ATLUS ushered in a new era for Megami Tensei franchise with the release of Persona 3 for the PlayStation 2 in 2006. The cult classic JRPG would serve as the groundwork for future games in the series. Following the PlayStation 2 (FES) and PlayStation Portable re-releases, Persona 3 would elude subsequent console generations for nearly 13 years, leaving many to wonder when the iconic game would return. Fortunately, the time has finally come in 2023 for an enhanced remaster of Persona 3 Portable on modern platforms. Once more, the portable Persona experience is too good to ignore on a Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck just like Persona 5 Royal.
Japan’s Darkest Hour
On April 7, 2009, a new transfer student arrives at Gekkoukan High School, which is located in the city of Iwatodai. Upon the student’s arrival, the dreaded Dark Hour begins, putting reality in a distorted state between one day and the next. Although most remain unconscious in coffins during the Dark Hour, some have to ability to stay awake during such a dangerous time. Those people become pray for the Shadows or awaken their inner self, a Persona. By chance, the protagonist is quickly monitored after the Kirijo Group discovers their potential within the Dark Hour.
After awakening to a Persona, the protagonist joins the Special Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) with other Persona users to combat the constant threat posed by Shadows. SEES carry on investigations within the Dark Hour and combats Shadows while attempting to reach the top of the massive Tartarus tower. The group is overseen by Shuji Ikutsuki and Mitsuru Kirijo, the daughter of the head of the Kirijo Group. The game’s initial group comprises of Yukari Takeba, Mitsuru Kirijo, and Akihiko Sanada. However, the SEES group expands with new members as the game progresses including Junpei Iori and Fuuka Yamagishi.
The Portable Experience
Persona 3 Portable is an enhanced version of the original Persona 3 game with new music, a female protagonist, social link changes, additional events, and much more. Many of the gameplay changes were drawn from Persona 4, which released the year prior to Persona 3 Portable’s release in Japan. For example, the ability to guard and manually control each character is available. As a result, the combat system is more refined to resemble its successor rather than the original Persona 3.
The Persona 3 FES epilogue titled “The Answer” is not included in Persona 3 Portable, but the story and social links have changes regardless of the protagonist a player chooses. Outside of Tartarus and dungeon exploration, players navigate the game world with a cursor. Characters appear as on-screen portraits, so the experience resembles a visual novel during general dialogue, social links, and the main story. In-game scenes now replace the original’s anime cutscenes, but the game’s stellar voice acting remains unchanged. Overall, Persona 3 Portable is a well-rounded title with its narrative and gameplay alike.
As previously reported, ATLUS developed new quality of life features for the Persona 3 Portable re-release across modern platforms. The game has been remastered with HD visuals for the first time, and difficulty options may be changed at any time throughout a playthrough. In fact, an entirely new menu may be accessed from system options in the pause menu. Players may adjust battle difficulty, EXP rewards, retries per floor, and continues after game over. These new features allows players to tailor their difficulty and gameplay experience accordingly.
Additionally, saves are more reliable than ever before in Persona 3 Portable, catering to a “pick-up and play” routine on handheld platforms like Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck. Players have access to a Quick Save, which immediately saves and returns the player to a title screen. When loading the Quick Save data, the player picks up exactly where they left off. Further, the player may erase data and load data at their leisure. These features are especially useful when grinding through the many floors of Tartarus.
Persona 3’s Core
Persona 3 Portable’s gameplay is addictive and fair, making challenges even more reward for a longtime Persona fan. Once again, players have access to a vast sea of potential Personas to fuse and summon into battle. Moreover, leveling up social links allows for higher EXP bonuses through fusion as well. Completing Velvet Room quests gives players more Personas to fuse and general rewards while getting to know more about Elizabeth in the process. At the same time, progressing through the main story and social links day by day in Persona 3 Portable rounds out the experience fans should expect.
The Megami Tensei franchise’s turn-based combat system is tried and true with Persona 3 Portable following the same formula. Although Persona 3 Portable’s combat lacks further improvements made in Persona 5 Royal, it’s worth playing and grinding through to obtain powerful Personas and weapons. Furthermore, the combat system’s simplicity is key toward making Persona 3 Portable is very enjoyable game to play. Like all other Persona games, it’s unique on its own while feeling familiar to turn-based RPG players. The iconic original soundtrack from Lotus Juice and ATLUS Sound Team certainly gives Persona 3 its identity too.
An Excellent Remaster
The Persona 3 Portable remaster is a great entry point into the Persona series while maintaining what made the original Persona 3 so legendary. From start to finish, the protagonist’s journey as the leader of SEES is emotional and captivating. Persona 3 Portable’s story takes twists and turns with dark, humorous, and endearing moments altogether. Persona 3’s combat and time management system served as the foundation for future entries, and its aged quite well in Persona 3 Portable.
The game does its title justice by allowing an exceptional Persona experience to be portable again on Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck. Persona 3 Portable’s new features round out the game with valuable quality of life improvements, allowing players to seamless stop and continue their journey through the content-rich JRPG. After many years of waiting, Persona 3 Portable being accessible on modern platforms for the first time is an immense relief. The potential for a Persona 3 remake is even greater, but Persona 3 Portable is still worth experiencing now for the very first time or even the fourth time around.
Disclaimer: ATLUS provided Final Weapon with a review code of Persona 3 Portable for Nintendo Switch.