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    Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

    Game » consists of 4 releases. Released Jul 13, 2006

    Persona 3 is the fourth main entry in the Persona series. Introducing the "Social Link" system and removing several Shin Megami Tensei staples including the post-apocalyptic setting, Persona 3 greatly expanded the popularity of the series, particularly in the west. It also established the balance of traditional role-playing combat and social simulation that would define the series going forward.

    They're Never Making Another Persona Ending As Ballsy As Persona 3's (Spoiler Warning!)

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    ZombiePie

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    Edited By ZombiePie  Staff

    Author's Note: This blog contains MASSIVE SPOILERS!

    It's A Great Time To Be A Fan Of The Persona Games!

    So, it appears a new Persona game is in the works. With the series celebrating its 25th anniversary and Persona 4 turning thirteen, the franchise is the healthiest it has ever been. The rise of the Persona series to become a respected household name alongside the likes of Dragon Quest, Tales of, or even Final Fantasy is nothing short of a miracle and a testament to how hard Atlus has worked to make the franchise the best it could be. Better yet, the franchise has addressed many of the sticking points that previously afflicted it. For example, any game with the Persona moniker will feature a professional localization in dozens of different languages. The breadth of characters the Persona games have shared with audiences is astounding, and the overall quality of writing surrounding these characters equally so. Likewise, the production values of the Persona games and its growing emphasis on aesthetics have set industry standards. The list of positives goes on and on, and I don't want to deny that. Shit, some of you frequent Giant Bomb because of a particular recurring video series about Persona 4.

    There is, however, something that has been lost as a result of the Persona series rising from a niche JRPG series to one with industry-wide cache. Whatever shape Persona 6 takes, it will not be a self-contained story that begins and ends within the scope of a single game. Now, this is not breaking news or anything new to long-standing fans. Persona 3 started the franchise's trend towards spin-off games, and an argument could be made this habit even began with Persona 2. Nonetheless, even the most ardent Persona or Megaten fans must admit that when the credits roll in Persona 6, that's most likely not going to be where the story finishes. There will be spin-offs, crossovers, and even multimedia tie-ins that flesh out the characters and bolt-on post-game storylines. I want to emphasize this is not necessarily a bad thing but, instead, a compromise of the series attaining mainstream and international clout. And to be honest, that's why the news that the Persona team is working on a new game shouldn't be surprising. The Persona 5 spin-offs have left no stone unturned, and that world has been fully excavated.

    And before you ask, the female Persona 3 protagonist is vastly superior to the male one. It's not even a debate.
    And before you ask, the female Persona 3 protagonist is vastly superior to the male one. It's not even a debate.

    This point leads me to the topic of Persona 3's original ending, and I need to stress the word "original" even if it pains me to do so. It's hard to imagine this, but Persona 3 ended. When Persona 3 essentially rebooted the franchise after a six-year-long hiatus, the prospect of spin-offs and media tie-ins was not a given. As a result, Atlus went HARD when writing its story and conceiving its ending. When compared to its successors, Persona 3 is unrelentingly nihilistic and sullen. None of this should be construed to dismiss the mature content and darker storytelling moments in Persona 4 and 5. However, when you look at the overall "body count" in Persona 3 and notice how it overshadows that of Persona 4 and 5's by a country mile, you start to grasp how much more dire that game's world is to its contemporaries. The characters of Persona 3 are not simply stopping a misguided Shinto god or goddess from establishing a new world order. The characters of Persona 3 are forced to sacrifice everything they love for the sake of preserving a harsh, corrupt, and flawed world they often detest. Nonetheless, it needs to be done.

    Why Persona 3's Ending Is So Special

    If you played this game as a teen and are going to tell me you didn't cry, I'm calling you a liar.
    If you played this game as a teen and are going to tell me you didn't cry, I'm calling you a liar.

    The image above is one burned into the minds of everyone who has played Persona 3. After subjecting the player to a nigh one-hundred-hour experience, Atlus made you watch your protagonist die in the arms of Aigis. The game's message being the world of Persona 3 is one of enormous sacrifice and one where you need to accept death as an inevitability. If players want to prevent the world from ending, they must concede that there is no neat present with a pretty bow on top that contains a conclusion where all the characters get together and cheer each other on as friends for life. That was never what Persona 3 was about, and its last moments solidify that once and for all. Your protagonist needs to die. To call this an "emotional moment" is an understatement. In their quest to send a message and preserve the game's tone, the writers were willing to disregard your hard work and due diligence. It was ballsy at the time, and it is almost incomprehensible when you look at where the Persona series is today.

