I was joystick-deep into Final Fantasy and Pokemon back in 2008 (is it possible to be nostalgic for that year already?), but I also had a good time with Persona 3: FES. There was one thing that irked me, however: That the game wasn’t available on a portable system.
Then, as if reading my mind, or more likely following current industry trends (more and more RPGs are finding their way to hand held systems, such as Dragon Quest IX), Atlus announced Persona 3 Portable for the PSP the following year. Initially, I was a tad miffed– I clocked over 70 hours in my FES file! — but consternation turned to excitement. With a portable version handy I could potentially finish the game while I’m out and about, and not depend on sitting in front of a TV for hours on end. Plus, Atlus promised a lot of new content and features special to the portable version, allowing for a slightly new experience. And so far, Atlus delivered!
For anyone unfamiliar with Persona 3, here’s the skinny. It spins everything you know about Japanese RPGs on its head. Instead of traveling around the globe, you stay in the same location the whole game and go through all the social trials of a year of high school in Japan. You make friends, navigate the social strata as well as the mysterious monster-infested labyrinth, Tartarus, that your school turns into at night. A genre mishmash of dating sim, dungeon crawler and monster-raiser, the colors pop, combat is fast and fun, the characters charm and Persona 3 Portable (or P3P), improves on everything the PS2 versions offered.
The biggest addition to P3P is the option to play as a female main character. This dramatically changes a few things, like who you get to date, who you become friends with, and a few of the story events and dialogue options. Changes go into the presentation as well: The girl sports a pink-hued color scheme for nearly every menu, and new music plays during school scenes and enemy encounters. A welcome change for anyone already used to the colors and tunes of the previous versions.
At first I was really reluctant to play as the girl, unable to provide a disconnect between my girlish avatar and my own manliness. Eventually, after staring at the Boy or Girl selection screen for a while, I figured what the hell, seeing as how most of my tastes align with those of a Japanese girl’s anyway. I chose the girl, chose a name (Asuka Ayanami — really, I had to) and dove in. Verdict? It’s great!
So far I’ve met some new characters, made some new Social Links — relationships that build your strength in battle — and learned more about Junpei Iori, a main character you only know as a friend in the original boy-centric Persona 3. The new music is fantastic (especially the boss theme) and all that pink is easy on the eyes.
P3P‘s so sleek you can eat sushi off of it. To compensate for the move to PSP everything except the Tartarus dungeon crawling has been converted to 2D. The dorm, high school and mall environments are nearly all static backgrounds, with characters represented by wonderfully done anime-style portraits. Instead of running around onscreen you now point-and-click on students, objects and locations to interact with them. In this way P3P resembles a visual novel or adventure game akin to Phoenix Wright or Snatcher, greatly streamlining the experience — perfect for a portable system.
One thing that didn’t need improving is the writing. P3P has the same warm and humorous quality, with plenty of personality for each distinctive character you meet. The voice actors all return, even being so kind to provide new material for the new events and dialogue.
The dungeon-crawling remains 3D. The combat does as well, and though the graphics are simpler than the PS2′s they still look great on PSP. While navigating Tartarus, you can give orders to your characters to explore, grab items, and defeat enemies. Random events will happen from floor to floor, like stronger monsters or rare chests appearing, and other surprises.
The combat has been retooled to allow for the control of every character now, though the option to keep them on “tactics” (A.I.) remains. Elemental weaknesses and strengths (Fire weak to ice, etc.) are still super-important, and this conceit goes both ways. Enemies in P3P will knock you down and drag you out if you’re not too careful. Thankfully, save points are never too far away. There’s one in Tartarus’ first floor, at the dorm and a new one at your desk at school.
Atlus didn’t just shovel out a quick port, they put a lot of work into miniaturizing such a good game, making it even better for vets and new fans alike. P3P is one of, if not the best, Sony PSPS games. I’d advise anyone interested in the genre to pick up a PSP and try it out — or anyone who’s lost faith in the genre recently. Persona 3 Portable‘s that damned good.