Atlus are a company that seem to be obsessed with producing excellent games for consoles past their prime, and Persona 3: Portable is no exception. Released onto the PSP, Persona 3: Portable is an absolute gem of a portable title, and if every JRPG ever made had this kind of conversion, the PSP would probably be the best console of all time. Let’s step away from my opinions, though, and let me talk about what makes Persona 3 an absolutely fantastic game.
Persona 3 opens with your character leaving the train station to witness a somewhat unsettling event whilst on the way to the dormitory at their new school, the place where you will visit every in-game day for the surprisingly large amount of time you will spend completing the game. Once settled, you begin your school life, where you will have to answer the surprisingly hard questions and take tests every few months, and try to gain social acceptance. These social interactions lead to social links, which represent the strength of your relationship (from casual acquaintances to lovers), and also affect how strong fused personas will be.
Persona 3 isn’t just a high school simulator though. Come night time, the dark hour awakens, a state of limbo for the general population, but for you and the rest of the party, the dangerous source of the stories mystery. In the dark hour, you must explore and conquer the 200+ floors of your transformed school, Tartarus and combat the shadows within as well as the bosses that break free monthly. To do this you draw power from your persona, the ability which gives the game its name, and defines the character’s abilities. Different personas are much more than just slight changes as well, varying from the simple healers and mages to skill sets that rely heavily on chance and risk and reward. Personas can only level up so far without becoming obsolete, so the player is forced to switch between different styles just to be able to keep up with the enemies they’re faced with. This is achieved via persona fusion.
Persona fusion is a way of combining two or more personas into a new, (hopefully) more powerful persona. In a debatably helpful way, only the main character is required to switch and merge personas in order to survive, whereas party member’s personas stay the same throughout the entire game, (but can be forced to mutate under certain circumstances). An interesting touch was that social links cause EXP bonuses for your persona (and therefore your abilities), thus encouraging the player to become a more friendly towards his schoolmates in order to become more powerful, but also subjecting them to the rather enjoyable side plots of the school relationships. I assume that the implications of both the social links and the usage of different personas are to force the player to use strategy rather than using a grinding method to power through the game, and switch between characters often to form a balanced party as well as lending some focus to the social aspect, but I found it relatively easy to power through nonetheless.
Have fun trying to remember what these skill names are.
The combat in Persona 3 has difficulty levels for a reason. Enemies from the start have the potential to destroy your party easily, and the only thing stopping them is keeping the difficulty on normal or below. The combat revolves around luck and your persona’s strengths and weaknesses, meaning that at some times, life or death can be decided by a last minute change of strategy, or a single item. By no means is the combat in Persona 3 average, but it isn’t complicated either. Perhaps my only major problem with this game is the combination of attacks that can cause instant death, and that if the main character falls in combat, it’s game over.
Persona 3 is not by any means a conventional game, and Atlus have done more than enough to show that they know what they’re doing when it comes to porting a game to handheld, as well as creating games in general, and to convince me that I’d like to see much more from them. I can find almost no problem with Persona 3, and it stands as another reason why Atlus are one of the most underrated developers out there.