    Even at the time, fans were in denial that there was no cheerful ending to Persona 3. For months, GameFAQs had an endless stream of threads asking if there was a "secret ending" wherein the protagonist did not die. People scanned the game's code in hopes of finding some way to get that neat little bow they desperately wanted, but to no avail. The rumors and speculation revived once more when Persona 3 Portable was released and presented an alternate protagonist. However, yet again, Atlus remained committed to its original message and forced players, yet again, to watch their protagonist die. All those times Igor whispered into your ear that "the end is coming," the game fucking meant it, and there are no take-backies. Which makes it far more decisive than tragedies in subsequent Persona games.

    You want to talk about how RAW Persona 3 was at the time? I'm not even going to talk about the OTHER character death that emotionally wrecked players.
    You want to talk about how RAW Persona 3 was at the time? I'm not even going to talk about the OTHER character death that emotionally wrecked players.

    Even if you object to my notion that the current Persona games withhold their entire stories for the sake of post-release content, there's the issue with messaging and intent. It is unlikely Atlus will ever recapture the lightning in the bottle of Persona 3 because Atlus has continually shown they do not have the appetite to confront their audience that aggressively ever again. For example, Nanako's death in Persona 4 is a gut punch, but one the game is unwilling to stand by, and there's a similar problem with Persona 5. While Persona 5 is willing to subject you to grim scenarios and wronged victims, it always provides an opportunity for the player to feel like they came out on top and ensured that the "good guys" won. You don't leave Persona 3 with that feeling. The ending of Persona 3 is a heart-stopping moment that I have yet to see a single Persona fan tell me they did not get teary-eyed when they first encountered it. Even though you've beaten back the game's monolithic big bad, you feel as if you've failed.

    Additionally, this ending addresses an issue plagued by many AAA titles. Repeatedly, games have told us that "sacrifices need to be made" to conclude their events. And yet, most games allow you to resolve cataclysmic disasters and existential crises without nary a scratch. Even industry titans like Bioware, Square-Enix, and Bethesda are prone to including fan-satisfying conclusions that allow players to retain all of their in-game possessions and companions after finding a "third way." Persona 3 said, "fuck that." If you want to stop the suffering inflicted by Nyx, someone would have to pay a toll. So, even if you fulfilled every social link in the game, and even if you maxed out your entire party, you watched your protagonist die in the arms of Aigis. No matter what you did, that was the result. The game doubled down on its overall theme that calls to adventure have consequences and Persona 3 made you live with those consequences.

    This Is Never Going To Happen Again, And There's An Elephant In The Room

    And now we need to talk about how Atlus completely fucked up one of the greatest things they have ever done!
    And now we need to talk about how Atlus completely fucked up one of the greatest things they have ever done!

    Persona 6 will likely be a great game. Atlus has a reliable track record, and there are no immediate red flags they will not deliver a memorable storytelling adventure. Likewise, I don't want this blog to suggest that Persona 3 is a perfect crystal that needs to be gawked at like the Hope Diamond. The quality of writing in the Persona franchise has evolved and gotten better over time. The cast of Persona 5 feels more fleshed out and fully realized than the vast majority of characters in Persona 3. And there are some real hard "misses" in Persona 3 that make it harder to recommend to newcomers than Personas 4 or 5. Characters like Ken Amada are abrasive in all the wrong ways, and the game's unflinching nihilism is not for everyone. Also, mechanically speaking, it is an awful experience. Tartarus is a lousy dungeon, and depending on which version of the game you are playing; I'm going to pray the RNG Goddess is nice to you. It also does not help the lack of a proper remaster of Persona 3 has left the OG PSP as the platform of choice to experience what most consider the "definitive" Persona 3 experience.

    More importantly, the Atlus of today is a different beast than the one that took wild risks when making Persona 3. When they hammer down what they want to accomplish with Persona 6's cast and story, I will make a wager that the game will leave things open-ended enough for post-release content no matter what. As I mentioned before, I am not saying this is a bad thing; it's just the path that Atlus wants to blaze, and we all need to live with it. Persona 4 and 5 getting additional spin-off adventures did not adversely impact your ability to enjoy the original games. Nor were any of the spin-offs objectively terrible in their own right. The days of bad OVAs like Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei or Trinity Soul are gone. Yet, there is something to be said about playing a 100+ hour video game and not needing to worry about missing out on shit three years after the fact.

