Unlike many of the other genres on the PSP, Japanese RPGs are few and far between. You have mission-based RPGs such as Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology, in which the storyline plays a second fiddle to the gameplay. On the other side of the fence are RPGs which try to emulate console RPGs such as Crimson Gem Saga which fail to realize the strengths and weaknesses of the platform they are on. And in the middle are those in-between such as Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, which try to meld the two styles together, with all of the strengths and weaknesses combined. While games like the recent Hexyz Force have tried to bring about a true "portable" RPG to the PSP, there still feels like there is something missing. Does Persona 3 Portable, originally a console RPG, succeed - or is it yet another failed attempt at furthering the genre on the PSP?
For those who have yet to play the original Persona 3 or its director's cut, Persona 3: FES, on the PS2, the game will have players stepping into the role of a high school transfer student; however, not everything goes well and he encounters some odd events on the way to the dorms. After walking through streets that's littered with coffins and escaping from an unknown monster attacking the dorms, players end up summoning a being called a Persona using a mysterious gun-like weapon called an Evoker to save yourself and the dormitory. You later find out that the members of the dorm are part of a group who calls themselves SEES and their job is to fight against the Shadows which attack the city. In an effort to combat a mysterious illness sweeping the city, SEES goes inside a mysterious building called Tartarus, which arises from the school grounds each night during a special time known as the Dark Hour, which takes place between midnight and the next day.
As one would expect being a high school student, in Persona 3 you get to experience regular school life alongside fighting evil. Taking a cue from the dating simulation genre, players can hang out and even date some of the characters in the game, developing what are known in the game as Social Links, which can be used to create more powerful Personas, which can be used in battle. Outside of school, players can also experience many of the same activities as one would experience in real life, such as shopping at the local shopping mall and watching movies at the local movie theatre. At night, players can either study at home, head out to explore the 200+ floors of Tartarus and even belt out a few tunes at the local karaoke joint. While this premise may seem odd for most veteran RPG fans, it becomes very natural over time, and for some people, can become very addicting.
The primary new addition to P3P is the ability to play as a female character alongside the male character from the original version of the game. While many might think this is a pure cash-in to cater to the female crowd, Atlus took great care to make sure that this new addition doesn't feel like it was simply tacked on. Many of the social interactions in the game change, as the female characters you used to date are now your best friends and the male characters you used to be buddies with are now potential mates. All of the parts of the storyline have been modified in some way to reflect the new character, giving entirely new insights to many parts of the game.
Persona 3 featured a turn-based battle system, which revolved around the use of physical attacks and elemental spells, much like the other games in the long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Both the enemies, as well as the party members, have their own weaknesses and resistances, so the aim of each battle is to exploit the enemy's weakness while protecting your own. In a unique twist, once all of the enemies are knocked down, the party can execute what is known as an "All-Out Attack", which deals severe damage to all of the enemies on the field. One major complaint in the original versions, however, was that outside of the main character, all of the other characters were solely controlled by the game's AI, which at times can make some questionable choices which that lead to unfair boss defeats with some of the later bosses in the game, requiring the player to either go through complicated Persona fusions to create the right Persona or hope that luck is on their side. In P3P, the player now has the ability to directly control the other party members (a featured carried over from Persona 4). For those who were put off by having to constantly redo battles or look online for the perfect fusion, this change makes progressing in the game much easier and is a welcome addition.
Another major change, noticeable to previous players, is that all of the areas outside Tartarus are now in 2D instead of being walkable 3D maps, having the player "move" around using a cursor. For those who are used to fully 3D PSP games, such as Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, this might seem like a detriment, but considering walking around took up most of the time on the PS2 versions and this being a portable title, the change makes a lot of sense and makes the game less monotonous outside of treks inside Tartarus. This change, however, also applies to all of the cutscenes in the game, which are now done in a dating simulation format where the 2D, animated representations of the characters face the player. While it's understandable that the developers would choose this method, as to not heavily contrast with the overworld movement, much of the emotion in some of the more important scenes, which at times heavily relied on body language, is lost. If Atlus decides to do a P4P in the future, it would be wise to leave such scenes in and use the 2D format for some of the less important ones.
As a trade-off of sorts for the above losses, there are quite a few nice additions to this port. All of the locations in the game, as well as the character artwork, are very sharp and stylized and include subtle motions which make them feel closer to the feeling their 3D versions gave. While the graphics are noticeable downgraded from their PS2 versions, Atlus did touch up all of the in-game models so they don't give off that "jaggy" feel that many fully 3D and PS2-to-PSP ports have these days. The slight lag and delays in the PS2 version, most notable in the battles, have been rectified as well. This attention to detail makes it clear that Atlus wasn't content with just a simple port with a few new additions when they were developing P3P.
P3P also includes some other minor alterations, many of which cater to veteran P3P players and those who played Persona 4. In the original P3, when one used the teleporters on non-boss floors inside Tartarus, instead of being able to go back to the floor they left off on, they would have to go to the last boss floor where they unlocked a teleporter. This has been fixed in P3P by allowing players to jump back to the last floor, no matter if it's a normal or a boss floor. In addition to the ability to allow players to heal from the save point inside the entrance to Tartarus and removing the chance of incurring fatigue while roaming inside, there's no more need to waste nights exploring, leaving more time to develop the game's Social Links. Each character's equipment can now be switched out from the menu, instead of requiring players to shuffle around characters in Tartarus's entrance. The "square" menu from P4 is back, which allows players to jump around from area to area in a flash. The last major change, which has recently become common in newer PSP titles, is support for data install, which makes the game's loading times near identical to a digital copy. For owners of older models of the PSP who are accustomed to long loading times, you should be quite pleased with the change this makes.
Long-time fans of the series won't need a recommendation to purchase P3P. For those who only played the original P3 or P3: FES and enjoyed it, you'll be right at home with P3P, even with the changes such as the new 2D format. Being able to take the game on the go will make time pass by much easier and will make the game that much more enjoyable. For those who haven't delved into the series before or couldn't finish the original version, P3P is just as good as you've heard and fans of RPGs won't be disappointed in the slightest. Those who missed the game the first two times around owe it to themselves to catch the game this time around.
By tweaking the game for its new portable setting, with additions such as the new 2D-gameplay style and minor tweaks such as the teleporter and healing changes inside Tartarus, Persona 3 Portable feels less like a PS2-to-PSP port, and more like a true PSP title. Persona 3 Portable is easily one of the best PSP RPGs to date and is a welcome addition to any gamers' collection, even with its minor flaws. P3P is easily one of the best RPGs on the PSP by far.