Persona 3 comes from a series that is full of unique RPGs. It is a series that defiantly remained in a modern setting, while most other RPG series went sci-fi or medieval fantasy. It is a series with mature storylines and themes. But that's not what the series is about. In the end, it's about what it's named after: the Persona.
The Persona are other selves or aspects of the main characters that, through some chian of events in the early stages in the game, the characters unlock. In Persona 3, players control a boy who's just tranferred schools, to Gekkoukan High. Soon, it is discovered that he is one of the few people who can see, attack, and (hopefully) destroy the demons that lurk at the school during "The Dark Hour."
Gameplay progresses as each day players go about normal school routines--eat lunch, go to class, have fun--and these routines are fairly open ended. They also help to develop the main character's attributes. Puberty's role in all this has yet to be disclosed.
During "The Dark Hour," however, players must go with a fellow group of students involved in S.E.E.S. (or "Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad") into a tower that appears, where they must fight the demons that have been plaguing their school and city. Unlike the above routine, it's probably a little tougher to relate this part of the game to the actual high school experiences of most players. I can really only think of one time that happened anywhere near my high school.
Characters can see the enemies on the screen, so there are no "random" battles. Instead, players can initiate combat by hitting the enemy they see with their character's weapon, thus giving them an advantage at the beginning of battle. Battles take place in turn-based fashion, with players only controlling the protagonist. They can, however, issue strategic orders to their allies. Players can choose to physically attack the enemy, use a variety of elemental skills, or summon a Persona to do the work for them. It's a simple system.
Exploration is not first person as in Revelations: Persona, but instead is more like the three-quarters view used in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment.
The presentation looks pretty sharp. The well-known Shin Megami Tensei art style is present in this game as well. The characters look sleek, and the environments are crisp and clean, except those that are clearly not supposed to be (blood-spattered walls, for example). The music seems to be right along with most Shin Megami Tensei games' and offshoots' style, with stirring, foreboding music in abundance.
Persona 3 will be shipped to stores on July 24. Look for a final review on RPG Land around that time.