Good endings are hard to come by. After hours spent with a game and falling in love with the world and characters, it can be nearly impossible to stick the landing in a way that satisfies players. Yet Persona 3 does just that, finding meaning in investigating what it means to end. But what happens when the story keeps going?
‘The Answer’ is an epilogue to the story of Persona 3 included in the game’s FES re-release on PS2. It is often derided as a tacked-on chapter that ruins everything great about the base game. But in the spirit of Persona 3’s ending, ‘The Answer’ uses gameplay to make the player suffer in a way that reflects the epilogue’s theme of grief.
Misery loves company
‘The Answer’ is a miserable thirty-hour experience. The variety of activities and the choice given to the player have been stripped away. Gone are the social links and the ability to go on dates with your party members. Gone is the daily calendar that makes the player choose what activities they want to cram into the busy school schedule. All that is left is grinding.
Grinding is in many ways the worst part of an RPG. In the battle of story vs. gameplay, grinding does no favors to gameplay. Some say it is part of the JRPG DNA, harkening back to the early ‘90s when games would force you to level for hours as a progression gate. But for me, this just feels like a slog.
Elsewhere, the Persona series takes the misery out of grinding through its time management systems and social links. Yet ‘The Answer’ throws out all of this and forces the player into what can only be described as a grind fest.
The main setting for Persona 3’s epilogue is the Abyss of Time, a place that only contains eight doors. Seven of these lead to large dungeons similar to the base game’s massive Tartarus. Overall, there are more floors in ‘The Answer’ to clear than in the base game. However, ‘The Answer’ justifies its misery. Utilizing gameplay as storytelling, the misery the player experiences in their many hours of grinding only enhances the epilogue’s conversation with Persona 3.
A title like ‘The Answer’ begs an immediate response, what is the question? If Persona 3 is a game about the inevitability of death and the choice to live regardless, then ‘The Answer’ asks a much simpler question. How do you grieve? How do you move on from another’s death? As easy as it is to prepare for your own, it is a million times harder to accept the death of those around you.
Taking place on March 31st, two months after the end of Persona 3, ‘The Answer’ picks up with the remaining members of SEES trying to continue their lives after the death of the protagonist. With the end of the school year arriving, it means everyone will be moving out of the dorm that has served as their home for the past several months. Aigis struggles to come to grips with her inability to save the protagonist. To separate herself from her emotions she announces that she will not be returning to Gekkoukan High when summer ends.
During one last celebration, the members of SEES discover they have been trapped in a time loop. Metis, an android who refers to Aigis as her sister, claims this is their doing and attacks them. In self-defense, Aigis summons her persona, but instead, Orpheus is summoned. This is the protagonist’s persona, which Aigis gains in addition to the protagonist’s wild card ability.
Discovering the source of the time loop, the Abyss of Time, the party enters in hopes of returning things to normal.
Throughout the thirty-hour experience of ‘The Answer,’ the protagonist haunts SEES. Each member struggles to let go and wishes they could have changed their fate. But the dungeons lead them to encounter a Shadow in the form of the protagonist. It appears through every door constantly making its presence known.
Each door in the Abyss of Time eventually leads the party to an individual member’s memory of the first time their persona awoke. But Aigis is confronted by a recurring dream — she cases after the protagonist desperately trying to grasp at them yet every time they grow further and further away. A final confrontation with the Shadow Protagonist reveals that Metis was correct in blaming SEES for the time loop.
Both the time loop and the Shadow Protagonist are manifestations of SEES’ desire to see the protagonist one last time. Having been heroes throughout Persona 3, when faced with the opportunity to close the time loop or travel back in time before the Protagonist’s death the party fractures. Yukari, after desperately trying to keep composed, breaks down and confesses that she just wants to see her friend again and does not care about the cost. Aigis and Metis manage to keep the party together and visit the moment the protagonist sealed away Nyx on January 31st.
At this moment, ‘The Answer’ pulls a traditional JRPG twist akin to Final Fantasy IV or IX — the bad guy you have been facing all along just works for a bigger bad guy. But Persona 3 yet again manages to play with genre tropes and subverts them to punch the player in the gut with the emotional weight of the story. Nyx is revealed to be neither inherently good nor bad, but a being that is triggered by the creature Erebus who is constantly reborn through the collective grief of humanity.
Aigis and the party defeat Erebus and let time progress forward as usual, with no meddling in the past. Metis is revealed to be the emotional side of Aigis given form, as she sought to separate herself from the grief she was feeling. At the same time, Yukari gives up on the idea of stopping the return of Erebus. Humanity will always grieve, but that is only because they have lived enough to feel loss.
The hours spent grinding through dungeons are a reflection of the characters’ struggle to move forward in life. But ‘The Answer’ ends with a message of comfort. Grief is not something that can be defeated, but it does get easier.
Persona 3 Portable will launch for Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC via Steam and Microsoft Store in 2023. It is already available for PSP.