What would you say if there was an hour “hidden” between one day and the next?
This unknown time is the “Dark Hour”
Unfamiliar stillness engulfs Tatsumi Port Island
Its inhabitants transfigured into eerie coffins
and otherworldly monsters known as shadows swarm.
One night our protagonist is attacked by these Shadows
But calls upon the power within them…
The power of a Persona
A wildcard that could determine the fate of the world.
Released relatively close to one another in the latter stages of the PlayStation 2’s lifecycle, Persona 3 and Persona 4 bothintroduced the foundations on which the Persona series stands today and proved to be two of the best RPGs available on an RPG-heavy console. While Persona 4 saw greater universal success and received everything from multiple dedicated spin-off games and two anime series, Persona 3 turned out to be much harder to acquire and received a sort of cult-like status within the gaming community. Outside of the PlayStation Portable and a PlayStation 3 ‘Classics’ emulated release, Persona 3 hasn’t been the most accessible game to purchase in recent years. Fortunately, the times have changed, with the official launch of Persona 3 Portable on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and Windows PC. Sure it may not be a portable game anymore unless you play it on the Switch, but how does this 2006 RPG classic hold up in 2022? Read on to find out.
Bringing Persona 3 Portable Across from the PlayStation Portable – A Questionable Decision
The awkwardness about doing a port of Persona 3 is… which version do you go for? This is because there is no full definitive edition, but rather two re-releases that each have their strong points, but in turn their own weaknesses. On one hand, you have Persona 3 FES, the canonically authentic experience which slightly builds upon the original release with a post-game arc similar to what was introduced in Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal. However, some of the game’s more controversial quirks such as not being able to control other party members in battle remain. Persona 3 Portable on the other hand cuts the FES arc out entirely, and instead gives it many systems overhauls putting in somewhere closer to Persona 4 concerning combat, and for the first time in the series’ history provides a separate female protagonist. The only issue is… being developed for the PlayStation Portable, outside of Tartarus there is no 3D world to explore, with the game playing out via moving a cursor around pre-rendered environments and visual novel-style cutscenes. Ultimately you are left feeling less immersed in the game world.
At least in my opinion, the ideal choice for ATLUS and P-Studio would have been to scrap the remaster idea and instead go with a complete remake of the original game, bringing it up to modern standards and giving such a promising game. Alternatively, starting with the Persona 3 FES as a starting point and reintroducing the missing content into the original release. Both re-releases are good, but when you don’t have the issue of limited-space UMD discs, what you lose hampers what should be a definitive experience. Having that time and attention dedicated to bringing Persona 3 up to the standards of Persona 5 would be incredible, to say the least. That said, rumours are going around about a potential reboot project officially in the works, so never say never about this happening. Could also explain why a PlayStation 5 version of P3P was not made natively available.
Fortunately, the port itself is solid. Talks of “remastered graphics” and “improved smoothness” frankly didn’t contribute as much to the experience as being able to play the game in a resolution consistent with modern-day screens. What I would say is that while the music was spot on, although it was a shame not to have both battle themes available regardless of gender, the voice-acting audio felt a little bit tinny and was not consistently great in some parts of Persona 3 Portable.
The Actual Persona 3 Portable Experience is Still Incredible
While I feel a bit mixed on the decision to make Persona 3 Portable the game of choice to port over, I have no qualms with the quality of the game itself. As with the original release, players are put in the shoes of a self-named protagonist, a new student who is transferring to Gekkoukan High School in Tatsumi Port Island. From there, they quickly discover the existence of a mysterious 25th Hour, where most humans are replaced by coffins, shadows roam the streets, and their school turns into a giant labyrinth known as Tartarus. Joining a growing roster of characters who join the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (S.E.E.S.), you must scale the tower while taking down the monsters that appear every time a full moon appears. As you progress through the school year, more questions arise, and answers slowly surface.
Even more so than Persona 4 which has a stronger emphasis on the characters, Persona 3 relies heavily on its storyline to keep players engaged. Overall, it is a darker, grittier and more perilous tale, more in line with earlier Persona games than its successors. The social link system is back in its first iteration, only each protagonist gender has a different set of social links to work on. While the male protagonist focuses strongly on those outside of S.E.E.S., with only Fuuka, Mitsuru and Yukari to form bonds with, FeMC can form bonds with every member of S.E.E.S. and fewer of those outside the group. Those social links shared between the two are similar but are not always complete rehashes of their original character arcs.
As mentioned above, the only time you will interact with a 3D environment is when exploring Tartarus or during a couple of the full moon events. The design and layout of Tartarus is completely randomised, adding an element of surprise to the perilous shadow-infested den, but at the same time having nothing to set one floor apart from another. Combat goes back to simple turn-based battles, where players weave six elements (Agi, Bufu, Zio, Garu, Hama and Mudo) against foes, combined with a mix of physical melee and ranged attacks. The normal gameplay loop applies, having a party of Personas that can be gathered while exploring Tartarus and fused in the Velvet Room, taking them into battle alongside allies with set Personas, and taking advantage of enemy’s weaknesses while defending against yours.
Complemented by a kick-ass soundtrack, great English (and Japanese voice acting), some genuinely challenging boss battles, and each character having their distinct use on the field, you may be wandering up hundreds of randomly generated floors while playing, but will find yourself at the point you just want the combat to end.
Final Words on Persona 3 Portable for Current-Gen Platforms
For long-time fans, outside of the novelty of getting to play Persona 3 Portable on the big screen, there isn’t too much here which would justify re-purchasing if your original copy still functions fine. But whether you are a newcomer to the series or dipped your toes into the franchise with the recently re-released Persona 5 Royal and want to try your hand at some of the earlier chapters, there is a lot of enjoy from this re-release. Sure it is showing its age compared against more modern releases, but still an RPG experience fans of the genre should embark on at least once.
But it is still hard not to wish for a complete remake of Persona 3 which had both the complete FES epilogue chapter and the ability to control all characters so you don’t have an AI Mitsuru casting Marin Karin every turn against immune bosses instead of initiating some frozen executions…
This review was conducted on an Xbox Series X copy of Persona 3 Portable.
I have previously played Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES on the PlayStation 2, and Persona 3 Portable on the PlayStation Portable, completing the former two multiple times.
Unlike the recently re-released Persona 5 Royal, Persona 3 Portable is a digital-exclusive release for the Xbox Marketplace, PlayStation Store, Nintendo eShop and Steam.