Confession time: we probably could have had this review of Persona 3 Portable up last week. Could, of course, is quite a bit different from should, but nonetheless there isn’t a ton here that's different from either of Atlus' PS2 releases of Persona 3.
But while Persona 3 FES was something of an expansion/addendum to the formula, Persona 3 Portable is its own beast. Yes, Sony's infamously-mandated requirement of a fairly significant chunk of the game needing to be new from PS2 to PSP ports has given us an entire story told from a female lead's perspective rather than the usual headphones-packing dude, but in practice very, very little has changed here. You'll still spend the Dark Hour - that hour between midnight and 12:00:01 where we're all coffins and monsters roam the world - running around a massive, randomly-shifting dungeon, but all the stuff outside that has changed a little.
The differences may at first seem rather cosmetic; characters may flub a line and refer to your female character as "he" or "him" rather than your proper pronoun, but your Social Links, the potential romantic relationships you can have and even the game's menus have shifted from blue to pink. How does this change the core game? It doesn't, not really, but it's not the only difference between the console and portable versions of Atlus' dungeon crawler/dating/high school sim.
Arguably the biggest shift has been in the game's presentation. Gone are the gorgeous and creepy set-up cutscenes that were so beautifully animated, replaced instead by barely-panning screens and stills with some sound effects overlaid. The same goes for any sort of 3D exploration outside of Tartarus, the dungeon you'll be splitting the bulk of your time with. Instead, exploration is relegated to moving a cursor around static screens to chat with people and transition between areas.
This does remove a lot of the feeling of exploration that existed outside of the combat parts of things, but it's not all bad. Suddenly, fetch quests can take seconds, and quickly jumping between primary locations by just pulling up a menu buried under the Square button can be a godsend when needing to backtrack. While we certainly miss a lot of the atmosphere and slightly creepy punch that the opening and major story moments had when fully animated, there's a bit of whittling down in the tedium that could also set in during the late game moments. All of the basic functionality; conversing, chatting people up, storyline conversations - that's all here, it's just... different.
It's pretty obvious why Atlus went this route: the PSP isn't quite up to the task of rendering the amount of detail that was poured into all the various strip mall destinations and shopping centers. By essentially taking snapshots of many of them as they were in the PS2 version (not to mentioning rendering plenty more with extra detail as static backdrops), the little bits can still come through. Is it as immersive? Nope, not by half, but the benefits to quickly zipping through areas can't be understated. The load times are helped no doubt by the option to install data to your Memory Stick, though this must be turned on every time you wake up your PSP from sleep mode.
Smaller things like new soundtrack options when you're girling it up (none of which seemed to match the original tunes and at times even clashed a little) and the ability to choose a new male envoy, Theodore, when combining your summoned monsters in the Velvet Room add some longer-term differences, but they aren't nearly as impactful as the new presentation style or dialogue bits. That's a good thing, though, as Persona is still one of the benchmarks for amazing localization and voice acting. Despite it having been released twice already, this is still an adventure worth playing through again.
Jul 7, 2010