Persona 3 Portable - Review

After the release of Persona 3: FES, and finally releasing Persona 4, Atlus once again decided to step back into the past. With the release of the Sony PlayStation Portable, they decided to start bringing over enhanced versions of the original Persona titles. While Persona, and Persona 2 Innocent Sin were the only classic titles to be released outside of Japan on PSP, Persona 3 Portable was the next in line to receive the same treatment, and it did in fact make it to the West. Although, unlike Persona and Persona 2, which were basically slightly enhanced ports, Persona 3 Portable was a completely different case.

Bringing the full Persona 3 experience to the PSP wasn't a simple task. In order for it to be transferred over, some cuts had to be made, but in return, the game was also greatly enhanced in many areas. A lot of issues present in the original game had been fixed, new content was added to make up for what was lost, and it even gave players the option to play as a female rather than the main character (who's now known as "Makoto"). Thanks to these changes, despite the cuts, Persona 3 Portable can be considered by some to be possibly the better version of the game, and a must have for Persona 3 fans. However, is that really the case? Let us find out.

The Story of the Dark Hour:

Persona 3 Portable's story is basically the same, no matter which side you decide to play. For canon purposes in this review, we'll be discussing the story from the male's point of view, but the female side does in fact follow the same path. Just, with some minor changes. Now, with that being said, the story takes place in a completely new world created by the events of the second game. Other than a strange blue butterfly seen in a few scenes (whom long time fans will recognize), and the character Igor in the "Velvet Room," the game features a completely new cast, and storyline; making it a great starting point. While it is technically the fourth entry in the series, in reality, its the first in this new world.

When the game first opens up, things are a bit confusing. The game first opens up with a scene where a girl holds some sort of gun to her head, and struggles to pull the trigger, but it then quickly shifts over to the main character (who's canon name is now "Makoto Yuki," but you can name whatever you want) riding a train. The game doesn't bother to give you an explanation to anything at first, and once Makoto steps of the train, things get even weirder. Upon setting foot outside, the clock strikes midnight, the sky turns green, coffins appear to line the streets, and the world becomes distorted. Rather than being scared by the strange city he had just entered, Makoto continues on foot towards the dorm for his new school on the man made island of "Tatsumi Port Island." It had been ten long years since the tragic death of his parents, and after jumping from school to school, Makoto had finally returned home.

After reaching his new dorm, Makoto is greeted by a strange little kid who then presents him with a contract. According to him, it is a contract that Makoto agrees to take responsibility for his actions from that point on. Although his words don't make sense, Makoto signs it (assuming it has something to do with registering for school), and watches as the kid vanishes right before his eyes. Shortly after the girl seen with the gun to her head comes down the stairs, with the very same gun, and asks Makoto just who he is. She seems shocked that Makoto is there, but once another girl shows up to explain he's the new resident, she relaxes. At that moment the green tint of the world vanished, and all the electronics in the room came back on.

Shortly after the strange intro, Makoto finds himself enjoying his new school life. He learns the girl's name is Yukari, he meets some new friends at school, and life goes on like normal. Although each night things turn green, Makoto sleeps through it, while the others living at the dorm watch him. This is how things continue, up until one strange night. Apparently this time of night is called the "Dark Hour," and it takes place between 12:00 AM and 12:01 AM. It is a full hour the world is completely unaware of, unless you have "the potential." The potential to awaken a Persona. While normal people turn into coffins during this time, anyone who has the ability to awaken their inner self can remain in human form during this time, and possibly fight the "shadows" which thrive during this time; however, for anyone who can't fight back, they may become a "lost one." While not much is known about the shadows, they are creatures which devourer the minds of living things, leaving anyone who encounters them in the Dark Hour in a zombie like state. While the rest of the world sees such victims as ones who caught a disease, those who live in Makoto's dorm know the truth. While to the school and the rest of the world the dorm is just a normal school dorm where members of the "SEES" club live, but in reality, it is much more. In reality, the SEES club is a group of students who have the ability to summon their inner selves, and fight the shadows during the Dark Hour. The group is ran by the world famous Kirijo group, with Mitsuru Kirijo as the leader, and it is their job to put an end to the Dark Hour and set everything right. And that's when the main character gets pulled into things.

