Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable is the third iteration of the highly popular PlayStation 2 role-playing game, Persona 3. It's just as enjoyable but now includes a female protagonist for a fresh perspective, along with new story aspects. It's also been successfully streamlined for greater convenience, finally allowing you to assume direct control of party members. Barring a degree of repetitiveness, P3P is a robust adventure that is especially well suited for series newcomers.
Summon a great variety of customisable persona to demolish your foes. (Credit: Atlus)
The macabre, rich story begins by unveiling the Dark Hour, which is when a towering dungeon called Tartarus appears and releases vile shadow monsters. You're cast as a high school student fighting alongside friends to destroy the shadow menace, relying on the power of personae — ancient beings that represent the many facets of the soul. In addition to offering the original male character, P3P introduces a new female lead that implements eight new friendship bonds called social links. Social links are interesting side stories, often surprising you with exciting twists that add to the main plot's intensity. The new social links alter your dating options and let you learn more intriguing details about the males in the main cast, which should appeal to P3 veterans. Deepening your friendship bonds — perhaps even falling in love — increases your ability to summon stronger personae, giving you a decisive edge.
Dungeon exploration suffers from an outdated maze mechanic and excessive backtracking. Tartarus is segmented into blocks, each containing numerous floors that operate as random mazes littered with shadows. You're given little to break up the monotonous exploration aside from the occasional boss and a change in textures. New rescue missions attempt to spice up the labyrinth, but they're overly simplistic, involving little more than searching a set range of floors to locate a missing person. Quests are somewhat challenging but repetitive, often requiring that you backtrack through previous floors to find items or defeat specific foes. Fortunately, you can now use the main entrance to continue exploring from the floor you left off of, so you won't have to teleport to a previously completed block and work your way back up to where you were —a long-awaited adjustment.
The sheer volume of personae and unique abilities keep the combat interesting. While your teammates are limited to summoning a single persona, you're able to carry up to 12 simultaneously. Each persona and enemy specialises in an attack type, such as fire or slash, while also harbouring weaknesses. The goal is to exploit an enemy's weakness, knocking it off balance so your team can perform a devastating group attack, which encourages strategic planning. A helpful "analyse" ability lets you determine a foe's weakness without entering the menu system, which speeds up battles. The new cooperative techniques enable you and an ally to perform a powerful critical attack that knocks a sole standing enemy off-balance, making it much easier to trigger group attacks.
Finally: a game that rewards you for hanging out with people you marginally dislike. (Credit: Atlus)
A variety of tactical options help you manage your team in tough situations. You can issue specific instructions for teammates, or, for the first time in P3, you can seize direct control of your allies. This handy adjustment is the game's most welcome change, as advantageous bosses use status ailments such as charm to turn your own attacks against you, increasing your need to assume direct command. Though enemies are clever, many standard battles devolve into routine elemental casting to capitalise on an enemy's weakness; fortunately, a lightning-fast autobattle option serves to lessen any repetitiveness.