Make friends, save the world, the ultimate weeab dream.
If you’re relatively new to JRPGs then your first encounter with the Persona series would be the now iconic Persona 5. Released into more modern platforms back in 2016, the world was introduced to the devilishly stylish Phantom Thieves, stealing hearts, and taking on god in order to save the world. It’s exciting, it’s stylish, it’s cool and it’s presumably the ultimate power fantasy, at least for anime fans and fans of the series.
For a while Persona 5 was the Persona that many gamers, including me, have really gotten to experience at least in the modern era. While Persona has a long history that even includes the classic Shin Megami Tensei series which it branched off of, the majority of Persona 5’s predecessors were hardly accessible as they are available on older generation consoles and some even on handheld. That changed this year though as ATLUS and SEGA finally launched the remaster of the 2 prequels to Persona 5, Persona 3 (Portable) and Persona 4 (Golden). These predecessors are not just the base game too as the Portable and Golden version of Persona 3 and Persona 4 includes new story content and even a female version of the playable protagonist for Persona 3.
While Persona 5 was loved, many debate that its previous games, specifically Persona 3 is the best in the series, citing its story, characters and even music to really stand out from the rest of the games. But with modern mechanics that have been copy-pasted from one triple-A to another and is dominating the current gaming scene, how well did these both games fare in the modern era?
Well, let’s tune in to the midnight hour, enter Tartarus and dive in shall we? And yes, we’re doing a 2-for-one-review here.
Production – 3/5
As it is plainly an HD remake for modern systems, nothing has really changed with the presentation of both Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden remake versions. Sure you get high-quality models and HD textures, but even that can’t compete with the ‘retro-themed titles of today. It’s really like playing the original versions only much brighter, and colors that pop out well, partly of course due to the hardware that we’re playing it on. Compared to Persona 5, Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden might seem that it took a step back visually, and heck you can even compare it closer to how Shin Megami Tensei III’s remake was treated. If you’re in for nostalgia though there’s that sweet hormonal trigger in your brain that will take you back to how the games feel like back when you were first playing it. For first-time players though, no need to worry as the game does guide you early on, giving contextual hints on certain mechanics, most of which we’ll talk about next. The hand-holding of course does not last in the game, and it’s still up to you to play around the mechanics yourselves to really figure out how to breeze through Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden’s story.
Speaking of story, in true JRPG fashion, Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden focus a lot on the story which means one thing – a lot of dialogue. This is no open world where you can interact with every little doodad you can find on the map, however, you can still interact with certain items to help you either get rewards or do activities that you can use to upgrade social links both in Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden or solve the cases that you’ve been tracking in Persona 4 Golden. Despite this though, there really are no quality-of-life updates nor some significant improvement production-wise, visual and audio to both remakes which, you know, could’ve taken advantage of newer technologies in modern hardware.
Mechanics – 4/5
Whether you’re a newbie or have already experienced Persona before, both Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden’s mechanics are relatively straightforward. Combat-wise, both games employ the classic Rock-Paper-Scissors format when dealing with enemies, and figuring out weaknesses rewards you not just with more damage but also opportunities for attack. Status effects are also present, each providing different advantages and disadvantages and each you can exploit to gain advantage in battle.
Perhaps the standout mechanic for the Persona series is the Social Link system. A true definition of the “power of friendship” Social Links allow your character to build relationships with other in-game characters and NPCs, which will result in stronger stats and the ability to maximize control of other Personas. Social Links can be improved by interacting, hanging out, or even dating some characters, however, and Persona 5 fans can already relate, there is a limit as to what interaction you can do with characters and even other activities in-game. Yes, that is a thing with the Persona series, all your interactions follow a calendar, giving a level of meticulousness as to what you want to achieve on your playthrough. For first-time players though, we advise you to just not take note of the calendar and play the game ‘normally’ without restricting yourself to what activity you can do for the day. You can still level up your social links, although you might not be able to maximize them all, but then again, no pressure on your first playthrough.
Going back to combat, both Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden employ the turn-based combat structure with certain actions performed during your turn. You can spam attacks, uses skills, utilize items and even guard up during your move phase, in anticipation of what the enemy will be throwing out. You can use your Persona, which is essentially a summonable phantom to either deal damage, buff up your team, or even heal depending on the situation.
Enemies can also do pretty much everything that a player can do except of course to summon personas the enemies themselves can be captured to become your own Personas. Each persona also comes with various skills on top of the player’s very own and these skills can also be replaced later in the game depending on your needs and gameplay approach. Leveling up is very straightforward, face the enemy, destroy the enemy, gain exp and the game does allow opportunities for you to grind experience in preparation for the bigger battles. Both players and persona skills also have different element alignments although no persona is limited to a certain element when tweaking up their skill sets.
Progression – 3/5
Look, we have to be honest, even if we, or I loved Persona 5 and am falling in love with Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden, I still have to admit that progression, compared to modern standards, isn’t the most standout feature of these games. Story-driven and very linear, players are limited to a specific set of activities that they can do per in-game day. Additionally, you are playing on a schedule so there are no do-overs in case you mess up. Certain events are also limited by time, meaning that certain activities are only accessible not only during certain times of day but also by certain dates. Remember what we said about not minding the calendar? That still holds through for your first playthrough but if you really wanna make the most out of your playthrough then planning things out or having at least a day-to-day game guide might be something to consider.
Just like its other installments though and just like the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei games, Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden also come with “good” and “bad” endings depending on certain decisions that you make throughout the game. As to what are those? Well, we’ll have you find out.
Content – 4/5
As both Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden are already the expanded versions of the base Persona 3 and Persona 4 games, both titles have a lot to offer, especially in terms of story. Persona 3 Portable lets you play as a female character which at least adds another level of replayability while Persona 4 Golden adds extra in-game time, plus balances out certain gameplay elements and adds new events and activities. There’s also a lot to play around with in terms of the other mechanics such as trying out different Persona combinations in skills and fusion, team setups, or even the lineup of interactions that you want to do in every in-game day.
Overall Rating – 3.5
Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden offer a huge level of nostalgic appreciation, in the midst of many big AAAs that come with redundant mechanics. Although it is still an acquired taste for many, these 2 classics offer a reprieve from the usual hack-slash-shoot-explore that dominates gaming titles today. Just like the standout classics both Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden are worth experiencing and find out for yourself just what the fuss is about with the Persona franchise.