    That said, as the subtitle of this part of my blog suggests, there's an elephant in the room. While Square-Enix gets a ton of shit for picking at the conclusions of games after their release (i.e., Final Fantasy VII and X), Atlus has somehow gotten away scot-free doing the same shit to the ending of Persona 3. "The Answer," Persona 4 Arena, and the eleven billion Persona 3 OVAs Atlus produced are a crime. Atlus had something beautiful and incredible, and they couldn't help themselves when they saw an opportunity to expand Persona 3, and the series in general, into a multimedia empire. Not only have they shown they have buyer's remorse, but it also looks like Atlus does not have it in them to make a story as morose and moody as Persona 3. The fact they have wholly retconned the ending of Persona 3 so that the male protagonist, who is NOT MY PROTAGONIST, BY THE WAY, can continue to pop up in crossover games sucks a lot of shit. Suppose Atlus ends up announcing a Persona 5 Arena after fans have been calling for them to make it for years. In that case, I look forward to it collecting the "big three teams" to ruin everything good about Persona 3's ending, once and for all. Fuck everything.

    Fuck all of this EVA movie inspired bullshit!
    Fuck all of this EVA movie inspired bullshit!

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    Allelujah

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    @zombiepie: I disagree with your sentiment. In particular with Persona 5. Ann and her friend were both sexually assaulted. Her friend tried to commit suicide. Yusuke finds out his mentor killed his mom, leaving him with untolds amount of psychological trauma.

    The entire cast is littered with abuse, trauma and tragedy that would leave anybody reeling to deal with. Just because the "body counts" of subsequent games isn't as high, to me, is irrelevant.

    You have teenagers dealing with real issues that have broken countless adults and they've come out the other side survivors, stronger than when they started. So while you lament that there won't be another nihilistic opus to sink 100 hours into, I think the fact that we've gotten stories of triumph in the face of tyranny is great.

    And lastly, you're right it's not your protagonist. It's Atlus'. Whether motivated by money or the want to expound on the stories feel that more needed to be said or fleshed out. You obviously don't like it, but I believe you misunderstand who owns the character. Atlus lets us borrow them and get a sneek peak into their lives. It's not up to us what happens after we give them back. You should focus on the enjoyment you did have and not worry about the crossovers or OVAs. At any rate, I'm looking forward to see what Persona 6 is like.

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    brian_

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    #2  Edited By brian_

    I'm not one to pay super close attention to timeline bullshit in media properties, so correct me if I'm wrong on this, but I don't think they ever actually retcon the ending for Persona 3. I think all those crossover games just take place before three's ending via time travel, other dimension, nonsense.

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    Efesell

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    I spent too many hours getting big mad on the Persona 3 Gamefaqs forums (no one can judge me harder than I judge myself for this) about what happened at the end of P3 and how many people constantly clamored for a way out of the protagonists fate. There are too many Persona 3 fans who so absolutely masterfully missed the point of the entire Persona 3 narrative.

    I don't entirely hate The Answer though for what it does, because it felt like it was very frustrated about this very type of person.

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    Efesell

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    Also yeah like.. I don't think it dampens the ending very much if he's allowed to dance in the rhythm games, or whatever generic reason that all of the protagonists are pulled into the Etrian Odyssey style game. It's fine.

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    epidehl

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    I feel similarly about P3 that I do Crisis Core. Most of the game is kinda not great, especially mechanically, but they bring stuff together in a mechanics/story way at the end that is incredible and it's hard but to get emotional about. That said, I don't think killing your protagonist is... that ballsy? Especially in a game that is about death in SO many ways. Like, in any series the purports an amount of "maturity" or "grimness" I kind of expect it at this point (though maybe that's changed VERY recently with the push towards franchises in a lot of media).

    Also yeah, I'm not sure what you mean about "retconning" the end of 3. I, admittedly, played The Answer a while ago and also don't remember what it did that was supposedly so bad? The two spin-offs he's in are Q and the dancing game, both of which are basically non-canon time travel plots that don't "matter". He's still super gone in Arena, the only actual "sequel".

    Honestly, I'm fine with them never making another game like P3. I'm kind of over super dark stuff in my life, and P5 even almost pushed me away with it kind of going too hard too in fast for me with the Kamoshida stuff. I'm not saying everything has to be fine and dandy, but P3 is kind of a misery parade that doesn't really work for me outside of it's ending (and Akihiko).

