One of the biggest surprises of the Xbox and Bethesda Games 2022 Showcase wasn’t just the announcement that the modern Persona games are coming to Xbox consoles and PC, it’s that Persona 3 Portable, specifically, was getting a re-release at all. It will be a retooled version of a PlayStation 2 game that only came out on PlayStation Portable, which was both enhanced and scaled-down for the platform. Despite the compromises, I do think it’s the right version to port in the absence of a proper definitive version.
Persona 3 kicked off the gameplay formula we come to know the franchise for — the daily social simulation throughout a school year; dungeon crawling using the Pokemon-like personas in the Shin Megami Tensei battle system; and affecting stories that bring its characters to life. But over the years, Persona 3 itself remained relatively obscured. Relegated to older platforms without a sensible way to play through modern systems, Persona 3 became increasingly hard to access.
The sub-series of Shin Megami Tensei reached mainstream notoriety with Persona 4 on PS2 and the definitive version Persona 4 Golden, which was dubbed a PlayStation Vita seller. Then with the wild success of Persona 5, the franchise became more of a household name as one of the premier PlayStation exclusives.
Persona 3 did have its own re-releases, though. In 2007, Persona 3 FES cleaned up a few things and added a playable epilogue for PS2 owners. In 2010, P3P revamped several core aspects of the game, making key improvements in some areas but making disappointing compromises to fit the PSP at the same time.
If you haven’t engaged with Persona 3 yet, or only have tangential knowledge, well, I have some things to tell you.
Why Persona 3 is (Arguably) the Best Persona
Persona 3 is dark, carrying the spirit of Shin Megami Tensei quite closely. Its oppressing atmosphere and mature narrative set a tone unlike any of the other entries. Yet, with the playful mix of hip-hop, rock, and pop in its soundtrack, as well as a penchant for goofy character moments, Persona 3 isn’t all depression and death — it’s largely about finding hope within hopeless circumstances.
Persona 3 is equal parts heartwarming and heartwrenching with a level of emotional honesty few JRPGs grasp. And it’s able to do this because of the range of its characters and a diverse soundtrack that hits every mood just right. It also creates a strong story by not shying away from tragedy and instead portraying crucial moments genuinely.
While it still has its share of anime tropes and eye-rolling moments, Persona 3 is earnest in its characterizations, culminating in a grounded journey that confronts despair up front. Sure, they may be high school students, but characters like Akihiko, Mitsuru, Yukari, and Junpei grow up quickly and develop as one of Persona‘s most endearing casts. Aigis is the de facto mascot of Persona 3, possessing the depth, charm, and significance that Teddie from Persona 4 wishes he had and Morgana from Persona 5 almost had.
Ripping off your mask to summon your persona is pretty fucking dope if you ask me, but taking a magic pistol and shooting yourself in the head to call upon your supernatural powers is some real next-level shit. It’s just the right level of edgy nonsense and striking style to Persona 3‘s attitude.
Why Persona 3 Portable is the Best Version
In the original and in FES, you could only take direct control of the main character in battle. Spending an entire game dungeon-crawling with a party of four and only making decisions for one of them was a head-scratching design decision, especially for a turn-based RPG. You could give party members tactical presets to influence their behavior in combat, but it was certainly not the same.
When you think about turn-based combat, strategizing and stringing together attacks one after the other is a major part of the fun. Especially in the SMT-style combat system, where hitting weaknesses to earn extra turns, you miss out on a lot of its potential depth. P3P fixed all that by… just giving you full control of the party. Considering the difficulty spikes at specific moments, not having complete control can be frustrating.
All that said, having the option to play as the female protagonist makes P3P the most important version of the game. It’s more than just a simple swap of a character model. Dialogue and character interactions during the social sim elements are changed to fit her presence and personality. She also has a distinctly bubbly and carefree disposition, which is a whole lot more than you can say about the original blue-haired boy.
If anything, P3P‘s female protagonist is probably the one Persona lead with the most personality. She creates a great contrast with the dour tone and brings out a different side of the main and supporting cast, which is honestly a better dynamic. And to boot, her playthrough features exclusive songs you wouldn’t hear otherwise.
Why Persona 3 Portable is Not the Best Version
As mentioned earlier, there are shortcomings specific to P3P that can really curb my enthusiasm. Spending your days at school and free time roaming around the city is a crucial piece of the Persona puzzle — to live as though you’re part of that world, exploring and interacting with it. While it’s all technically still there, you navigate the overworld with a cursor in a map-like layout; you don’t actually get to see your character be part of those spaces.
This leaves a bit of superficiality to the whole endeavor, creating a disconnect between you and your presence in Persona 3‘s world. It’s even more disappointing for story-critical moments. Instead of seeing the characters moving around the scene, you simply watch character portraits come in and out with dialogue boxes over a static background. Then there’s the absence of the few fully animated cutscenes — there weren’t many of them, to begin with, but they were crucial for making the entire journey come alive.
The entire story remains intact — however, it’s likely to not leave as lasting of an impression with these critical pieces to Persona 3‘s storytelling and worldbuilding.
Atlus, Persona, and its Weird Release Pattern
Getting a P3P port in 2022 or 2023 (depending on what the actual release date ends up being) was not on my bingo card, and it being revealed during an Xbox showcase was even more shocking. Atlus had talked about bringing more of its older games to modern platforms in light of the success of the PC port of P4G in 2020. But Atlus is such an unpredictable publisher and developer with odd choices for platform exclusivity on a game-to-game basis.
Persona 5 Strikers being on Switch and PC despite the absence of the original on both platforms (until now for PC), Persona 4 Arena showing up on Xbox 360, the Shin Megami Tensei series broadly as a sometimes-Nintendo-exclusive, then Soul Hackers 2 coming to every platform out there — make it make sense. But hey, I’m really glad P3P will be playable on modern platforms, bringing an all-time favorite to a larger crowd and helping Persona break out of its usual PlayStation shell.
If somehow Atlus spent the time to bridge the gap between the PS2 versions and P3P, that would’ve been ideal. Because even still, there is no true definitive version of Persona 3. I think it’s a disservice to how good Persona 3 actually is. Now, I’m not saying modders can do something about this, but I’m also not not saying modders can do something about this. And while y’all are at it, do my friend Kenneth Shepard a favor and help him date all the guys in Persona.
We got a rhythm game with Dancing in Moonlight; the SEES crew was core to Persona Q, Q2, and the Arena fighting games; and there is a four-part movie adaptation. It’s not like Persona 3 was ignored like Revelations Persona or both Persona 2 games have been. However, in contrast to the love that Persona 4 and 5 have gotten, I’ve always wanted Persona 3 to get more shine. I’ll settle for a P3P re-release for now.
I’ll still be daydreaming of a full-on proper Persona 3 remake because I believe it’s a game that really deserves one. (Nothing quite like hyping myself up on something that doesn’t exist!) It takes itself a bit more seriously, which might not be the reason you came to Persona, to begin with. But Persona 3 arguably has the best cast in the series, and the unmistakably dark story that still comes out hopeful in its own way makes it special. Don’t miss it when it comes to Game Pass.
Update: Atlus has confirmed these ports will also be available on PS5 and Steam.