Persona 3 Portable Remaster
Just a forewarning, this review is based on the Persona 3 Portable Remaster port that is available now on modern platforms. Persona 3 Portable is an amazing game worthy of anyone's time, but there are many things newcomers should know from someone who has played both Persona 3 FES and the original Persona 3 Portable.
When it comes to sequels in video games, it’s usually by the third installment that a franchise begins to flourish. Devil May Cry 3, Tekken 3, Gran Turismo 3, Metal Gear Solid 3, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3—you get the gist. Persona 3 continued to prove this theory right, yet it took a while for the niche 2006 RPG to get there. Thanks to its legacy as a hidden gem, Persona 3 followed with Persona 3 FES, a “Director’s Cut” version of the game that added an epilogue known as The Answer in 2007. In 2009, Persona 3 Portable was released on the PlayStation Portable.
At the time of its release, Persona 4 was the series best selling and most popular game, which led Atlus to focus on P4’s branding for years to come. Due to the popularity of 4, Persona 3 Portable was a great way to introduce players to the 2006 title that started it all. Persona 1 and Persona 2 were also ported to the PSP, improving on the archaic localizations of the original PlayStation titles. The concept of having all three Persona titles playable on a handheld was a lucrative one for RPG and Shin Megami Tensei fans alike. Persona 3 Portable was a necessity to complete the trilogy on the go.
This brings us to Persona 3 Portable Remaster, released for the first time in 13 years. A lot has happened in video games since then and there’s an entire generation of Persona 5 fans who weren’t even born when the original Persona 3 was released. Re-releasing an older title on the grounds of a series’s popularity is always a risky move—especially from an inferior port of the original. I can feel the pitchforks raise, so I’ll gladly explain with P3P was a downgrade.
Handheld gaming was nowhere near as bountiful as it was in 2010. A player’s only options were the PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS. Unless you liked Java apps, mobile gaming as players know it today was not a great option by any means. Capturing the essence of a console game in your hands was the selling point for many PSP ports and Persona 3 Portable was like a dream for many fans. However, compressing a 40+ hour 3D RPG with loads of mechanics in a PSP was the reality and many corners had to be cut.
The one thing that players will know upon starting Persona 3 Portable Remaster is that there’s no navigation on the world map. Moving through Iwatodai Dorm, Gekkoukan High School, and the rest of Tatsumi Port Island is through point-and-click style menus. Points of interest, like shops, NPCs, and important quest markers are highlighted across different screens. In-game cutscenes are reduced to visual novel-style, eliminating all of the charms from the console counterparts. Finally, all of the animated cutscenes are repurposed within the game’s engine or with soulless stills instead.
Again, considering this was meant to be played on a PSP, a device that had fewer specs than a PlayStation 2, these changes were fine. Players could move and explore Tartarus, the core gameplay wasn’t changed too drastically if only simplified, and the new audio is impressive. Players have the option to play as the “Fem MC,” the new female protagonist, or the default male protagonist. The former has a different soundtrack unique to Persona 3 Portable, a red color aesthetic, and different Social Link routes.
The two protagonists share the same core story, but the journey is vastly different depending on who the player chooses. It’s here that the player gets its replayability as both routes warrant a playthrough at least once. Unfortunately, bonus content from Persona 3 FES including “The Answer” is removed. This was a bummer as “The Answer” served as a way to wrap up the Persona 3 story like a bow. That feeling of closure is missing in Persona 3 Portable Remaster. I want to repeat myself one last time—this was fine in 2010 for a PlayStation Portable port.
Persona 3 Portable Remaster only shows that the title did not age well, especially for what little the fans receive from it. On the PC version, players can change the resolution, graphics quality, and even the frame rate. Running this game with a max fps of 240 was something I never thought I would ever experience and it’s refreshing, no pun intended. It felt as smooth as a modern game released in the past year, with minimalist yet high-quality 3D textures. Again, it’s showing off the game’s age here, but the assets are touched up nicely.
For the first time in Persona 3 history, the original Japanese dub is included as an option for players so for many fans that’s a huge boon as it is. Menus, texts, and the GUI are also upscaled to 1080p, completely revamped from the small resolution of the PSP. While some of the character’s sprites are still left with some unfortunate “jaggies” and the audio remains compressed, it’s still Persona 3 Portable as I remembered playing during my senior year in high school—but better.
However, despite this, Persona 3 Portable Remaster is a lazy port of a technically inferior port of a PS2 JRPG classic. I’m not sure how difficult it would have been to use the assets from Persona 3 FES, rig the female protagonist model to have her walk around Port Island, include the original cutscenes while adapting to the female protagonist, and other modern quality-of-life changes. Older games get the remaster and port treatment all the time. Recently, Live A Live was a fantastic example of expanding your audience. Atlus should have used the superior console version as its base and not the trimmed-down handled version.
The same day, Persona 4 Golden was released for the first time on modern consoles after being on PC for over three years. While I can copy and paste my same quips for P3P, I can’t in good faith. The PlayStation Vita was a lot of things, but it was far more powerful than a PlayStation Portable. All of the animated cutscenes, features, and virtually everything from the original Persona 4 was ported nearly flawlessly for the Vita. Not to mention there’s brand new content added to the story, with animated cutscenes as well. This made the port to modern platforms a seamless one. Why couldn’t Atlus give Persona 3 Portable the same love?
This puts this review in a rather rough spot because I’m not reviewing Persona 3 Portable as the game, but rather as the port. Persona 3 Portable was a beautiful way of establishing one of Persona’s best stories with the comfort of convenience. With this in mind, I’d go so much as to say the Switch port is superior as it captures that very same 2010 spirit. Even the Steam Deck does this for the same reasons. For all other platforms, the only thing Atlus managed to achieve was to make the origin of modern Persona accessible to a wider audience.
Atlus, if you’re going to go big, go gigantic. Don’t just port the most recent version without any real effort to include the many features that made the original such a cherished classic. The Persona 3 Portable Remaster was a big opportunity for Atlus and not only did they drop the ball, but they tossed it into their own bucket.
Persona 3 Portable Remaster is now available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.