Many thoughts keep me up in the wee hours of the morning – for one, why would my son rather watch a video of someone playing a game, rather than play it himself?
Just recently though the mind has wandered to Atlus’s release schedule for its Persona games – why release the latest and greatest in the series, Persona 5 Royal, before the earlier games in the series? Aren’t we at risk of disappointment by playing the previous games after the latest?
Well, with the release of both Person 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden onto Xbox, via Game Pass no less, we get the chance to find out. Why don’t you come with me to the Dark Hour?
As always in an RPG the most important thing is the story; the narrative thread that runs through and keeps dragging us on, almost helpless in its grasp. The story here is as awesome as you’d expect, featuring a mysterious extra hour, shadow monsters and a group of young people able to summon Personas to do their fighting for them.
We are a new student at a school, placed in a dorm that doesn’t appear to be ours. It turns out that this was all part of a master plan, as we have the ability to call forth the power of our soul, in the shape of a Persona. See, at midnight, the world enters what is called the Dark Hour, where the majority of people are encased in coffins. Anyone who isn’t in a coffin is attacked by monsters, and a certain group of people are not only able to stay awake in this hour, but can fight back with their Personas. We need to investigate not only what the Dark Hour means, but why the school we attend turns into a massive tower called Tartarus…
The presentation of Persona 3 Portable is very good, but, being kind, it is showing its age. This game was first released way back on the PlayStation 2, and the roots of that heritage are clearly visible. The graphics look slightly rough, slightly too polygonal almost, but to be honest, once you start playing you cease to care. The design of the enemies and bosses, as well as your fellow Persona users and NPC’s is very good as well. In fact, the overall design aesthetic is great.
Sound-wise it all works too, with some very good voice acting in place. It helps that the conversations you have with the characters you meet are interesting, to say the least. From the captain of the Kendo team, to a guy who is determined to date a teacher, each one has a unique voice and character to get to know. All in all, the presentation of the game works very well.
But let’s have a look at the way the game works, shall we? It is different from Persona 5 Royal, that is for sure!
Persona 3 Portable is divided pretty much into two halves; the half that is set in the Dark Hour, and the rest. If we start with the Dark Hour first, you have the option of going to Tartarus and exploring the floors that you find. In this half of the game, you have direct control of your character, able to run around with up to three other characters. There are monsters to find and fight, items to loot, and the idea is basically to explore and get stronger, ready for the upcoming boss fights. Tartarus and the shadows change every night, and the bosses are related to the phases of the moon, so heading out and about at certain times can be more dangerous than others.
Combat is your usual traditional turn-based stuff, with you able to store more than one Persona in your heart. Choosing the right Persona, with the right moveset in order to exploit enemy weaknesses is a lot of fun. Hitting an enemy with an attack that they are weak to knocks them over, and if you manage to knock every enemy out, you can perform an All Out Attack. This does not only a great deal of damage, but is also very amusing to see, as they all go rushing in to stomp a helpless foe. Tactics allow the team to act independently, but if you prefer you can take direct control and make them do what you ask. For ultimate efficiency, this is the way to go. As each other team member has only one Persona, it is important to try and make them use the right attacks at the right time.
The other half of Persona 3 Portable is basically a life simulator. This is where we deal with our social links, which are an important part of the game.
As we talk to people, we can form a link with them, which gives bonuses when it comes to Persona Fusing. There is also the possibility of romance if you play your cards right! It’s up to us to manage our personal growth, increasing our stats in Academics, or courage for instance. By actioning certain activities, we can raise our stats and this may have knock on effects for our social links. These screens are pretty static, with a cursor that you can control to highlight points of interest; people, doors, machines or anything really. Talking to people leaves a series of choices to make, and while there are a variety of tones that you can take, trying to make people like you will be better than being unpleasant for the sake of it.
The point of these conversations and relationship building comes into place in the Velvet Room, run by Igor, allowing us to fuse Personas that we have gathered together. This is the only way that it appears to be possible to gain certain Personas, and while the level of Personas that we can make is tied to our level in the game (for instance, at Level 19 you’ll be able to make and control Personas up to 19), making one that has the abilities you need to fill a gap in the team is very important. As an example, when we begin, we don’t have anyone who can use ice abilities or lightning abilities, and so making Jack Frost will help with enemies that are weak to ice. The Persona system is very deep and enjoyable, and all in all the system is fascinating.
My worries about Persona 3 Portable are largely put to rest. Yes, the graphics aren’t as good as those found in Persona 5 Royal, but honestly, once you get into the game, it really doesn’t matter. The deep combat and Persona systems, as well as the juggling of social links to make yourself stronger are all a lot of fun, and there should be no hesitation in recommending Persona 3 Portable to any fans of the RPG genre.
Persona 3 Portable is on the Xbox Store