In the past 25 plus years, the Persona series has seen itself grow from a niche original PlayStation JRPG spinoff into one of the most popular JRPG franchises in the modern era. While Persona 4 surged the franchise to new levels and Persona 5 exploded the series into the mainstream, Persona 3 is the game where modern Persona was born. Thus, Persona 3 Portable is one of the best ways to go back and revisit or experience the turning point of the Persona franchise from a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff into a JRPG juggernaut for the first time.
Originally released in 2009 on the PSP, Persona 3 Portable was the third version of Persona 3 following the original’s release in 2006 and Persona 3 FES in 2007. This subset of games is where the modern Persona formula was brought to life. Persona 3 was the first in the series to introduce the daily life calendar and social aspects into the series. While not as fleshed out as in later entries, it feels quaint to see where the biggest part of the modern games got its start.
Persona 3 Portable basically turns the world of Persona 3 into an almost entirely visual novel style game with the free roam aspects players would expect in a game like this into various screens for players to move a cursor around to interact with. This does make the game feel very different when compared to any other game in the series. Luckily, that’s not in a bad way though. The background art for all the locations is well done, and the areas don’t feel as empty as they do in 3D. Players do still get to fully control their character in a 3D space when exploring the game’s dungeon, Tartarus, though.
Where Persona 3 Portable really shines is still in the story and character department. The game still follows the original game’s story. The story itself feels the darkest and most poignant one in a Persona game. From people turning into coffins, shadows manifesting into the real world and calling people into Tartarus, and even the way the characters summon their personas make the game have a darker tone than you would expect if you have played later entries in the series. The only part that’s lacking storywise would be how the game doesn’t include any of the epilogue content that was introduced in Persona 3 FES as well as missing the anime cutscenes that the series is known for.
The characters are some of the best in the series. The social links really shine on some of the minor characters making you attached to each one as well as making you love the main cast of characters. The game also does something unique in the series with exclusive social links. Persona 3 Portable is the only game in the series to feature a male and female protagonists for players to choose from. Along with separate story aspects between the two, both protagonists have their own unique social links and characters to bond with. This makes the game highly replayable to experience both character routes.
Elsewhere, the combat of the game is basically a more bare bones version of what you see in later entries in the series. Players encounter enemies within the dungeon and fight them with a party of up to 4 characters with magic and physical attacks while trying to find and exploit the enemies’ weaknesses. Persona 3 Portable is also the first game in the series where you are able to fully control party members, thus giving more ways to tackle combat than in other Persona 3 games. However, combat does feel a lot slower than what you might expect as characters feel like the do a lot less damage than you’d think and they don’t learn new abilities as often, so you’ll be spamming the same move on multiple enemies over and over until you unlock spread attacks later in the game.
With the new release, there have been some improvements to the overall game. The game features multiple difficulty levels for players to choose from and you can swap between them at any time in the menu. The other main improvement is the addition of a Quick Save feature. This allows players to save the game at any time and will restart you at the start of whatever area you are at when you load the save. This makes exploring Tatarus a lot easier as you can take a break while exploring multiple floors without having to find a spot to return to the entrance of the dungeon just to save your game.
Overall, Persona 3 Portable is a fantastic way to revisit a classic game that has been stranded on outdated hardware for ages. While the game does not have all the content that was present in the original and FES versions of Persona 3, it still has its own unique place in franchise history with its own 2 separate protagonists. Persona 3 Portable is a solid JRPG that still manages to stand up over fifteen years after its original release.
Score: 8 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5