Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable
by Polly

Note: Played Female Protagonist route on Normal Difficulty, 83:22 total playtime.

Third time's a charm, right? Christ almighty, how many versions do they need? I made the joke when I bought this game that, "It's called P3 because I've bought it three times." Man, am I ever clever or what?

I've already covered Persona 3 in the past, and possibly to an even larger degree in my write up for Persona 4, so I won't spend much time in this review going over the basics of what this game's about, how it plays, the various systems, and all that jazz. Instead, I'm just going to go over the PSP version's new additions and my overall thoughts on how it all fits together. You can go read the older reviews if you want to know what to expect from this game.

With that said, on with the show!

Look Ma, I Have A Vagina
The most lauded addition to P3P is the inclusion of a new female protagonist to play as. Other than her responses to people being a little more upbeat and outgoing, she's just the original male protagonist with a different model and on-screen portrait. Playing as the female protagonist changes the game in a number of ways, but doesn't affect the outcome of the story or any real major events to any noticeable degree. There is one major club-related trip that's entirely different, but everything else is pretty much the same. People just respond to her a little differently ("...because you're a girl." UGH!) and she has a new main weapon (a naginata) to use in combat.

The first real noticeable change is that the game's UI is changed from a mixture of blues to a mixture of pinks and reds. Because girls love pink. Tee-hee. Not anything super substantial, but you'll be looking at it for almost 100 hours, so it'll either sear itself into your retinas or you simply won't mind at all.

Along with that comes the addition of some new music when choosing to play the female route. The female protagonist's route includes new themes for normal battles, Tartarus boss battles, and roaming around the school and town. While these new tunes are certainly great and up to snuff, other than the new normal battle theme and secondary school theme, many of them fail to really capture the mood of the game. In fact, I'd say the remaining musical selections would be much more at home in Persona 4's upbeat and light-hearted atmosphere than in Persona 3's darker and modern big-city surroundings. They probably fit the female protagonist's percieved personality a bit more, but not the game as a whole.

Perhaps the most substantial change when playing as the female protagonist is that there are a large number of brand-new Social Links for her to find and develop. A couple of these include all-new characters designed specifically for her route, while others are centered around the game's original characters such as Junpei and Akihiko. The Social Links involving characters you're already familiar with are by far the most interesting, because you end up learning even more about these people and sometimes even seeing completely different sides to them, which in turn makes their personalities seem fresh again. For older players, the change in Social Links also means you'll have to adapt to an entirely new schedule to try and work them all, so maxing everybody out again will require re-planning how you spend your time if you're only familiar with the male protagonist's route.

There aren't a whole lot of reasons anyone should rush out and buy this game just because you can be a girl this time. I found it to be moderately interesting at best and probably wouldn't have been all that bothered if she didn't exist. She was just thrown in because she's an undeniably cute contrast to the original male protagonist and the third iteration of the game really needed a reason to exist. If you're curious, have at it, but don't expect anything grand.

Persona 3: The Very Tiny Version
Everything about Persona 3 has been slimmed down and streamlined for this version of the game to make friendly with the new portable format. From navigating around town and school to the storytelling, the presentation is much, much simpler than before. The former certainly helps the game in a lot of ways, while the latter is a pretty significant punch in the gut to the experience as a whole.

Firstly, the navigation has been streamlined with static images of backgrounds and characters for you to move a cursor over and interact with. Persona 4's lovely square button insta-jump navigation has also been included. While this slimming down is quite welcome, and the artwork is certainly very pretty, it also unfortunately sucks a lot of the life out of the environments and can seem pretty boring at times. I welcome it only because around the halfway mark of the originals I was already sick of running around town on my own day in and day out to do the same things.

Thankfully, exploration of Tartarus and combat are still presented in nicely-done, if a bit simpler 3D. Everything has clearly been shrunk down and simplified for this version to try and fit everything in, such as lots of visual effects missing from each block of Tartarus as well as character and enemy models looking noticeably less detailed, though their animations still look great. That's not to say the game looks bad at all, and for a PSP game it most certainly does a more than adequate job, but you'll still notice various bits of visual wonk here and there that either don't look right or are just plain ugly in comparison to the original graphics.

Moving onto the bad, all of the game's story sequences are now presented in a visual novel format. I have no problem with visual novels whatsoever, but it honestly just doesn't work here.

For the unfamiliar, this means that all you'll see are character portraits with varying expressions yap at each other back and forth in front of static background images. This also means that all of the Japanese Cartoon cutscenes from the original have been nixed and the scenes have been re-worked for presentation in the new format. This new format is undeniably boring and many of the game's poignant scenes simply lose all of their impact. The story is now told almost entirely through dialog with very little narraration as to what's actually going on. This can be incredibly confusing for newcomers who aren't familiar with the original. At the very least there needed to be more narraration as to what was going on in a particular scene and maybe more still shots from the scenes that were omitted to help things make more sense.

