The Persona franchise has never been more accessible thanks to Atlus finally bringing the series to all modern consoles – including the much loved and often overlooked third entry, Persona 3 Portable but how does it hold up in 2023?
Persona 3 Portable (P3P) has made its way onto modern consoles alongside Persona 4 Golden, and Persona 5 Royal which means the JRPG franchise is now more accessible than ever.
It was met with some controversy when Atlus announced that the Portable edition of Persona 3 would be getting a re-release instead of the much beloved Persona 3 FES, but what Portable lacks in some areas it makes up for in others.
While it wasn’t quite as impactful as its successors would become, Persona 3 was fundamental in developing the series into what it is today, and the seeds of hybrid gameplay that became a staple of the franchise are firmly planted here – and that alone makes this game worth your time.
Persona 3 Portable key details
- Price: £17.99 / $19.99
- Developer: Atlus
- Release date: January 19, 2023
- Platforms: Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.
Persona 3 Portable trailer
Dark times at Gekkoukan High
Persona 3 Portable immediately presents the player with an air of ominous mystery when the protagonist arrives in the city of Iwatodai to find that all the lights have gone out and the streets are lined with coffins. The starry night sky has been replaced by a sickly green glow, and there are pools of blood-red liquid seeping through the pavement.
This is The Dark Hour – a lost time between one day and the next where normal people are transmogrified into oblivious coffins and dangerous Shadows attempt to feed on their psyches.
Enter the students of Gekkoukan High, and your new dormmates – the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) a team who have dedicated themselves to defeating Shadows by exploring Tartarus – a mysterious tower that replaces your school during The Dark Hour. The members of SEES all have access to their Persona (a manifestation of their personalities that materialize as powerful creatures.) The protagonist soon awakens to their power too and discovers they have even more potential with the ability to wield multiple Persona’s.
The formidable Mitsuru, cheerful and good-natured Yukari, and confidant Akihiko are the group’s founding members who are quickly joined in their work by yourself and your loyal pal Junpei. As far as JRPG parties go, SEES are a very likable bunch with their individual personalities being further highlighted in the game’s social link system.
Persona is now known for placing just as much emphasis on its relationships as its combat and Persona 3 did a fantastic job of pioneering these mechanics. By spending time with other characters you’ll increase your social links, which will provide you with combat-related benefits. Outside of SEES, you can unlock new bonds by participating in various activities such as joining the student council, playing an online MMO, or becoming a member of a sports club.
Once you’ve adjusted to your new life, it’s time to explore Tartarus – a procedurally generated dungeon that becomes available to SEES during The Dark Hour. By ascending its floors you’re able to battle shadows, find helpful resources, and gain all-important EXP to level your Persona. Successfully defeating shadows will occasionally provide you with random rewards which can include new Persona’s – you’ll then be able to fuse these in the Velvet Room to create even stronger creatures.
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P3P uses a turn-based combat system where up to four party members are controlled. The key to battle relies heavily on being able to exploit a shadow’s weakness – knocking an enemy back will grant you an additional attack. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as using one character to knock down multiple enemies and then banding your whole team together to perform an ‘all out attack’ to finish things off.
Outside of battle, you can command your party members to explore and defeat shadows on their own however you’ll need to keep a close eye on everyone’s well-being in between dungeon visits. If characters are tired then they won’t be able to assist you until they’ve rested for a few in-game days.
A Different Perspective
The controversy that Portable’s reveal was met with was bound to lead to apprehension from fans (including this writer.) I went into P3P aware of its fundamental differences to (what many consider the best version of the game) Persona 3 FES. There is a lot of content omitted from Portable, including an entire endgame chapter, but this port also features some great enhancements.
Exclusive to Portable is a female protagonist with new dialogue and social links – providing enough new content to warrant a second playthrough.
Another core change is the game’s presentation which is much more static due to the absence of over-world navigation outside of Tartarus. What the game lacks here, however, it makes up for with an immersive hybrid of visual novel and point-and-click gameplay.
Verdict – 4/5
Persona 3 Portable’s gameplay is altogether extremely satisfying. Balancing your day-to-day school life with intense dungeon crawling is a well-crafted loop that clearly set the foundations for the franchise’s future success.
In its early hours, P3P’s enticing story and characters have already resonated with and hooked me into the mystery of The Dark Hour and I can’t wait to spend more time with this brooding JRPG.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch