Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable Review

By Kat Bailey - Posted Jul 06, 2010

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable is a great port of one of the best Japanese RPGs to come along in quite a while. Another 80 hours of Persona 3 may be a bit much for series veterans, but it's the perfect opportunity for those who never played -- or finished -- the original game.

The Pros
  • One of the few quality PSP ports on the market
  • Female campaign is substantially different from the original
  • Still a unique, mechanically complex RPG
The Cons
  • Your mileage will vary when it comes to the adventure game interface
  • Music isn't quite as catchy in the female campaign
  • Series veterans may find another 80 hours of Persona 3 to be a bit much

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable is a great port of one of the best Japanese RPGs to come along in quite a while. Rather than creating a bland direct port, Atlus has taken the best elements from the 2007 PS2 cult classic Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 to craft a fantastic role-playing experience that plays to the strengths of its medium though not everyone will want to re-invest 80-100 hours in the game again.

Most JRPG fans will agree that Persona 3 -- and 2008 re-release Persona 3: FES -- are among of the genre’s best in the past several years, notable for its unique combination of complex mechanics and light dating-sim elements. Its much more accessible take on the traditionally hardcore franchise has won it a large number of new fans who have used it as a stepping stone into the Shin Megami Tensei franchise at large.

For the uninitiated, in Persona 3, you take on the role of a high school student who, by day, juggles social commitments and education at Gekkoukan High. By night, you and your friends tap into your Personas, warriors buried deep within your subconscious, to battle the Shadows and other ghastly creatures to save the world.

The newly-released PSP port loses very little in the translation, and adds enough that even Persona 3 veterans might want to consider taking a look. But while the female campaign makes for an excellent addition, fans may find some of the tweaks irritating. And, of course, another 80 hours of what amounts to the same game may be a bit hard to stomach, no matter how good it is.

A Port Handled with Care

Persona 3 Portable is definitely not the quick and dirty port that PSP owners are all too familiar with. Atlus has obviously put some thought into how best to approach a handheld version of the game, and have tweaked a number of elements accordingly.

The first thing Persona 3 vets will notice is that the interface is now more like a graphical adventure. Navigation is handled with a cursor that can be used to select characters, doorways and objects that are highlighted on the screen. The addition was made to reduce the time it takes to move from location to location, and in that, it serves its purpose.

While I understand the reasoning behind the change though, my feelings on it have been mixed. Moving around the city is quicker, sure, but removing the on-screen avatar makes the experience somewhat less personal. It's almost like I'm a god rather than a high-school student, addressing the game's mere mortals from on high.

The tweaks to the battle system, however, are quite welcome. While the basic dungeon crawling remains much the same, the battle system is more in line with that of Persona 4. Characters can now receive direct commands, and foes who have been knocked down can now attack as soon as they get up again.

On one hand, the changes mean that certain bosses can no longer be abused, making those encounters much more difficult. On the other, being able to issue direct commands makes things quite a bit less frustrating, so the changes end up balancing each other out. Basically, if you liked the way Persona 4 went about things, you'll love Persona 3 Portable. If you didn't, then you may want to keep these changes in mind when considering your purchase.



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A Woman's Perspective

Apart from the new interface, the biggest addition to Persona 3 Portable is the ability to play as a girl. It's no mere avatar swap either; the basic story remains intact, but the details are quite different, making it the ideal mode for series veterans.

The biggest change is in the social links. As a girl, it's possible to date the smoldering Akihiko, the French transfer student Bebe and a number of others. Sadly, no lesbian relationships (some diversity would've been great) as an option, but that's perhaps to be expected in a game with a high school setting.

Relationships also play out quite differently this time around.  It's much easier to forge a close relationship with Yukari, and Junpei will frequently express bitterness at having to play second fiddle to a girl. Fans will also appreciate a small cameo by a certain Persona 4 character, which is only possible to attain in the female campaign.

From a combat perspective, there are few differences between the male and female characters. The girl uses a different weapon and can wear different sets of armor, but maintains the same basic ability to use a wide variety of Personas.

In the end, the new social links are the biggest reason to check out the female campaign. And being as that element comprises at least half the game, Persona 3 fans will be pleased. They don't make for an entirely new game, but they certainly add quite a bit to the experience.

Return to Tartarus?

With this great handheld release , it's now really a tough decision to choose which version of Persona 3 is the definitive one. If I had to make a personal decision, the abilty to play as a girl for a change nudges me in favor of Portable, but I miss being able to run around town on foot. And while the battle music in the female campaign isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, it isn't nearly as catchy as the tunes found in the original.

Plus, it's admittedly a tough sell for those who played through the original game, since an 80 - 100 hour RPG is no small commitment. This game is more for those people who have never tried the series before, or for those who made it halfway through the original but never managed to finish it. As someone who falls into the latter camp, I've enjoyed the opportunity to start over from a different perspective and finally finish this thing.

Ultimately, this version of the game is still handily one of the best Japanese RPGs to be released over the past several years. Whether you end up playing it on the PS2 or the PSP, consider this one an essential. If you’re a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to dive into Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable.

Want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?