It’s safe to say that thanks to Persona 5, the Persona series is more popular than ever before.
Beginning life as a sub-series of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, it has since gone on to overshadow it by a great margin. Persona 5 was huge, a standout in the JRPG genre that wowed existing fans and drew new ones in. And while we wait with baited breath for the inevitable announcement of Persona 6, Atlus is digging into the series’ back catalogue with the aim of serving up some past delights to satiate those hungry for more social link-building and dungeon-crawling fun.
And so here with are with ports of Persona 3 and Persona 4, both highly regarded upon their launches in the latter half of the 2000s. Why not Persona 1 and Persona 2, you might ask? The answer is simple: they’d require full remakes to make them palatable to modern audiences. Persona 3 and Persona 4, on the other hand, aren’t all that far away in terms of gameplay to Persona 5, only with worse visuals and some other more archaic aspects.
Persona 3 casts players as a student destined to fight mysterious shadows. It posits that every night, between one day and the next, there lies a mysterious Dark Hour where normal people turn into coffins, unaware of what’s happening around them. A select group of individuals are unaffected, however, and it’s up to them, utilising their Personas, to combat the shadows.
By day, players tend to normal everyday tasks like attending school and spending time with friends. The more time that’s put into these tasks the greater the reward, with Social Links being developed that offer considerable rewards. These come in particularly handy at night, when players are able to enter a meaty dungeon called Tartarus. Here, exploration is interspersed with bouts of conflict, and the combat system will be very familiar to those who have played Persona 5.
Battles are turn-based, for example, and players have the option of either attacking using their own weapons or making use of the skills of the Personas they have equipped. Exploit an enemy’s weakness and you even get an additional attack. There’s only one thing more rewarding than that: put the enemy party at a serious disadvantage and you can launch an All-Out attack with your team, utterly devastating them.
Accompanied with a story that quickly gets its hooks in you and doesn’t let go, Persona 3 still remains a compelling experience to this day. What’s important to note, though, is that this is a port of the Portable version of the game. That means that it only includes the story of the original Persona 3 and not the additional bonus scenario found in the FES edition. There are some changes to the gameplay, too.
Outside of Tartarus, for example, you don’t have direct control of your character in the game’s world, instead using a cursor to move from one location to another, etc. The battle system is also revised from the original game. On the plus side, however, this Portable version does offer a female playable protagonist, which is more than just a visual preference. It actually changes some elements of the story, making a second playthrough enticing.
Thankfully players have full control of their protagonist at all times in Persona 4. Gameplay-wise, this is very similar to Persona 5 and indeed 3, but as you’d expect it offers another exciting story for players to lose themselves in. It finds a group of students becoming aware of something called the TV World, and it’s there that they do battle with shadows across numerous dungeons.
Being the Golden edition of Persona 4, there’s additional story content to play through and more Social Links to develop. It’s the ultimate edition of the game, basically, and even to this day it remains a highlight of the series, just behind Persona 5.
To make these games more palatable to modern audiences, their visuals have been cleaned up a little. But make no mistake, they still look dated. Character models are somewhat blocky and environments are a little drab by today’s standards. Still, they could be a lot worse. What hasn’t aged one bit though, are Persona 3 and 4‘s soundtracks and voice acting. While your eyes won’t be impressed, your ears will be.
Steps have been taken to make these Persona games more accessible, too. You can now change the difficulty of Persona 3 Portable without having to restart the game, for example, so if you’re finding it too hard you can lower the difficulty without a fuss. There’s a new Quick Save function in both games as well. It means if you need to quit playing for any reason, you can save your progress in a temporary save slot and resume from where you left off the next time you play. There’s still no autosave, however, so make sure you save at an actual save point whenever you can to prevent losing considerable progress.
For those keen to delve into the history of the Persona series, then, or perhaps relive it, these new console ports do the job rather nicely. It’s just a shame that the version of Persona 3 on offer here doesn’t include the additional content found in the FES edition, and that both games don’t have features such as autosave that are taken for granted these days. Still, while they may not be perfect, these ports of Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden offer players a way to indulge in these classics on modern hardware, and that can only be a good thing.
Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden are available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.