After chasing another member of SEES back to the dorm, a giant shadow unlike anything seen before attacks. The thing climbs the walls of the building, and Yukari quickly rushes to Makoto's side to get him to safety. Upon reaching the roof of the building, Yukari pulls out her "gun," and points it towards her own head, but it is quickly then knocked away by the shadow. At that moment Makoto hears a voice inside his head, he walks over to the gun, whispers the word "persona," and fires. As the bullet seemingly rips through his skull, Makoto stands his ground, and a giant human like creature appears behind him; one in which he has full control of. Making use of this new found power, Makoto proceeds to rip the shadow to shreds, leaving only a bloody mess behind, before finally passing out.

Not too long after this event, Makoto officially joins SEES, and agrees to help them destroy the shadows. Junpei joins the team, Makoto gets to know the other members, and soon they are all sent to their real test. They are sent into "Tartarus," the giant tower which appears only at night. While not much is known about this tower, it is believed to be the root of the Dark Hour, and if that is the case, SEES must destroy it. This is how the game's story progresses from that point on. At the end of each month a new giant shadow attacks, and during the normal weeks, Makoto must balance his personal life, along with his life as a SEES member exploring the tower. As time goes on the confusion of the opening begins to clear up, and we slowly get an inside look at each character's past, and their connection to the whole ordeal. The story becomes one of drama, mystery, and horror, with unexpected twists around every turn.

While Persona 3 told the story with 3D models walking around the world (with a few anime cutscenes during major events), Persona 3 Portable shows it in a way that's a lot like a visual novel. Character's faces appear on screen, you listen to them as they speak, you listen to the sounds in the background, and you read the actions they are taking. While this doesn't really take away from the story, some people may prefer to watch than listen, so it all comes down to your own personal preference. Although the lack of anime cutscenes is a bit of a let down... Even if they were pretty short.

The Gameplay:

Persona 3 Portable's gameplay, isn't so simple that it can be explained easily. There are many different systems in place here, (even more so than in the original) and the game is just massive. It is one that can easily take you 80 plus hours to finish, and hundreds of hours to complete, and during that time, there is a lot for you to do. As such, the following will be broken into sections to farther explain just what this game all includes.

Daily Life -

Just like in Persona 3, one of the game's main focuses is the life sim system. The game takes place over one year, and it actually has you live the life of the main character (be it male or female); who just so happens to be a high school student. Each day you wake up, go to school, sit through classes, and do after school activities. Sometimes you'll be asked questions in class, other times you'll take part in special school events, and every now and then, you'll even have to take tests. While these segments do speed by pretty quickly, after school is a different matter, and you are in complete control of what you do or don't do. Early on you can join a school club (such as swimming), but even going to practice is optional. Unless said otherwise, you can select almost any area in the city, and look around it till your heart's content. Although, there are limits.

After school, you are only given so much time to do things, and it is up to you to completely manage the main character's life. While the clock doesn't advance in real time, it does advance the moment you choose to do some sort of action. While you can talk to towns people, go to stores, or search objects as much as you want,  talking to a key character, or choosing to do a key action will advance time. Often you are forced to choose between spending time with friends, studying for that upcoming test, or completing some other task you want to accomplish, and because of that daily life can sometimes be a challenge

Just about every aspect of the main character's life plays a key role in the game, and because of that, nothing should be ignored unless you have no choice. Increasing your skills (such as your social skills) will unlock more dialogue options, help you do better in school, and access new events, but increasing his friendship levels with other characters (which may require skills to do so) will help out in battle and help advance sub plots; which do in fact make up a large majority of the game. It's just, deciding what you should do with the main character, and when you should do it, can be difficult to decide. Once the day has gone by and night comes, you have even fewer options to pick from to advance time; however, that is a good thing. Night is basically a time where you can either study, or go out and hit the town to improve other skills. Most of the areas on the town map are locked at this time, but main areas (such as the mall) are still open for you to make use of. On the other hand, this is also the time where you can decide to enter Tartarus, and experience the second half of Persona 3 Portable.

