Review by rengekicounter

"Persona 3, Bigger And Better Than Ever"

Imagine my surprise when I had found out that what I did in my 200+ hour save file for Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES was only half of the experience.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable is Atlus' third iteration of [the] (now increasingly more mainstream) Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 for the PlayStation 2. Does the game really need a third revision?

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Story:

You star as a silent protagonist (male or female) who has recently transferred to a new school; Gekkokaun High. As one would guess, complications ensue. The protagonist quickly discovers the “Dark Hour”, a hidden hour that occurs on a daily basis every midnight. During this time, people are transmogrified into coffins and monsters known as “shadows” roam about. The only ones who aren't transmogrified are the individuals who hold the power to combat the shadows; this power allows one to summon a manifestation of their psyche, known as “Persona”. Naturally, you happen to be one of those individuals.

You are swiftly inducted into the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad - S.E.E.S. for short. The S.E.E.S. consist of Persona-users (who all live in the same dorm as you) who actively battle the shadows. The game introduces you to Tartarus: Gekkokaun High, which turns into a monolithic tower filled with shadows during the Dark Hour. Your goal? Climb it, obviously. Unfortunately, this premise constitutes for the majority of the first half of the game's plot, and you may find the whole affair pretty bland. Rest assured, though, it picks up during the second half.

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Gameplay, and changes from Persona 3/FES:

This is Persona 3, revamped with the improved gameplay mechanics of its successor, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, which is a fantastic game in its own right (insert shameless plug here).

Basically, Persona 3 divides itself into two wholly different, yet equally fulfilling parts. During the day, you live the life of an average high school student: attend classes, take tests, eat ramen, sing karaoke, form friendships, etc. That last one is quite important – forming friendships with your peers establishes “Social Links” with them. The closer you become to someone, the higher you raise their Social Link. In turn, this grants your personas power. Being social is critical to surviving Persona 3's other half, which is more of a traditional dungeon crawling, monster-battling experience.

During the night, you are able to visit Tartarus with your group of Persona-users. As mentioned before, Tartarus is a very tall tower, and your single-minded goal is to reach the top. Every floor of the tower is randomly generated each time you visit it, with shadows roaming the halls. When you come into contact with a shadow – either by you hitting it, or it hitting you – you enter a battle. Battles are turned based, and the main gameplay revolves around exploiting your enemies' weaknesses. Enemy weak to fire? Hit it with a fire spell, knock it down, and get an extra turn. After knocking all enemies down, you are able to execute an All Out Attack, which deals severe damage to each enemy. Battles are quick, strategic, and enjoyable. One of the biggest changes from the original Persona 3 is that you are now able to directly control your allies. This saves a great deal of frustration, believe me.

Another important change from the original game is the way you navigate the map during social hours. Instead of walking around the world with an in-game sprite, you are now a dot that moves around the screen. It's very much a point-and-click affair. While it's a little jarring at first, being a simple cursor significantly streamlines Persona 3's gameplay. You are able to go wherever you want in the blink of an eye, and complete things faster than ever before. The game still retains its slick sense of style, as well; backgrounds are rendered as stylized portraits.

The biggest change, however, comes in the form of Persona 3's brand-new female protagonist. Although the main story is largely a cut-and-paste affair of male protagonist's route, the social interactions have been drastically changed. Although some fans may have been offended by Persona 3 Portable's lack of Persona 3 FES's bonus chapter, “The Answer”, the game easily makes up for it with a far more substantial and fulfilling female route.

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Sound:

A very subjective topic, but one still worth mentioning anyways. In short, Persona 3's soundtrack is fantastic. The town themes fill you with a serene calmness while the battle themes get you pumped up for, well, battle. The dungeon themes – mainly Tartarus' – need some work, though (and that's an understatement). For the most part, the game is very well acted, with VA's brimming with emotion. The sound effects are both unique and silly. You won't regret playing this game with headphones.

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Graphics:

Persona 3 Portable looks very nice on a PSP screen. As mentioned before, the social side of the game is very stylish. Characters are represented by well-drawn portraits during dialogue scenes. Even a few miscellaneous characters have their own unique portraits, to help better identify who is speaking and what is happening. In terms of battle graphics, Persona 3 Portable has been slightly downgraded from its predecessors, and I do mean slightly. Battles are filled with dozens of unique personas and some nice visual effects. In short, the game looks great. It also has blazingly-fast load times. Who doesn't like that?

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Closing Comments:

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable is an excellent game, and a worthy – if not superior – follow up to its predecessors. It makes several significant changes that vastly improve the game, without compromising any of Persona 3's deep gameplay mechanics. The story and character arcs are filled with moments of genuine sadness, hope, and warmth. And I didn't even mention how addictive elements like persona fusing and quest completing can be.

This is a game that needs to be judged by its own merits. If you're interested in a great portable experience (which is the point of this game) or the new female protagonist, pick this one up.

tl;dr version: change = good.

FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10

But let's be generous and round this up to a 10.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/21/10

Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable (US, 07/06/10)


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