Even gamers who are normally skeptical of ported titles need not tread lightly with Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable. Far from being a simple copy-paste of the PlayStation 2 original, the title has completely re-imagined experience for the PSP.
Persona 3 Portable puts you in the shoes of a nameless Japanese transfer student to Gakuen High School. At night you fight the malicious Shadows with a supernatural beings you summon from inside yourself called Personas. But in an interesting twist on the usual RPG format, during the day you form Social Links, relationships with classmates and other people, that help you power up your Personas. While it is technically possible to skip Social Links, they are necessary if you don’t want to spend three times as long grinding for experience in Tartarus, the mysterious tower where the Shadows come from, as you would with them. Not that you would want to skip them anyway: the characters meet and form relationships with in them are easily as interesting as anything you would find in the best visual novel.
In the original Persona 3, players were limited to a male main character, but Persona 3 Portable adds the option to play as a female lead. This essentially gives players an entirely new experience, as the female main character has an almost entirely unique set of Social Links, and many of the old Social Links have entirely new story arcs. Her personality as revealed in her dialogue options is also a departure from the original: whereas the male hero often came off as laid back to the point of indifference, the female is often downright spunky.
The game interface has also been tightened to fit on the PSP. Instead of navigating the city with an in-game sprite, you move through a series of hand-drawn backgrounds with various menus attached to them. Only in Tartarus will you control your character from a third-person perspective as in the original. The new interface of the non-combat sections can be a bit disorienting, and although it is much easier to navigate, it also feels a bit stripped down, particularly during Social Links. But the quality of the writing is such that it doesn’t stay too annoying after the first few hours of game play.
If you never got around to playing the original, Persona 3 Portable is basically two games for the price of one. And if you did play the original, this version offers you an entirely new Persona 3 experience, and one you can play on a bus or during a lunch break. In either case, if you have a PSP, this is a title you should definitely pick up