Love In The Face Of Death

HIGH P3‘s gripping story and mechanics still shine bright seventeen years later. 

LOW Why port the portable version instead of FES?

WTF That. Final. Boss.

With the widespread success of the stylish and addicting Persona 5, the once-niche Persona series has blossomed into a videogames mainstay.

Persona 3, widely regarded as the first modern Persona and the first in the series to take dramatic steps away from Shin Megami Tensei (Persona’s origin series) has recently become available on modern consoles for the first time. Though I have questions about the port itself, it is undeniable that Persona 3’s story, characters, and combat stand the test of time, creating what is arguably the deepest and must gut-wrenching narrative in the franchise. 

Persona 3 chronicles the deeds of a group of high schoolers known as the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) who attend classes, hang out, go on dates, and eat tons of ramen by day. But by night, they ascend the perilous tower of Tartarus in an effort to end the mysterious “Midnight Hour” which threatens the existence of the human race. You know, typical high school stuff.

Persona 3’s daytime activities are confined to point-and-click dialogue story events, while nighttime has the SEES endure third-person dungeon crawling and turn-based battles. 

When the sun is up, the player will work on raising social stats, such as academics, charm and courage. Raising these will enable the player to engage in social links — one on one interactions with other characters, who in turn allow the summoning of stronger personas (uh… think of them vaguely like pokémon from different mythologies) for dungeon crawling. However, the player only has so much time during the day and can easily miss out on leveling these social links if they don’t plan carefully.

Raising social link levels not only rewards the player by aiding in dungeon crawling, but the writing in these scenes is real, touching, and heartbreaking. From an elementary school girl caught up in the middle of her parents divorce, to a young man diagnosed with a terminal illness struggling to find meaning in his short life, Persona 3’s social links offer a cast of deeply-crafted characters I will not soon forget. 

Once the protagonist is done with classes and hanging out with friends, it’s time to dungeon-crawl in Tartarus, the 264 floor mega-dungeon. Each floor is procedurally generated, and scattered throughout are enemies, treasures, and a climactic boss-fight every ten floors or so. Though it does get a tad repetitive later in the campaign, it feels rewarding to slowly chip away at the massive tower and uncover what dangerous foe or concealed secret might be laying ahead as SEES climbs higher and higher. 

Turn-based combat is intuitive, deep, and addictive. With eight party members to choose from and nearly 200 personas to use, the battle system is highly customizable. To get the upper hand in battle, the player must target an enemy’s elemental weakness, whether that be fire, ice, or any one of many other affinities. Once all enemies have been struck with their weakness, the player can perform an all-out attack, dealing massive damage in the process. However, as P3 progresses, enemies — and especially bosses — have no weakness, which turns battles into complicated endurance tests requiring buffs, healing, and creative opportunities to deal meaningful damage. 

The central theme is as gripping as the combat and social links. Persona 3 is about death, finding meaning in life, and what we do when we, or loved ones, are confronted with the inevitable end. I won’t say much for fear of spoilers, but as the plot progresses towards its climax, the themes in both the main story and social links culminate in a stunning conclusion that ties the entire experience together and left me with tears streaming down my cheeks. 

Persona 3 originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2006. A year later, an expanded version called Persona 3 FES was released. However, FES is not the version that was ported to modern consoles. Instead we have Persona 3 Portable which debuted on the PS Vita in 2009 — an iteration which doesn’t include much of FES’s additional content.

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to why Atlus decided to port Portable as opposed to FES. Additional content aside, Portable’s daytime segments are unfortunately confined to point-and-click ventures, rather than being able to physically run around Japan’s 3D environments. It doesn’t hinder the story, but it certainly makes things feel slightly lifeless. Not only that, but backgrounds, certain sound effects, and some textures haven’t been cleaned up in the way one would expect from a port in 2023. I would have much preferred a remaster of FES interwoven with Portable’s quality of life improvements. 

Though I’m a bit disappointed that Atlus didn’t create a truly definitive edition of Persona 3 for modern audiences, this game remains one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. With its masterful use of storytelling and grandiose themes, the adventure fully immerses the player in both its life sim and dungeon crawling mechanics. In fact, not only did this game create the template that its successors still follow today, but it also might just be the most memorable and thought-provoking Persona overall. Despite the shortcomings of the slightly outdated portable version here, it is undoubtedly a must-play for any RPG fan who hasn’t tried it yet. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Atlus and published by Atlus and Sega. It is currently available on PC, PS4/5, XBO/S/X and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 48 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence. The official description reads as follows: This is a role-playing game in which players help high-school students investigate a mysterious tower that appears only at midnight. During the day, players interact with classmates, teachers, and town characters, gaining social links to improve relationships and abilities. At night, players explore the tower and engage in battles against human enemies and fantastical creatures (e.g., shadows, demons, spirits) in turn-based combat. Players select weapon and magic attacks from summoned persona creatures to kill enemies; battles are accompanied by impact sounds, gunfire, and cries of pain. Large bloodstains are depicted on the ground and walls of some environments. The game contains some sexual material: female demons with partially exposed breasts and buttocks; a creature with a phallic-shaped head and torso. Some demons (e.g., succubus, incubus) have sexual characteristics that are described in text (e.g., “They visit sleeping men/women and have sexual intercourse with them”; “Like their mother, they have sex with men at night.”). The word “sh*t” appears in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Dialogue in the game is subtitled, which cannot be resized. Audio cues are not necessary to progress, making this game fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Alex Prakken
Latest posts by Alex Prakken (see all)
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments