Shin Megami Tensei series is, by most definitions, a niche franchise. It is also a much older series than people realize, with the first game being released on the Super Famicom in 1992. The franchise has also seen a bit of a split, with the offshoot Persona series of titles which debuted on the Original Playstation in 1996. Despite its relatively poor reception early on, the Persona series finally came into its own with the release of Persona 3 and 4 on the Playstation 2. It has also seen a resurgence on the PSP, with remastered releases of the original Personas.

            So, what is Persona and would any non-JRPG fanatic find it the least bit entertaining? I must admit that I have a soft spot for JRPGs, but I had never played anything so...well...Japanese before I began my journey into Persona 3 Portable. The music is distinctively "J," the anime style is, of course, very "J," and everything else from the city itself to the overall presentation and gameplay elements puts P3P into a category all its own. I don't like J-Pop.  I've never been to Japan nor have I ever had a strong interest in Japanese culture. It's just not my bag. With that said, I had a heck of a time with P3P and if you feel like you're stuck in a rut with RPGs, I urge you to give it a shot.

            The first thing you will notice, as I previously stated, is the distinct Japanese anime feel of the game. You will receive a veritable feast of Japanese culture references  as you traverse the world in a visual novel/point and click style. A cursor directs you to points of interaction (this is not the same in combat areas, which function like a typical RPG) and dialogue pops up with very crisp anime-style character art. The voice acting is fittingly over the top and hilarious, and the menus and character animations could have come straight out of an anime cartoon. Prepare to have some Japanese culture shock with this one.

It's not quite THIS Japanese, but its close


            Every Persona game seems to start off the same basic way; you are a relatively quiet high school student who gets involved with a group of Persona users. The themes are often dark and the subject matter often delves into material that is typically avoided in the video game industry. Situations surrounding the occult are often central to the plot and suicide is dealt with in a mature and thoughtful manner. The story is well-told with the characters really providing the spark needed to maintain interest. The ending was also a high-point even if I feel like it took too long to get there.

            If you are not familiar with the gameplay of Persona, many people often describe it as a more mature Pokemon. You will initiate and develop relationships with personas, which will combine forces with you for aid in battle. Along with some very cool character designs, each persona has unique bonuses, stats, and abilities that most often prove to be the difference in battle.

This is what dinner looks like at my house.


            Speaking of battles, this is a fairly standard turn-based RPG. You can attack an enemy, guard to brace against attack, use a persona's special ability, or use an item. The battle system is based on elements (fire, ice, wind, etc.) and the weaknesses and strengths associated with each type. So, if your enemy is weak to fire, use fire. Simple enough? Good. When you do strike a weakness, your enemy will become stunned and you then have the option of unleashing a group attack, in which all of the characters in your party attack together for massive damage. Don't forget, however, that your characters inherit the weaknesses of their equipped persona, so you must always be aware of which enemy is attacking and switch persona's to best counter your opponent. The simple is fairly simple, it works well, and the battles and fast-paced and fun.

            Thank the gods that the combat works as well as it does, because you will be grinding and grinding and grinding some more. This game, and this series, I might add, is one of the most grind-heavy on the market. Almost every in-game nighttime sequence will have you and your party fighting your way up Tartarus, a huge demon-filled tower that holds many mysteries within. You will progress floor by floor, collecting items and defeating monsters, until the inevitable conclusion at the top of the tower. The combat proceeds quickly enough and, furthermore, you are able to see your enemies on screen before each encounter. Avoid them if you must, but leveling up is necessary if you want any chance at defeating some of the later bosses.


Geez Mister, we've been grinding for two hours now! Can we go home?


            Fighting will take up most of your time in the game, but the most unique and enjoyable portion of the game is the time spent building relationships. As a high school student you will have the opportunity to join clubs and teams, hang out after school, and work to earn money and build stats. Every activity you participate in and every relationship you develop has its own reward. If you choose to go out with character A rather than visit with character B, for example, you may gain a rank for a certain Arcana, which will allow you to summon more powerful personas in that Arcana. If you neglect certain relationships, you may lose access to certain personas, so choosing your relationship and dividing your time wisely is important. The interactions you have with each character are what drive the story and truly connect you, the player, to the game world. Some relationships are humorous in nature, while others are tragic.

            In relation to the NPCs, the voice acting and dialogue is generally very well done. Some Japanese linguistic conventions appear in the game, but I find these to be more unique than annoying. It is a Japanese game, so I appreciate the inclusion of such elements. The voice acting, like most Japanese games, ranges from fantastic to downright horrendous. Persona 3 ultimately retains a middling ground, if not slightly above, and does not detract from the overall presentation of the game.

            Persona 3 portable is a difficult game to describe. It is first and foremost a JRPG, but it is also a dating sim as well as a visual novel of sorts. A wonderful cast of characters overcomes an interesting tale that sometimes chugs along between lengthy grind sessions. I took a big chance on Persona, but the overwhelming fan support swayed me into ultimately downloading it on my Vita. After eighty and some odd hours I can say with confidence that Persona 3 is one of the best RPGs I've played in a while and has since gotten me into the series as a whole. Persona 4: The Golden is now my most anticipated upcoming Vita release and if it is anywhere near the quality of its predecessor I may have a new entry on my all-time favorites list.