I don’t remember when I picked up Persona 3 Portable. I know it was months after the release and long after everyone else on the internet had stopped talking about the game. The game just sat there in my PSP for a long time as well. I had started the game but set it down after playing maybe 30 minutes, the game just didn’t grab me. And then I forgot all about it. Until a friend decided to do a Let’s Play of Persona 4 earlier this year. Persona 4 looked interesting, the concept of being a group of high school students who can summon beings cribbed from the world’s religions seemed pretty interesting. But, I don’t spend a lot of time in front of a television gaming anymore though and P4 is a PS2 title… That is when I remembered that I had P3P lying around. This is one of the reasons that Let’s Plays are so great! I never would have given P3P another look if I hadn’t been able to see a lot of the content in a game in the franchise without having to invest a lot of time.
Now, I think I’ve gone on the record that I don’t think High School was the best time of my life. I’m of the opinion that if you peaked in high school you’re in a pretty sorry state, seeing as you got around 80 more years of living to do. Anyway, if anything would turn me off in P3P it was going to be the high school “simulation” part of the game. But they really aren’t that bad in this version of the game a lot of the running around has been streamlined out of the game. The high school socializing and story line, except for one part I talk about later, don’t get in the way of the dungeon crawling it was easy enough to get it out of the way quickly. The majority of my time in the game was spent running through randomly generated dungeons and killing monsters.
The demons you summon, or personas as they’re called, are the heart of P3P. “Demons” here is really a generic term used to mean any sort of supernatural being, most of them couldn’t be considered a demon as we in the West understand the word. The cast of summonable personas in the game include many figures and beings from the world’s mythologies, theologies, and folklores. I started the game using Orpheus and completed it with a team that had amongst others Thor, Chi You, and Satan on it! These later personas are obtained through a process called “fusion” that combines two or more lower level personas together. High powered demons remain unusable though unless you are a high enough level to summon them and they’ve been unlocked through the other major part of the game called “social links.” You’ll want more powerful ones as the Persona you use not only determines your characters stats but also your weaknesses, strengths, and spell selection. Creating new demons with new powers and no weaknesses is a neat concept and I enjoyed fusing demons together throughout the entire 65 hours I played but at times the process seems really random. I’m told this can be remedied by sinking more time into the game. The problem though is that you need to sink A LOT of time in order to see the best and most powerful demons. A LOT. Hundreds of hours even. That seems excessive in this day and age.
Social Linking is the other major component of the game and helps drive the narrative forward. As such it’s also where the high school simulation part comes in. To advance your social links you’ll be having conversations with other people in the game, mostly classmates and fellow students. This aspect of the game is similar in ways to old style adventure gaming where you’re presented with a puzzle and must find the single correct solution in order to advance the social link. Each time you advance the link you’ll have access to more powerful personas and each persona within that link will be at a higher power when you fuse it! Completing a link will give you access to the most powerful personas in the game (I think.) High school in Japan seems really different than it is here in the states. It’s mostly clubs and studying as opposed to crippling social anxiety and avoiding bullies. Or was that just MY high school experience? The setting is foreign but think like an awkward teenager and treat the conversations as puzzles and I was fine. If you really hate this aspect you can cheat through it using a FAQ. It was well worth it for the more fun and enjoyable parts of the game. There is a dating game aspect to the social links and this made me a little uncomfortable. You play as a high school kid in the game but going through the process of trying to pick up on high school kids made me feel a little weird. Thankfully, the game doesn’t devolve into pandering to fetishists!
I’m glad I stuck it out with P3P. I didn’t understand how the game was structured and was initially turned off by the setting but the game doesn’t force you into that aspect of them game. The game is beatable without doing any of the links it’ll just take you longer and might be more difficult. But, I suggest you do a few of the social links if just to get stronger personas sooner. Just use GameFAQs to negotiate the social links. I wouldn’t pick up any of the earlier Persona games or even the ones on the Playstation 2 unless you have time to sit in front of your TV and game these days. There is now though a version of Persona 4 on the Vita. It might be as streamlined as the PSP version.
P3P scratched an itch for meaty, long JRPGs that I thought I’d lost in 2001! Maybe, I can get around to completing Final Fantasy XII now?