Death is imminent. It comes for us all. Where life brings light, death brings darkness. We cannot escape the moment we are born into this world. We see it happen everyday and everywhere. Unknown to fate, it is a natural occurrence for all of us. Death answers to no one, not even life itself, but is a constant reminder that there is more to life than dying. If there is death, there is the unbreakable will to survive and enjoy life to the fullest before death comes. Such is the fate of the characters in the famous Atlus role-playing video game series PERSONA 3, where death is a major recurring theme.

The PERSONA series has always been an intriguing series by Atlus. With PERSONA 3, players got introduced to the new Social Link system. This system mechanic becomes a huge staple for the series. It is essentially a relationship system with the protagonist and fellow non-playable characters (NPCs). The protagonist is also able to form Social Links with his female dorm mates and NPC classmates. Due to this, the PERSONA series can be viewed as a dating simulator game aside from the visual novel storytelling and dungeon crawling escapades. What is important about the Social Link system is that it acts as a “level up” to the Personas, manifestations from within yourself that you can summon as mythical or historic creatures in the game, you gain from fusion. A good example of a known mythical Persona would be Satan. Yes, named after that very Satan.

Tarot cards featuring the Major Arcana.
Tarot cards featuring the Major Arcana used to represent Social Links and characters from the Persona series.

Furthermore, Social Links are categorized by Tarot cards. There are a total of seventy-eight cards with twenty-two represented by the Major Arcana and fifty-six represented by the Minor Arcana. These cards play an important role from PERSONA 3 and on, compared to the previous two titles, which had very little representation or meaning. They have thematic ties to PERSONA 3 and subliminally allude to the theories of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung about the persona, self and ego. This is where the Tarot cards, represented by the Major Arcana, come into play for the characters of PERSONA 3. Each card has a positive, when displayed upright, and negative, when reversed upside-down, meaning. PERSONA 3 produces a great impression of what these cards represent for its main characters and their relationships with each other.

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This guide is not meant to be a review of the game, but more of an overview of the first fourteen Major Arcana starting from the Fool to Death (see above tarot chart). This guide will be divided into two parts. The Fool to The Lovers will be covered in the first part and The Chariot to Death will be covered in the second part. It will explore each card’s meaning, how the Fool journeys through each one, and each card’s representation of its respective character in PERSONA 3. The reason why the first fourteen was chosen because of the symbolism of death in the game, which will be reviewed in the second part. So, let’s get started.

0. The Fool – “The moment man devoured the fruit of knowledge, he sealed his fate … Entrusting his future to the cards, man clings to a dim hope.” (Nyx Avatar)

The Fool is represented by the number “0” and depicts a man, who could be interpreted as a jester, near the edge of a cliff with a dog behind him at his heels. Usually in a numbered sequence, it would start with the number “1”, but in the Tarot, it will always begin with the number “0.” This “0” may represent zero potential since the Fool is only beginning to step out into a new world. However, with this potential, he can start his journey with many different possibilities. The Fool actually has unlimited potential. The cliff on the card represents a leaping point where man will jump forward to a new beginning while the card’s dog can be interpreted as giving the man hope, possibly nudging and urging him on towards the jump without fear. The Fool also holds a bag, possibly goods that will help him start his journey ahead. The Fool Arcana, when held upright, signifies innocence, spontaneity, new beginnings, creativity and freedom.

Final boss Nyx Avatar saying the Arcana reveals all.
Final boss Nyx Avatar saying the Arcana reveals all.

PERSONA 3 and all forthcoming titles feature Atlus’ trademark silent protagonists with the Fool Arcana. Their actions are shaped by the player’s choices throughout the game, thus playing into the idea of freedom, creativity and beginning a journey anew. The protagonist is also the only character able to acquire multiple Personas as opposed to other Persona Users in the game. This concept plays into the unlimited potential of the number “0.” An easy way to remember this would be zero the hero. Despite new beginnings, the Fool Arcana can depict man as an actual fool. When the card is reversed, the Fool is naive, a foolish risk-taker, and often reckless. If this happens, you may want to consider taking less risks. The Fool does not always start at the beginning, he can also start at the end and learn his mistakes to begin anew.

I. The Magician – “Attaining one’s dream requires a stern will and unfailing determination.” (Nyx Avatar)

Once man has started his new journey as the Fool, he’ll become acquainted with the Magician, where he is resourceful, powerful, able to take action and utilize a skill. The Magician is the bridge for the Fool to the real world. This signifies the importance of the first Tarot card, depicted with the Roman numeral “I.” To quote the final boss, a man needs to have strong will and determination to face even death to attain his dream. The Magician card in PERSONA 3 is different than the normal depiction of the card. In the normal depiction, the Magician holds a staff in his right hand to the heavens while his left hand points to the Earth below. The PERSONA 3 depiction can be interpreted similarly. He is looking out into the new world with hands raised up and in the middle a fire burns powerfully, signifying confidence.

