I should preface this post with a warning: if you’re sick and tired of hearing about Persona (and I could understand how that might be the case, what with roughly the first six months of the podcast being filled with Elaine and me gushing semi-incoherently about social links and drug-dealing foxes), then you might want to close your browser now. Go ahead, I won’t judge you. And I’ll only cry a little.
Even with the obsessive love of all things Atlus that I have been carefully cultivating over the last several years, I really didn’t think that I was going to get quite as into Persona 3 Portable as I have. I was, of course, deluding myself, but most people have been kind enough to not point that out to me. Anyway, aside from maybe an hour or two of playtime split between Metroid Prime 2 and Golden Sun, it’s literally all I’ve played since the last time I updated this column. I haven’t even touched WoW, which should tell you a bit about how devoted I’ve been. Now, after sinking 80-90 hours into the PS2 version of Persona 3 (120-ish if you include the FES content in that total), you might wonder why I have taken it upon myself to rack up another playthrough of that length, particularly when I have so many other worthy titles currently collecting dust on my shelves. All I can tell you is that P3P is NOT the same game as P3. It’s better. A lot better. Well, maybe that’s not ALL I can tell you…
1. The female main character is more than just a skin. Putting a female main character option in P3P seemed like a pretty cool idea, and it was one of the reasons (read as: justifications) I was really interested in giving the reboot a shot even though I had already sunk so much time into the console version. All too often, though, this option is little more than a cosmetic change. The graphics are different, and maybe you’ll get a few altered dialogue options, but things basically follow the same path. In P3P, however, huge chunks of the game change depending on whether you choose the female or the male main character; this is most notable in the social links. You would expect the obvious change to be that the romance options are different, and this is certainly the case, but that’s not where it ends; some social links are changed, some are absent, and some are completely new. My current favorite is the Strength link, which was the sports team manager in P3, and is now Koromaru (quite possibly my favorite team member, because HE DOESN’T TALK).
2. You can use fast travel. Remember how you used to have to haul ass all the way across town every time you wanted to go from place to place? Remember how it was a lot easier to just hit the damn square button in P4? Well, now you can do that here as well. This is balanced a bit by the fact that you don’t actually walk around in any given location (aside, of course, from the dungeons themselves); rather, people and things of interest have icons on them that you must click on to interact. Sometimes this is nice, because you can kind of take in everything at once and see, for instance, if there are any social link folks in the area who might be down for some hanging out, but it admittedly takes a bit away from the overall experience (they also took away the animated cutscenes). Given the size of the game, I suppose there had to be a few cutbacks, so while this is a bit of a downer, I’m okay with it overall.
3. You can control your party directly. This is the biggie. Anyone who has spent a large amount of time playing Persona 3 has had at least one moment when he or she has screamed outright at a party member who has done something mind-blowingly stupid, because you do not directly tell them what to do, only what general battle tactics to use. This was the biggest improvement P4 made over P3; the ability to give direct commands took away the need to sit, fingers crossed, through a major battle, hoping that Mitsuru would remember that people need to be HEALED a bit more than enemies need to be CHARMED. Not that that ever happened to me, you understand. Anyway, P3P takes a cue from P4 and adds this option to your tactics. I think this change alone would have been enough to get me to play again, honestly. You can also equip your party members without actually having to talk to them, which is not only handy when shopping for stuff, but also a lot less annoying. Dear Yukari: just take the goddamn bow and SHUT UP. And heal me. Bitch.
4. Dungeons are a lot more streamlined. I often feel that the fighting part of Persona games is just something I have to do in order to have more time to social link. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that social links tend to be more addictive. It’s like pausing your game of Sims to go play Pokemon for an hour or so; they’re both great, it’s just a major gear-switch. That’s why I’m really pleased by the way the dungeons have been made more convenient for serial social-linkers like myself in P3P. I recall, in P3, that I would dungeon-crawl in smaller chunks than I do in P3P; a set amount of floors in Tartarus open up at a time, but long before you could hit that wall on your first foray into newly-available territory in P3, you were basically forced to stop, because you would run out of precious SP, or your party members would become fatigued and whiny. In P3P, though, my play style has changed drastically; although Fuuka and your party members will still bitch about being exhausted, they never seem to actually get the “Tired” status that affects their combat, and the SP problem is solved by allowing you to pay for healing at the save point in the lobby (not as expensive as Fox, but also…. no Fox, which is very very sad). The removal of these limitations usually means that when a new block of floors opens up in Tartarus, I go straight through in one visit, warping out periodically to save and heal. I usually return once or twice to rescue the people who somehow get lost there (another new feature contrived, I expect, to keep you coming back to the dungeon now that your actual progress is faster) or to fulfill Theo’s requests (Theo is Margaret’s brother; apparently you can choose either of them, so obviously I went with the dude). This way, I probably spend about the same amount of time in Tartarus as I did before, but it’s all condensed into much fewer visits, leaving me more nights to stat-boost or social link. I’m a fan.
5. You can personalize your Personas. Yes, you will still spend a large amount of time re-rolling your fusions to get the skills you want. However, you now have the added benefit of skill cards, which can be given to you by other characters as rewards, purchased from the antique store, or even gained from your existing Personas when they reach a given level. This means that, with some limitations, you can give your Personas pretty much any ability you want, as long as you have the card to do so. I’m sure this could be used/exploited way more than I have done, but I’m actually perfectly content with the benefit I’ve discovered, which is giving Invigorate 3 to pretty much every Persona I can (and then making sure it’s passed on via fusion). I never run out of SP, and it’s awesome.
I guess this sort of turned into a Five Things, didn’t it? SNEAK ATTACK! Well, since it’s the only thing I’ve played, I feel like it’s justified, but I…. okay, I was going to say that I promise I’ll talk about other things next time, but I probably can’t do that. I promise I’ll try? That sounds good.
In progress: Persona 3 Portable (PSP), and technically Metroid Prime 2 (Wii) and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (DS), I GUESS.
New: Kingdom Hearts: ReCoded (DS)