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Navigating Nostalgia - Persona 3 Portable

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It warps our memories, clouds our judgments, and alters our perceptions. Nowhere does nostalgia hit many of us harder than with classic games. When we think back to the games we played as a child, we often see them with crisp graphics, tight controls, and unsurpassed soundtracks, when in reality they were blurry, incoherent messes with clumsy controls. Though we remember these games as being the epitome of fun, our fun was just the result of much lower standards.

Sometimes however, our memories serve us correctly. In these cases the games may not be exactly as pretty as we remember, but the fun holds up. For years I have been told that I need to go back and play games I missed, such as Final Fantasy VII, Fatal Frame, and Half Life. Until now I have always avoided doing so out of fear these games would not hold up to everyone’s praise. But what if these games are as good as everyone says? It would be a real shame to miss out on a true classic. Though I will be giving full reviews of these games, I will not be assigning them a score. My intent is not to critic the game on every level, but rather to find out if these games are still worth playing.

What I hope to accomplish in this ongoing feature, is to navigate the maze of nostalgia. I want to go back and find these games that stand the test of time, and bring them once more into the spotlight for a new generation to enjoy.

Persona 3 Portable P3P

Overview:
Though Persona 3s setting and social simulator aspects will feel fresh and different to anyone who has yet to try the Persona series, Persona 3 still had many of the JRPG genre’s staples, love them or hate them, such as turn based combat and heavy grinding. Captivating stories and genuinely interesting characters are two game components that will usually stand the test of time quite well, but are they enough to make Persona 3 Portable’s 70+ hours of repetitive dungeon crawling worth delving into this long after its release?

Review:
As someone who has never played the original Persona 3 or its director’s cut, I will not be making comparisons between the original game and its portable counterpart. My play through of Persona 3 Portable was done on a PS Vita so I will also not be able to comment on load times as they may be experienced on the PSP.

Long time fans of JRPGS will be quick to notice that Persona 3 strayed quite far from many of the themes that we had come to expect from the genre. Instead of exploring a fantasy world populated by kings, queens, and heroes on epic quests for vengeance, you found yourself exploring a Japanese city populated by gossipy teens, corrupt businessmen, and track and field stars on somewhat less than epic quests to get a college scholarship. Some may think that this latter group of individuals sounds far less interesting than the former, but in reality it was Persona 3s abundance of interesting and well written characters that made this game a cult classic.

With an intro sequence that presents so many questions, and offers up so much mystery, it’s hard not to push through to find the answers no matter how long it takes, and wow, what a long time it takes. Persona 3 offers a main story that anyone would be hard pressed to complete in less than 70 hours and enough extra content that one could easily double that.

The story revolves around the “Dark Hour”, a mysterious 25th hour of each day that is only observed by a very small group of people. During this hour the majority of the population turns into coffin-like objects, and everything around them just stops. For the few who remain aware during this Dark Hour, an ability to summon a being called a Persona is granted. A Persona is essentially the manifestation of that person’s essence, and every Persona User has the ability to summon only one specific Persona, everyone except the protagonist that is. The protagonist can gain, swap, and even combine Personas in to new and more powerful forms.

Despite his or her unique ability, the protagonist is far from the most interesting person in Persona 3. As you progress through the game you will continue to learn more about not only your other party members, but the seemly ordinary members of the community as well. Though forging relationships with various people has real tangible benefits, those benefits are not what pushed me to chat up my fellow classmates, or go out for ramen with the rich girl who’s never tried fast food before.

What pushed me to interact with these characters was that nearly all of them had a genuinely interesting story to tell. Each conversation holds further insight into each character’s life, and you can rarely know what to expect. Who would have thought that the “Gourmet King” was part of a cult, and that he joined as a way of helping over come never being able to live up to the standards set by his late brother.

Throughout the course of Persona 3, the player will be visiting and revisiting a small selection of environments, ranging from a strip mall, your dorm, and your high school.  Each of these environments is well detailed in an anime style that will feel familiar to anyone who’s watched one of the many modern day anime series, or movies set in real world cities. All of these environments gain somewhat of a comforting familiarity to them after awhile, which results in a much larger impact when these environments start to be affected by the events of the game.

Navigation of these non-combat environments will be done by moving a cursor around the area and selecting either people or objects to interact with. Your character will not be visible on the screen during navigation, but on-screen portraits of both yourself and others will be displayed during interactions. When I first began the game, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of direct control of the protagonist during these sections, but as the game progressed I began to appreciate the time saved by not having to walk my character from place to place.

Combat takes place almost exclusively in the games main dungeon, Tartarus. During dungeon exploration you will have full control over the protagonist, while up to three of your selected party members will follow close behind. You do have the option to tell your party to split up, either in search of items or enemies to fight. It may be because of my specific play style, but I never found splitting up to be a beneficial option. Rather, it just slowed me down. Exploration of Tararus is without a doubt the games biggest weakness, and where it really shows its age.

With well over 200 floors and every one looking almost identical, it won’t take long before your trips to Tartarus begin to feel like a bit of a chore. Dungeon exploration in Persona 3 will never reward you with a sense of discovery, and will only be a means to an end. Combat in Tartarus is somewhat repetitive as well, but to a much lesser degree. Enough strategy is needed in each battle to keep it from becoming stale. Unless you are immensely overpowered for the floor you are exploring, you will rarely have the option to just hit attack over and over until the battle is done.

Combat begins when either you stab an enemy with your sword or the enemy gets a swipe in on you. Once this happens, combat switches to a turn based system, and depending on who got that combat initiating strike in, you may or may not get to attack first. 99% of your fights will consist of determining your enemy’s weakness, and then using that against them to initiate an “all out attack”. The game does a very good job of explaining to you exactly how that works, so don’t worry if you didn’t understand what I just said.

Another way that Persona 3 was different from your standard JRPG is in its music. Persona 3 features a decent array of Jpop, though as is always the case with music, what that means to you will vary greatly depending on your tastes. I personally found some of it rather catchy while some of it began to grate on me after awhile.

The graphics hold up about as well as any other game from the PS2 era. The animations and character models during the dungeons are far inferior to what we are used to playing these days, but their anime style prevents the graphics from aging as poorly as older games that attempted realism. The use of hand drawn portraits for all interactions outside of combat really helps to keep the game from showing its age during these portions.

If Persona 3 released today for the first time, with nothing changed other than a graphics overhaul, I believe it would score nearly as well now as it did back when it was released. Though the dungeon crawling becomes quite repetitive, the frequent boss battles, story, Persona fusing, and social life simulation keeps the game interesting and very enjoyable right through to the end. The sheer amount of content in this game is astounding.

Whether you just want to complete the game and be done with it, or defeat every extra boss, fuse every possible persona, or play though the whole game again in new game+ as a different gender with new relationship options, you’re sure to be satisfied. If you’re like me and you missed this title back when it was released, and you have some means of playing it now, I highly recommend you do so. It’s not a perfect game, but no JRPG fan should miss it.

 

 

About The Author: Craig Gamache (Staff Writer)

 

Bio: Craig Gamache is a life long resident of Vancouver, BC, who has felt the need to share his opinion on everything gaming related for the better part of the last two decades. Though he enjoys big budget blockbuster games as much as the next gamer, he has recently turned much of his attention to the indie game scene. [READ FULL BIO]

@CraigGamache  : craig@shogungamer.com