Persona 3 Portable
Western Shin Megami Tensei fans have a lot to thank Persona 3 for, even if the popular spin-off is vastly different to the older, more hardcore titles like Nocturne, or even the older Persona and Persona 2. While the series had seen Western exposure previously, it wasn’t until Persona 3 was released stateside that new fans started flocking into the Shin Megami Tensei tent, thanks to glowing reviews praising the solid RPG mechanics and compelling character-driven story. Since 2006, developer Atlus has certainly put Persona’s popularity surge to good use; Persona 3 received a director’s cut and a full sequel not long after release. Now, it’s being released again - this time on the PSP, trimmed down to fit the portable system. At this point, the question isn’t so much “is Persona 3 a good game?” but rather “is it worth buying Persona 3 again?”
For starters, there are a few key changes that certainly make it a tempting purchase, even for veterans. This version brings over all of the gameplay tweaks that made Persona 4’s interface superior to 3’s, like full-party control and world-map shortcuts. The game is smoothed out a great deal thanks to these seemingly minor changes, particularly the ability to give direct orders to each party member. Some boss fights were a crap-shoot in vanilla Persona 3, simply because the AI would do something useless at a crucial moment; this is an issue that has been completely resolved for P3P.
Of course, the biggest change is the addition of a playable female protagonist. It’s an interesting ploy - the story is, for the most part, identical - but it’s seen in an entirely different light with a girl at the center of the story. Persona 3’s social link system had an emphasis on dating girls, so flipping the tables around and getting intimate with the male cast (and, if you like reading a tad too far into dialogue, some of the females) adds a lot for series veterans. Aside from conversations, playing as the fairer protagonist doesn’t change much, but in a game with as much character interaction as Persona, it’s different enough to warrant a playthrough.
After choosing the male or female hero, the player is thrust into P3P’s world of dichotomy and intrigue. After transferring to a new high school, the orphaned protagonist begins seeing a phenomenon called The Dark Hour, a limbo between 12:00 and 12:01 wherein awful creatures that look like Bauhaus dance costumes gone wrong spawn in the tower of Tartarus - which just so happens to also be the local high school. Exploring this tower involves navigating the 3D maze of seemingly endless floors and defeating Shadows in turn-based battles, and is practically identical to Persona 3. Outside of Tartarus, though, P3P is quite different. Instead of freely exploring the different districts and buildings of the city on foot, P3P presents the regular hours of the day in a 2D format, using the analog nub to navigate a cursor over points of interest. Gone too are animated cutscenes; everything is instead presented like a visual novel. While this might seem disappointing, the switch means that P3P features far more spoken dialogue than previous versions - another reason for veterans to give it a go.
The newer 2D sections are crisp, if a little sterile, and filled with sprites highly reminiscent of Persona and Persona 2. Character portraits for speech have more variations than they did in the original, and all of them look fantastic. The 3D graphics in Tartarus are virtually identical to those of the PS2 release, although they do look a tad sharper on the PSP’s screen. The animation is great, and for those who haven’t experienced the game before, the monster design is nothing short of surprising. While it is slightly disappointing that the entire game couldn’t have been rendered as nicely as the 3D segments, the fact that different styles of gameplay feature different visuals aids the sense of disparity between the two worlds of Persona 3.
While releasing Persona 3 for a third time might seem like a little much, P3P is more than different enough to be a fresh and interesting PSP title. Regardless of how many times it’s come around, Persona 3 features a gripping story populated with memorable characters. The additional dialogue and new female protagonist makes P3P worth a look for players who have completed it before, and the improvements to the interface make it clear that the game is more than just a hasty port. At the end of the day, P3P is an interesting retrospective for series fans, and a must-have portable RPG for the uninitiated.
Nine out of ten