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    Allelujah

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    @efesell: I just look at them as side stories. I've played and forgotten what happened in the dancing games and while Arena is canon I wouldn't necessarily say the information provided is particularly noteworthy. The 3DS games were cool but again didn't detract from the main games. And honestly it makes more sense for 3 & 4 to crossover since they're set in the same timeline. As you said, with time travel they can tell other stories while not messing with what happened during the main game.

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    Efesell

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    @epidehl: The Answer at least specifically does not retcon anything. The entire point of that story is that he's dead and his friends can't get over it and fall to fuckin' pieces.

    Now I have no idea what fresh bullshit the OVAs get up to.

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    Allelujah

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    @efesell: the ones I've watched appear, at least to me, are the story of the game but told with more content. Almost a director's cut of the story. I forget how it ends but they were enjoyable, but if you're done with sullen, overly wrought storytelling you probably want to skip them. The story seems darker told in animation.

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    epidehl

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    @efesell: OK yeah, that's what I thought it was. It just seemed like generally people really didn't like it, so I thought I missed/didn't remember something more dramatic.

    The only thing I remember from it that kind of bothered me was the implication that he didn't "die" on the roof, and in fact basically just fell into a coma and then died in his room. Which just seems like.... why.

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    Efesell

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    #11  Edited By Efesell

    @epidehl: There's definitely more misses in The Answer than not I think, it's kind of miserable to play and it really turns a couple of the characters into straight garbage people for very little reason.

    On the other hand Heartful Cry and Brand New Days are fuckin' bangers so maybe it's okay.

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    Justin258

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    #12  Edited By Justin258

    @allelujah said:

    And lastly, you're right it's not your protagonist. It's Atlus'. Whether motivated by money or the want to expound on the stories feel that more needed to be said or fleshed out. You obviously don't like it, but I believe you misunderstand who owns the character. Atlus lets us borrow them and get a sneek peak into their lives. It's not up to us what happens after we give them back. You should focus on the enjoyment you did have and not worry about the crossovers or OVAs. At any rate, I'm looking forward to see what Persona 6 is like.

    Your last bit here opens a whole can of worms in regards to "death of the author" type ideas and how that applies to video games. For instance, if it's not "my protagonist", then how come I chose where he* spent his free time, who he romanced, his strategies for defeating enemies, how he led his team, and who he befriended? If we collectively "gave" our Persona 3 protagonists back to Atlus, then we didn't give them back the same way we got them, and to go "correcting" our choices tramples on them in some way, right?

    *I played Persona 3 FES, not P3P, and thus did not have a choice in the protagonist's sex.

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    theonewhoplays

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    My experience with P3 was playing it for what seemed forever, checking how far I'd gotten, and realizing I was about a third into the game. Then I lost all motivation to continue. The protagonist never felt like a character so I doubt I would feel anything for him, but thanks for sharing your perspective.

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    imhungry

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    Having watched all of them, the OVAs don't pick at the ending at all? They're pretty much a straight retelling of the story in animated form, ending in the exact same way. THE ELEVATOR FUCKING STOPS!

    Anyway, I agree with your assessment overall that Atlus is almost certainly never going to make a plot structure like P3 again for your stated reasons but I guess I don't really agree at all that any of the things they've done since are spitting on the ending though. The protagonist is still super dead unless you count a meaningful difference between dead and 'sealed forever and unable to be freed without causing the end of the world'. It's certainly a recontextualization of the situation but one that I'd say is completely in line with P3's themes. The whole premise of The Answer is the party dealing with the fallout of his death and you still see shades of that in P4A with everyone carrying on with their lives knowing the sacrifice it took to allow them to do so. It's fine.

    One thing I would like them to bring back from P3 is linking the meaty character growth and Persona evolutions to main story beats rather than S.Link Rank 10 like they've done for P4 and 5. Not being able to ensure you've seen character beats shackles what can be done with character development in the main plot and I don't think P3's party S.Links were any less interesting just because they were exploring 'side' characteristics of the party members.

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    yyninja

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    Agreed. I highly doubt Persona 6 will come anywhere close to the grim nihilistic setting of Persona 3. I'm surprised you didn't even mention that the whole game involves kids shooting themselves in the head (albeit with special Persona summoning bullets).

    ATLUS will be making 7 announcements according to their new 25th anniversary website and I suspect that a P3 remaster is going to be one of them. The tricky part is predicting what version will be remastered. P3 FES is the more "complete" version with The Answer epilogue, while P3P includes the female protagonist with her own unique S. Links and romances. My bet is a remaster of P3 FES. I don't know if ATLUS is willing to set aside budget creating 3D models and FMVs for the female protag.

