Back in 2007, Atlus released Persona 3 on the PS2, the third entry in the spin-off Persona series which came from Atlus's long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise to critical acclaim, earning numerous awards for its unique gameplay which challenged many of the RPG archetypes common during that era. A year later in 2008, Atlus released Persona 3: FES on the PS2 yet again, an updated director's cut of the original game that featured a number of beneficial changes and a brand-new extra story that took place after the original game's ending. Now, in 2010, Atlus is releasing the third version of the game on the PSP, entitled Persona 3 Portable, which removes the extra story from the FES version and a few other aspects but adds a number of changes from the game's successor, Persona 4. Atlus USA, the North American branch of the company who develops the titles in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, recently gave Gaming Union a hands-on preview of the game. With P3P being the third iteration of the same game, the question remains: are these changes enough to give players another reason to play through Persona 3 again?
The first thing fans of the original game will notice is the new addition of a female playable character alongside the original male character. While the same basic storyline and gameplay are present in both paths, the female path either alters or completely changes many of the original Social Links that were present in the male character's side. For those who haven't played Persona 3 or Persona 4, Social Links are created when the player forms a bond with specific characters, which in turn strengthen the character's ability to create more powerful Personas, which are demons whose skills you can use to defeat enemies in battle. Another change for the two sides comes in battle, where each character is relegated to a specific weapon instead of being able to wield any weapon like in the original version (the male character wields a one-handed sword while the female character wields a naginata, a pole-like weapon).
For both sides, however, the major change in P3P comes with moving from a third-person to an isometric perspective using a point-and-click interface, as we thoroughly discussed in one of our earlier previews of the game (http://www.gamingunion.net/news/persona-3-portable-to-redefine-psp-ports--914.html). For a console RPG, moving the character around from area to area is alright, but for a portable RPG many players might not have as much time to spend, so being able to move from area to area quickly and easily makes the gameplay experience that much more smoother. Players can now save at their desk during school (in the original games, one could only save at the dorms or in Tartarus, the dungeon where most of the RPG gameplay took place), and by pressing the Square button, players can move from area to area instantly.
In addition to the above changes, P3P also includes numerous changes to the core gameplay and battle mechanics found in the original versions. Outside of battle players can now take up side jobs like in Persona 4 to boost their stats alongside the options that already originally existed, such as participating in clubs, studying, and going to specific restaurants. When leveling up Personas, some will give you Skill Cards, which can be used to teach skills to Personas which might not normally have access to that skill. These learned skills can then be passed down through fusion, which can lead to insanely powerful new combinations of Personas.
However, P3P's battles are where many of the major changes in the game take place. P3P revamps the original game's battle system by implementing many of the changes found in Persona 4. Players can now directly command all of the party members instead of being forced to have the AI control everyone besides the main character, although having the AI control them is still an option as it was in Persona 4 for those who want it. The dizzy/knock down system from Persona 4, which required two hits to an opponent's weakness instead of just one like in the original is added, and fusion spells, which previously required two specific Personas to be attached to the main character, are now items which can be used at any time during battle.
As stated before, Social Links in P3P have been majorly altered for the female playable character, with many of the characters being replaced with brand-new characters. Social Links also carry over some of the changes from Persona 4, such as parts of the important dialog during specific scenes being voiced, as well as the ability to be "close friends" with the romantic Social Links instead of being required to date them once you reached a specific level.
For fans of the original game, Persona 3 Portable gives a fresh new take on the original game with the new female playable character and includes many of the gameplay improvements from Persona 4 which should make playing through the original male playable character's side worth the extra trip. For those who are new to the Persona series, or just started with last year's remake of Persona on the PSP, the new refinements will make the game that much easier to get into. From what we can see, Persona 3 Portable feels like a console RPG but includes many of the traits that one would expect from a portable RPG, creating a gameplay experience that should be perfect for those on-the-go and those who have a little more time to spend.