In the JRPG genre, there are many franchises that have lived on for many decades and seen a vast number of entries and many years of success. If you ask people to name some of the most well known, it won’t take long these days for someone to mention the Persona series. Over the past 10 years, the series has shot to mainstream success, largely thanks to the critically acclaimed Persona 5. Getting to the point where characters and music from the series have even featured in Super Smash Brothers. But it wasn’t always this way. Despite the series debuting in 1996, it wasn’t really until its third mainline entry, Persona 3, that the series started to find an audience here in the west and where the series started building the framework for what we’ve loved and come to expect from every Persona entry that’s followed it.
Persona 3 begins with your protagonist character returning to town after some significant time away to begin attending Gekkoukan High School. Before too long, things in town start to get really weird when at night, the character starts to see coffins appearing within the area at night. Other students at school who pick up on your strange ability recruit you into their group known as SEES. It’s a group made of of individuals that are able to witness the Dark Hour, a hidden period of time that exists in the space between days starting at midnight. Ayer creatures known as Shadows start to invade and attack the town, the members of SEES band together to take down these enemies using their summonable allies known as Personas and enter a mysterious tower called the Tartarus that appears during the Dark Hour to eliminate the looming threats and investigate what the Dark Hour is and what’s causing it.
This release of Persona 3 Portable is a remastered re-release of the original Persona 3 Portable that launched on the PSP back in 2010, or 2011 depending on what part of the west you’re from. P3P is a reimagination of the original Persona 3 and came with some significant changes, as well as quite a number of quality of life improvements.
Unlike the original game which featured a single male protagonist, Persona 3 Portable includes a female protagonist that can be used. While much of the main story beats are the same, there are some slight tweaks implemented to have this character fit in more naturally and they also have changed relationship options with the other key characters and quite a number of unique music tracks written for this side of the game.
Portable also enhanced the combat system used during combat in the Tartarus to be more closely aligned to what was utilised in Persona 4, where additional actions can be taken on turns compared to the original and you have the ability to control the actions of all player characters in the party and their Persona during each turn allowing for a higher level of control and strategy.
During the portions of the game where you’re traversing the Tartarus, P3P plays very much like what you’ve come to expect if you’ve played either Persona 4 or Persona 5. You can freely control the character through the dungeonous environments and traverse the floors of the mysterious tower. Outside of the Tartarus area though, P3P removes the ability to free roam around the environments and plays more in line with what you might expect from a visual novel game. Conversations between characters appear on screen with animated character artwork representing each player, with the text appearing on-screen. And free movement has been replaced by manoeuvring an icon on the screen over a point of interest in any given environment to interact with that point or initiate conversation with a particular character. This system streamlines the progression by eliminating the ability to navigate and get lost or sidetracked while maintaining the content of the original story at a very consistent pace.
The thing that gets me excited every time I play a Persona title are it’s characters, the writing of them and the ability to create and develop relationships between them. And these things I love were very much kick-started back with Persona 3. The character designs, backstories and motivations really drive the story and are a huge factor for why I get so engaged in the story side of Persona 3. It’s an added bonus that you can be rewarded for developing and strengthening your relationships with the characters when it comes to the battling side of the game because it was something I would want to do just to spend more time with this interesting and diverse cast of characters more and more as the hours rolled on. Developing these social links does assist in strengthening your Personas, which allows you to further develop the areas and people you want to, with rewards once again gained for doing so. The Persona series is really great at having it’s various systems interweave and impact one another, and the social links system is a perfect example of that.
The story of the game plays out over the course of one full year, with each day typically broken up into key sections such as Morning, Daytime/Afterschool, Evening etc where you’re frequently given flexibility around what you’d like to do or who you’d like to spend your time with when the story permits it. Choosing to sleep in the evening portion of the day will push the calendar forward to the next day of the year and will progress the overall story. Managing how you spend your days becomes crucial in planning for the nights where you’re going to be venturing into Tartarus, as those bonds you form directly play into Persona strengths and skill buffs for your character. So spend the days as you see fit of course but it’s great to have an overall plan for your personal growth strategy too.
With this latest re-release there have been quite a number of new additions and tweaks made to the original PSP version. Firstly it’s coming to a bunch of new platforms for the first time, including the PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, PC and the Nintendo Switch. This release also features high resolution visuals all-round which really pop on the screen, smoother controls, the ability to access all available difficulty modes right from the start of the game, including the most difficult options as well as the easy and very easy modes for those that may be far more interested in just experiencing the great story. One of the biggest improvements thrown in is the ability to quick save directly from the game’s menu screen. This allows you to create a save slot that allows you to quick load from that point when reloading the game and comes in real handy in sections where you may not be close to one of the fixed save points or when traversing the floors of the Tartarus for example. Being able to quickly save my progress, shut down and resume later became so handy the more I played and it’s a small but very powerful addition.
Even though the game is still called Persona 3 Portable, depending on where you choose to play it, the game may be more ‘portable’ than others. I know a large portion of the Persona fanbase have wanted the series to come to the Nintendo Switch for the longest time and now, the 3 most popular entries in the series are on the platform. The game is going to be great on whatever you choose to play it on, but it is right at home on the Switch. I had the ability to also test the game on the Switch during the review period and I came away very happy with what I played. The game itself runs great performance wise whether you prefer to play docked or in handheld. But being able to play it portably on the go brings back memories of when I played Persona 3 Portable on the PSP. And with it looking better than ever and also having the quick save ability to pick it up and put it down as I please the Switch version is now the definitive ‘portable’ version of Persona 3 Portable.
I can’t talk about a Persona game without also discussing and praising their incredible soundtracks. Composer Shoji Meguro is one of the most consistent when it comes to crafting incredible scores that are full of emotion and energy and have that ability to get stuck in your head for hours after you stop playing. The Persona 3 soundtrack is a staple in my music playlist, and I’m positive that after you play the game it will resonate with you as well.
Persona 3 Portable offers a dark yet engaging story you’ll get lost in for many hours. It has a great cast of characters and is backed by an amazing set of music tracks. I would have loved if the game did manage to include some of the additional content that was found within the FES release of the game and traversing through some of the Tartarus sections does become repetitive, which is a shame because it’s the primary section of hand’s on gameplay the game offers. But those things aside, you’re still in for a very fun and rewarding experience that offers a lot of player choice. It’s great to see Persona 3 getting some love again, and hopefully it’s just the start of things to come again celebrating the Persona series from ATLUS.
Review codes supplied by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
If you want to see more content like this and never miss one of our frequent gaming and anime giveaways come and Follow Ani-Game on Twitter.