#365Games43: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable – PSP

I mentioned in the Devil Survivor review that I’ve been familiar with the SMT games since the early 90’s but sort of stumbled upon it when I was looking for a decent RPG for the DS/3DS.

As a parent, my video game playing-time has been reduced over the years so I have focused on portable gaming to take advantage of the pockets of time I do have.

Anyway, I was into the Devil Survivor series so looked into what else was available right around the time the PSN released the PS2 classic, Persona 3 FES. I played that for a few days and then downloaded the portable version so I could keep playing when everyone was asleep.

About the game (via Wiki): In Persona 3, the player takes the role of a male high-school student who joins the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES), a group of students investigating the Dark Hour, a time period between one day and the next that few people are aware of. During the Dark Hour, the player enters Tartarus, a large tower containing Shadows, creatures that feed on the minds of humans. To fight the Shadows, each member of SEES is able to summon a Persona, a manifestation of a person’s inner self. The game’s most iconic feature is the method by which the members of SEES release their Personas: by firing a gun-like object called an Evoker at their head. In addition to the standard elements of role-playing games, Persona 3 includes elements of simulation games, as the game’s protagonist progresses day by day through a school year, making friends and forming relationships that improve the strength of his Personas in battle.

The story is the strength of the game, as the complexity of the narrative and character development set P3 apart from most games in its genre. The modern-setting enhances your connection to the events within the game since most of us have had to deal with awkward situations in High School or get out of the subway at midnight and find hundreds of coffins littering the streets. It sucks.

The social aspects of the game, building relationships and performing well in school, adds a complex layer to a genre that was starting to wear thin. As you interact more with characters, your Social Links increase and you are able to summon new Personas and open up new sub-plots within the story. It builds on the shopping element of The World Ends with You and lets you level up your character by eating certain meals, singing karaoke or working part-time at the movie theater for a day.

The actual fighting within this game is confined to a certain area at a certain time, the Tartarus at the Dark Hour, midnight. Throughout the day you’re engaging with classmates, friends and other characters and at night, you’re trudging through 250+ levels of a massive dungeon. The Tartarus is divided into blocks so you can easily teleport to higher levels within the dungeon but the process is a bit slow and repetitive since most of the blocks are identical to each other, save for a few texture changes and color swaps.

This isn’t a large, open-world RPG, so you go back-and-forth with the same locations, a process that can be repetitive and boring. P3 also does a poor job of explaining the Persona Skills, so you often use the same spells over and over because you have no idea what “Mabufu” is.

The graphics are decent, nothing super awesome but the large character profile images are well-done and the anime cut-scenes are high-quality and awesome to watch.

Oh yeah, the soundtrack is fresh and creative as it bounces from a jazzy, rap vibe to opera to rock but the limited environments mean you’re hearing the dorm theme 50,000 times.

Outside of a few minor flaws, this is one of the best RPGs I’ve played. If you own a Sony product then you should download it from the PSN now. Word to your mother in the Velvet Room.