(The following is based on a save file of 33 hours and 21 minutes, up to August, the thirty-first, 2009 in-game date. Still on the Deck. Still in Japanese.)
There is a pre-gendered cut scene more than a dozen of hours into Persona 3 Reload during one of its early June days. It shows off the newly designed costumes for the then 6 members of S.E.E.S. and feels so ritualistic that I was excepting a late title card at the end of it. The title card did not come, but the game did show one way to interpret the titular Reload. Theurgr is the newly added personal ultimate skill along with this remake’s new costume. While it’s not shown in actual use with right trigger, the tutorial for those shows Yukari sliding a magazine (Or “cartridge”, the unfired bullet with shell casing and gun powder, as it’s called in Japanese) into her Evoker, firing and unleashing a powerful attack in spite of elemental consideration. Only time will tell if Reload would become another Eureka or Phoenix Down.
This is the stories of a summer, early June to the last day of August to be precise. Heat is up in more than a way. The plot finally reveals itself in term of asking why and throws out some cop show bullshit yours truly would eat up. Friends and foes alike came out to play. Summer 2009 certainly offers no rest for the wicked.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 on PS2 is undeniably a stone-cold classic even if you look at its influence alone. Coming out in the mid aughts, it would be easy to deduce that decision makers at miHoYo were young and easy to influence back then when they played the game, so much so that Genshin Impact’s start-up party shares 2 cast member with Persona 3. All in all, this Atlus RPG can be seen as one of the several midwives that help modern gacha whale baits to crawl into this world. Guess it’s fitting that the game’s plot is about people dealing with their own messy legacy.
Mitsuru’s family the Kirijoes conducted an experiment in 1999. It went pear shaped and brought all the problems: Dark Hour, Tartarus dungeon and 12 big boy Shadows the player’s party has to hunt. Yukari’s father is quite literally the chief engineer of this fiasco though she was denial until seeing his remorseful confession on video. It’s entertaining to see the cold cat fight between Yukari and Mitsuru being more in line with the hostility between McNulty an Daniels in the Wire. Grandpa Kirijo is responsible so the granddaughter feels remorseful about things. Papa Kirijo is so far the coolest motherfucker yours truly saw in this game: eye patch and a straight laced attitude. He roasted his daughter for not play it straight with her hunt party in a stoic way. Who says beach episode can only be filler when Persona 3 used it as prelude to lore dives.
Part of the messy Kirijo legacy is the rouge galley of hostile Persona users called Strega. Their leader Takaya just screams hippy leader of a doomsday cult with no shirt, long hair, thin beard, arm tattoos and a Dirty Harry gun. Jin the seemingly brain speaks with the western Japan accent and the token girl Chitori starts a probably doomed “romance” with party member Junpei.
Strega crawl into the main plot on the July Full Moon Night, when S.E.E.S. operates in a hotel. Then the 2 parties made contact on August, and Atlus says “Subtlety is for cowards” yet again. The guns of August to be decommissioned are hidden in an Army underground base, and of course Army in the Japanese context means the infamous Imperial Army of World War II. S.E.E.S sets out to put an end to the Shadow threat along with Personas while Strega embraces those as part a new reality. Direct conflict is yet to come, but the fall promises some bitter harvests.
Doors, doormen and cats, real or otherwise
Tartarus during summer is proper Alien, as in the 1979 movie. Giger land is still on the menu during June nights while July and August give out an industry zone, just like the 2 flavors in Ridley Scott’s second feature. The dungeon is mainly segmented by hard and soft road blocks: the former come after some document about history of the man-made island and can only be lifted as the story progress; the latter come after permeant exists and contain imaginary doors and more than real doormen. “Mini boss” can be used to describe those doormen. Those are not optional though there are optional red doors and the monsters behind. As if to make up for party member not so active to be on par with the more active ones, there are clocks as chances to allow them to level up without taking too much risk.
