Which Version of ‘Persona 3’ Should You Play?

Image Courtesy of hXcHector.com

Image Courtesy of hXcHector.com

The “Persona” series has exploded in popularity over the past few years. What was originally just a spin-off of the larger “Shin Megami Tensei” franchise has now become its own series. The unique style of the modern “Persona” games blends turn-based dungeon crawling with social life simulation. “Persona 3” was the first game in the series to combine these two concepts, and it has stuck ever since.

Now, you’re probably wondering what I mean by the “different versions” in the title. “Persona 3” broke new ground for the series and the developer, ATLUS, when they decided to release different versions of the game, each with its own unique content and features. These include the original, “FES” edition, and the portable version.

The original and “P3 FES” are Playstation 2 exclusives (although “P3 FES” is available on the Playstation 3 store). “P3 Portable” is available on the PSP, the PS Vita, and modern consoles. Honestly, it isn’t too hard to obtain the means to play all of these versions, so you shouldn’t feel the need to compromise one for the other. However, these games take a very long time to complete, so it may be in your best interest to choose only one.

But which one should you choose?

“Persona 3” is the original. I can’t really say much about it since it’s the base game. All it really contains is the original story. I’ll go out of my way now to tell you that you should not choose this version. The other two have much more content for you to engage with, whereas this has the least amount. You will basically be settling for a one-story house when a two-story house for the same price is also available. 

But then that begs the question: Should you play “P3 FES” or “P3 Portable?” The answer is a lot more complicated than it may seem.

“P3 FES” contains the base game of “Persona 3” but adds more Personas for you to choose from. It also enhances the visuals a bit for a smoother experience. The biggest change comes from the new epilogue that was added to this version, one which wasn’t present in the original release.

The epilogue, titled “The Answer,” takes place after the story of the base game ends. It stars Aigis, a party member from the original story. You take control of her as she uncovers mysteries not solved in the story. Did I mention that this epilogue is roughly 30 hours long? You basically gain access to an entirely new game that wasn’t present before. Additionally, this mode can be accessed from the title screen, so you can begin with it right away if you feel so inclined (though I wouldn’t recommend it). 

The lore of the “Persona” series treats this version of the game as canon (the “official” version). If you want to experience the full story that this game has to offer, then “P3 FES” might be for you. 

That being said, “P3 Portable” might be an even better choice depending on your preferences.

“P3 Portable” has two major changes from “P3 FES.” First, you gain the ability to control your party members and their actions. In the other versions, party members were controlled by an AI during battle. You could choose to have your party members focus on different types of attacks, but ultimately it was out of your control regarding what they did. “P3 Portable” however lets you choose the specific attacks of your teammates. 

This change is needed. I don’t know what ATLUS was thinking, but uncontrollable party members were an awful idea. Half the time, your teammates choose the worst combat option as you just sit there wanting to reach through the screen and slap them. Like, it’s actually obnoxious how stupid the AI can be sometimes. This isn’t a problem in “P3 Portable” as you can decide what actions your party takes. 

The other major change is the option to play as a female protagonist. You can choose your gender when starting a new game. The male route is the same as the male route in the original game, besides adding the new personas that showed up in “P3 FES.” The female route makes changes to the original, however. There are new people to meet, new events to experience, and new changes from the male’s story.

I absolutely love the new route you can take in this game. It provides a way to experience the story, with twists and turns that differ from the original. It’s great for replaying the game after beating it once. While the epilogue from “P3 FES” isn’t present, the female route makes up for it.

“P3 Portable” also adds new game plus (allows you to replay a game from the beginning with aspects automatically unlocked using data from a previous save file) content that isn’t in the other two versions. It revolves around a character from “Persona 4” that returns to provide challenges for you to complete. 

I should also mention that “P3 Portable” does have some changes that aren’t necessarily for the better.

Besides dungeon crawling, the game is a point-and-click. That means that cutscenes from the other two versions do not exist. You get used to it after a while, but it does feel pretty annoying to not actually see anything playing out on screen. Yes, this also means that the animated cutscenes present in prior versions are absent  here. All you see is an image of the location you’re in, with points of interest to move your cursor over and click on. A text box appears, sometimes accompanied by an image of a character if they have importance to what’s happening. This is the biggest thing that keeps people away from this version.

But with all that said…which version should you play?

“P3 Portable.” You should play “P3 Portable.”

Ultimately, it’s up to you. However, I believe that “P3 Portable” is the superior version. Not only does it make improvements to the gameplay, but the female route is such a nice addition. While the epilogue may not be present, it isn’t that big of a deal. You can manage to understand the overarching lore without playing it. 

All in all, I can’t tell you which version to play as they all have their strengths and weaknesses. “P3 Portable” just has the least amount of weaknesses, so I’m telling you to play that one. Hopefully, we’ll someday get a remake that incorporates the best elements of all the versions so we won’t have to choose. But for now, choose “P3 Portable.” Trust me on this one.