Sunday, April 8, 2012

Persona 3 Portable - Hmmmmm...

Persona 3 Portable, as a whole, has been something that is considerably difficult to pin down, with regards to just how I feel about it.  I've been very vocal in certain mediums about the parts I don't like, as I do with anything, but I feel I've been more subdued than normal on the things that I -do- like.  Which is a little odd because overall, I think those out-number the things I dislike about the game by a hearty amount, though it is sort of a 'context matters' situation, of course.  Still this is a situation that I really don't find myself in a whole lot; either I know I enjoy a game, or I know I really really don't; at least by the time I get as far into a game as I am in Persona 3, I have an idea.  Even with Alpha Protocol, I managed to have my 'end' opinion of the game about half-way into it (which was another rare case since I completely flipped from one side to another in regards to whether I liked it or not) but P3P just leaves me....wondering.

I guess the first, and biggest, complaint I could level against the game is what makes up the main percentage of the gameplay in it: Tartarus.  This is mostly a personal thing, I realize, but I am just not a fan of the roguelike method of Dungeon Creation which is just what Tartarus is.  I guess the main difference being that it goes up rather than down, which I don't know if that's an appropriately big distinction to make.  The "here is a general look of a floor, you're going to see a lot of it as maps randomly create themselves for the endurance run" design just isn't inspired and, while I am quite aware that plenty of games do it in a more subtle fashion, just plopping it down like that bothers me.  It feels like Quantity over Quality and, while that's not always the case of course, I'm really not about that in the least.  I've made it up to level 110 in my current game, and I'm sure I have a dozen or so more floors before I hit the next 'barrier' that prevents me from going up to the next copy-paste section of 20-40 floors or so, with mid-bosses thrown in at intervals for no other reason than to remind you that it is indeed, a dungeon, as if the semi-random encounters all throughout were not indication enough.

Coupled with that is the fact that it is really easy to lose hours of progress traveling through Tartarus if you don't abuse the save system and, in fact, sometimes even then.  This is purely because the game doesn't operate under its own logic and instead employs ye olde Fragile Protagonist as a method to bring about a Game Over.  Anyone beyond the main character can be knocked unconscious, taken to the bottom of Tartarus and healed with minimal fuss (though it sets them to 'Tired' which makes them basically useless), though if your protagonist gets knocked out, you're treated to a verbose little statement that basically sums up to "You Died" and are then brought back to the main menu to the horrid realization that you have the task of getting to wherever you just died once more from the last time you saved.  If you're lucky, it was minutes before, and if not then it was hours, perhaps game days prior.  When this happens, it has the strange effect of making you hate everything, because for as annoying as it is to lose progress like that, it's similarly annoying to save every other minute at points that are either too available or not available enough.

The issue here is that, in theory, a save point in Tartarus is never that far away, but at the same time, it is behind quite a terrible barrier.  You see, in P3P at least, every floor tends to have a location that you can use to instantly teleport back to the base floor.  However, if you use that, then it means re-exploring the floor you just used it on which entails re-fighting the respawning shadows that will inevitably be in your way as you re-locate everything on the floor, particularly the stairs up to the next one.  The basic theme of Tartarus and any Roguelike is progress, so giving up any progress, even if it's minimal as the floors are never quite that big, is counter-intuitive.  It's because of that that I've fallen into using the mid-boss floors as 'checkpoints', if you will, but that carries the risk of dying from one of those floors to the next, especially when we get into enemy types that make use of Hama or Mudo attacks; instant kills that, at the moment don't hit very well, but I'm coming upon the precipice wherein widespread and stronger versions of said attacks are becoming available and it puts me quite on edge.

On the other hand, I would be outright lying to you if I said there was not a wealth of good to be found in the game.  First off would be to mention the soundtrack, but there are more appropriate times and methods for me to go on about that, so expect a "Music! - Persona 3 Edition" in the very near future.  So the next thing would be to point out that the strength you'd expect from an RPG, the story and characters, are quite top-notch here.  This right here, this is what you want and Persona 3 delivers it quite capably and in a fashion that will literally require more than one play to experience fully, I believe.  Not only for the fact that it includes the Girl Main Character with an altered story, but simply because there's facets of the game I still haven't explored despite having the chance to do so.  Some of these are for reasons that are, actually, based on the characters themselves (whether because from the little interaction you get at base, I know they're...'trouble', or because I'm invested in another character which would cause a conflict), which is pretty high praise, I should say.

For my complaints about the mechanics of the game, I do have to say that what matters, the battle system, is mostly good.  In fact, it might be a little too good since it reaches the level of being a double-edged sword in that it's perfectly functional and fast and easy to strategize around, but the enemies use the exact same system.  So while it's easy to finish battles in such a way that prevents the enemies from attacking whatsoever (barring a miss), the possibility for them to do the same thing is always present.  Through exploiting elemental weaknesses, the 'down' system, the odd critical hit here and there, and (later in the game) the team attacks that will force criticals, battles are decided quickly and without much fuss, until you find yourself against stronger foes that simply won't go down that easily.  But those are more the exceptions than the rules, and even those follow the same guidelines, though it's much much harder to 'exploit' weaknesses in those cases as, most of the time, they don't have any.

While related to the characterization, I do find myself enjoying the story and the interactions in a way that is beyond simply liking it as a means to go further into the game.  I wouldn't call it brilliant, but it's capable and then some.  There are enough hooks here and there to get you thinking about just where it might go when it's not plainly telegraphed, and despite that, it still has managed to surprise me here and there.  Even in instances where it shouldn't have, by all rights.  I do find some excitement, perhaps most of the excitement in fact, in furthering the story just to see it unfold whether or not I think I know just what's around the bend.  And at the same time, I am looking quite forward to playing the Girl side of the game which will be a completely new experience for me.  Despite being the third time I've bought Persona 3 (got the original with the OST and found a copy of FES second-hand), it is entirely new grounds, as opposed to mostly new grounds.  The girl mode is exclusive to Portable, of course, but still, my point is even though I own the game in three forms, this will be the first time I -really- play it.

I guess if someone asked me whether or not I like Persona 3 Portable, I would say "Yes" and then include a 'but' and point out my two big annoyances.  However, if someone would ask me if it was worth the $20 I spent on it, I would say 'Definitely'.  I do think that's the key point here as, no matter of whether or not I can effectively whine about it, I do like it enough to not regret the $20 I put down on it when I could've, by all means, done something quite different with that money.  With any luck, it's going to be a slow burn and I'm coming up to the point where I really fall in love with it and start to get excited.  As it stands, I believe I can make do with the crafty smiles it brings out of me and the enjoyment I find in it. 

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