Like the manhunt in Persona 5’s Mementos, there are missing person cases in Persona 3. While Persona 5 designed those as mini bosses, I am glad that Persona 3 Reload does things rather differently. The party arrives at the level the missing person is located then has the option to get them out immediately or after the level is picked clean. No boss fights. I guess believing those people would survive the imprisonment of some monsters is to suspense too much disbelief. Ah, yes, “save the cat” is well and alive in this game. Elizabeth of Velvet Room told me that some small creature had entered Tartarus twice, both were cats. At least those pusses gave me fragments of twilight, the fantasy lockpick of this game. Also I love how too low level Shadows run, those rent-a-cops in Persona 5’s palaces take their jobs way too seriously.
Sweet summer children
Slipping anime from cartoons is truly slipping hair. But there are points to be made regarding their differences. For example, modern anime’s ensemble casts are usually composed of plucky highschoolers, which can describe both Persona 4 and 5. But not 3, the earlier game’s intention to mimic older days of Japanimation can be seen in its non-highschooler party members, namely the kids, the robot and the dog. Strangely they all come into the play during summer. Apology in advance for some Mass Effect bullshit.
Not quite a kid
Kid number one or the fake kid is Fukka, the girl in supporting role who would free Mitsuru for filed duty. She is a Junior highschooler like the player character, Yukari and Junpei, but her short statue and mild manner do make her seem younger. Also, stop menacing her, Junpei, for crying out loud. Fukka can be ordered to analyze enemies for elemental consideration and give those in field some buff. Code name Joker in Persona 5 might take a look at her and ask Futaba on his crew “Why cannot I ask you for anything like that?”
As someone who were just young enough when Star Wars prequel came out, I would call one character “the Anakin Skywalker looking motherfucker” and another “Coulda been played by Natalie Portman” in a JRPG starting with Law and Rinwell in Tales of Arise. Fukka can certainly be played the young Portman in Leon the Professional or Heat. But of course she is played by Mamiko Noto. During the last Lunar New Year of Dragon, when hype train arrived at station Mass Effect 3, Ms. Noto was seen as the only proper Japanese dubbing voice for Dr. Liara T’soni by one small corner of the internet. Now I saw Fukka’s light blue presence and distress in her damsel in distress arc being stock somewhere, I agree.
The mindful weapon
Lore dive is not the only thing this game’s beach episode offers, new party member is also introduced. Aigis (or Aegis) is the last active anti-Shadow weapon and an android girl, whose introduction is said to include something trans folks disliked. Personally, I just think the scene did the women dirty. It takes place the second day the party comes to the beach for R&R and briefing. Junpei being extremely aggressive when it comes to playing with water and Fukka around. The girls decide to do island roaming the next day while the sausage party of three is dicking around on the beach quite literally. The girls are told to retrieve an anti-shadow “tank” while the boys have their phones in lockers somewhere.
The sausage party of 3 have 3 failed talks to women, with the first 2 time being looked down on by older women. The third time in the original was said to be the sausage party not ready to add another type of transphobia while here the chick is mad as a hatter and wants lots of their money. I got to say this is already a nicer kind of rubbing trans folks the wrong way, given that the 2 trans women in Persona 5 are genuine menace. Then enters Aigis. The other 2 boys cannot approach them (I am going to use “they/them” as that’s my preferred way to address machine intelligence’ personhood), and they run off on the player character before giving him a hug when they think they are alone. And the “date” with Mitsuru during a summer festivity turns out to be keeping one eye on this piece of property for her company.
Aigis is voiced by Maaya Sakamoto. Ms. Sakamoto is a very talented voice actor for pulling the perfect they/them voice to my ears. Despite being through thick (Aerith from Kingdom Heart to FFVII Rebirth) and thin (Lightning in FFXIII trilogy) with Final Fantasy, she is decidedly not a gamer. She dubbed Margaret Qualley in Death Stranding but according to her gaming or more-friendly-with-Kojima co-stars during Tokyo Game Show 2019, Sakamoto is definitely on the “Hideo Kojima? Never heard of him” side.
