Persona 3 Portable Review: A Good Old School Grind

by David Sanchez February 9, 2023 @ 3:35 pm

Persona 3 Portable Characters

Reviewed on Xbox Series X|S

The Persona series has become one of the most recognized JRPG franchises around. What started out as a dungeon crawling sub-series within the Shin Megami Tensei universe has spun off into its own successful thing, gaining recognition and acclaim over the years. While the first two Persona games have obtained something of a cult following, it was Persona 3 that laid the groundwork for what the series would eventually become.

Originally released on PlayStation 2 back in 2006, Persona received two updated re-releases: Persona 3 Portable and Persona 3 FES. Well, here we are in 2023, and Persona 3 Portable is now available on modern consoles. This is a pretty faithful re-release, so you won’t see anything new, and the graphics are pretty much intact, so a super-slick-looking HD remake this is not. That said, there’s an undeniable amount of charm to Persona 3 Portable that makes it worth revisiting (or checking out for the first time) if you love a good JRPG.

Something Wicked

Persona 3 Portable starts with the player character — a silent protagonist that you get to name — transferring to a new school. Gekkoukan High School seems normal enough at first — actually, no it doesn’t. Within moments of stepping on campus, you witness a strange little boy that appears out of thin air and you meet a fellow student who’s holding a gun to her head. Yeah, this isn’t your average high school.

Persona 3 Portable Battle

Eventually, you come across a monster that appears on campus, and you discover that you have a special power that allows you to summon a strong entity, or Persona. (That’s what the girl was doing when she was pointing the gun to her head — it’s actually a gun-shaped tool that summons Personas.) From there you meet other students who explain that dark forces appear during the Dark Hour, a 25th hour that occurs after midnight. Most people can’t experience that hour — no, they’re safely tucked away in coffins, completely unaware of what’s going on around them during this hour.

You and your new friends, however, can battle the forces of evil, known as Shadows, during the Dark Hour. As such, it’s up to you to stop these Shadows from invading your world and taking control of people’s psyches.

Visual Novel x JRPG

Persona 3 Portable is part visual novel, part role-playing game. You’ll have to balance the two styles of play as you move further into the story. You are, after all, a high school student, so you have to take things like grades, extracurricular activities, and social standing into account.

During these daytime moments, you’ll have to attend classes, sometimes deciding whether you want to take a nap during a lecture or answer a random question from the teacher. You’ll also be able to join clubs, sports, and the student body. You can even get a part-time job to earn some extra cash after school. You’ll also want to interact with different characters, as doing so will improve certain stats (via Social Links), which comes in super handy when you’re engaging in battles later on.

It can get really hectic juggling all of your academic and social activities, but it’s also really interesting, and it keeps these moments moving quite rapidly. If you don’t enjoy visual novels, you might find some of this stuff mundane. But if you’re in it for the ride, you’ll dig what Persona 3 Portable has to offer here, as it’s all done quite well.

Once the clock strikes midnight, that’s when Persona 3 Portable takes on a more traditional JRPG format. During the Dark Hour, a massive tower spanning 264 floors will rise out of the earth. This tower, known as Tartarus, houses hundreds of Shadows small and great, and you’ll have to climb every floor as you take them out.

Persona 3 Portable Combat

The combat of Persona 3 Portable is fast and fun, but it’s also not dumbed down. It requires that you play carefully, balancing standard physical attacks and item use with special abilities that are granted to you by your Personas. While your party members have Personas that can’t be altered, your character can swap out different Personas depending on what you’ve discovered along the way.

There are quite a lot of Personas to find and utilize, and you can fuse multiple Personas to create new ones. This makes for some awesome combinations. You’re going to want to experiment with the different Personas, too, because they have different elemental abilities that come in handy in different ways depending on the enemies and bosses you face. The easiest comparison to make is with Pokemon, where you’re constantly balancing and swapping Personas depending on the baddies you’re facing.

Now, while Persona 3 Portable was the third game in this Shin Megami Tensei series, it was the first to change the pacing and structure used in the first two Persona games. As such, it’s not nearly as streamlined or smooth as something like Persona 4 or Persona 5. Tartarus, for example, requires a lot of grinding. It feels very much like an old school JRPG, so if you’re into that older style of slower progression, you won’t have a problem. But if you’re not, you might become a little frustrated or impatient with the flow of the game here.

Persona 3 Portable-Specific Features

Persona 3 Portable Gameplay

There are some big differences between Persona 3 Portable and Persona 3 FES. The latter, for example, includes fully animated cutscenes, whereas P3P only features still images to progress the story and dialogue. In addition, FES included additional playable content, such as an epilogue that wrapped up the story.

While the absence of these features in Persona 3 Portable is a bummer, this version does have some superior aspects. For starters, while the base game stars a male protagonist, P3P also includes an alternate mode where you can play through the entire game with a female protagonist. This adds different scenarios and Social Links, changing things up considerably. There are also additional difficulty options in P3P, which is good if you’re looking for a specific level of challenge.

Probably the best feature of Persona 3 Portable, and what makes it arguably better than FES, is the ability to control all of your party members during battle. While this option is initially set to off, you can change it at any time, which means you get to choose what your partners do instead of relying on the AI to choose its next course of action during an intense fight. This option isn’t available in FES, and while the AI is decent, it’s nice to have full control of your party while battling foes.

Persona 3 Portable in 2023

Persona 3 Portable - Climbing Tartarus

If you’re hoping for a graphical remaster, you won’t find that here. Persona 3 Portable looks just about the same as it did back on the PSP, albeit it’s been enhanced to fit nicely on your big HD TV screen. You’ll see a lot of polygons and lo-res textures, but even then, there’s a bit of charm to the look of it all.

The sound is kind of all over the place, for better and for worse. While some of the music is catchy, it repeats a bit too often. So you’ll hear the same anime-like themes and pseudo-hip-hop tunes over and over again. The voice acting is at least varied, and the performances are mostly great.

Even though it’s almost 20 years old, Persona 3 Portable is a beefy game. You’ll spend upwards of 65 to 80 hours playing through the story, depending on how deep you want to get into the extra stuff such as optional social activities and Tartarus side quests that pop up from time to time (like rescuing lost characters). There’s a lot to do in P3P, so you’ll be busy for a while.

It’s great to see Persona 3 Portable playable on modern hardware. While this isn’t a huge remaster or remake, it’s nice to be able to revisit a classic JRPG like this. It’s definitely showing its age in some parts, and its grindy nature won’t appeal to everyone, but this is still a great role-playing game with plenty of memorable moments.

Score: 8 out of 10

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