Persona 3: Persona 4 Edition
The biggest excitement I had going into Persona 3 Portable was that all of the gameplay tweaks and improvements that appeared in Persona 4 would be implemented here. By now, it's not all that likely that I have to go over any of the gripes I had with previous versions of this game so I'll spare you. Not only have those most excellent tweaks been added (Teammates taking mortal blows for you, follow-up attacks, part-time jobs, etc), but they went the extra mile, adding a few more tweaks and features to make this package even more tantalizing than it had originally seemed.

The biggest inclusion is obviously Persona 4's battle system and the ability to directly give commands to your party members. I'm not really sure what it says about Persona 3's original difficulty that having direct control over your party members makes things about 50-100% less headache-inducing, but I'm sure it can't be good. Now that you have direct control over whether Akihiko will de-buff an enemy rather than trying to heal Junpei's 20 missing HP, or whether Aigis will buff the party instead of wasting her own HP on a physical attack that's proven useless all fight long, you can handle the vicious fights this game doles out as offensively or defensively as you wish. This essentially means no more of this:


The game can still be just as brutal, but I never found it in any way frustrating like a few instances of the original could tend to be. (Hey there, Sleeping Table! You're nowhere near as annoying when I can TELL PEOPLE WHAT TO DO!)

Tartarus exploration is made a bit easier by the ability to simply jump back up to the highest floor you've reached by using the doors in the tower's entrance hall. In the past, if you used an access point to leave, you'd have to return to the last entrance point you reached and run up the stairs again until you found another. There's still a tiny bit of that here simply because of how the tower is laid out, but it's not nearly as time-consuming running back up as it used to be.

Your characters also no longer become tired inside Tartarus and instead will become tired once you decide to stop exploring for the night. To balance things out, the tired status seems to stick around a day or two longer (and I seemed to notice I'd get sick more often if I didn't rest the next night), but it can be easily healed by using a Yawn-B-Gone, which can be purchased at school on Saturdays, three at a time, for a scant 1,000 yen.

Instead of getting tired, your stats sucking, your chances of death SKYROCKETING, and having to return home like you used to, your Tartarus exploration will be limited by the amount of SP your characters have, as leaving a floor and returning to the entrance no longer grants a full party heal. You must now use yen at the entrance's clock to heal the party, sorta like Fox in Persona 4 only not quite as money hungry. The prices can get ridiculously high by the end of the game, but I somehow had already maxed out yen by that time (9,999,999) so it wasn't even a big deal. The problem this presents, however, is that you'll typically only have to visit Tartarus once a month to reach the highest level you can reach, clear out all of Elizabeth's requests, and do any necessary money grabbing. This ends up giving you WAY more time to do Social Links or grind up your personal traits and, in turn, kinda makes time management way easier. The only time you may end up having to go back is to rescue people that have strayed into Tartarus, but this can be easily remedied by going as late as possible in accordance to the due dates of Elizabeth's requests, since both those and rescue missions have to be finished by the next Full Moon.

The last hot new addition to this version of the game is the Skill Card system. By completing various requests, rescuing people trapped inside Tartarus, using the home shopping network, or raising certain Personas to specific levels, you can now obtain Skill Cards imbued with various skills that you can teach to ANY Persona. This is a hardcore Persona fuser's wet dream come true, as you'll be able to slap skills onto Personas that, under normal circumstances, could never learn them naturally or inherit them from fusion. An added bonus is that an NPC at the shrine will duplicate these cards for you free of charge. All you have to do is wait five days for him to complete it. This new addition can break the game entirely if you choose to use it, but it is in no way required or even needed to reach the end and still be in good shape to win.

As you can probably tell, veterans who were 100% satisfied with Persona 3 FES probably don't need to bother with Persona 3 Portable, but if they're anything like me they will anyway. The female protagonist and new Social Links are some nice zazz, but they don't really add as much as many had probably hoped for. It's just Persona 3, but with really minimalistic production values, a few different lines of dialog, and Persona 4's battle system. Even with its flaws, I'd still recommend first-timers go with Persona 3 FES on the PS2 over this portable version, because experiencing the story, characters, and world to their fullest is the most important thing, and it just kinda falls flat here.

Still, Persona 3 Portable is a great game, and definitely one of the best in the PSP's highly-underrated library. It'll suck your time away and you'll probably be happy it did. If you're a first-timer you'll miss a lot of the oomph the story has, but some of its charm will still shine through without a doubt. If you've already been through this game three times like me, some of the new features are amusing, but expect nothing more than what you already know, only now coated in pretty pink candy sprinkles with a cherry on top.

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