As you progress through the game you will discover that there are two things you can't escape -- a full moon and finals week. You see, every time a full moon rolls around you'll need to go head to head with a large boss. This is how you will advance the story and make it even further into the tower. Knowing that you have this deadline adds even more stress. And speaking of stress, let's not even get started on the hell that is finals week.
Of course, fans of the PlayStation 2 version of Persona 3 will already know all about the story and gameplay. For the most part this is a faithful port of the four year old console game. It makes a few concessions for the handheld and it adds some content, combing elements of both Persona 4 and FES to make an even stronger experience.
We'll start with the good news. For starters, Persona 3 Portable now features a second playable character. In the original game you could only play as a teenage boy, but in this portable version you can choose an attractive young girl. This drastically changes the way the story plays out, offering a chance to socialize with different people and have a much different dating experience. This also gives veterans of the game enough of a reason to go back through the adventure. You'll find that there are a bunch of new activities and jobs to do after school, making this a much fuller experience.
There have also been a few major tweaks to the combat system. Taking a page from Persona 4, you are now able to control each character in your squad. In the original version the computer controlled most of your team, but in this PSP port you choose which way you prefer. There are also a few other changes made to the combat, such as the ability to guard ailing characters from taking a fatal blow.
In order to fit all of this content into one small package, Atlus has been forced to make a few cuts. The most controversial cut was the way you navigate through the world. Instead of seeing everything in 3D, you now travel the world via a cursor. You drag a large circle all around an overhead layout, clicking on different people or marks that will take you to different parts of the school, dorm, mall, you name it. For some odd reason this has upset a lot of Persona 3 purists, but I found it a lot easier and faster to get around. Scrolling around the screen with a cursor really sped a lot of things up, which is probably for the best when you're playing it on a handheld system.
Despite being based on a four year old game, the presentation is top notch. The tower sequences look good and the combat runs smoothly on the PSP's small screen. You'll find that most of the school elements are done through still images, but even those look sharp and are nicely detailed. Persona 3 Portable may not be as shiny as Crisis Core or Peace Walker, but it more than holds its own in the looks department.
The game's soundtrack, on the other hand, is outstanding. The music is made up of all kinds of interesting tunes, including Japanese rap, jazz, funk and pop. It's all over the place. The soundtrack won't be to everybody's liking, but I admire how unique it is. I'm also impressed with the level of voice acting, which is a lot better than I was expecting. The line reading is good, which is a treat given how much spoken dialog is in this game.
Even with some downsizing, Persona 3 Portable manages to be an incredible port of one the PlayStation 2's best role-playing games. Best of all, it adds enough new content to warrant a second look for anybody who played through the game years ago. This is the most compelling role-playing game to come out of Japan in ten years and a must-own for PSP fans around the world.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Persona 3 Portable would have been a great game even if it was nothing more than a straight port of the PlayStation 2 game, but instead Atlus added enough new content to make this the first must-own PSP RPG of the year!
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