Reviews - Updated on January 24, 2023

Thanks to Persona 5, the number of fans of the series has increased markedly. They probably want to play something similar, but Persona 6 is not visible on the horizon, and past games are problematic to get. SEGA and Atlus solved this problem: first, Persona 4 Golden was ported to PC, and now Persona 3 Portable has appeared there, also available on all current consoles. But is it possible to say that the third part is what fans of the fifth are looking for?

Not great, not terrible

With Persona 3, a non-standard situation is obtained – although it has several versions, none can be unambiguously recommended. There is the original, which was released in 2006 on the PlayStation 2. There is also Persona 3 FES, a kind of director’s cut with bonus content, including a story epilogue. And there is Persona 3 Portable, where they abandoned the epilogue, but added another playable character and corrected the gameplay. But this is a portable version for the PSP, so it looks very different from the “person” for the home console.

In an ideal world, Atlus would combine the best of all of these versions, but for now, newcomers have to settle for the PSP port. The main thing that distinguishes it from the “normal” Persona 3 (and from the later games of the series) is the two-dimensional environment outside the “dungeons”, which cannot be freely walked on. The school, the city, the dormitory, the main character’s room – everything is designed in the form of static pictures, and all the characters are frozen in these locations, like statues. The player can only move the cursor and choose which store he wants to go to and which floor to climb.

The models never move and, frankly, look creepy.

The models never move and, frankly, look creepy.

We also don’t see 3D models in story and side dialogs – only 2D images, as in visual novels. Some scenes look strange because of this – for example, when you watch the video in the story, an empty room is shown on the screen, and the subtitles tell how someone walks through it. But a particularly offensive loss for the portable version is anime videos, which were not returned in this re-release. Even if they had a low resolution, it would hardly have caused outrage.

Even in this form, Persona remains a “person”: the main character goes to school almost every day, after which he can spend time until the evening on entertainment. Going to the cinema, doing a part-time job in a store or cafe, playing an MMORPG, studying – all this allows you to either earn money or improve performance, which subsequently opens up new opportunities. And, of course, you need to spend time with new acquaintances, of which there are enough here – from a classmate and the head of a sports club to an exchange student and a lonely girl in the park. The more actively you communicate with them, the better the results when combining people.

However, since we do not walk around the city and the corridors of the school, but click on the locations with the cursor, there is not as much pleasure from communication as in later “personas”. Here you seem to press buttons to start a conversation and increase the numbers on the menu, and somehow there is no soul in this – you will not meet anyone by chance while you go to a cafe to improve performance. Yes, the portraits are cute, the dialogues are well written, and the interlocutors sometimes find themselves in funny situations. But you still miss how all this is framed in more relevant games in the series.

What they didn’t exactly screw up in the portable version is the story – that’s just not possible. Although there are no cutscenes and the game’s dialogue is reminiscent of Ace Attorney rather than Persona, the storytelling remains a very strong point of the project. The third part is called the darkest in the series – just see how the characters here call on their personas. The story accelerates for a relatively long time, but does not lose its fascination.

Plus, there is an opportunity to play as a female character. In this case, access to new social connections is opened, and in the story dialogues, the heroine responds more provocatively than the gloomy guy. The creators recommend that you first go through the story as a guy, and then do the same for a girl, but the game is too long (50+ hours) to make you want to do this. If you care about the canon and want to play the game in the form in which it was originally conceived, then you should choose a male character. If not, the girl is noticeably better.

How to get to work

There is no desire to go through the game twice because of how dreary the dungeons are here. Almost every night, the guys can go to Tartarus, a kind of tower with many labyrinth floors, where Shadows scurry about and suitcases with loot are placed. Although the appearance of the labyrinths sometimes changes, the structure remains the same, and it gets boring very quickly. You get to a new floor, run around it, referring to the mini-map, attack opponents and try to find the stairs leading to the next floor. You repeat this many, many times until you hit a dead end – which means you need to move further along the main plot, and then return.

In some scenes in Tartarus, three-dimensional models were left, and such moments are perceived much better.

In some scenes in Tartarus, three-dimensional models were left, and such moments are perceived much better.

The battles themselves, as always, are interesting – in this regard, Persona 3 Portable is not too far behind the latest games in the series. Opponents have weaknesses and strengths, your personas too, over time you learn new abilities, increase levels, you can mix one person with another to get new “fighters”. If all the opponents are hit by a weak spot and they are stunned, you can make a joint attack, and sometimes the companion offers you two to attack some opponent.

In Portable, the developers allowed the player to control not only the main character, but also his associates, while in the FES version there was no such option. Control over all participants in the battle simplifies battles – although allies willingly heal each other, during attacks they sometimes make strange decisions. As with all “personas”, the target takes critical damage and is stunned when using some element – if you managed to do this, you can take one more turn, and then repeat this process with other enemies. AI-controlled companions stun the target, and then for some reason hit it again, instead of attacking someone else and launching a joint attack. If this annoys you, you can personally make decisions for everyone.

The process of obtaining new personas is familiar to those who have played Persona 4 Golden – after the battles, a kind of lottery is launched, where, in addition to persons, you can win money, experience, equipment, or something else. Well, of course, you can also mix personas – this is the only way to get many of them. What will definitely cause discomfort is the inability to choose the abilities that you want to transfer to a new person – even if this would simplify the game, the “grind” in Tartarus would become a little less dreary.

Yes, and the appearance of such a function would make this version more attractive for those who have previously played the game. In this port (you can’t even call it a remaster) there are ridiculously few innovations. Now you can change the difficulty on the first playthrough and do it at any time, as well as a quick save, like in the recent Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster. This is not a full save, but the ability to exit the game and then continue from the same place. Well, visually, the game looks good – we redrawn something ourselves, used a neural network for something, and as a result, everything looks clean and modern.

The side quests in the Velvet Room weren't touched either, so don't trust the dates in the Deadline  column - it's much more important to read the descriptions.  Some quests are completed only on one specific day.

The side quests in the Velvet Room weren’t touched either, so don’t trust the dates in the Deadline column – it’s much more important to read the descriptions. Some quests are completed only on one specific day.

Recently, an insider on the ResetEra forum reported that not only Persona 6 is in development, but also a remake of Persona 3, which is supposedly announced in the summer. If this is indeed the case, I would recommend checking out this part of the series sometime later. It is possible that the Portable version will play fine on the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck – after all, these are portable platforms. But when playing the game on a large TV or monitor, it’s very hard not to compare it to Persona 4 Golden, and even more so to Persona 5 Royal, imagining what a modern version might look like.

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