The review of Persona 3 Portable, the RPG that changed the Atlus series and that returns in a remastered version completely in Italian.
Although Persona 5 is the most famous title of the series, the one that has cleared Persona all over the world even more than the fourth episode – in our parts the Italian localization of Persona 5 Royal has certainly contributed, recently also available on Nintendo Switch – the third chapter is certainly the most important, since it was the turning point: it was then, in fact, that Atlus introduced the component slice of life in its games, a feature that has come to distinguish them from virtually every other Japanese RPG on the market and has inspired countless subsequent productions.
Despite this, Persona 3, which came out in 2006 on the PlayStation 2, was only revived once on the PSP a few years later, and that was it. It is precisely that version that Atlus has decided to bring to contemporary platforms, localizing it in our language for the occasion, but in this Persona 3 Portable review we will explain why we would have expected something more.
The first Persona of the new course
Persona 3 established the backbone of the series as everyone knows it today, intersecting dungeon exploration and turn-based combat with the component slice of life, which sees the player grappling with everyday life: lessons at school, part-time jobs, socializing with friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. Persona 3 has therefore invented what Persona 5 players would call Confidants, but which until Persona 4 were called Social Links, or relationships with secondary characters that are built over time, frequenting them in moments of freedom, and which confer bonuses and advantages particulars under the gameplay.
In the middle there are precisely the challenging fightswhich are heavily inspired by the tradition of Shin Megami Tensei, the main series that inspired Persona: turn-based, with the player controlling up to four characters and having to choose the right spells and attacks to hit the enemy’s weak points and knock them out as fast as possible.
Playing Persona 3, a last-minute fan will find more or less all the features that he may have appreciated in the fifth iteration, including the Italian language, which is for us the big news of this conversion in particular. Also there storytelling acted as a real forerunner, establishing some cornerstones that would then return in subsequent episodes, starting with the Shadows, mysterious creatures that emerge in our world during the Dark Hour, a period of time between the end of the day and the start of the next. While the vast majority of people enter a kind of stasis, some individuals manage to perceive the Dark Hour and fight the Shadows with the help of the Personae: gathered in a dormitory that almost looks like a headquarters, these Gekkoukan high school students welcome among their ranks the player who, for some mysterious reason, can manifest multiple Personae.
In the Portable version of Persona 3, the player can choose whether to play a male protagonist, as in the original PlayStation 2 edition, or a female protagonist: the choice is not only aesthetic, as it changes some aspects of the narrative and gameplay. There female protagonist demonstrates a more natural and ironic character in multiple-choice conversations and can bind to different supporting characters than its male counterpart. In short, it is a sort of additional campaign that is worth playing, perhaps in New Game + mode to discover all the differences between the two stories.
There horror storytelling of Persona 3 is much closer to Shin Megami Tensei than to the subsequent Personas in terms of atmospheres and themes, but it also inaugurates the course that the first two Personas – too rarely mentioned, but equally important – had at least hinted at: the game explores almost manic the psychologies of his characters, who in the course of the adventure face their personal demons, growing above all as individuals. But beyond the Gekkoukan students, all the supporting actors have something to tell that invites the player to frequent them, between poignant, mysterious or simply funny events.
Persona 3 remains a well-written title to this day, with a carousel of memorable characters which it is no coincidence that we found in a plethora of subsequent games, from the Persona 4 Arena Ultimax fighting game to the rhythm game Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, passing through the two Persona Q on Nintendo 3DS.
Gameplay between past and present
If the story of Persona 3 continues to fascinate us even after many years, our problem with this conversion lies precisely in that Portable suffix, which represents a controversial choice in several respects. Taken as it is, this edition is certainly very faithful to the iteration proposed on the PSP more than ten years ago: Atlus has limited itself to adding some convenient features such as quick saves and tweaking the resolution of 3D models, and in doing so it inevitably compromised the final visual rendering, victim of that gap between the polygonal models and the more washed out 2D backgrounds to which all the remasters of recent years have accustomed us a bit, starting with those of Square’s Final Fantasy Enix. After that, if we exclude the aforementioned addition of the Italian language, the contents remained the sameand therefore those who have already played Persona 3 on PSP can safely skip this release.
However, net of the various additional contents – such as the campaign of the female protagonist, the extra difficulty levels and a whole series of balances and quality of life improvements – which in a certain sense make this version the best on the gameplay side, Persona 3 Portable stay sort of truncated version compared to the original for PlayStation 2, because deprived not only of the beautiful cartoon cinematics, which could also have been implemented in this version, but also of all the exploratory part outside the dungeons, replaced by practically point and click screens that do so much visual novels.
This solution certainly cuts off the player’s sense of immersion, even if the exploration in the original hadn’t been structured as well as in the later titles, and was monotonous in the long run. However, the possibility of exploring in the third person remains Tartar, the procedural labyrinth that manifests itself in the Gekkoukan during the Dark Hour, and that the player must climb throughout the school year to reach the end of the adventure. Here Persona 3 Portable, although already improved in gameplay compared to the first edition of 2006 with the introduction of new mechanics and balances, shows the side and all the limits of an old-fashioned RPG. The combat system it’s functional, but also more bland than later titles, and Tartarus, with its weaving of random corridors, isn’t exactly the most fun to navigate.
Persona 3 still keeps that strategic component that fans of the Atlus series should adore: we can conquer new Personae and then merge them in the Velvet Room in the presence of the usual Igor, unlocking ever stronger entities or in any case more suitable for our purposes. The Velvet Room’s features are clearly more limited than in later iterations of the series, but still allow for a variety of strategies.
Persona 3 Portable is still today a Exemplary RPG, but the third time we play it, even if many years have passed, we must recognize that it has aged badly compared to, for example, the always excellent and fresh Persona 4 Golden. We are still dealing with a reissue, and not a remake, but it is a pity that Atlus has not taken the opportunity to offer a more complete title, adding, for example, the contents of Persona 3 FES.
For those who don’t know, Person 3 EDF it was a kind of DLC – an additional disc for PlayStation 2, actually – which in the rest of the world was offered in a kind of single package that included the original campaign, dubbed The Journey, and the extra content: a real additional campaign , The Answer, which continued the story after the heartbreaking finale of Persona 3, bringing it full circle on many characters. The gameplay of The Answer was certainly objectionable in several respects, but the narrative was worthy of attention; however, over time Atlus would seem to have confirmed the canonicity of Persona 3 Portable, ignoring what was told in The Answer, and the choice to re-propose this version in 2023 would seem to confirm the decision made at the time.
Tested version Nintendo Switch
Persona 3 Portable is a simple remastered version of the title of the same name released on PSP many years ago and as such it feels the full weight of its years: if the narrative holds up masterfully, on the gameplay front it could be difficult to adapt to its limits, especially if you comes straight from Persona 5 Royal. It remains a fundamental title for understanding the evolution of the Atlus series, and it is a pity that the Japanese company has not committed itself a little more from a technical and content point of view, perhaps by implementing the cartoon kinematics or the additional campaign of Persona 3 EDF. In short, we continue to dream of that remake that combines the best of both worlds in a definitive Persona 3.
- The story is always exciting and full of memorable characters
- Improved resolution and some handy modern features
- It remains a fundamental title for those who love Japanese RPGs
- It is the PSP version of Persona 3 with its strengths and weaknesses
- The gap between the 3D models and the scenery is an eyesore
- Too bad that Persona 3 FES content hasn’t been added
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