Dungeon Crawling -

While Persona 3 Portable isn't a full on dungeon crawler like Persona and Persona 2, it sill plays a key role in the game, and has undergone quite a few changes since the original Persona 3. When you enter Tartarus you are asked to select a party of three characters, and you are then tasked with trying to make it to the top floor. Each area of the tower is randomly generated, with different treasure locations and exits, and it is up to you to try to advance as far as possible. Enemies appear on the map, so you can easily avoid them if you wish, but unlike in the original, this time there isn't much reason to.

The main gameplay element of Tartarus is in fact the battle system you use in it, and really, it is the only interesting part. Sadly the tower itself is a bit of a grind, and the areas are pretty generic; nothing has been changed. During each month you can only go so far in the tower, before being stopped by a wall, but there is a boss to take on before reaching it so it is something you should at least strive for. As for the battle system itself, is actually pretty unique. Each character has a basic weapon to strike with (unlike in the original version the main character cannot switch his/her weapon nor can the choose what it is) and armor to protect them, but the real focus is on the Personas themselves. While the other characters in the game all have their own unique Persona to use, the main character is a special case. He/she has the "wild card" ability, and that allows him/her to summon multiple Personas. Each Persona has their own stats and set of skills, and whichever Persona is currently active, directly effects the main character. Not only do the Personas control what special attacks you can use, but they also control how strong you are. If one minute you are using a level 30 Persona, but then switch to a level 5 Persona, then your level will basically drop from 30 to 5 as well. With this system it becomes very important that you either balance out your Personas, or you stick with one until you can actually create ones that are stronger.

To get new Personas, there are a couple of different things you can do. You can kill enemies and play a sort of card shuffle game after the battle to unlock them, which is one of the easiest ways, or you can visit the "Velvet Room" to fuse your Personas together to create new ones. Here is where you'll meet the strange character Igor and his assistant Elizabeth. These two odd characters help guide you through your journey from the sidelines, but they are also the people you go to for all your Persona needs.

Each Persona is grouped into different arcana, and so are the main character's friends. By hanging out with friends during the day, you can increase your social links with them, and increase their specific arcana. This is what actually controls how strong of Personas you can create by fusing, and becomes very important if you want to survive. By having a strong friendship, you'll have stronger Personas, but if you neglect that friendship, you'll have weaker Personas. Of course it isn't required that you get too deeply involved with this system, but it does make the game easier... Which you may find you wish it were.

With all of that being said, Persona 3 is not an easy game, but Persona 3 Portable does make things a bit easier. Many first time players are recommended to play on easier difficulties still, and even then it can be quite the challenge, but at the same time, not quite as bad as it used to be.. Originally Persona 3 had an energy meter which went down every time you got into a fight. This prevented you from going far in the tower in one run, and it also forced you to decide when to fight or right. It was a system which really added to the game's challenge, but now it is basically all but gone. While the system is still in place, instead of getting tired from fighting, you get tired from actually entering and leaving the tower. To cure yourself of this tiredness you can simply rest in your bed, but it does take one day to fully recover. In other words, you can enter the tower and stay in as long as you want, but you cannot enter it two days in a row without a penalty. It really doesn't matter though, considering you can now reach the invisible wall in one run, while in the original it could sometimes take most of the month to slowly progress through it.

When you do get into a fight (which once again, there's really no reason to avoid them in this version of the game), the battle system itself is all about strategy and weaknesses. Just about every shadow you fight will have some sort of weakness to exploit, and if you do, it knocks the shadow down, and gives you an extra turn. The idea is to use elemental attacks from your Persona to knock every shadow in the battle arena down, so you can then preform an "All Out Attack," which is an attack where your party members rush the downed enemies, and basically obliterate them. It is just about an auto win attack, but pulling it off requires quite a bit of strategy, memorization of different enemies' weaknesses, and it requires quite a bit of Persona management.

