Whilst Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 stand out as the jewels of the Persona crown, Persona 3 Portable still deserves the attention of RPG-loving gamers – especially with its recent release on PC and consoles that makes it easily available across multiple platforms for the first time. However, whilst it still manages to showcase the same engrossing gameplay and storytelling that fans of the series have loved, it takes a much different (and divisive) approach in how it delivers the adventure.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Persona 3 Portable once again sees players moving to a new school, making new friends, and facing off against a dark and mysterious entity. So far, so Persona. What makes this different is the fact that you can either play as a male or female protagonist. Whilst this doesn’t substantially affect the over-arching narrative, it does change up some of the social interactions you share with your fellow students and gives players a fresh perspective to witness the adventuring from.

The main plotline deserves players’ attention too, with the core story focusing on something known as the Dark Hour – a hidden hour that takes place after midnight that transforms your school into a deadly dungeon known as Tartarus. This is where the bulk of your adventuring takes place, though you will venture out into the city here and there to deal with some monstrous issues when it needs your attention. It’s a cool concept and one that I loved learning more about as I progressed, with Persona 3 Portable unveiling plenty of revelations throughout to keep players fully invested.

It’s worth noting from the get-go that whilst Persona 3 Portable follows the established formula of the series by having players socialise in the day in order to build up relationships with their allies and then adventure through the perilous Tartarus at night to progress through the story and improve their skills, it takes a MUCH different approach than you might have been used to. Whilst the base game launched on the PlayStation 2 as a traditional RPG, the portable release on the PSP (of which this is based) was condensed down, which meant presenting the daytime aspects of the game in a visual novel style with static illustrations and countless text boxes used to tell the story. You won’t be freely exploring environments and seeing every nook and cranny of each locale, but instead utilising point-and-click style exploration on a variety of maps where you can interact with specific points and characters. It makes for a significantly different experience than players would have been used to with the series, and whilst it doesn’t make for a bad time by any means, fans of the newer Persona releases might find the daytime activities a little less interesting because of it.

“You won’t be freely exploring environments and seeing every nook and cranny of each locale, but instead utilising point-and-click style exploration on a variety of maps where you can interact with specific points and characters.”

Exploration and battling through the Tartarus is a bit more conventional, with players freely exploring each maze-like floor of the dungeon and facing off against enemies in strategic turn-based battles. Whilst each character has their own skills, you’ll also utilise your Persona to unleash special abilities and get the upper hand over your foes. New Persona can be collected as you progress through the game, whilst they can also be fused to create more powerful amalgamations that pack some serious punch against the game’s vicious enemies. Combat itself is very by the numbers with players having to try to exploit enemy weaknesses, diversify their party to balance out attack and support, and grind a little to ensure that they’re powerful enough to beat their enemies, but it does more than enough to keep battling entertaining throughout the meaty runtime. Just be warned: the game comes with some nasty difficulty spikes, so you’ll have to use every trick up your sleeve to get through the tougher encounters. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the dungeon designs could feel a little repetitive as you progress, but they never felt so dull that I tired of playing through them.

The social aspects of the game remain engrossing, with players having to spend their daytime interacting with other characters to form bonds, build up their courage, charm, and academic stats, and even take on a bit of work on the side. The Persona series has always had two sides to it with the blend of daytime socialising and night-time battling, and that balance remains equally as satisfying here. Not only does it help build up the capabilities of your Personas, but it also showcases some of the best aspects of the storytelling in the game. Whilst the overarching plot of the mystery of the Tartarus is the most significant aspect of the narrative, players will probably find themselves more intrigued by the varying (and at times touching) story developments found within their social links.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Persona 3 Portable is a fun game, but its non-traditional approach to gameplay will prove divisive. Whilst some might find it easy to appreciate the more streamlined approach it takes to storytelling, others may have hoped it offered an experience more akin to what they’re used to. Personally? I fall into that latter category. After loving Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5, I had hoped for more of the same from Persona 3 Portable; whilst the vibe of the series remains intact, the simpler approach to gameplay just made the different aspects of exploration and socialising feel a little less tantalising. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still enjoyable… it’s just not as good as the other titles I’ve played in the series.

It is worth noting that this new release does bring some additional extras though, with the increased resolution ensuring the visuals look swankier than they did on the PSP, whilst the quick save function makes it much more easier to maintain your progress and not fall victim to one of the nasty difficulty spikes that occur. Alternatively, there are multiple difficulties to play on this time around too, so at least you can shape the experience to suit your playstyle and capabilities.

Persona 3 Portable Review

Persona 3 Portable is a fun experience, but its streamlined approach does make it feel inferior to its successors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some will appreciate the more condensed form of storytelling and exploration, but I just found that it stripped away some of the better elements found in the series and made it less involving. The battling is fun, the storytelling intriguing, and building up social links is still engaging, but Persona 3 Portable just lacks that special something found in the later entries of the game. It’s certainly not bad and fans of the series will still enjoy it, but you should expect a vastly different experience this time around.

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: SEGA
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Website: https://atlus.com/atlus-titles/p3p/