Adapting a video game to film or television is no easy task. As more game companies like Sony begin to put more money behind adaptations, like the upcoming Last of Us series on HBO, it begs the question of what makes a good adaptation. There is no better example of a video game adaptation done well than the four-part anime movie adaptation of Persona 3. By telling the thrilling supernatural story with a stylish aesthetic in a fraction of the game’s runtime, it makes for a perfect entry into the franchise.
Persona games are how long?!? — It is no secret that the Persona games are good. The most recent entry in Atlus’ series of JRPGs, Persona 5, is perhaps the best modern RPG ever made. But the elephant in the room when discussing the Persona series is the time commitment. Searching Persona on howlongtobeat.com will reveal eye-popping runtimes for the series that clock in at a minimum of 65 hours (and that's just for the main story).
While every entry in the series is worth the time thanks to the wonderful social mechanics, characters, and satisfying turn-based combat; not everyone has time to enjoy a game that realistically will devour close to a hundred hours of your life. Some people will be turned off by a slow start or just drop off due to exhaustion from how long the game takes to beat.
Thankfully Persona 3 - 5 all have anime adaptations to help fans with less time. While all are worth checking out, Persona 3’s adaptation is a shining example of how to expertly adapt a video game in order to tell its story to a new audience in a different medium.
The story of Persona 3 takes place over the better part of a year and follows the members of SEES, a supernatural club set on uncovering the mysteries behind a series of monster attacks in their town. The anime adapts this massive JRPG into a series of four feature-length animated films that break the game’s story into the four seasons of the year, beginning with spring.
Adaptations don’t need to replace games — The choice of the adaptation being an anime is an extension of the game’s aesthetic. The Persona series has always leaned into anime styles and character designs, even having cutscenes rendered as anime sequences. It also helps keep the game close, the characters look and sound like they do in the game. There is less of a gap between adaptation and source material.
When it comes to tackling the task of condensing a 50+ hour game into a little over six hours of movie, there are some drastic decisions that have to be made. Persona 3 The Movie is a highlight reel of the game’s biggest moments, expertly weaving a concise narrative that hits the major plot points of the game while still leaving room for characters to build relationships.
Many of the game's side characters and smaller social links are never touched on, in order to give more time to the main cast, the movies contain so many little cameos and appearances that at least acknowledge the larger world that the game has.
The success of the Persona 3 series of movies is that they prioritize the main cast and narrative in order to make sure that the emotional weight of the story’s end still means something to the viewer. What is left out is mostly dungeon crawling and some enjoyable but not strictly necessary content. For the viewer who wants to experience why Persona 3 is special, it accomplishes that but still leaves room for something to be gained by playing the game if the viewer decides they want more.
Beyond the narrative, the strength of Persona 3 (the game) is that the player can leisurely spend their days pursuing loose threads and side stories. Build a romance or friendship and hear the stories of the many side characters the anime does not tell.
Persona 3 The Movie succeeds as a pinnacle of video game adaptation because it does not replace the game it is based on. The two can coexist, offering different but equally meaningful ways of engagement.
Persona 3: The Movie Parts 1-4 are available to rent or purchase digitally on Amazon.