In the original Persona 3, the party members were there for you, but they were mostly useless. This can be the same in Persona 3 Portable if you choose, but thanks to the upgraded battle system from Persona 4, that doesn't have to be the case. In the original game the other party members would attack on their own, and use poor strategies (which would often hurt you), this time around you can switch them off of auto, and take full control. By using the main character, your Personas, and the other two party members, you can now focus on pure strategy. You can use your other member's Personas to hit weaknesses, use debuffs and buffs, you can use them to heal, and you can even choose when you want them to use Personas, or attack with their melee weapons. Also for weaker enemies, you can simply set the game to "Auto Battle" and watch as your party melees everything in their way to death. It is a much faster system than what was in place before, and it solves all of the issues the original had with its battle system. Sure, you can use the hopeless AI if you'd like, but why would you want to make the game harder than it needs to be?

Full Moon -

Once you have rushed through the tower and made it to the next wall (which can be done in no time), a checkpoint is set for you to warp back to, and you will then be ready to advance on with the main story. At the end of each month the moon becomes full, and a giant shadow (like the one at the start of the game) attacks. During these times you are actually sent to a unique dungeon located somewhere in the city, where you are then faced with a large boss fight. Although these bosses are the "big boss" of each story chapter, they are actually easier than the ones fought in the tower; assuming you're ready for them that is. When it comes down to it, the entire month is more about planning for the boss, than it is anything else. Sure you have to manage the other aspects, but everything you do needs to pay off for the very moment you're face to face with your next major foe. As for the tower, it isn't possible to actually fail the game if you don't reach the top in time, but if you aren't strong enough to beat the month's boss, then that is a real problem. Even so, as already mentioned, these bosses are much easier than what you see elsewhere, so normally they don't cause too much of an issue.

Side Quests -

Along with the main game and social links, there are side quests for you to complete as well. While most of these just involve finding someone lost in the tower, they are nice little extras for you to complete. Although, sometimes you're left with no choice but to complete them, as failing them may prevent you from continuing social links.

The Female Side and Other Changes:

Besides the ability to control your party members in battle, and the removal of the energy limit, Persona 3 Portable also made quite a few other major changes. As mentioned above, the story is now told in a visual novel like style, with still images, and sound effects to let you know what is going on, but that's not all that was changed. Besides the removal of the 3D models in the cutscenes, the entire world outside of the dungeon has been replaced with a point and click map. Although this may sound like a down grade at first, it truly isn't, and actually helps speed along the game.

Rather than having to slowly walk in and out of the smaller city areas, and having to back track to the area select screen, the Persona 4 fast travel system has been included where you can simply press square to open a list of all locations, and the maps themselves have been made larger with more detail. Although you're just now moving a cursor around a map, you can actually see more than what was in the original title, and you can also see all points which can be interacted with thanks to icons which appear over specific spots. Instead of just mashing X to check everything, you can now clearly see what can or cannot be done within the world, and that really helps speed things up. Not only will you be able to clearly see all of the possible events to take on, but it makes it easier to discover secrets as well. Still, this system is only used in the city, while the dungeons remain the same.

Along with the map change and battle system changes, a few other smaller additions have been made. You can now get skill cards to give to your Personas to teach them new abilities (while in the original you had to fuse Personas with Personas until you were able to create one with the needed ability), and a few new scenes and extra boss battles have been added with cameos from Persona 4. While these additions do not greatly change the experience, they are nice additions. As for the largest change of them all, however, it actually does alter the experience.