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    Efesell

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    I mean if they remaster 3 and don't do anything to incorporate P3P then I don't have any time for that bullshit.

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    Superkenon

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    Much agreed about the unique impact of Persona 3's ending. I love 'em all, but P3 definitely has the most affecting and memorable ending of them all. I may enjoy P4/P5 more by most metrics of comparison, but the ending of P3 is far and away more interesting than anything that's come since.

    Funny part though, I kind of wonder if it's a good thing. P3 made me sad. One of the most incredibly bittersweet ends to a video game there's been, IMO. But if P4/P5 also followed the same mold... I sorta wonder if I'd be exhausted from Persona by now? If Atlus kept trying to out-morose themselves for saddest ending, I might want to stop investing 90 hours to beat games that I know are just gonna try to tear-bait me, lol.

    By leaving that territory alone, I think they've done Persona 3's ending decent service by letting it keep its unique identity and feel as a game about... death. P4/P5 don't feel like they're competing with it, and I like that.

    That's a bit of an excuse though. Your point is the real core of it: they've succeeded as a franchise and become a kinda Big Thing, and companies don't tend to like to take Big Risks with their Big Things.

    tl;dr: agreed, they'll never make an ending as ballsy as this one, lol

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    snaketelegraph

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    #18  Edited By snaketelegraph

    I totally agree that going forward, Persona will continue to lose more teeth. It's not like nothing serious happens in P5, but by the end everything is tied neatly with a bow, so they can go on a new adventure for funsies. That's fine for a game like P4, which wore its general lightheartedness on its sleeve, but in a game with harder themes like P5 I can't believe how entirely well off the crew comes out at the end.

    Anyway this is about P3, a game I actually like. I honestly don't think it's really some huge nihilism fest. If a bunch of kids are saving the entire world, I don't think it's grimdark edgelord for there to be some death or at least serious consequences. There's plenty of jrpgs out there where you will never see a death of a main character, and that's cool, I play those too. Part of the appeal of Persona (imo) is the idea that it doesn't always wear kid gloves while being in a real world setting.

    That being said, the spinoffs don't bother me very much. (Other than the dancing one feeling very cheapo.) I pretty much disregard that those are apparently canon, especially because P3 came first and then those were molded around it to try and work. As opposed to P5 which, after the success of P4, I feel like was planned to be flexible in terms of additions and spinoffs. Congrats to them finding success, I guess, but to me, knowing it's going to be an episode of a cartoon where the beginning and ending have few discernable differences is cheap in a game that was initially advertised with like, destruction of societal norms. We'll see what they do with P6 but I'm not optimistic. (Then again, it should be a different director, so I'll keep an open mind.)

    Now is the moment where I will heavily shill for Persona 2, whose endings I think influenced 3's. I don't know if OP has played them or anyone in this thread, but I highly recommend trying, and I will hopelessly hope one of the upcoming announcements is a straight port of the two PSP versions to modern consoles (including the half that wasn't localized in the west but you can play the old PS1 version... yeah it's annoying). I'm going to spoil the endings but be vague on names in case this actually makes someone play it and they can be a little surprised: at the end of Persona 2 Innocent Sin (part 1), a major party character (A) is killed in the final confrontation. Another major character (B) is so distraught by this, they go to an alternate world (of Persona 2 Eternal Punishment aka part 2) where A is still alive. But doing so is kind of a problem for various reasons so despite wanting desperately to stay, after experiencing the game and realizing the unsustainability of their actions, and like, growing up, B returns to their original world to live with the consequences. In my opinion it really balances between things actually happening with a pseudo-sequel that is not just fanservice.

    I think they could actually do something similar again, but I don't think they will. I want unexpected things to happen in Persona, you know? Which is pretty much what you said lol. This was way too long but I had to push some P2 agenda. :'(

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    Efesell

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    The narrative of Persona 2 warrants a game that is way more fun to play, but it's so different from what people know as Persona now that I don't expect it to ever really happen.

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    ToTheNines

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    My persona 3 protagonist is male and clearly superior to your protagonist. No debate.

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    Efesell

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    Real talk though P3Ps female protagonist was pretty incredible. I feel like that team secretly shared my complete disdain for silent protagonists so they made sure to craft a distinct character for her despite never letting her actually speak.

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    monkeyking1969

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    I'm just happy then are making another one. AT this point the only jRPG series I get excited for consistently is Persona. The narrative tone, art, game play, and characters just speak to me more than for most other series.

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