This Arcana is represented by the protagonist’s “best” friend, Junpei Iori, and fellow Magician Social Link classmate Kenji Tomochika. When reversed, the Magician has poor planning skills and can be easily manipulated. He may show and harness power, but could be underdeveloped much like the very term “magic” and idea that it is not real. Junpei, very early on in the game, is very underdeveloped and manipulated by his jealous emotions of how strong the protagonist seems to be. However, towards the end of the game, he becomes confident in his abilities to help the team face their struggles and face his own fears of being flawed. Junpei does not really have a unique skill set and can be deemed worthless, but it’s death that really showed how strong he can be. Sorry, not spoiling. He is truly the real hero of the game.

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II. The High Priestess – “The silent voice within one’s heart whispers the most profound wisdom.” (Nyx Avatar)

The High Priestess, or Priestess, is depicted as a mysterious veiled woman sitting on a cube.  It is the second card in the Tarot, represented by the Roman numeral “II.” In the PERSONA 3 version, the Priestess is depicted as an old woman’s face in profile view with her collar representing a book. A crescent shaped moon is depicted above her head ornament. The similarities from both portrayals is that both have the iconic “B” and “J.” The “B” and “J” are Boaz and Jachin from Solomon’s temple. The Boaz black pillar stands for negation and the Jachin white pillar stands for beginning. When the Fool meets the Priestess, she hands him scrolls of wisdom. It is the Fool that needs to decipher the meaning of the scrolls so he may journey on. The Priestess is silent and represents intuition, higher powers, and mysterious powers within a subconscious mind.

When reversed, she may be subject to gossip and have repressed feelings. When this happens, the Priestess needs to listen to her inner voice and channel wisdom through reflection and meditation. Fuuka Yamagashi represents the Priestess Social Link in PERSONA 3. Fuuka fits the criteria because she is a very reserved character in the game’s team. She is shown to be rather insecure about her hobbies, computer and technology, and is often shy around others. Fuuka serves as the team’s navigator, lending her “voice” to assist the team during dungeon excursions. With the help of the protagonist and her teammates, she overcomes her insecurities by confronting those that bully and gossip about her through her inner voice. Through the progression of the game, she offers her wisdom to the team. Thus, by using Fuuka’s example, the Fool must listen to his inner voice and gain wisdom to continue his journey.

III. The Empress – “Celebrate life’s grandeur … its brilliance … its magnificence …” (Nyx Avatar)

Mitsuru Kirijo, centered, represents the Empress Arcana in Persona 3.
Mitsuru Kirijo, centered, represents the Empress Arcana in Persona 3.

The Empress is the third Tarot card and represents fertility, femininity, beauty, nature and abundance when held upright. The regular version of this Tarot is portrayed commonly by a motherly Earth figure, where she is seated on a throne in a nature setting. This setting surrounds the Empress with a wheat field and a lush green forest in the background. In PERSONA 3, the card depicts a strange plump figure that could be interpreted as pregnancy. The figure is surrounded by vines with leaves that depicts the nature theme of the Empress. Both the regular and the PERSONA version of the figure wear a queen’s crown that further represents beauty. So far in his journey, the Fool retains tools from the Magician and the wisdom of the Priestess. The Empress assures him in a motherly gesture that it takes time to nurture and grow into as an individual.

Mitsuru Kirijo represents the Empress Social Link in PERSONA 3 because of her elegant beauty, in appearance and actions, and mother-like care for her teammates. She is a very calm, confident, responsible and intelligent character that can be fierce and commanding when need to be. When reversed, the Empress Arcana shows that she may be dependent on others, feel a sense of discontent, and over protectiveness. This shows in Mitsuru because she, as the student council president, feels the need and burden to protect the school. There is a point in the game where a major death occurs that causes her to undergo severe grief to the point that she blames herself for not having the power to protect that person. However, once again with help from teammates, she overcomes her depression and fights with renewed meaning, hence becoming a renewed individual.

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IV. The Emperor – “Only courage in the face of doubt can lead one to the answer …” (Nyx Avatar)

If the Empress Arcana is the motherly figure that signifies beauty and fertility, then the Emperor Arcana is the authoritative father figure. The Emperor represents rigidness, a solid foundation, authority and having structure. Depictions are commonly of a king sitting on his throne that displays a sense of authority. In PERSONA 3, the Tarot is shown as a shadowy king-like figure standing tall in an upright position. A scepter and king’s crown is commonly shown in both versions. The Emperor shows the Fool that he needs to acquire a strong will and be solidly aggressive in order to lead on in his journey to the world.

