A large part of the game is spent exploring the mysterious tower called Tartarus, which appears during the Dark Hour. Sadly Tarturus doesn’t have any elevators so you’ll have to explore it floor by floor. You can see Shadows as you investigate, so combat is mostly avoidable, which is great when you just want to get to an objective or get some treasure. If you feel you’re powerful enough you can split up your party and have everyone explore by themselves, your allies will then gather treasure and try to avoid fights unless told otherwise. The bonus to splitting up is that you can find staircases to the next level quickly as well as gain more experience for those who participate in battles.
Persona 3 Portable’s combat sticks pretty close your standard JRPG; your party of up to four Persona users engage in turn based combat with a number over enemies. You can carry multiple Persona into Tarturus each time and switch between them in battle. Depending on what Persona you have equipped your character will have different elemental strengths and weaknesses and access to different spells and abilities. Spells play a larger part in P3 than most games, though. By analyzing your enemies you can find their elemental weakness which when leveraged will not only deal more damage but also give the character casting the spell an extra turn. This becomes a main strategy in combat as you try to chain together spells and abilities to efficiently take out your enemies and also ends up being pretty fun as you get further into the game and have to balance your spells and abilities.
Some upgrades from Persona 4 have made it into Portable, such as the ability to directly control your party members in combat or the ability for party members to take a lethal blow for the main character. Overall, the combat is fast and enjoyable in short bursts, but it doesn’t do anything truly game-changing to your average JRPG.
The other half revolves around your high school life. Here you build relationships with other students through conversations, extra-curricular and out of school activities. The relationships you build with other people take the form of ‘Social Links’. These social connections grant your fused Personas extra experience points and strength for battle within Tartarus, making it a worthwhile endeavor–even if just want to fight Shadows. The characters themselves are pretty cool for the most part and what really got me attached to each character was the dialouge and how real it felt. My favorite Social Link is made with a person you meet playing an MMO over your summer vacation; your friend will talk in complete internet-speak including emoticons and make mentions of how 1337 she is. I found myself enjoying the social portions more than the Tarturus portions of the game, which is odd as I’m not usually a big sim fan.
Outside of Tartarus, the open 3D environments from the PS2 game have been stripped in favor of a point-and-click style. This means that you won’t see the characters behind the text bubbles acting things out, so instead of seeing Mitsuru walk through a door you get a text bubble that says “Mitsuru entered the room”. It’s certainly not a game breaker but you do feel a little less immersed in the game.
In the end my largest complaint is the lack of cutscenes and the complete omission of the epilogue chapter from P3:FES, The Answer. It’s seems like an odd omission considering that a lot of the dialog in P3P is from FES and not the original P3.
Overall though I love P3P; from the music to the graphics to the voice work, all of it, just awesome. There are a couple of things you should keep in mind if you’re considering buying P3P, though. While I love the game, this is very subjective–like any review. This is a proper JRPG, and if you tend to dislike JRPGs then forget about my praise: this game really isn’t for you. The second thing you should keep in mind is that this is a really long game. Depending on your skill and difficulty setting P3P could take you 70 hours or more.
Developer: Atlus and Criware
Genre: JRPG, Dungeon Crawler, High School sim.
Time: Roughly 60 – 70 hours.
Gripes: Lack of cut scenes. The removal of extras from Persona 3 FES. Dungeon tile sets easily become repetetive even though they are occasionally changed.
Get it for the: Great story, characters, music and fun combat.