Persona 3 Tartarus Entrance

When it comes to JRPGs, there’s usually some grinding to be expected. Sometimes it’s grinding for levels. Other times you might just be grinding for crafting materials. But in Persona 3 Portable, which just recently got a re-release on current-gen consoles, a big part of the grind is climbing the tower of Tartarus.

Though Persona 3 is a mix of traditional JRPG and visual novel, the ultimate goal is to climb the 264 floors of Tartarus. That’s right: 264 floors. It’s grindy, sure, and it can absolutely get a bit repetitive (and sometimes frustrating if you’re not adequately prepared for battle). Ultimately, though, there’s a very specific old school JRPG-centric degree of charm to climbing floor after floor inside the massive tower.

A few things make Tartarus a compelling in-game location. For starters, the lore behind it is interesting, as it acts as a home to the Shadows that the main characters of Persona 3 must find and defeat. These shadows are mostly relegated to Tartarus, though they appear in our normal world from time to time, too, specifically when there’s a full moon.

Persona 3 Tartarus Concept Art

Not everyone can enter Tartarus. This is because the tower only appears — or rather, rises from the ground — during the Dark Hour, a hidden 25th hour that occurs after midnight. This hour can only be experienced by Persona users, and those who aren’t Persona users are magically placed inside coffins, completely unaware of what’s happening around them. Once the Dark Hour ends, these non-Pesona users go about whatever it is they were doing with no idea of ever being inside a coffin during the 25th hour.

Of course, just like some Shadows can enter our world from Tartarus, non-Persona users can become trapped within the tower. This adds a fun objective-based element to Persona 3 Portable, as you can essentially form a search party to seek out these lost non-Persona users and rescue them from Tartarus. The local police station constantly updates its bulletin board with a list of missing persons, and they can be found inside Tartarus. Saving these folks is completely optional, but you’ll usually get decent rewards — not to mention that good feeling of having rescued someone!

There are plenty of other optional objectives to complete within the bloody halls of Tartarus. One NPC will often ask you to bring specific items to her. This usually requires that you scour the different floors of the tower for these items. Again, you don’t have to do any of this stuff, but it does add a nice reason to obsess over every floor and seek out every enemy and treasure chest inside Tartarus.

Due to the fact that Tartarus rises from the ground every night during the Dark Hour, its layout isn’t always the same. The randomized design of the floors means that even if you revisit an area you already cleared, it’ll be somewhat different every time. That’s not too different from what you see in modern dungeon-based roguelikes with procedurally generated rooms, so if you’re into that, you’ll likely get hooked on the concept of Tartarus.

Persona 3 Tziah Block in Tartarus

Now, 264 floors of grinding and battling enemies might seem like a lot, and, well, it kind of is. But Persona 3 does an excellent job with its pacing. You won’t actually climb Tartarus all in one go. Instead, you’ll be able to climb a certain number of floors, usually up to a challenging boss battle. Once you get to a certain point, a large gate will appear, keeping you from climbing any further.

That’s when other gameplay elements of Persona 3 kick in. When you can’t progress any further inside Tartarus, you’ll have to wait for a major story beat, typically during a full moon, to unlock the gate leading to the next set of floors. During these “quiet” moments, it’s best to focus on improving your character’s academics and relationships. While you should be doing that stuff during the day anyway, the fact that Tartarus doesn’t let you climb higher for a few in-game days allows you time to breathe and take a little break from the daunting tower.

Once you’ve completed the next Full Moon Operation, taking out Shadows that slithered into our world, you’ll be able to climb Tartarus further. Admittedly, this game loop isn’t as smooth as it could be, as you could potentially feel some burnout while climbing floor after floor of Tartarus. But looting items, defeating enemies, and battling bosses is still overall very satisfying.

Persona 3 contains one of the darker stories in the series, at times resembling a horror game. It’s a well-written story and has a great cast of characters. So if you’re all about the story, grinding through Tartarus might make you a bit antsy. But together with the story parts, Tartarus adds an interesting twist to the gameplay, forcing you to climb its creepy floors and battle all manner of monstrous enemies.

It’s not for everyone, and later games in the series like Persona 5 tweaked the dungeon formula significantly, but Tartarus is one of the most exciting and evocative elements of Persona 3.

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