After finishing Persona 4 Golden for the second time, my lost love of Japanese RPG’s was suddenly awakened. Granted, I started a new playthrough of P4G also, but I craved something new, something in that genre I had not really sunk my teeth into in so long. Despite craving something new, I still craved the smart writing, well developed battle system and contemporary setting of Persona. So instead of going back to another medieval-inspired JRPG, I simply went to the PSN store and downloaded Persona 3 Portable (P3P). Did it help foster my new love for the Persona series, as well as keep me engrossed in the JRPG genre? Yes, yes it did.
P3P is the third version of Persona 3 to be released. Coming out twice on the PS2, and this time on the lesser-powered PSP, some differences were bound to crop up. Before going on, it is important to note that I have never played the other two versions of Persona 3, only read about the differences. The basics of Persona 3 are still there, such as the exploration of the dungeon Tartarus and the Social Links first made famous in the original Persona 3 return. However, instead of directly controlling the main character in the field, a smaller, often one-screen long version of an area is shown. A cursor appears when in these non-combat areas, and you use the cursor to interact with people and objects in the environment. It appears this was a technical limitation of the PSP, and considering the system power, was most likely a good one. Even if the protagonist could have been rendered like how he was in the PS2 versions, it would not have looked nearly as good, and would have had insane loading times. However, it must be considered that although you are not running around and directly interacting with the characters as the protagonist, nothing is lost in the content given, just a sense of immersion is broken.
The content one experiences, as hinted at above is not cut in anyway from the original title. Every social link is still available, and the personal tales told as the protagonist gets to know the eclectic cast of P3P are very well told with satisfying resolution to each. While at times it may take a few too many wasted days to get to a social level up (especially as you approach max social rank), never do you feel you are slogging your way through pointless content. Every conversation in P3P is important, and has a place in this very alive and vibrant city. Even side-activities, used to raise your three secondary stats of Courage, Academics and Charm seem fun. Although you never get to see the activity being performed directly, it helps to flesh out an already fleshed out world, as well as leading to other worthwhile options in who you can hang out with.
Those conversations all happen against the backdrop of a story well written and translated. While not getting into details, I would just like to say that the writers at Atlus do an amazing job of taking the done to death JRPG concept of teenagers stopping a world-ending event and making it both engrossing and feel fresh. On top of that, each personal story, even outside of the social links weaves in and out of the main tale expertly, with everything being tied up in a tale of love, loss and acceptance. Plus you get to use a dog in combat. The dog holds a knife in its mouth.
That knife is used expertly in the sole dungeon of P3P, Tartarus. A JRPG lives and dies by its battle system, and P3P easily lives, even surpassing any Persona title before it. The fights are a turn-based affair, immediately accessible by anyone who has played a basic JRPG. The main twist on the normal turn-based RPG formula is the titular Persona monsters. Each character has a unique summon, which is essentially the conduit of all magic and special physical attacks are carried out. Each Persona carries with it certain elemental strengths and weaknesses, with only the main character having the ability to switch their attributes by changing Personas; everyone else has a fixed one.
The biggest combat change to this title, compared to the Persona 3 titles before it, and just about every Persona title before it is who you get to actually control during combat. In previous incarnations of P3, players only got to direct the actions of the protagonist, while the other three characters in battle were under the control of the game’s A.I. This was done as P3P was released after Persona 4, which was the first Persona title to allow this level of direct control. While never trying the other titles, I can only guess this is nothing less than a godsend. I despise giving up control of party members in RPG combat, especially turn-based as I like to think strategy through. I couldn’t trust a computer enough to execute what I want it to do. If anything, without this improvement, I may not have even tried P3P in the first place. While I would have suffered for it in the long run, as this is a title of quality, I cannot stand having control taken from me.
The other huge change to P3P is the ability to choose whether you play as the male protagonist seen in the previous incarnations, or for the first time, play as a female protagonist. This change includes a few cosmetic changes to menus, and what weapons you can equip, as well as apparently changing the entire story, at least on a character interaction level. Your potential love interests become your best friends and such. I did not try this mode, but I think I will on the New Game+ playthrough.
My only complaint about the game is that P3P did not include the expansion material found in the version of Persona 3: Persona 3 FES. I understand going back and redoing all the art assets to fit into this version’s engine may have been a hassle, but since this was the last version released, it really should not have missed out on any content, even extra content. While I would love to go back and one day see the FES content, I still cannot help feel it is a shame we did not get to see it in P3P. Besides that however, I cannot find any real faults with P3P when taken by itself. Things would be added in Persona 4 and especially Persona 4 Golden that were massive improvements, but P3P cannot be faulted for what came after. This title is honestly a must play for people who want to desperately see the JRPG genre is far from dead, and want to remember why they fell in love with these types of games in the first place.
Final Score: 5/5