At this point, I think it goes without saying that both P3 and P4 are good games, and if you’re questioning whether to buy them or not, the answer is a resounding yes, especially for the low asking price of $20 each. With that in mind, this is less of a review of each title and more just my general thoughts on two of my favorite games growing up and how their recent ports hold up. Have they been brought over the modern consoles well? Well, I can’t deny that P3 is a little dated by modern standards but even so, I feel both games still hold up, even after all these years.
Persona 3 Portable
In Persona 3, the main character moves to Tatsumi Port Island to attend Gekkoukan High School. He’s soon however roped in SEES, a team of students that aim to eliminate The Dark Hour, a secret hour that occurs after Midnight when electricity shuts down, the moon turns red and all people turn into coffins. The Dark Hour is also home to creatures named shadows that attack anyone not in a coffin inflicting them with a death-like phenomenon called Apathy Syndrome.
What I always liked about P3 was its moodier atmosphere, even with the jazzy hip-hop beat and high school shenanigans, the game never lets you forget about the more serious plot at hand. The dark hour is coming, and the shadows are coming whether you’re ready for them or not and it affects everyone involved.
I also love the cast, unlike the future titles, your teammates aren’t necessarily friends at the beginning. They’re co-workers forced to unite under a common goal and you can tell many of them wouldn’t want to hang out if they didn’t have to. That makes it all the more special they start to bond and care about each as the plot continues. Even today characters like Junpei, Yukari, and Mitsuru remain some of my favorite RPG characters and it was great returning to the game and seeing them again.
This is where things get a little messy, however. Persona 3 Portable was the third iteration of P3 which was a port of the game for the PSP from the PS2 following the original and the enhanced rerelease known as Persona 3 FES. This is important because many of the features of the PSP version might be a little outdated by today’s standards.
While FES featured a fully explorable 3D world and anime cutscenes to tell the story, P3P replaced that with visual novel-style sprites and still photos for the overworld. For modern consoles, it does look somewhat cheap, like you tell these were made for a lower-power handheld and I can see that taking some people out of the experience.
Even when it does switch to models for the dungeons, they look pretty blocky even for an HD remaster. That being said, in terms of framerates, the game runs smoothly. It’s not the best upscaling of an old game but does get the job done. If only we could have a truly definitive P3 with the gameplay of Portable and the presentation of FES. Speaking of which:
What the game lacks in presentation, it makes up for in gameplay. Persona 3 features tried and true turn-based combat where you and three allies dungeon crawl and fight shadows using melee attacks and of course your Personas. If you’ve played Persona 4 or 5, you know more or less what to expect.
What makes P3P especially important is that OG Persona 3 had a number of small quirks that were ironed out in P3P since it came out after P4. Most notably, the game lets you manually control each party member as opposed to having them be AI-driven. Believe me when I say this takes so much frustration out of the game with no chance of party members using unnecessary status spells or trying to hit enemies that reflects their attacks. You can also see each party member level up individually, and equip weapons to them in the main menu. This sounds like pretty basic stuff but Persona 3 FES didn’t have them. P3P makes it a lot less cumbersome just to play the game.
One bigger criticism of P3 as a whole though is that you only really explore one giant dungeon called Tartarus across the entire game. Each floor is randomly generated and looks fairly similar which can make combat a bit repetitive. I personally never minded this though since each floor was pretty short, making the crawl a pretty fast-paced one. I actually thought it was pretty satisfying making it higher up the tower throughout the whole game, you just went and chilled as you level-grinded your persona to that groovy battle theme.
This also extends to social links as well. P3 introduced the calendar system where you’ll have to decide how you use your free time to indirect with an assortment of characters. Raising their social link will net more EXP for Persona fused for the same arcana in the velvet room. The social links in P3 or a bit or miss, the P3MC really likes hanging out with a bunch of weirdos, and some like the Magician, Moon, and Star are pretty forgettable. It also doesn’t help that you don’t get individual social links with the male SEES members which would have helped flesh out their characters more. That being said a number of them are still great with the sun, chariot, and death being real highlights.
This is also where the female MC route comes in. This was added to P3P since it wouldn’t include The Answer extra mode from the original. Here the main character is a girl and that means a whole different set of social including links with the Male SEES members as well as a couple of exclusive characters. The male route is still considered canon but the female MC serves as a great piece of replay value that adds a different perspective to the game.
Persona 4 Golden
This brings us to the other great game released by Atlus recently: Persona 4.
P4 is likewise about a transfer student who moves to live with his Uncle for a year in the quiet town of Inaba where two murders have recently rocked the town. Soon, you and your friends discover the phenomenon called The Midnight Channel. At midnight on a rainy day, people will appear on a strange TV channel and it’s quickly revealed that these people have actually been thrown into a separate world on the other side of the TV and are killed there by the world’s inhabitants: the shadows.
Now it’s up to you and your Scooby doo style Investigation Team to prevent others from being killed in the TVs, uncover the identity of the killer using the TVs and maybe learn a thing or two about themselves along the way.
The Simple Joy of P4
If P3 was dark and gloomy, P4 is pretty much the opposite, it’s the slice-of-life arc of the Persona series. It’s splashed with bright yellow and exudes an atmosphere of laid-back cheerfulness. Even when the plot gets more serious, the game gives off a vibe of taking things easy and that if you believe in yourself and your friends, everything will work itself out.
When I was an edgy 14-year-old, I used to think P4 was “too happy” but as a jaded adult, I really appreciate its earnest sense of heart. It’s a game almost dedicated to showing you the best times of high school, chilling in your small town, and just goofing off with your friends. And what a group of friends they are from the straight man Yosuke to the fiery Chie and everything about Kanji, your team in P4 feels so much like real-life people, you’ll find yourself missing them after the game’s over. Except for Teddie, Teddie’s annoying.
Unlike P3P, Persona 4 Golden is also a truly enhanced version of the original Persona 4 with everything that the original included and more content on top of that including a new character, a new dungeon, and new social links and events. You and the gang go to the beach, go skiing, and perform in a band, it’s a lot of fun.
In terms of gameplay Persona 4 really isn’t too different from 3, it’s classic turn-based gameplay with the fun of collecting Persona and leveling them up with your social links. I should also mention at this point that both P3 and P4 use the same ‘One More’ battle system used in P5. This is where if you hit any enemy with their weakness, you can an extra turn, and if you knock all the enemies down, you can go in for the all-out attack.
A couple of improvements over P3 made P4 play a little nicer. The social links feel like they matter in the battles in P4 a little more than 3 as your teammates will gain more skills with every new rank. For example, if you’ve got a benched party member, they may just come in on a bike to knock down the final foe for an all-out attack. There are a lot of small things like that that bring more energy to the fights.
Furthermore, if you didn’t like exploring Tartarus, you’ll be happy to know that the P4 offers multiple different dungeons that are very heavily in design from the bathhouse to a laboratory. They’re fun to explore and should keep you on your toes.
Persona 3 and 4 Overall
Persona 3 and 4 are both fantastic JRPGs that any fan of the genre should consider playing at least once. While they differ in tone and plot, both have interesting storylines and top-notch characters that will stick with you long after the game ends.
I’ll admit P3P is a bit dated in its presentation but I can understand choosing it over FES (I even wrote a whole article about it a few months back), the modernized gameplay removes a lot of frustration from the title which will make things easier for new players. P4 Golden and the other hand plays great, with the addicting fun of fusing Persona in a steamy bathhouse still as fun as it was back in the day.
Whether you’re taking a trip down memory lane or enrolling for the first time after playing P5, Persona 3 and Persona 4 are journeys you don’t want to miss.