I absolutely love the story and characters in Persona 3, but Portable isn’t the optimal way to experience them. I can recommend this version to visual novel fans and those looking to experience the game on a budget. If I were rating Persona 3 FES, you would see a much higher number.
Persona 3, Persona 3 FES, Persona 3 Portable… There are, fittingly, three different versions of Persona 3, but not all of them were made equal, and, unfortunately, Atlus decided to remaster potentially the weakest port of this fantastic game. I know I’ve started this review on a low note, but read on to find out why I still think this title is worth picking up and how it may make you shed a tear or two.
Let me start by giving you a quick rundown of the story and gameplay. Don’t worry, I’m gonna stay spoiler free so you can go into this title fresh-faced and bushy-tailed. From the get-go you can choose to play as either a male or female protagonist, this is exclusive to P3P and is also the only time in any Persona game where you play as a girl. I’ve completed P3P once before on the PS Vita and chose the female MC (main character), so I decided to choose her again to have a good comparison between the older version and this remaster.
There are very few differences between the two protagonists – this choice mainly changes your interactions with other characters and, potentially the biggest travesty, the female MC doesn’t get the best song in the entire franchise, Mass Destruction. I know the review has just begun, but I’ve included the tune below and I highly recommend taking a break to give it a listen.
Once you have your character, you get thrown right into the deep end. It’s 2009 and you’ve just arrived in a Japanese city called Iwatodai, but it feels a bit off… Everything is dark, coffins line the streets, and an incredibly tall tower casts a shadow over the entire city. For some reason, all of these things don’t phase you too much, and you make your way to the school dorms where you’re going to live for the rest of the year.
After your dorm is attacked by a mysterious goopy creature, you learn that you have the power to summon a Persona to fight back against baddies, and all the teenagers you live with are a part of SEES, or the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. This group then fills you in on the Dark Hour, a mysterious period of time between one day and the next where most humans turn into coffins and are completely oblivious to the goings-on, shadowy goop monsters appear to attack anyone who is awake, and a mysterious labyrinthine tower called Tartarus appears. Well, that explains your bizarre arrival to Iwatodai at least.
You’re a pretty resilient MC, so after gaining this knowledge, you decide to spend most of your days building relationships, or social links, with the many different faces around town. My favourite links include trying to break through the hard outer shell of my handsome, stoic, dorm-mate Akihiko, walking the adorable pooch Koromaru, and spending evenings with a dodgy businessman who tries to impart his questionable knowledge.
These relationships are potentially the most important element in the game. They help you create stronger Persona to take into battle and honestly, they enrich the story so much more than just following the standard storyline the game lays out for you. On the rare day when no one is available to speak to, you can take part-time jobs, eat at restaurants, visit the library, or perform other random tasks. These aren’t particularly interesting, but help raise certain stats.
After you spend the day romancing a handsome gentleman or walking the dog, you can then spend your evening exploring Tartarus, the spooky tower that appears during the Dark Hour. During this time you must run around numerous floors killing shadows with the help of SEES and your Persona. I’m not gonna lie, I find these sections pretty boring. Running around a small maze fighting samey enemies over and over just doesn’t appeal to me.
It’s important to complete certain areas in this tower before clearly outlined deadlines, but you can normally do so in one in-game evening so you don’t have to waste important social link time. Now, that’s the basic gist of Persona 3, and if you’ve played Persona 4 or 5, you’ll notice it follows a very similar formula, but I’m about to argue as to why you may be better off grabbing those instead.
All of the characters and the emotions they share with you are what makes Persona 3 worth playing, but, Portable omits every single cut scene from the original game, meaning you just scroll through endless text boxes without rest, all while looking at still frames of the characters. Unlike OG 3 and FES, 4, and 5, Portable doesn’t allow you to walk around a 3D map, instead, you must move a reticle around a 2D plane. Both of these aspects make me feel a certain disconnect from the game and, on reflection, I feel like there’s no good reason for this to not have been a remaster of FES instead.
P3P needed certain cuts and omissions to help it run on the PSP, but with the game coming to all current-gen consoles, now would be the perfect time for Atlus to release a remaster of FES for all you Persona fans out there who don’t own a PS2. If you love visual novels you may enjoy Portable on the Switch, as the story is incredible, and I must admit I prefer it to Persona 4. But in saying that, I’m a big fan of Digimon Survive and Danganronpa, both of which are wonderful visual novels, and P3P feels a little weak in comparison.
It’s also worth noting that this is a remaster of Persona 3 Portable, so the game does have a little more polish than it did when it came out on PSP, but I can’t say I really see any noticeable difference between Switch and when I played it on PS Vita. I was very hopeful this would be the definitive way to play Persona 3, but if you really want to experience this game, find a way to play FES and I can wholeheartedly say you won’t have any regrets.
We also have a Persona 4 Switch review and a Persona 5 Switch review. I recommend grabbing either of those games first if you’re new to the series, then you can pick up P3P if you need more social linking, shadow-bashing fun.
To end on a high note, Persona 3 is a masterpiece, one of my favourite games of all time, and Portable may have ignited my love for visual novels all those years ago. The story had me shedding a tear on multiple occasions, giggling at its silliness, and all the characters are full of personality and life. If P3P is the only way you can experience it, I say go for it, as at a quick glance on eBay FES is going to set you back a pretty penny.