Before we get into this review, as a responsible reviewer I have to admit to being a Shin Megami Tensei fan boy. I've played every game that's available in English as well as some of the Japanese games. In addition to that I've written a rather exhaustive guide to the original Persona 3 that took four playthroughs and spent hundreds of hours with the original game as well as its updated version, Persona 3 FES. Frankly Persona 3 is one of my favorite RPG's of all time.
However the game had a number of problems that really hampered it, namely having party members who can be both amazingly smart and amazingly stupid at the same time. These problems were corrected in Persona 4 as well as expanding upon a bunch of other things as Atlus fixed problems that we didn't realize were actual problems. Overall the gameplay package was far superior there. Apparently Atlus decided that, since P3 had sold so surprisingly well, they should update P3 with stuff from P4, add new things and try to breathe some life into Sony's corpse of a handheld.
Well release it they did and while it's still as fantastic a game as ever it's not quite as good as its big console brothers.
The main motif of the Persona series has always been that of the butterfly. From the first three games where the butterfly represented Philemon to the next two where the butterfly represents his presence, as well as being save points, it's always present in the game. Building off of that Persona 3 Portable takes the butterfly symbolism even further to embrace the idea of the butterfly effect. The simple act of a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane in another part of the world through some insane act of cause and effect.
P3P takes this one step further with the simple change of gender how many things can change during the course of the game? Well the answer to that question is a whole frigging lot of things. Gameplay changes both large and small as well as a number of changes to the storyline are the word of the day here.
The most prominent change to this game is that of the combat system. Whereas before you had to give your allies general orders and hope and pray that they didn't do stupid things, you can now directly control them. In addition you can now guard, protecting yourself you're your elemental weaknesses and making it easier to get through tough boss fights without dying repeatedly. Unfortunately they also took the fusion spells, a source of powerful attacks in Persona 3, and reduced them to items that are fairly hard to get a hold of.
But the change most people are likely to be interested in is that of the new female protagonist. In addition to a change in gender, and most of your menus now being hot, hot pink in color, there are a number of possible changes to the game. Since each main character can only use one weapon (male uses one-handed swords and the girl uses naginatas) that sets them apart immediately but more important than that are all of the unique social links she has. Becoming close to Junpei, dating Shinjiro or even Akihiko and a number of other unique links, or just minor changes to other social inks, really sets the game apart from its previous incarnations.
Every level of the combat in Persona 3 was highly refined before but all of the changes brought to it by the new combat options really make the game excel in the few areas it faltered in before. That would make this the definitive version of Persona if not for the few problems that it suffers.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag. The fights look pretty good but since the over world has been reduced to a glorified point and click game there's a certain amount of disassociation with the entire thing. The nice change to this is that anyone who is even remotely important has their own portrait meaning you can see all the teachers in all their silly glory. But the main change is the near complete obliteration of all the stylized anime cutscenes. All of the important cutscenes are done via in-game graphics now which seriously kills the impact of some of these scenes, such as the one showing the protagonists first use of the Evoker.
Luckily the sound design is as strong as it always is in a Shin Megami Tensei game. Most of the old music is back in all of its somewhat cheesy glory and new tracks have been specially recorded for the female path through the game. All of the voice acting is really good even if some will find a few characters who grate on your nerves; although as fair warning Fuuka is still in the game to drive up your anger levels.
P3P is a great game especially on the PSP and it has devoured almost all of the time I devote to either of my handhelds since I got my copy. The fact that there are more save points and you can put the system itself in standby makes this 80+ hour adventure much easier to break up into bite sized pieces. If you own a PSP and love RPG's then you're only doing yourself a disservice if you don't pick up this game.