Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable

There are certain games that reach a level of popularity to the point that video game companies put out endless remakes and ports for various reasons, such as making improvements to the gameplay and presentation, or just make more money. Among the recipients of this treatment is Atlus's Persona 3, originally for the PlayStation 2, which first saw a special edition that added an extra game-length scenario, and more recently has seen a port to the PlayStation Portable entitled Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable. While this version makes some compromises to make the game play on the system, it nonetheless sports some improvements to its gameplay, not to mention an additional mode of play, to make it worth coming back to again by veterans and newcomers alike.

The biggest change over prior versions of Persona 3 is the ability to play as a male or female protagonist, with major differences in the storyline and Social Links based on the chosen gender. Another major change is that in battle, the player can directly input commands for the protagonist's allies instead of relying on the A.I. to give them orders, a change that helps the port more than hurts. Also new is an easier difficulty level where the player has thirty Plumes of Dusk that fully recover the player's party in case the protagonist dies in battle, with ten on the second-easiest setting. Combat is still enjoyable and fast-paced, with exploiting enemies' elemental weaknesses adding a large degree of strategy, although the game can be intimidating to play on higher difficulty levels given the number of enemies that can use instant death skills.

Play control is much tighter than in previous iterations of the game, with major changes including the ability to change allies' equipment in the game menus instead of having to talk with them, and simplified exploration outside Tartarus alongside shortcuts for moving between areas, which shaves off a dozen or so hours of superfluous playing time present in prior versions. The PlayStation Portable's built-in pause and quicksave also compensate for prior versions' lack of said features, although there are still some things that can be hard to discover without a guide, such as the solutions to Velvet Room requests and certain Social Links. Still, control is easily an improvement over prior versions of Persona 3, although those who yearn for standard RPG exploration will be in for disappointment.

The story is still a strong suit throughout the game, with the plot, dialogue, and Social Links adjusted for the female protagonist, and the Social Links providing depth to the playable characters and many NPCs, and the main storyline being solid, in spite of some minor pacing issues due to the game' calendar setup.

The soundtrack also varies somewhat depending upon whether the player plays as the male or female protagonist, with most of the tracks by composer Shoji Meguro being generally solid. The voice acting is decent, although Fuuka is still annoying during battle given her stating things that are painfully obvious.

While the graphics during exploration of Tartarus remain the same as in prior versions, and look nice, the visuals elsewhere have been simplified somewhat, consisting of still scenes with anime portraits, a setup that somewhat hurts certain key scenes, but is still easy on the eyes.

Finally, given the simplified exploration outside Tartarus, not to mention the fact that characters no longer become tired while exploring Tartarus (only after the player leaves), this version is shorter, clocking in somewhere from forty to sixty hours. Overall, given the improvements to combat and choice of a male or female protagonist, Persona 3 Portable is worth playing by both veterans of prior versions and newcomers alike. It does retain some flaws from prior versions, though, such as being intimidating to play on higher difficulty levels and the annoyance of certain voice actors such as Fuuka, but is ultimately a solid experience.

The Good:
+Worth playing again for female protagonist.
+Improvements in combat and control.
+Solid sound and graphics.

The Bad:
-Can be intimidating to play on higher difficulties.
-Simplified graphics hurt some cutscenes.
-Fuuka is still annoying.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 40-60 Hours

Overall Score: 9/10

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