Persona 3 Portable

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Persona 3 Portable review
Camrin Santchi


Memento Mori

Disclaimer: This game has gameplay and narrative elements that heavily relate to and imply death as well as suicide. For those sensitive to such topics, discretion is suggested.

Burn My Dread

The Latin Phrase 'Memento Mori' - which translates roughly to 'Remember Death'- is a reminder of mortality and that death finds all. Depressing? Only if you let it be. The concept of Memento Mori is a heavy theme in Persona 3, meaning it takes a forefront in the recent Steam release of Persona 3 Portable, a 2009 PSP version of the 2006 Playstation 2 game.

Persona 3 and its re-releases FES and Portable show the groundwork that would eventually become the Modern Persona game, but as it is the first game there is some roughness that eventually gets smoothed out in Persona 4 Golden and particularly Persona 5 Royal, both of which have previously been released on Steam.

Persona 3 Portable follows either a male or female protagonist in one of the more stark differences from other Persona games, where there is only one potential protagonist. This is an edition exclusive to the PSP variant, as the 'FemC' is non-existent in the original release of Persona 3 or in its expanded rerelease Persona 3 FES, and the game warns that for an experience more true to the original one should choose the male character, as the female character offers several differences in available Social Links (The ties that bind your character to the people they meet) and even dialogue options that show a contrast between the two potential main characters.

Deep Breath, Deep Breath

Gamers take the role of a student moving into the dorms for their second year of school, a transfer to a place called Gekkoukan High which is on the artificial Tatsumi Port Island, but your character doesn't even make it to the dorm building before things take a turn for the weird. As midnight strikes the island seems eerily empty, with what appear to be coffins lining the streets. This is the first introduction that players have to what will become known as the Dark Hour, a mysterious time period that serves as the 25th hour of the day that only a few people perceive. During this time monsters called Shadows roam freely, and attack anyone that is not in a coffin. Upon realizing that you experience the Dark Hour, you are immediately recruited into the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, better known as SEES, a 'club' of sorts of those that fight Shadows and try to unravel the mysteries of the Dark Hour.

The fighting of Shadows is done in a rather gruesome fashion by holding a gun shaped object called an Evoker to your head, which summons your Persona in a fashion drastically different from the shattering of a tarot card in Persona 4 or the removal of a mask in Persona 5. In universe this is referenced as tiring and traumatizing, and out of universe as well it can have certain uncomfortable implications due to implicit references to suicide. That is actually the point however, since like Persona 4's main theme of Truth and Persona 5's main theme of Rebellion, the main theme of Persona 3 stands out as remembering that life is fleeting. Enjoy it while it lasts, live without regret, because you never know what day will be your last.

Aria of the Soul

Persona 3 Portable does have its differences from other mainline games in the series, most notable in the 'daily life' segments of the game. Rather than controlling your character and wandering the world, players instead control a cursor that selects people and places to interact with them. This is a change from Persona 3 and FES that was instituted due to the weaker power of the PSP compared to the PS2. Add in the fact that character interactions are done mainly with text boxes and graphics of the characters rather than showing your character actually, well, interacting with them and the 'daily life' segments appear to be even more Visual Novel like than the other games in the series. Also unlike later games, a Social Link can be broken which actually limits your ability to fuse Persona of the matching Arcana. As a gameplay mechanic this makes players be more careful of what they say to their friends, and overall befitting the idea that actions have consequences and that you need to be responsible for the choices you make.

During the Dark Hour players will oftentimes find themselves climbing Tartarus, what is described as a Shadow 'nest' that appears from Gekkoukan High School during every Dark Hour. Exploring this dungeon is very similar to the dungeons in Persona 4 and the Mementos sections of Persona 5, with floors that randomly generate and that are filled with enemies. One of the biggest changes that was removed in later Persona games is called 'Status'. Status is a ranking of four conditions that party members including the protagonist can be in, which can have an impact on their abilities in battle. Most of the time characters are 'Good' which is standard, with benefits coming from 'Great' and starting to get detriments from 'Tired', and with 'Sick' being the lowest of the low. This affects accuracy, critical chance, and even the amount of damage you can do in a battle, so it is important to keep an eye on your allies and make sure you don't push them too far in one night.

Mass Destruction

Unfortunately this release is not without its flaws. Gameplay mechanics that have been smoothed out by more recent games in the franchise are shown in their raw form here without any of the improvements that have appeared in the 14 years since Persona 3 Portable's original release. This could make gamers hesitant to experience for themselves what may feel like a rough draft compared to the more polished mechanics we witness in later games.
Another issue of the game has to do with the limitations of the PSP, since Persona 3 Portable is a re-release, namely that many of the emotionally compelling cutscenes present in the original and FES releases are not found in Portable - which can actually alter the impact of key moments that are meant to be powerful.

One final issue is with the re-release itself rather than the PSP original itself. Namely, the game is advertised as 'newly remastered', but in reality that translates to upscaling that can leave rough edges, and especially issues with items that were meant to be rounded, leaving jagged edges and corners that shouldn't be there. It isn't enough to really take one out of the game, and in fact can actually fit the rather polygonal models of the characters that can be seen- but it is important to note that it can stand out.

Soul Phrase

In all Persona 3 Portable is an excellent chance for gamers to add to their JRPG collection, and despite its flaws it has a compelling story, fantastic music (Techno and J-Rock compared to P4’s J-Pop and P5’s Jazz), and characters that feel fleshed out and real. For $20 USD on Steam and many hours of content, the game is a bargain worthy of Tanaka, a series spanning salesman that has always got a deal for you.

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fun score


Compelling Story, Characters, and Music


Clunky Upscaling, Lack of Cutscenes, Outdated Mechanics