Last year I played Persona 4 Golden and since then have told everyone to play it because its probably absolutely the best game on the Vita right now. This year I played Persona 4 Arena, a fighting game for the PlayStation 3 that featured characters from Persona 4 and Persona 3. Persona 4 Golden inspired me to try Persona 4 Arena, but then Persona 4 Arena got me interested in having a look at Persona 3 by involving these characters in a story with other characters I was already familiar with. Previous reviews have always said that Persona 3 is a game worth playing but these were all written by reviewers who hadn’t yet played the sequel. My question was if you have already played Persona 4, is it worth your time going back to its predecessor? Short answer: yes.
Persona 3 was originally released by Atlus on the PlayStation 2 in February 2008 in Europe. Persona 3 FES, an updated edition with an extended plot was then released in October of the same year. In 2011 it was adapted for the PlayStation Portable and Persona 3 Portable was released, this is the version I played, it is available on the PSN for €29.99. There were several changes made to this portable version. Instead of directly controlling an avatar moving around the town you now see static screens and have to point and click if you wish to move to a different area or start a conversation. This was a disappointing choice as it makes everything seem unnecessarily dated and static. A positive update is that you now have the option to play as either a male or female protagonist. The original gave you no option; you had to play as the male. This new choice affects the story and how different characters in the game relate to you.
From here Persona 3 Portable will feel similar to Persona 4. It has most of the ideas that made Persona 4 great already laid out but just feels a bit rougher around the edges in its execution. The visual style isn’t close to matching Persona 4, the menu screens feel a bit cluttered and the colour palette doesn’t stand out. The same goes for the battle menus, they are similar to their successor but don’t manage to be as clear. The combat systems are alike but Persona 3 actually has an added dimension when it comes to physical attacks. Rather than having just the one type, there are three different kinds depending on the type of weapon used and each of these has their own strengths and weakness with different enemies. This added a level of strategy which wasn’t present in Persona 4 Golden. How you create your Personas, monsters that assist you in battle, remains the same. You can fuse them together to create different Personas depending on the combinations you use.
Persona 3 Portable is a more difficult game. The monsters you fight appear at midnight during the dark hour, an extra hour in the day that normal people aren’t aware of. During this time a large tower called Tartarus appears and you spend your time climbing its floors and battling the monsters called Shadows. If a character dies in the tower, the next day their condition will change to ‘sick’. A character’s physical well being is another element which isn’t in Persona 4 Golden. If you fight while sick or tired, your attacks won’t be as strong and you will take more damage when hit. On the upside, if you go to bed early, or sleep during class, your condition will go from good to great giving you an advantage when fighting.
On top of the fighting is the other half of what makes a Persona game, managing your social life. You have only three personal attributes to worry about this time; charm, courage and academics. Depending on your level in each of these, people will treat you differently. You won’t accept a dubious looking meal without enough courage! During the day you attend school and the evenings can be spent working part time or getting to know the locals and building up your friendship or ‘social link’ with them. This is the most fun and interesting part of Persona, at the start of the game I did think that the characters weren’t going to be interesting but I found myself pleasantly surprised. It is true that I didn’t connect to some of the main characters but the great part of Persona is you don’t have to spend time with them if you don’t want to. I got to know the characters I was interested in better instead. Building these social links has advantages in battle too as the monsters you fuse will be stronger depending on how developed your bonds with people in the town are.
The story to this game is darker, with characters that have to deal with heavier and more serious burdens. To call out their Persona, characters have to shoot themselves in the head with an Evoker, which looks just like a handgun. Every time you summon a Persona this has to happen and each character has a different style of how they hold the Evoker to their head. I’m sorry to see that this idea was taken away from the characters when they turn up again in Persona 4 Arena. It was a very striking image every time and never really lost its impact.
A disappointing decision was to leave the anime cut scenes out of this portable version too, it doesn’t really take away from it if you haven’t seen them, but they were such an added bonus in Persona 4 Golden that I was expecting them. There aren’t as many catchy tunes here either but there are definitely about three that really stand out.
Both games are set in the one world so there are nods to fans of Persona 4, when you get to briefly visit the town that game is set in. ‘Catherine’ fans are catered for too, Vincent the main character in Catherine, shows up unnamed in a bar, allowing you to talk to him. Little details like this are always a treat, there are Persona 3 references in Persona 4 too but I didn’t know the characters to recognise them at the time.
For those who haven’t played Persona before, I’d say start with Persona 4 Golden (it is the best game on the Vita after all). Anyone who didn’t enjoy Persona 4 is not going to like this one as the formula is of course very similar. If you’ve already played Persona 4 and enjoyed it, then you should definitely give Persona 3 Portable a try. It may not be as excellent but it is still a great game and shouldn’t be ignored by fans of its sequel.