If you’re like me, the question on your mind is, “What are we doing here?” Not in an existentialist sense, but rather, why is this not Persona 3 FES? Why the PSP version? Unlike the philosophical question of our purpose, there probably is a good answer for why we’re getting Persona 3 Portable instead of one of its console kin, but we don’t really know it. There have been theories about the Persona 3 FES code being a mess or having been lost, but that’s exactly what I hear every time there’s a poor or missing port. Then there’s the rumor that Persona 3 is being remade, which I also doubt, but maybe.
In any case, here we are: Persona 3 Portable on console and PC.
The worst part about the whole experience is that I’m constantly wondering what I’m doing on this version and whether or not I should just pop Persona 3 FES into my PS2. However, once you get into it, things aren’t so bad. It’s definitely not an entirely lazy port. Care has been placed into moving it to the console. So like the developers, I guess we can just make the best of things.
A dot’s tale
As the name implies, Persona 3 Portable was the attempt to cram the console title onto the PSP. Due to space limitations, things had to be trimmed down, audio had to be compressed, and we weren’t allowed to run around the grounds of Gekkoukan High School. Instead, in the more social scenes between dungeon crawling, you’re left pushing around a dot.
The story follows this dot as it joins an extracurricular group of do-gooders who battle shadows during a secret hour that occurs after midnight. If you’re unfamiliar with the Persona series, the games are a mix of dungeon crawler, visual novel, and dating sim with a sprinkling of monster collecting for good measure. That description still goes for Persona 3 Portable, it’s just that dating scenes are more between a dot and their school chums rather than a papercraft protagonist.
If you’re not picking up what I’m putting down, what I’m saying is that the game is practically the same, but you don’t get to play in your meat-flesh as much. Is this a problem? Yes. Let’s not pretend like there isn’t something lost when a 3D environment is removed. The evolution of video games has largely been a process of getting us closer and closer to a fictional world, and replacing that with a dot over a still picture is a step backward.
This bothered me to no end, but I eventually came to find peace with this dot. The reason is simply that I’ve played Persona 3 FES before. I’ve put my (considerable) time into exploring Tartarus, I’ve already done my full-3D flirting. Not only does Persona 3 Portable abbreviate parts of the game, but it also makes additions that weren’t in FES.
The most prominent change is the ability to choose the gender of your protagonist. While this doesn’t really have much bearing on the plot, it does change who you can have social links with. Especially in a romantic sense. If you wanted a chance to peek under Akihiko’s band-aid, here’s your chance. In a way, it’s preferable to the male protagonist’s social links, as now they’re more local to your party members, rather than just generic classmates. Personally, I can’t get attached to anyone until I see them shoot magic out of their heads. You can also choose the gender of the Velvet Room assistant because… I don’t know.
It’s not a massively significant change, but it is a nice treat for players who have already been through the game wearing their genitals on the outside.
Bit of a misnomer to some
Otherwise the game is largely unchanged from its PSP release. It’s been gussied up nicely, so the most noticeable evidence that it was ever on a portable is its sometimes distorted backgrounds and low-poly character models. I also noticed moments where the audio still seems poorly compressed. The textures, UI, and images, however, are nicely upscaled for larger screens. The animated cutscenes, on the other hand, look rather grainy when they’re actually there. Some are missing, some are cut back, and others are replaced with in-engine equivalents.
The performance is also a lot smoother. The actual dungeons and combat don’t feel remarkably different from the console versions, even when playing as the opposite gender. One thing that Persona 3 Portable does differently than the console versions is the added ability to control your party members directly. I never had a huge issue with the computer-controlled friends, but I know some are deeply annoyed by them, so it’s definitely going to be a plus for some.
The first in the series, we swear
Overall, Persona 3 Portable feels like a companion to the full console experience. A standalone new game plus. That’s groovy, except the console version is still absent on modern platforms. In a perfect world, we would have received a new version that combines the features of FES and Portable, but we exist in the darkest timeline where good things don’t happen.
So, instead, we have a compromise. That will be fine for some, and insufficient for others, but it’s here. We have a port of Persona 3. Now we have all three Persona games available on current platforms. Because, as we all know, there were no Persona games previous to Persona 3.
Persona 3 Portable launches today on PlayStation, PC (Steam), Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.
[This impressions piece is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]