The inclusion of a female main character is actually a bigger change than one might think. While the game's main story does advance in the same way, and the dungeon plays out the same, the rest of the game; does not. The entire life sim system is altered thanks to the addition of this new character choice. Since you are a girl, all of the game's social links change to fit her story, and all of her dialogue options for the main story change as well. Rather than being a semi anti-social boy, you're a happy go lucky girl who enjoys to make friends, and rather than hitting on the women around school, you get to date the guys who never had social links up till now, and new girlfriends replace the bros around school. While the female side of things has just as many social links as the male's, each link has a new character at its center, with a new story for you to uncover, and an amazing new soundtrack playing in the background to accompany them. In a way, the female story feels like an entirely new game, just with the same old dungeon and a slightly altered main storyline. It is a great addition to the game, it gives long time fans a reason to come back, but it does come at the cost of "The Answer," which is not included in this version of the game.

The Good and the Bad:

Persona 3 Portable is actually a really nice handheld port of the original title. Although the 3D overworld was replaced with a detailed map, and the cutscenes have been redone in a visual novel like style, the game is still great. In fact, some people may actually find themselves enjoying the much faster map system more than walking. Not only does it allow you to navigate faster, it eliminates the need to constantly backtrack, and allows you to see all possible search points in the area. On top of that, the other changes made are sure to make almost everyone happy. While Persona 3 always did have a really well thought out story, which got surprisingly dark at times, great music, and solid gameplay, there were some issues which really did hold it back; one of which was actually fixed this time around. The fact that you can now control your party members in battle is a huge improvement over previous versions. You no longer have to worry about the AI making stupid moves, and possibly causing you to lose to a boss, and you can now put to use much more complex strategies, making the game much easier later on. Of course you can still set your party members to auto, so even those who loved the old system won't be forced to give it up for the new.

On top of the change to the party system, the revised energy system is a great addition as well, and it too helps the game progress faster. Rather than being limited on how many times you can get into a fight, which effectively prevents you from advancing too far in the dungeon, you can now simply rush to the top of the thing without worry. You can spend as much time fighting and level grinding as you want, you can use auto battle to quickly rip through the weaker enemies, and make your way to the next invisible wall in no time. While the tower is still a grind, it is now a lot more bearable.

Besides other minor changes to the game, such as the new side content and Persona 4 cameos, the game also features a female story mode which alters a lot of the game's content. While the main story does stay the same, just about all of the original social links are replaced with new characters, complete with brand new side stories. Due to this change, the life sim aspect of the game is almost completely changed, and the end result is a story mode which feels like a brand new game on its own; well, a new game with a slightly altered main storyline. Either way, it gives long time fans a reason to come back, and it also gives them a new amazing soundtrack to listen to.

Although Persona 3 Portable does have a lot of pros, there are still a few issues which hold this version back as well. While the new improvements to the battle system and faster progression of Tartarus helps lessen the grind, it is still in fact just that; a grind. Often you'll find yourself rushing to the wall as fast as you can just so you can get it over with and get back to the main game, and the maps are still just as generic as ever. Random hallways, an exit in a random spot, and some treasure for you to find. It gets pretty old fast, but at least the battle system is fun.

Other than the grinding aspects of the game, the removal of some features may put long time fans off as well. For example, you can no longer pick your weapon or change weapon types on the fly in this version, there are no anime cutscenes to watch, people who would rather watch the action than read a visual novel may be put off by the removal of the 3D over world, and those who enjoyed walking around the town might be put off by the new map system as well. It really comes down to personal preferences, but the fact that this version doesn't have The Answer is a let down as well. Yes the female story is much larger than The Answer (as it is a full game on its own), but for first time players who would like to see what happens next, well, they'll be missing out.

Overall though, Persona 3 Portable is a great game, and well worth it if you have a PSP or PlayStation Vita. It is a really nice version of the game, and is an improvement over Persona 3: FES in a lot of ways, but it is a bit of a downgrade as well. If you don't mind the lack of a 3D overworld and The Answer, then this version might be the best option, but once again, it comes down to personal preference. Even so, this game is a must have for all of you JRPG fans out there, and that's why we are giving it a solid 9/10. While it's the same score we gave FES, each game does have its own pros, and its own cons. It is up to you to decide which version suits you best.

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