Persona 3 Portable Review – Yesterday’s Best-in-Class

Reviewed January 23, 2023 on PS5

Platforms:

Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S

Released:

January 19, 2023

Publisher:

Sega

Developer:

Atlus

Like a blessing from the JRPG gods, Atlus and Sega have shone their favour upon gamers and bestowed Persona 3 Portable to us to play on modern consoles. Hailing from the post-Golden Age of JRPGs in the mid-2000s, Persona 3 Portable was originally an updated version of the PS2 classic Persona 3; a dark, brooding teen drama which helped bring Persona into the wider JRPG fan consciousness. The Portable edition launched on PSP in 2009 and added a bunch of features not seen in the original release; a new playable protagonist, new social-links, new Personas, and updated visuals. There aren’t any new additions added for the current modern console release, but having the game relinquished from an obsolete handheld console is a welcome bounty.

For the uninitiated, Persona 3 Portable tells a dark story surrounding supernatural events occurring in the fictional locale Tatsumi Port Island. With the populace being afflicted by a condition called Apathy Syndrome, the protagonist (either male or female depending on your choice) is brought into the Special Extracurricular Execution Squad, or SEES, to investigate and fight the Shadows that are infiltrating the city during the Dark Hour: a secret 25th hour of the day between midnight and 1am.

“Growing your Persona’s strength and diversifying their movesets is key to success while climbing the many levels of Tartarus “

The members of SEES can call forth Personas, supernatural gods and monsters based in Tarot/Arcana spirituality, and wield them in battle against the Shadows. Collecting, fusing, and creating Personas forms a large part of the experience and is integral to the combat aspect of the game. Growing your Persona’s strength and diversifying their movesets is key to success while climbing the many levels of Tartarus (the monolithic megastructure in which a large part of the game takes place).

The game has a fairly dark tone throughout, tackling some heavy subjects throughout its runtime such as suicide, orphaned children, murder, toxic relationships, and bullying. There are attempts at levity and comedic relief, but unfortunately most of the time it falls flat through a combination of cringe and bad taste – a lot of the “humour” in Persona 3 Portable hasn’t aged well for the modern age. Most of this is centred around one of your teammates Junpei, but thankfully there is a fast-forward button to blast through unwanted and uninteresting sections of chat.

With that said, the Persona series is known for weaving, evolving plots and gripping narratives and Persona 3 Portable is no exception. I was pounding my way through the in-game calendar, hungry for SEES’ next mission into Tartarus and eager to uncover more of what was occurring during the Dark Hour. The game does a great job of spacing out heavy plot points with the day-to-day social aspects, allowing you to pick up part-time jobs, develop Social-Links with other characters, participate in clubs, and spend time in the Velvet Room, a supernatural space where you can create new Personas and complete side-quests.

While Persona 3 Portable can be considered a bright spark among the PS2-era JRPGs, playing the game today certainly highlights how far we’ve come as an industry, and how much the last 15 – 20 years have done for the quality of life improvements and playability enhancements. Many players will be coming to Persona 3 Portable off the back of Persona 5 Royal, modern Final Fantasy titles, and Dragon Quest XI, and the shortcomings of yesterday’s JRPGs will be felt strongly.

“…as early as my 3rd trip to Tartarus I was feeling like my team was struggling against even the meekest of Shadows…”

Most notably, Persona 3 (and Persona 4 Golden as well) relies heavily on grinding (a dirty word as far as I’m concerned) to ensure survivability against the game’s mid-to-late game enemies and bosses. Indeed, even as early as my 3rd trip to Tartarus I was feeling like my team was struggling against even the meekest of Shadows and I had to lower the difficulty for a boss or two – a shameful admission. While back in the day this was standard practice for roleplaying games, today I just find it to be a balancing and pacing issue.

During combat and exploration, Persona 3 Portable uses polygonal 3D models for the characters, and… well… you can certainly tell this game came out on PS2/PSP. They aren’t the most egregious thing I’ve seen from that era, but I feel Atlus could have put in a little more work updating the visuals for the modern era. Other than that the game still plays well, there are barely any loading times, and all the visuals of the day-to-day life sim aspect of Persona 3 are top-tier anime goodness.

Persona 3 Portable has enough systems and activities to give players a strong variety of options to fill their in-game spare time, and I regard this as one of the series’ strong points; the freedom to make choices, work part-time, go shopping for new outfits and gear, and pursue relationships (although there are no same-sex options available, an outdated relic of the time the game originally released). On top of that, you always have the option of jumping into Tartarus for some grinding and treasure hunting, if that floats your boat.

7.5

Good

Positive:

  • A classic JRPG of the 2000s brought to modern consoles
  • A dark, gripping narrative that keeps the player wanting more
  • Plenty of side content to dive into when the grind becomes too much

Negative:

  • A need to grind to keep up with enemies
  • Several instances of outdated humour, stereotypes, and relationship options
  • 3D visuals don't hold up as well as the anime visuals

Whether you are a JRPG veteran or a Persona newcomer, Persona 3 Portable is a high-quality example of one of the best eras of the genre. The game is handicapped by a few shortcomings and could have done with some rebalancing and graphical updates, but still Persona 3 Portable reminds us where the series kicked things into high gear, while also showing how far JRPGs have come. An engaging, moody, and confronting experience that has plenty to offer to even the pickiest of players, Persona 3 Portable is a standout roleplaying adventure.