When Persona 3 first arrived on North American shores in 2007, fans and critics alike praised the game as one of the best RPGs to hit the PlayStation 2. Upon its re-release as Persona 3: FES, it was again given a warm reception throughout the gaming community. Now, Atlus is moving Persona 3 from the television screen to the handheld with the release of Persona 3 Portable for the PSP. Has Atlus managed to complete the Persona 3 hat trick?
Persona 3 Portable thrusts you, a transfer student, into the halls of Gekkoukan High. You’ll learn very quickly that this is no ordinary high school, as on your first visit to the dorm, you encounter a girl holding a gun-like object called an Evoker to her head. Soon afterward, powerful monsters called Shadows attack the dorm, and your quest to protect the world begins.
Gameplay is an odd mix of JRPG, point and click, and dating sim, but in practice, the blending creates a very fine smoothie of fun. You can choose to be either a male or female character, which is the biggest change between P3P and its prior incarnations. Playing as the male character will take you through the same story found in Persona 3, while playing as the female character will change up some of the events throughout the story. You’ll have the ability to meet different people as the female and develop different relationships with them than the male character can.
Combat takes place mostly in the spooky tower of Tartarus, where the Shadows call home. You can fight the Shadows with weapons (swords, bow and arrow, boxing gloves, etc) or you and your party members can use manifestations of your personalities, called Personas. Personas are capable of using elemental spells, healing magic, and stat changing attacks, as well as more powerful versions of your own melee attacks. While the party members have only one Persona, you get the advantage of controlling multiple Personas, which can be switched in battle. As you fight through the randomly generated floors of Tartarus, you gain experience for both yourself and your Persona. New Persona can be acquired after some battles or by Persona Fusion, which allows you to combine multiple Personas to create a new Persona with new abilities, some of which can only be learned through fusion. Battle is often a simple yet fun affair as you pound on opponents, trying to discern their weaknesses and take advantage of them. In its previous releases, Persona 3 did not allow you to control your party members, instead relying on a (fairly good) AI. In P3P, you can still do this, but you have the option of having your party members under your direct command, for even more control over how the battle unfolds. Battles run smoothly, for the most part. I did notice the occasional slow-down in battle, usually during All Out Attacks, and the infrequent use of the male character’s “Awesome!” line during battle in the female story, but these are minor, situational concerns.
When not fighting off the Shadows, you can explore Gekkoukan High and the surrounding area of Iwatodai. This mode is handled through what amounts to a point and click interface, a big difference from the prior releases of this game, which had you run about the environment much like the typical JRPG. This change allows the game to move quicker, as being able to point and choose what you want to interact with is often faster than physically moving your character to that location. (There is also a menu for quick access to key points in any location that you are in.) A drawback of this system is that it feels less intimate to play from this perspective then it does to control your own character directly. Which method you prefer would be a personal choice.
The social interactions that you can have with many characters in this game are more than typical NPC chattering. You have the capability of developing Social Links with numerous characters. Each Social Link is its own story; you gain a connection with each character and this connection continuously develops when you spend an afternoon or evening with them. As you continue the Social Link, you become closer to the character, eventually resulting in a maxed link and an unbreakable bond. (This allows you to date certain members of the opposite sex, once you get past a certain level of the Social Link.) There is more to Social Links than a fun diversion; powering up your Social Links also will grant Persona of a certain Arcana more EXP points upon their creation through fusion. So, for example, if you develop the Yukari Takeba Social Link, Persona of the Lovers arcana will get a progressively larger EXP boost upon fusion.
Graphically, Persona 3 Portable is not among the best of what the PSP has to offer. But that doesn’t detract from the game at all, as they are still good enough to get the job done. The graphics are of nearly the same quality as those found in the PS2 releases of the game, though occasionally they can be a bit rougher.
The game’s soundtrack is mostly the same as what is found in the prior Persona 3 releases, which is to say it is very good. It has numerous upbeat songs for happier times, tense tunes for battle, and ominous music for the spooky and sad occasions. That said, there is only one major battle song for the non-boss battles in Tartarus, which may be grating to some. Sound effects all sound appropriate for what they are intended to be. The voice acting is very solid and appropriate; there’s no dub horror story to be had here.
Like many RPGs, there is an amazing amount of content available in Persona 3 Portable. The expected amount of time it would take to play through the game would be about 70 hours, but with so many Social Links and side quests at your disposal, it is entirely possible that P3P will hold your attention for over 100 hours. And with over 170 Personas to collect, some of which require fulfilling certain conditions to unlock, those looking to complete everything in the game will be invested for what may feel like a joyous eternity.
Overall, Persona 3 Portable makes a successful transition to portable gaming. The same elements that made Persona 3 a revered game three years ago are all present once again, with the new wrapping paper that is the female main character and her different experience of the same story. PSP fans can rejoice that such a grand RPG has arrived on their system of choice, giving them the thrill of spending countless days in the world of Gekkoukan High.