The Emperor also uses authority to control his surroundings and overpower others. This can be detrimental and shows the reversed effects of this particular Tarot, which may prove him to be inflexible and demanding. Akihiko Sanada, one of two upperclassmen to the protagonist, and student council member Hidetoshi Odagiri are characters representing the Emperor Arcana. Akihiko is an aggressive and determined individual that does not like to lose easily. He can be brash and is unaware that this trait draws much criticism from other fellow upperclassmen Mitsuru. Despite this, he is one of the few rare party members to lose his cool with the death of a major character. Akihiko has his doubts about power, but it is those doubts that leads him never to give up in any fight.

Akihiko in the Persona 3 movie about to shoot himself to summon his Persona.
Akihiko, in the Persona 3 movie, shooting himself with the Evoker to summon his Persona.

V. The Heirophant – “It is indeed a precious gift to understand the forces that guides oneself …” (Nyx Avatar)

The Heirophant Arcana is the fifth card in the Tarot and represents religion, divine beliefs, conformity and tradition. Depictions commonly depict a Pope or shaman figure while the PERSONA version focuses more on the triple scepter that signifies the dominion over the three worlds of the physical, psychical and spiritual.  Both versions have two followers that are brought to initiation that with the keys signifies entry into a group or organization. When the Fool meets the Heirophant, he is relieved to hear that if he lost all the qualities he built from the previous Arcana due to fear, he would still retain the experience and knowledge necessary to gain back those qualities and build upon more with like-minded people.

When reversed, the Heirophant goes against conventions, beliefs and tradition because he may feel restricted from these rules. He seeks ways to break the mold through rebellion. The Heirophant Arcana in PERSONA 3 is represented by the elderly couple Bunkichi and Mitsuko, whom the protagonist help with better understanding the importance of conforming to a conventional idea. Shinjiro Aragaki, or Shinji, also represents this Major Arcana as a party member, but starts with the reversed meaning. Shinji is shown to be the rebellious character that does not attend school and distances himself away from the main cast due to having a difficult past. He puts on the “tough guy” act to shun the others away because he does not want them to be like him. However, beyond this fake complexion is a deep and loving person that eventually opens up and joins the main group.

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VI. The Lovers – “There is both joy and wonder in coming to understanding another …” (Nyx Avatar)

The sixth Tarot is the Lovers Arcana and it represents unity, love, relationships, and alignment. Commonly it is depicted by a man and woman with an angel above them. Most of the time, the woman is depicted with a fruit tree and the man with flames. There may or may not be an angel above them offering guidance, harmony or unity. In some Tarots, the man and woman can be interpreted as Adam and Eve. In the PERSONA version, the Lovers displays a tree in the middle between the two figures with a giant heart above. This Tarot can also be seen as a crossroads, where an important choice has to be made. In the Fool’s journey, he picks the woman with the fruit tree over the regular flowering path that he was originally going to take. This signifies a new beginning and relationship. The woman can be seen as fulfillment due to the symbolism of the fruit tree while the other path is actually the part of you that questions if the choice is valid or not.

Yukari and the protagonist bonding.
Yukari and the protagonist bonding.

Yukari Takeba represents the Social Link Lovers Arcana in PERSONA 3, and is quite possibly one of the most romantic Social Links in the game. Takeba is quite the popular girl at Gekkoukan High, the high school where all the party members attend. She has a cheery, positive, and upbeat personality. Despite all this, Yukari is actually a lonely character and not-so-popular at all at school. When reversed, the Lovers Arcana represents disharmony, imbalance and misalignment of values. This Arcana is essentially a choice system for values and in the game, Yukari at some point blames Mitsuru for a past incident. She tells the protagonist that she’s been chasing the wrong path this whole time. Like all the others, the protagonist and others help her cope and understand each other.

What does this all mean?

This concludes the first part of “The Guide Through  Life and Death Using Tarot Cards.” Once again, the second part of the guide will cover the Chariot to Death, the ultimate end to everything or is it? If you’ve been wondering what this guide is for, it details the journey of the Fool that all of us represent the moment we are born or take on something new. For example, I began a Fool when I took up the professional hobby of being a competitive fighting game player. It took many years of learning different strategies and coping with other struggles in life that allowed me to be the person I am today. A good example using the Major Arcana learned so far would be facing doubt numerous times that a certain technique would not work. To circumvent this, I built a solid structure and foundation by utilizing the traits of the Emperor Arcana for myself to the point where I felt comfortable with facing opponents. However, just like death, I must part ways.

Do not worry fools, it will begin anew once part two begins. For now, just try and realize which part of the Fool’s journey you are in and make the best of it. Until next time!

aigis-ocean

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