If you’re a role-playing fan, you’re likely quite familiar with Atlus’ excellent Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Over the years, we’ve seen quite a few top-notch RPG experiences in this series, which is why handheld owners should definitely consider purchasing Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Portable 3 come July. The original Persona 3 debuted on the PS2 back in 2007 and then, Atlus released an enhanced version of the game – Persona 3: FES – a year later; the latter boasted a bunch of improvements and advancements, plus an entirely new story chapter called Answer. It utilized the ongoing JRPG trend of blending social elements with traditional role-playing mechanics, as the player would actually attend school during the daytime and do battle in a special dungeon at night. Once the Dark Hour arrives, dangerous Shadows roam the streets and Tartarus, the supernatural dungeon of evil, opens. The main character and his allies use the power of the Personas to fight these freakish creatures and unsurprisingly, the storyline is great.
So here we have a portable version of the adventure in question and although they’ve had to make a few sacrifices, they’ve also managed to jam most of the PS2 title(s) into this handheld production. One of the new additions is the option of a new playable female character, who will allow you to view different angles of the complex plot. This is great if you finished either Persona 3 iteration a few years ago and it’s a definite bonus for newcomers. As for a required alteration due to the lack of total space, the developers opted to replace the relative free-roaming feel of exploration with a static screen, highlighted by certain points of interest. On the plus side, you don’t really miss much and in reality, I distinctly recall this game, and “exploration” didn’t exactly translate to anything special. This new format might actually make the experience a bit more streamlined and remember, they didn’t remove any of the storyline or dialogue.
The latter is a crucial aspect of the quest, and so is the part where you attend classes and interact with your peers. This is because you actually build your character through Social Links, which essentially means you should befriend as many of your classmates as possible. So for instance, if you join a certain club that meets after school, this interaction may increase a particular skill or inherent statistic. It will also impact the growth of your Persona(s); the more Social Links you form and cultivate, the more abilities that will be available to you in battle. This way, the high school element is anything but childish and irrelevant; it requires you to get more out of social interaction for the benefit of combat success. Battles consist of a turn-based format and a total of three characters per hunting party, but one of the aspects I didn’t like has returned; you only control one of the characters while the other two are handled by AI. Still, the strategy is definitely there, and experimenting with different Personas results in various spells and damage totals.
Like in all SMT games, enemies have very specific strengths and weaknesses, and you really need to do your research in order to be as effective as possible. The Personas, which look totally sweet in addition to being very necessary, can be fused and blended together to create bigger and even more effective Personas with enhanced skills. Furthermore, you’ve got an entire school year to keep building on your party’s overall potential and by the time you’re done, even those intimidating Shadows will be shaking in their boots. As usual, an RPG from Atlus has a lot to do with micromanagement; i.e., what happens outside of battle, and how you prepare for encounters. If this is your bag, there’s little chance you won’t enjoy Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable, which will be ready to go in North America on July 6. So say you’ve got a summer trip planned and it will require some long travel downtime…well, you’ve just found the game that will capture your full attention.
6/7/2010 Ben Dutka