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Persona 3 Portable Review

Initial release date: July 13, 2006

Rerelease date: January 19, 2023

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable,MORE

Developer: Atlus

Composer: Shoji Meguro

Genres: Japanese role-playing game, Simulation Game, Social simulation game

Nominations: VGX Award for Best RPG, Satellite Award for Outstanding Role Playing Game

Publishers: Atlus, Atlus USA, Sega, Koei, Ghostlight

In the past, Persona 3 has not had a strong presence in the gaming world. Unlike the other games in the series, Persona 1 and 2, representation of Persona 3 was limited to spin-off games like Arena and Dancing. However, this has changed with the recent release of a modern port of Persona 3 on current platforms. This release, while exciting for fans old and new, does come with some drawbacks. Specifically, the version of the game that has been released is the PSP version, Persona 3 Portable, which does not include the enhancements and additional content of the FES version, such as the playable epilogue "The Answer". Despite this, the PSP version does have its own benefits, such as the ability to directly control party members, a selectable female protagonist, and various other refinements and challenges.

Persona 3 Portable is considered by many as the definitive version of the game when it comes to gameplay. However, it does have some significant drawbacks that are worth mentioning. The game follows the story of a transfer student who arrives at Tatsumi Port Island and attends Gekkoukan High School. The player quickly realizes that something is not quite right when they see countless coffins and an eerie green sky. This strange phenomenon, known as the Dark Hour, transforms the world into a nightmare state at midnight, and is only visible to select individuals. The protagonist and their dormmates are revealed to be special individuals known as Persona users, who can summon physical manifestations of their inner selves. Together with the school club, S.E.E.S., the player must explore the Tartarus tower, which appears during the Dark Hour, in order to put an end to this hidden time period.

Persona 3 is the first game in the series to introduce the systems that have become the norm for the series such as Social Links. As a result, players who are familiar with Persona 4 and Persona 5 will find the gameplay familiar. The game involves spending days increasing social stats, bonding with specific characters, and fusing Personas, which makes up most of the non-combat activities. However, it should be noted that the story pacing picks up more in the second third of the game, requiring players to be patient. The cast of Persona 3 is considered by many as the best among the modern era games because the characters' growth and lives are not closely dependent on the protagonist's interactions. This is a subjective opinion, but it is worth noting that the writing approach in Persona 3 is quite different from the newer games in the series.

The unique routes of the protagonists, including their Social Links and battle themes, are notable features of the Portable release. These differences provide a new experience for both veterans and newcomers to the game. Players can replay the game as the female protagonist for a fresh perspective, and new players can choose either protagonist. However, it should be noted that the writing quality of the male protagonist's Social Links may not be as strong as the female protagonist's, which tend to have more engaging and entertaining dynamics. The main objective of Portable is to ascend Tartarus during each Full Moon, while also participating in slice-of-life tasks. The combat system is easy to understand, with elemental affinities, buff and debuff effects, and the familiar "1 More" mechanic used in encounters.

The main character is the only one who can use multiple Personas, which are obtained through card shuffles after battles or by fusing them together. The Velvet Room, where fusions are performed, also features an attendant who manages the Quest system. Completing these tasks can yield valuable rewards and a large amount of currency, making them worth undertaking.

One of the criticisms of Persona 3's gameplay is that Tartarus, the dungeon area, is not very exciting to explore. The design of each floor is similar and can lead to monotony, especially when players spend multiple hours in Tartarus. While the dungeon implementations in Persona 4 and Persona 5 are more preferred, the gradual climbing of Tartarus in Persona 3 provides a sense of character and gameplay growth that makes it worthwhile.

As expected from this series, the soundtrack is excellent, featuring catchy battle themes and standout tracks for the town. The game performs well both docked and undocked, so there are no performance concerns.

The decision to release Persona 3 on the PSP resulted in some compromises that affect the current ports, such as the removal of animated cutscenes from the PlayStation 2 release and the replacement of walkable town exploration with an overhead, cursor-driven view. These exclusions may seem minor at first, but they detract from the unique identity and presentation that Persona 3 had. The replaced character-driven animated scenes are less impactful with static images, and the cursor perspective throughout Tatsumi Port Island makes players feel detached and less connected to the setting, which negatively affects the emotional connection to the game. Additionally, the epilogue from Persona 3 FES, The Answer, is also not included in this version. While the reception of The Answer was mixed, it did not detract from the quality of the original narrative, so its absence is disappointing. The collective port of Persona 3 Portable largely consists of the original content, with the only new feature being the ability to change difficulty options in the middle of the game, similar to how Persona 4 Golden implemented this feature. Quick saving has also been added for convenience. Additionally, this version includes subtitles in French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese, making it the most accessible release of the title yet.

However, some quality-of-life improvements that were expected are not present, such as manual skill selection during Persona fusion. This is not a major issue, but it is surprising that this option is not included, especially since Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster added it via a patch. Additionally, the Persona Compendium being introduced later in the game is also unfortunate. For fans who are already familiar with any version of Persona 3, this port is worth picking up because it is not limited by older hardware. However, those who are not familiar with the game should carefully consider the pros and cons of this release before purchasing, as it is not the definitive version.

The diminished presentation and tone of Portable do not accurately represent the identity of the game. However, it is still nice to see it available, and the gameplay is the best of any release. Persona 3 Portable on the Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch is a fantastic port of the beloved RPG. The game's story and characters remain just as engaging as they were when the game was first released, and the gameplay is just as enjoyable. The portability of the Steam Deck and Switch makes it even more convenient to play on the go, and the ability to play in both handheld and docked mode is a nice touch. The graphics have been slightly improved, and the overall presentation is sharp and polished. The only downside is that the game does not include any new content or features. But for fans of the series or those who have not yet played the game, Persona 3 Portable is a must-play.

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