From the start, there was very little chance that I wouldn’t love Persona 3 Portable. Atlus didn’t even need to add, change, or fix anything, and I still would have bought it, played it, and loved every minute of it. After all, Persona 3 is one of my favorite games ever, and not only took me by surprise, but completely blew me away when it first came to North America in the summer of 2007. When Persona 3 FES came out, I was more than happy to play through the hundred-hour-plus Japanese RPG all over again, meaning that I’ve now put more than two hundred hours into Persona 3. That doesn’t matter, though, because I’m still super excited to do it all over again in Persona 3 Portable, the handheld version of the critically acclaimed RPG due out this summer. After seeing P3P in action, I’m even more impressed with the additions that the developers have included, meaning that this will likely be the definitive version of the game.
For those who never played Persona 3 on the PS2, the game is centered on a group of high school students in modern day Japan. These students all have the power to summon Personas, an extension of their own personalities used to defeat creatures called Shadows. As the silent protagonist, you are the only one with the ability to summon multiple Personas, as well as being able to fuse them together to create all new Personas. In the original game, there was only one protagonist, a male, but Persona 3 Portable is adding a second main character, a female. From what I can tell, her story won’t just be a mirror image of the male campaign; she’ll encounter entirely different social links, be able to date different people, and there will be some other small changes as well. I got a glimpse of some of the different after-school activities in the female campaign, as she tried to decide whether to join the volleyball team, or go out for tennis.
Speaking of after-school activities, both the male and female campaigns will see the addition of part-time jobs, something that Persona 4 implemented extremely well. While these jobs may not advance social links in the same way they did in P4 (so no inappropriate nurses this time, sorry), they will add to your stats while allowing you to earn money. Anyone who has played a game in this series knows that money is pretty tight in the first half of the game (sometimes even longer), so being able to get paid while strengthening my academics will certainly be preferable to studying alone in my dorm room.
The job system isn’t the only thing from Persona 4 the developers have added. Moving around town can now be done with a menu, instead of actually having to physically walk from place to place. While that adds convenience (an important factor in a handheld RPG), the even bigger change is being able to directly control all of your party members in battle. In P3, you could issue general orders for your teammates to follow, but they would still sometimes act irrationally, either failing to heal at a critical moment or attacking a foe who was already knocked down. Keep in mind that this was my only significant criticism of Persona 3, and even that was a fairly small complaint. Streamlining the battle system takes a fantastic game and just pushes it over the top, and will also make fighting less frustrating and more accessible to new players.
To better suit Persona 3 for the PSP, the interface has received an overhaul. The game now has an overhead view, and instead of moving your character around the screen, a cursor is now used to interact with the environment outside of dungeons. To be honest, I didn’t see the need for the latter change, but it actually may add to the convenience factor of playing this lengthy game on a handheld system. Also making the experience more PSP-centric is the addition of extra save points. Since there were sections in the game (including the first couple of hours) where save points are few and far between, the developers implanted more places to record progress so that players won’t have to go hours between saves.
All of the aspects of Persona 3 Portable I’ve described so far would be more than enough to justify the need to remake this game, but the changes don’t end there. Skill cards, acquired when Personas reach certain levels, have been added, making it easier to teach specific skills to Personas who wouldn’t otherwise have them. Two new difficulty settings, beginner and maniac, bring the total number of options to five, making P3P as accessible (or insanely hard) as you want it to be. Minor characters have gotten new character portraits, and the entire cast has returned for voice acting purposes. Though the game won’t include the extra content from Persona 3 FES, there is an extra dungeon, the Hall of Doors, in which you can fight bosses again, as well as completing other challenges. Even load times seemed shorter than on the PS2 version, which is an amazing feat considering that the PSP is notorious for its loading screens. P3P even has an optional install, which is unusual, if not unheard of, for a PSP game.
You might be wondering how the developers of P3P managed to fit so much extra content into a PSP game, and rightfully so. Well, something had to go, and in this case it was the anime-style cut scenes. This is definitely a bummer; the animated plot points were a highlight of the game, but it’s understandable that with all of this content, space would become an issue. When you consider that those scenes would have to be reanimated to include a female protagonist, it makes sense to leave them off. To be honest, I can live without them if it means an extra campaign, shorter load times, and an excess of other additional content.
How is it possible that a game I’ve already played through twice is high on my list of most anticipated titles of 2010? It appears that the developers of Persona 3 PSP have gone above and beyond in making this game, and what could have been a simple port made to cash in on one of Atlus’ most successful titles is instead something much, much more. If you’ve never played Persona 3, this is the version of the game to get. If you have played it, you’ll want to explore Tartarus all over again. Unless P3P ships with some serious technical issues, it will likely be one of the best games of the summer, if not all year.