"Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES both arrived much too late in the PlayStation 2's life cycle. The current console generation was already well under way and new releases on that platform were regularly being overlooked in favor of the titles on newer systems. Thatís definitely a shame. Persona 3 is one of the last generationís greatest RPGs. Hopefully this latest version, Persona 3 Portable for the PSP, will get the attention it deserves."
Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES both arrived much too late in the PlayStation 2's life cycle. The current console generation was already well under way and new releases on that platform were regularly being overlooked in favor of the titles on newer systems. Thatís definitely a shame. Persona 3 is one of the last generationís greatest RPGs. Hopefully this latest version, Persona 3 Portable for the PSP, will get the attention it deserves.
Persona 3 has a pretty interesting premise that differs from what you'd typically see in a JRPG. It takes place in an average Japanese city where each day has a 25th hour that most people aren't aware exists. During that hour, people are transformed into coffins, the local high school is replaced by a massive tower called ďTartarus" and a select number of its students are charged with exploring it. Naturally, itís full of nasty monsters, which the students fight using crazy alternate personalities called ďPersonas.Ē
You can change your Persona at any time to change your stats and the special skills available to you. They can do pretty much anything youíd expect from JRPG characters. They can attack, heal, give buffs and debuffs, etc.. The actual combat system doesnít really do anything mindblowingly revolutionary. It uses the traditional rock > paper > scissors system of strengths and weaknesses. If youíre burned out on JRPG combat for whatever reason, Persona 3 isnít going to feel like much of a breath of fresh air in that regard. Thatís not really a problem, though. Encounters arenít random, and weaker enemies will actually run away from you if they know they have no chance of beating you. Battles move at a pretty quick pace, too. No pointlessly drawn-out spell animations youíre forced to watch hundreds of times.
As you scale Tartarus, naturally, the enemies get stronger, and your old Personas won't do the trick against them any more. This is where fusion comes in. Occasionally, after a battle, you'll have the chance to draw a card, and sometimes that card will give you a new Persona. These Personas can be fused to create new and (potentially) stronger ones. Fused Personas inherit attributes from the Personas used to create them, but not all of them. It's almost like a breeding system in that way. This system adds quite a bit of depth to the character building system.
Where Persona 3 really differs from other JRPGs, though, isnít what happens when exploring the tower during the Dark Hour. Itís what happens in the other 24 hours in the day. When youíre not fighting monsters and exploring towers and shooting yourself in the head, you mostly just go about your daily life as a high school student. You can make friends or fall in love, take on extra curricular activities, study and pretty much do anything else a normal high school student would do. Activities such as karaoke or studying will raise your Academics, Charm, or Courage stats. These are used to build relationships, or ďsocial linksĒ with other characters, and those relationships strengthen your Persona. However, itís just not possible to do everything. The key is to plan ahead and to manage your time wisely. When combined with the dungeon crawling so typical of the genre, this system works very well and the marriage of the two styles of play is incredibly satisfying.
Iíd like to be able to say that Persona 3 Portable is the definitive version of Persona 3, but itís not. It seems that there is no ďdefinitive version.Ē The PSP version adds a few new elements, the most important of which is the option to play as a new female protagonist. When playing as the girl, female characters that were previously potential love interests for the male protagonist will see you as more of a friend and confidant (donít worry, though; the new gal has her own potential suitors as well). A few other additions come from Persona 4, like the ability to actually control your party members in battle (which, of course, slows those lightning-fast battles down a notch from the PS2 versions, but in a totally acceptable way), after-school jobs, and a handful of cameo appearances by Persona 4 characters.
Graphics have been downgraded a bit for the small screen, but theyíre still great for a PSP game. Character portraits have lots of detail and are full of personality. The soundtrack is excellent, with a wide variety that includes everything from J-rock to jazz. There are even a few new tunes for the new female protagonist.
Unfortunately, with all of the additions, a few things are missing as well. The 3D world outside of Tartarus has been replaced by a map of sorts, which you navigate with a cursor. At least the change makes sense. It streamlines the process of wandering around and talking to people. The efficiency that the changes allow are important in a game that is meant to be played on the go, but it's difficult not to miss the old style at least a little bit. Still, youíre much more likely to miss the Epilogue from FES or the animated cutscenes than you are the 3D overworld. Something else that's missing was never in the original versions, but it should have been included here: a quick save option. There isn't one and that's disappointing. When will PSP developers learn?
Ultimately, the only way that you can go wrong with Persona 3 Portable is if youíve already played through the FES release of the game for PlayStation 2. Even then, the new character mixes things up enough to keep them interesting for a second go. Potential newcomers definitely shouldn't let Persona 3 slip under their radar this time around. It may not be ďdefinitive,Ē but this portable take on the title is still amazing.
Freelance review by Rhody Tobin (July 08, 2010)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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