Persona 3 Portable is a handheld remake of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, which was originally released in Europe, for the PlayStation 2, back in February 2008. The game sees players take control of a high school student who is able to summon powerful Personas by placing a gun shaped evoker to their temple and pulling the trigger (kids please don’t try this at home.) When the story begins the protagonist transfers over to a dorm sponsored by the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad who are made up of fellow Persona summoners. As a member of SEES your goal is to lead a band of brave teenagers (along with a super intelligent canine and a smexy android lass) in battle against the sinister shadow entities that prey on humans during the post midnight Dark Hour.
Even though P3P is on a handheld device the game has not been watered down, boasting plenty of additional features that were not present in the PS2 original. The first of these extras is the choice to play through the campaign as either a boy or girl. It’s a great addition as it gives cross-dressers the opportunity to don a virtual skirt, as well as allowing fans of the original to experience the game through a different perspective (and who wouldn’t given that the PS2’s male hero is an unlikable emo.) What gender you ultimately select is not a decision that should be taken lightly as it will affect what relationships you can form over the course of the story, which is a big deal as a huge part of the Persona games involves building social links that boost the power of the Personas you employ in battle.
Speaking of battle, another significant tweak that fans should appreciate is that Persona 3 Portable allows players to control all four active party members. For the most part I stuck to the default option, of controlling the main character and allowing the A.I to handle my partners, but there are a few tough boss fights were I appreciated having the option of directly telling my companions what to do (a strategic feature that was sadly absent in the PS2 iteration.) Other new goodies of note include extra tunes for the already excellent soundtrack (I love the song titled Danger Zone that plays during the female’s boss fights) along with extra story segments (including a cameo featuring someone from the Persona 4 cast.)
Sadly there’s only so much you can squeeze into a PSP title with over a hundred hours worth of gameplay content. The most notable sacrifice is the loss of the animated story sequences, which are now presented using in game graphics. The game over world has also been transformed into a series of visual novel style still pictures were you click on the destination you want to travel to. This may annoy fans of the original, although I feel it is a blessing in disguise. Using a pointer to fast travel to a location saves time and cuts down on needless walking, which as a chubby person I approve of given that I loathe using my legs.
Thankfully the core gameplay remains untouched. For the most part you simulate the life of a high school student, although your routine gets interrupted every full moon when you are expected to take down the powerful shadow creatures that manifest at the end of each lunar cycle. You’ll have to manage your time wisely in anticipation of those encounters by attending a part-time job to make money, playing at the arcade to boost the stat of your personas and explore the randomly generated floors of the Tartarus Tower, which is the source of the evil shadows. With so much stuff to do you’ll have to think up a good excuse to convince your professors why you didn’t complete their assignments on time… do you think they will buy that a demonic shade ate your homework?
Persona 3 Portable gets full marks from me, as it is virtually flawless. Playing through the story is a real treat thanks to the likable characters whilst the turn based combat never gets old as it manages to be both fast paced and strategic. Whether you enjoy it more than its successor Persona 4 will ultimately come down to personal taste. Mechanically speaking both games are equally competent. Although I slightly favour P4, due to its cast, I am sure many other players would give P3 the nod due to its darker narrative. Either way Persona 3 Portable is a must have if you own a PSP or Vita. If you can’t appreciate a masterpiece like this there’s no hope for you, so do us all a favour and try to summon a Persona with a regular handgun.