was set to go out Atlus announced that the title would be delayed due to a manufacturing issue with the included art book. The new date was set at August 14th, about three weeks later.
No official plans have been announced by any publisher for a European release thus far. However, UK-based game shops have had the game appear in their systems as coming in 2008. Some list KOEI as the publisher, which makes sense as they published Devil Summoner on PS2 in the area.