If Persona 3 Portable were a meal it would feature a symphony of unique yet perfectly melded flavours; one part simulation, and another part random battle RPG. To drink: a tall cool glass of romance. Finally, a delectable dessert chock full of catchy music, creepy environments, and robust enemy design. A true feast indeed!
Initially released in July of 2006 in Japan, the original iteration of Persona 3 involved a male Japanese student transferring to Gekkoukan High School. He then becomes embroiled in strange and mysterious happenings that cause normal people to contract a strange disease that makes them completely apathetic to everything around them.
The success and popularity of Persona 3 mean that it has seen various re-releases on several consoles throughout the generations, as well as some very nice additions and updates. One of the biggest differences between the original 3 to Portable is the addition of a female protagonist storyline. This update also saw the game receive a bunch of newly composed music, as well as romance options with the male characters and more difficulty-level choices when starting the game.
No matter which of the two genders you decide to choose (sorry, there is no non-binary choice to be had for those who don’t fit into the limited gender dichotomy), the gameplay and flow remain relatively the same.
Riding a late-night train, unexpected delays mean you arrive at around midnight. Suddenly, you notice everything bathed in a sickly green light, upright coffins stand eerily in the streets, and an impossibly large moon hangs heavily in the sky. You hurry back to your new dorm and are immediately asked by a creepy young boy to sign an incredibly vague, and somewhat suspect, contract. The JRPG-ing has truly begun!
Gameplay consists of two very distinct elements: the visual novel-esque simulation game where you hang out with your friends, go on dates, and level up your social stats, and then the portion where you battle enemies and level up your combat skills.
Much of your time will be spent in the simulation. Attending classes during the day, and choosing how to spend your time after school. Your goal is to raise your Academics, Charm, and Courage stats. Doing things like working part-time after school, or eating special meals will help raise these stats, and many characters you meet will not give you the time of day if you don’t have a high enough score in a particular stat.
Making friends with these characters will create social bonds with people and their personas. During the mysterious dark hour – an extra hour of time that exists between midnight and the start of the next day – when most normal people are unaware and locked safely in their coffins, there are a small percentage of special people, like yourself, who remain aware. These people have the ability to unlock the special soul inside of their hearts, their persona.
Each person with a persona is connected to a specific arcana. Yes, an arcana as in the cards of the tarot. Your main character is represented by “The Fool” arcana and is special in that they are able to bond with any personas they find and thus can create, call upon, and switch between them at will during battle. This becomes useful during fights when you need various elemental attacks to exploit enemy weaknesses.
Each persona has an affinity for a certain element, for example, Junpei’s (one of your teammates) persona can use fire-based spells, but the main character’s ability to switch between any personas they have on them can help make short work of battles.
Most evenings, after school, you can choose to enter the Tartarus: a strange tower that appears during the Dark Hour right where your school usually sits. As you explore, traveling ever upwards and onwards through the seemingly never-ending floors of this tower, you take on a variety of shadows in an attempt to reach the top and put a stop to whatever nefarious activity is happening inside.
Leveling your character inside the Tartarus can become a bit of a grind, and it is an unfortunate necessity because the bosses become steadily more and more difficult. The pain of being caught under-leveled and having your party decimated is something any lover of JRPGs can relate to. The environment changes periodically within the Tartarus as you wend your way upwards which can be a pleasant change, as the entire place can start to feel incredibly repetitive.
As seems to be a staple of any well-renowned JRPG, the music of P3P is extraordinarily catchy, and as the setting or time of day changes so does the music to capture the mood of each area.
Overall, Persona 3 Portable is an intriguing RPG with a dark side. The simulation gameplay will keep those fans of friendship and romance-building happy, while the battle system breaks up the visual novel gameplay nicely. This is a well-balanced game with something to offer to a variety of gamer palates, however, for those new to the world of Persona, there are better installments to play on the Switch first.
Persona 3 Portable £17.99
Persona 3 Portable is an entertaining JRPG that is quirky and a little bit dark. The friendship and romance simulation gameplay is interspersed nicely with the battle elements and will keep many-a-gamer entertained for a multitude of hours.