I didn’t expect this to happen. I didn’t expect all of my free time to be absorbed and continuously sucked in. It has been almost two years since I placed my hands on Persona 3: FES, and now I have my hands on its portable sibling: Persona 3 Portable for the PSP. Have I missed playing the game that much?
Perhaps I have missed it. I smiled at the screen over the hours, remembering the various characters and their plight to stop the shadows. This time around, the female protagonist provides a pleasant “what if” scenario. It’s nice to see the new social links, especially those with your party members. Junpei and Akihiko are some of the newest examples and give their characters more depth than previously seen.
As such, the game plays out almost the same as its twin. Your protagonist goes to school, interacts with people to make links (the stronger the bond, the stronger the persona of that arcana during fusion), raises characteristics (courage, academics and charm), have a part time job and explores the nightmarish labyrinth known as “Tartarus.” However, you no longer run around in a 3-D world during the day. You “click” on hotspots on a map. These range from simple stairs, people you can talk to, objects you can inspect and, of course, social links. It all runs very smoothly and keeps the action marching forward. Load times are quite reasonable. It’s only when you begin to explore the floors of Tartarus that the game’s loading times are on par with the PlayStation 2.
But it comes at a price: Part of the game’s narrative is lost. You don’t get to see every little action and gesture like in the original. Some of the movies, especially those in the beginning, have been compressed or reduced to a simple cutscene to fit onto the disc. As such, there is a bit of a show-versus-tell problem. Thankfully, the portraits are retained, their faces moving to the dialogue occurring in front of them.
Exploring Tartarus is still done in 3-D. You run around the floors, exploring and hunting down shadows. If you feel like fighting, attack a shadowy blob. If not, run around them. Some floors will house weak or potent creatures (a “shadow den,” if you will), and the clock on the ground floor might heal everyone for a reduced priced. This time around, the date influences which party members can come. Most of the time, everyone can go. But as mentioned, previous engagements might keep them away. Examples of this are the ever popular mid and final exams.
Furthermore, battle’s system of “1 More” has been further refined. Right from the get-go, you can assume control of your allies and equip them from the menu screen. In the original, multiple hit abilities had to cause a “critical” attack on all of them to earn an extra turn. Now as long as one critical hit occurs, it will count. Furthermore, whenever a critical hit occurs, there is a chance that one of your allies will offer to join you in a co-op attack. This is a guaranteed critical hit.
The Velvet Room returns as well. It’s just as you remember it: soothing opera music, opportunities to fuse and record personas, take sidequests and read entries on the personas. The main thing is now you have opportunity to choose between Elizabeth and Theo. The inclusion of Theo, while he has the same personality as Elizabeth, nicely balances out the inclusion of the female protagonist.
Sound design wise, this is almost exactly how you remember Persona 3. The slashing of swords, the fast whiz of arrows, the burns of fire, coolness of ice, wind ... and so forth. The music has been remixed. One of the tunes has been removed, while a few have been added. But the soundtrack is still as “funky,” or eclectic if you prefer, as ever. The same techno piano music heard during exploration, the heavy guitar riffs during boss battles, a Japanese pop song heard during free time, the dorm’s rap song and the ever-popular horn fare for social interactions. What constantly amazes me is how much voice acting is on the disc. Every important plot point is fully voiced by the original cast. It’s still amusing and poignant as the original.
As such, I love Persona 3 Portable almost as much as the original. I miss the original’s method of showing the plot, but it feels like a small price to pay to make a game portable. The compromises necessary to make it work are minor. The essence of Persona 3 remains intact. Here is one of those rare games that feels completely natural on the big screen as it does nestled between two hands. This is one of those games that will have its fans awake past their bed times and other obligations.
Thus, even if you own the PS2 version, it is still worth the admission. You have two different sides of the same story for the price of one. The game has been rebalanced and is just as fun. While I am still partial to the PS2 version, Persona 3 Portable is able to stand on its own two feet just as well as its siblings. And if you own a PSP and not a PS2, then you really should add this to your gaming library. So, let us return to the night. It is still young, and there is time to let the shadows play.