It's hard to argue whether or not a game is skippable, especially for a title as formative as one of the most iconic entries in the Persona series. As the game that kicked off the franchise's modern success, fans hold a lot of reverence for Persona 3 and its many iterations, for good reason. Venturing away from overt Shin Megami Tensei influence into the social simulator/JRPG dichotomy, the massive popularity of games like Persona 5 wouldn't have existed without the innovations of Persona 3. So much of the DNA of Persona 3 has persisted long after its release, but Persona 3 made a lot of experimental changes as well, some of which didn't quite land as well as others.
Even putting aside the fact that Persona 3's 15th anniversary is in 2021, and/or the assumption that a Persona 3 remaster/remake is coming, Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES haven't aged particularly well. For as much as the third entry innovated and established the unique traits that would go on to permeate throughout modern entries, not all of Persona 3's experimentation matches the quality of later games. Visually the game is easily comparable to Persona 4 Golden, and the game's narrative and thematic elements even supersede the heights of Persona 4's story, but that's not without drawbacks. Persona 3 is largely dated by its hit-or-miss gameplay systems.
One thing that's evolved drastically between Persona entries is the dungeon design, made especially evident in Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal's dungeons. Tartarus in Persona 3 ushered in the procedural dungeon design that was iterated on in Persona 4 and Persona 5's Mementos dungeon. In Persona 3, Tartarus is almost always shuffling its layout as players enter the monolithic tower of shadows, with each floor randomly generating its layout based on that particular block. Aesthetically, Tartarus is beautifully disturbing, with each distinct block in the tower having its own dreadful or confusing aesthetic. However, the environments are the only variety in Tartarus.
Gameplay-wise, Tartarus can get very repetitive pretty quickly. Arguably the same criticism can be weighed at Persona 4, but at least the fourth game adds elements of interactivity within the TV world, like finding keys, activating certain portals or solving puzzles. Persona 5 was the first game to feature tailor-made dungeons for specific villains, which in turn made exploring Palaces far more interesting compared to Tartarus overall. Greater interactivity, even in the mildest form like Persona 4's light puzzle mechanics, would've made Tartarus that much more exciting to explore. Players really need to enjoy combat and grinding to enjoy the otherwise repetitive Tartarus.
Another very vocal criticism weighed against Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES, and something that was later rectified with Persona 3 Portable, is controllable party members. Unlike the previous two Persona battle systems, where players would dictate all actions in one turn, Persona 3 adopted a Final Fantasy-style battle system. The defining difference was that party members were strictly AI-controlled; only the protagonist could use specific attacks/actions, whereas certain "tactics" would have to be assigned to the rest of the battle party. The end result of that design decision would be largely functional, but frequently annoying and inconsistent in fights both tough and easy.
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