This week the modern one Persona series will be fully democratized. Once a PlayStation exclusive, all three modern-era Persona games – which follow a fairly similar template across the trio – will be available on PlayStation 4 (and 5, via backward compatibility), Xbox Series, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. It’s banner day for Japanese RPG fans, or the curious JRPG.
Releasing these ports is important in a sense. Persona 4 gold, originally a definitive Vita edition of all-timer Persona 4, has admittedly made its way to PC before. But Person 3 has been stuck on PSP or PS2 for years, depending on your loyalty. It’s been old hardware, emulation or nothing. At least now there is an ideal, legal and easy way to buy and experience these stories – even if it’s not necessarily the ideal experience.
However, for Persona 4 Golden, this new release is an idealized experience. This is a great port, just like it was on PC a few years ago. Whether you prefer the sleepy small-town atmosphere of Persona 4 or Persona 5’s all-gun story is a matter of taste, but it’s fair to say that the two are a very special kind of JRPG duology. forms that has been much celebrated over recent years.
There’s a lyrical and tonal element to the Persona series that’s surprisingly unique, even if it sometimes leads to these games being irritable to Western sensibilities from time to time. In an era where Final Fantasy was in a panicked downward spiral of desperate attempts to copy Western RPGs and appeal to Western tastes, Persona 4 emerged as an unabashed Japanese experience and not only became a geek hit, but could gain cult status. also turning into a truly massive level of success for both it and its successor. Not only are they among the best Japanese role-players of recent years; they are undoubtedly some of the most important.
Don’t take my word for it though. Consider the critical consensus. Persona 5 Royal sits with a metascore rating average of 95, placing it firmly in the top 50 games of all time. Persona 4 Golden is just one clip down with an average score of 93 – marking it again as an all-time great. These games are significant.
That makes it important that these games have good ports to new platforms: and they do. In higher resolutions they are razor sharp. Loading is faster. The elements that are essentially non-updateable hold up well; stories that captivate and thrill, characters that endear and absolutely insane musical licks. Persona 4 has all this in it. So, in fairness, Persona 3 does – but it’s compromised.
When I previously described these games as a duology, I knew it would smoke some. Some would be ready to run to the comments to say that, you know, the formula perfected in Persona 4 and 5 really cemented it in Persona 3 – and they’re right. This is more of a trilogy, and a rare one indeed in which, despite not being connected narratively, the three games clearly lead from one to the next in terms of mechanics, tone and worldview. They come as a set. But here I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you play Persona 3 unless you’re already a fan.
I want to be clear that it is still a good port, given the source material. But the version of Persona 3 on offer here is Persona 3 Portable, which is the PSP version of the game. It’s a version that’s always been slightly compromised, but those compromises were accepted on PSP because, well, it was the PSP. Blast it on the big screen, on powerful machines, and it feels older and more dilapidated than its 14 years.
On PSP, Persona 3 was pared down from a game of 3D models and scenes to an experience that plays out largely like an adventure game. Dungeon crawling and combat action still take place entirely in 3D, but story scenes only play out with portraits, pre-rendered backgrounds, and moving a cursor around a static scene rather than navigating a character through 3D space. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but sitting this next to Persona 4 Golden makes it feel older, slower, and less appealing, especially with the knowledge that a full-fledged version of Persona 3 exists.
That version was on PS2 in the form of Persona 3 and the expanded Persona 3 FES, games that are virtually identical to Persona 4. They’re not quite as slick as the latest entry, but have a lot of character in those 3D models – something lost in P3P. This was accepted as a trade-off to get the game on the PSP – but here it feels wrong that Portable was the ported version.
Frankly, Atlus has been given an impossible task. Unlike Persona 4, there is not one final version of Persona 3. Had it ported Persona 3 FES, the female protagonist, new character relationships and new challenges for Portable would have been skipped. Modernizing Portable, this version lacks the full 3D presentation, but also a wealth of additional content, including the epilogue chapter ‘FES’, which continues and wraps up the story of the main game. This is without mentioning the age of Persona 3’s development – who knows if Atlus still has the source files. So a choice had to be made; they went with Portable. I understand.
However, it doesn’t mean I don’t long for the “real” Persona 3, or more importantly, for a “final” version that combines the features of both versions. Perhaps that was impossible here – but it in my opinion reduces Persona 3, a great game in its own right, to more of a historical curiosity for the Japanese RPG and Persona faithful than a must-play, as its successors are. It’s also fair to say that many of those believers probably know all about how to mimic P3 FES.
And so here we are. These are both excellent ports, and it still feels incredibly strange to play Persona games with Xbox button prompts. Both are excellent presentations of the content each game has to offer, and are hard to fault as ports, at least on the platforms I tested (Xbox and PC).
What about recommendations? Well, I would say that if you are someone who has never played these games before, you should still go ahead and choose the most sleek, slick and modern entry. That’s Persona 5 Royal. If you’re a fan of Persona 5 and never experienced the glorious Scooby-Doo style antics set in the quiet town of Inaba, then Persona 4 Golden is a must-play, and this is a really great port. It might also be worth taking a look at P5’s storylines that left you cold – there’s none of that here.
And Persona 3, as I said, is perhaps more of a curiosity than anything else in this form. It’s still a great game, but unlike P5R and P4G, I’m struggling to see it creating new fans for the series in 2023 – but if you’ve already been bitten by the bug, the largely brilliant storylines will make you appreciate what Person is.
Hopefully, the inevitable Persona 6 can be released on more platforms and continue to cultivate this wider audience. Persona is arguably the most important JRPG series in the world right now, in terms of growth potential – and these ports are key to that plan.