Archetype for archetype, Ms. Sakamoto could have voiced EDI in Mass Effect 2 and 3, but the thing about her perfect they/them voice is that her performance usually lacks the “it girl” factor for the sexy robot lady archetype. Speak of EDI though, their English voice Tracia Helfer could have been cast as Aigis in some commercial for Persona 3’s English release. But why bother a regular on Battlestar Galactica for a PS2 game in 2007, when hardware showcases launching one year after console outings were considered “slow”.
The watchdog turned hound
S.E.E.S is a hunting party put together by a fancy lass, so it does feel incomplete with a hound. And what a hound they have in Koromaru. With his Persona called Cerberus, Hades’ son Zagreus would look at his own red pet dog and think “Why do you only pounce once in a blue moon? Why can you listen like this white puppy and his sould?” Among the animal companions of Second Persona Trilogy, Koro certainly takes Gold while the other 2 can have bum fight for Sliver. Actually it would be much of a fight, I spent less than 5 hours with Persona 4’s Teddy and I already want to kill it with fire while I grew to like Morgana the way I grew to like the long-winded game the little shit is in. But the short time with Koro the Shiba Inu is more than enough to make him the best boy.
Oh, poor Junpei! Even in the bonding event tagged as with him, the show can be stolen from him. He wants to show the kid living at the dorm some fun time by letting him smash a melon, with the intention to show the girls how well he is with kids of course. But it becomes another sausage party with the player character, Koro and later Akihiko. The story about him giving up baseball is told, for he gives the kid his old bat to smash the melon and says he would not need it anymore. The dog, who had lived through the death of his caretaker, is sad in a “Junpei not needing the bat is the saddest thing he heard in his life” kind of way. Damn I love this dog and it’s like he can say something nasty to undermine that.
The new kid at the dorm
Persona 3 is pretty abundant on the Anakin Skywalker looking motherfucker front. Persona 5 got 2 by Royal: first there is Adachi, murderous bastard completed with a suit of black armor and holding a door before he dies as redemption; then Royal gives us a dorky shrink as the key to the definitive edition’s third semester. Persona 3 has a killer and a pun dropping dork skulking in the background, despite how the latter gives the S.E.E.S kids their new kits, neither warrant serious mention yet. Then comes Ken, aka anime Jake Loyd voiced by Megumi Okata. Ms. Okata is good at the young and anxious, probably most famous for Shinji Ikari in EVA. The kid was only supposed to shar the dorm for the summer, but by late August he joins to hunt the killer Anakin Skywalker look like, for he might be responsible for some death in the kid’s life. With Ken’s spear, I realize that the gear icon of the third whacking type is actually Stab instead of Projectile.
Persona 3’s summer ends with a film festival and the day time can be spent with one party member or peer at the school in the movies. Got to hand it to the writers, they do know their genres and subgenres of cinema. Yours truly went to the movies with 2 peers and all party members up to that point. There is a sports er, marathon with the manager of the track and field club. Then French movies with Pepe, the French student whose use of Japanese can come out as queer in more than one sense of the word. Yukari shared some fiction about youth while Junpei likes Hollywood super hero flicks.
Akihiro and Aigis both goes for material arts cinema, but the former saw the unarmed variety while the latter jokes about ninja after viewing. Fukka watches hard science fiction with near future setting while Mitsuru tries out Romance, the result of those 2 is unexcepted. Appreciating foreseeable future with the girl in chair increases Charm while hearing the fencing ice queen criticizing tropes of cinematic love stories is actually good for one’s Intelligence. Taking Ken to see some Tokusatsu would add to my Courage but I maxed out before that, due to failed burger challenges maybe.
I tried to sneak the dog into the movies, but reasonably failed. Now I owed the best boy a movie date on the last day of summer, so excuse me I am going to make up to him before shit hits the fan in fall.
(To be continued)