Pull the portable trigger.
The Persona series took a turn for the better with its third iteration, Persona 3, on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007. With much needed improvements to the gameplay and a stylish presentation, it went on to receive a special edition dubbed FES with added content in 2008, and now it's out on the PSP, aptly named Persona 3 Portable. Though you could say Atlus is milking the game for all it's worth, it's still one of the best JRPGs to date, especially now for a portable console.
[image1]Okay, I'll admit, Persona 3 is weird from the get-go, even weirder than most JRPGs. Sure, it starts off normally, with a high schooler arriving in a big city. Things get crazy, though, as soon as he steps off the train. At the stroke of midnight, the entire city turns ghoulishly green and coffins litter the streets as he heads towards his new dorm, where he'll be spending the year.
The weirdness does not stop there. The kids that live in his dorm are part of a secret organization that fights off evil Shadow creatures that come out during the special hour, dubbed the Dark Hour, that comes after midnight. They call upon creatures called Persona to fight alongside them by using "evokers" which look like guns. Disturbingly enough, they use these to shoot themselves in the head.
Shooting yourself in the head, though, is just part of the insanity and soon becomes routine since you do it in every single fight repeatedly. The traditional gameplay follows the turn-based mold set by past Persona games. The main character, who can now be a girl, has the unique power of controlling multiple Personas, which is part of what makes him (or her) different from the rest of the team.
Fusing Personas you collect into bigger and stronger ones is absolutely essential in order to progress through the game, since just leveling up won't do you much good in the long run. The fusion mechanic in Persona 3 is very deep and offers incredible variety; it's not as much "you gotta catch 'em all" as it is "you gotta combine 'em all". Enemies and Personas each have their strengths and weaknesses, elemental or physical, which play an enormous role in combat.
[image2]Social links, which you develop in your daily routine by meeting people, say, in school or at a mall, allow you to create stronger fusions and are still part of the main Persona 3 Portable experience. Some social links require lots of effort on your part, requiring you to have high courage or charm, which you'll have to build as well by taking on odd jobs and such. Due to how each social link is related to a Persona arcana – that is, a Persona class – it's a good idea to develop at least the social links that enhance the Persona arcanas which fit your playstyle the most.
Obviously, some changes have been made to make Persona 3 portable. Gone is the isometric perspective world exploration in favor of a point and click style interface. The removal of character models during cut-scenes outside of fighting diminishes some of the charm in the dialogue sequences. A narration of what others are doing instead of actually showing it. During battle, though, the enemy and ally models are preserved from the PS2 original, allowing you to run around in dungeons as before. Also missing are the animated cut-scenes, in favor of a still-frame slideshow. The demo screen videos, though, are still there, for all you crazy animé-intro karaoke fans.
On the other hand, the interface changes made to P3P make it much more expedient. Some of the more repetitive day-to-day activities can be brushed aside with a button press to skip through text you already know by heart. For fans of the original version, the removal of these scenes just might make P3P more enjoyable and less of a trek, but players just picking up Persona 3 for the first time in this iteration just might not get some of the charm that the original Persona 3 and FES had.
Much of the fighting takes place while your team explores a bizarre tower called Tartarus, which is only accessible during the Dark Hour. There are a few different sections of the tower that look a bit different as you progress, but you'll be spending most of your time exploring long halls, fighting shadows, picking up items and looking for stairs. In specific parts of the story, the combat takes place in other scary settings influenced by the Dark Hour, which serve as short breaks between Tartarus expeditions.
[image3]Like in the original, though, there are still some frustrating moments. Even on some of the easier difficulty settings, some of the enemy A.I., especially bosses, are exceptionally cheap, knowing your characters' weaknesses before you even have a chance to defend yourself. Like a lot of JRPGs, there are points that require a bit of trial and error, but thankfully, they aren't as common in this version of Persona 3.
P3P also takes advantages of some improvements made in Persona 4, like a one-button fast travel system and the ability to control your team members directly in battle. All the hair-ripping rage I had in the original over my teammate's A.I. have been quelled. Messing up is now always the player's fault, which helps in learning better tactics.
Another addition that's worth mentioning – and that will probably be one of the stronger deciding factor in whether you buy this port – is the option to choose the gender of the main character. Luckily for Persona 3 fans, that choice goes way past the cosmetic appearance. It influences which social links you make and the general way you are treated by other people in the game world. You can even hook up with some characters you would not normally expect by playing as a girl, which basically adds another playthrough possibility to an already long RPG.
Persona 3 Portable is a great RPG to pick up if you have a PSP and are into JRPGs, or even if you're not. The story is wonderful and has plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting and isn't so happy-go-lucky like you might expect. The fusion system, along with social links and the new main character options help keep the game fresh, even for Persona 3 veterans who have eaten the original and FES up. The wait for Persona 5 is a lot less agonizing now… or is it?