Persona 3 Portable is available now on most platforms under the sun, yes, it's a port of a PSP game but here's why it's still one of the best JRPGs of the last 20 years!
Burn Your Dread
Personally, I've been waiting for any port of Persona 3 for a good while now. The only way to play it was by either employing emulation or chasing down one of two long obsolete consoles and finding a version for your region. But Atlus has now graced us with a port of Persona 3 Portable. I'm here to tell you that you should definitely play it, even if you only had a passing interest in the Persona series.
Everyone wanted a remake of this title, especially compared to Persona 5 and the recent Persona 4 port. The portable version of Persona 3 seems very dated and looks like it cuts corners. But at its heart still lies a content-rich experience that even other titles in the series can't match. If you take anything away from this write-up, then it's that Persona 3, in any form, is still one of the most interesting games you'll ever play. This is mostly thanks to its well-realized cast of characters and its subject matter. And if you're a fan of the later games in the series, Persona 3 is the game that cemented the gameplay that made them so popular.
It's fascinating how Persona 3 got so much right the first time around, bridging the dungeon-crawler elements of the Shin Megami Tensei series with the branching dialog options of a visual novel. In that sense, P3P is probably the purest version of this gameplay. But let's talk about what makes Persona 3 so special in the first place.
Reading the reviews of Persona 3 Portable, you'll get the impression that it is the gutted version of the PlayStation 2 classic. But I don't believe that is the case at all. Everyone who's played through this game multiple times in all its versions can attest that what Persona 3 Portable lacks in presentation, it makes up for in content. Or think of it this way, if Persona 3 was a cup of coffee, Persona 3 Portable is espresso with a little extra on top. You'll get the entire experience, minus the animated cutscenes and the 3D exploration aspect but in turn, you'll get everything faster.
The 3D exploration aspect is nice, but once you're a few months in, you just want to get anywhere quickly. There's a reason why these games have the option to bring you to the area you want to go to almost instantly. So instead, in Persona 3 Portable shine, the two important elements of the franchise are the social life sim, and the dungeon crawling. And despite being the portable version, most of the game is voiced and for the first time ever, you'll even get to listen to the Japanese dub.
But what makes Persona 3 Portable stand out in the entire series and why it is the fan-favorite is the inclusion of the female route. It boggles the mind why Persona hasn't done this it's sequels but it's Persona 3 Portable's format that allows such an easy swap of protagonists. And this is more than just pronouns switching when characters talk to you either, the female route of Persona 3 Portable offers a different perspective on things.
While the overall story beats remain the same, how characters interact with you and your relationships with them change. The female protagonist also has a more outgoing personality compared to her more apathetic male counterpart. This will influence how you engage with the larger narrative because compared to later entries in the series, Persona 3's story is way darker and doesn't shy away from getting heavy and melodramatic.
But if you're new to this story, the male protagonist's route is probably the closest you'll get to the original, besides a few extra social links and gameplay tweaks. But on a second playthrough, the female route is highly recommended. It gives you the option to interact with some characters in new and unique ways that shows a different side of them. And the female protagonist also gets her own soundtrack, which is also excellent.
Way of Life
If you played any of the persona games, you're probably already familiar with the core gameplay loop of these games. You have to juggle your supernatural activities with your school and social life. Persona 3 was the game that introduced that core gameplay loop to the series, while the two earlier entries are a lot closer to the Shin Megami Tensei series they are spun off of. If you play Persona 4 and especially Persona 5, you'll barely even notice the influence of that series outside of the apparent gameplay similarities. (Also, please play Shin Megami Tensei 5)
Persona 3 marks the turning point of the series and is probably the most interesting title of the bunch just because it's stuck between two different ideas. At the same time, later Persona titles borrow grand psychological concepts, like the very idea of a 'Persona' to explain away their supernatural occurrences. Meanwhile, just like the earlier entries, Persona 3 revels in its subject matter, and the entire game is structured around it. Which still makes it so special to this day.
Some elements of Persona 3's gameplay seem frustrating at first. Compared to later titles in the series, you'll quickly notice that Persona 3 doesn't offer the player much wiggle room when it comes to completing all the social links. In Persona 3, those can decrease if you stop spending time with someone over an extended period of time. If you dungeon crawl too long, your party will get fatigued and which makes battles almost impossible.
But there is a reason for this. The entire gameplay loop is meant to force you into making decisions and making mistakes. You could look up a guide on how to do a 100% playthrough your first time around, but then you rob yourself of the entire experience and the lesson the game wants to teach you. So I highly encourage you to play through the game blind the first time around. You'll experience will be richer for it.
Battle for Everyone's Soul
Now I'll try to talk about the story without giving away any of the majors reveals. Persona 3's story takes place in the fictional city of Iwatodai, a small port town in Japan. Your player character returns to the city 10 years after a horrible accident killed both the protagonist's parents. Upon arriving, you notice that there is something weird going on in the city. When the clock strikes midnight, most people are locked away in coffins while monsters roam the street.
Over the course of the game, you'll try to discover the mystery behind this dark hour with like-minded allies. While this sounds like the intro to a fun mystery with some anime antics attached to it, it turns into a meditation on the very nature of life and death with some anime antics attached to it.
As I mentioned before, especially the first two Persona games really enshrined Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung's work in the field of psychology and dove a little bit deeper into the subject matter. And Persona 3 seems like the last time the team had an honest go at those themes before easing into a more digestible format with Persona 4 and Persona 5. This sounds a bit snobbish but you'll probably notice that Persona 3's done is considerably heavier and noticeably darker.
Which makes it stick out both in its own series and around other games. Persona 3 is so thematically solid in both gameplay and story that the later entries just seem weaker in that aspect. Sure, Persona 3 and Persona 3 Portable don't have the same polish that Persona 5's Royal Edition has, but its way more fleshed out and developed in the spots it really matters and I don't know if Atlus even knows how to recreate this game in the first place.
Just Play Persona 3 Portable, Please
Honestly, all of this is just the long version of; please play Persona 3 Portable. Not only is Persona 3 the best title of the series but Persona 3 Portable is the best version of that title; It is also one of the unique experiences you'll ever have in gaming.
There is a reason why so many people have such a love for this game and its cast of characters. There's a reason why even the rhythm game spin-off had such a somber mood around it compared to the more poppy contemporaries. And there is also a reason why Persona 3 got a four-part movie adaptation instead of an anime.
Persona 3 is a very special game, one that chose to put its themes and subject matter over everything else. And the result is something truly unique that you don't get to see often in video games. If anything, buy Persona 3 and declare your love for it to Atlus. If there is any game that deserves a true-to-the-original remaster, with all the Persona 3 Portable content added to it, then it's Persona 3. But at least you're now able to play this JRPG classic very comfortably.
Persona 3 Portable is available today on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.
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