In many ways, it could be considered to be an enhanced port due to its new additions and content.
However, in other ways, it could be considered to be an inferior port for many reasons; it lacks 3D environments and character models (outside of Tartarus), all anime cutscenes are gone, the graphics and audio quality were compressed, and The Answer ("Episode Aegis" in the Japanese version) is a story exclusive to Persona 3 FES and is not available in P3P due to limited storage space on the UMD. Because of this, Persona 3 Portable does not necessarily replace the PlayStation 2 version.
The game allows the player to choose the gender of the protagonist, which possibly opens up new routes and scenarios in the story, with the male route being the canon one. The theme of the game revolves around the "," reflecting the changes that happen should the player pursue the path of one protagonist over the other, and the Latin phrase "Memento Mori" which translates as "Remember your mortality. Remember you must/will die," as shown in the opening sequences.
The setting takes place during main portion of Persona 3 (known in FES as "The Journey" in the English version and "Episode Yourself" in the Japanese version). The storyline of the female protagonist features many differences from that of the male protagonist, such as new social interactions as well as Social Links. The Persona of the female protagonist is a more feminine Orpheus. In the female protagonist's path, players have the choice of selecting Elizabeth or a male-equivalent named Theo to be Igor's assistant in the Velvet Room.
The Desert of Doors from the Abyss of Time seen in The Answer will still appear, however, in an extra feature known as the Vision Quest. In this mode, the party can fight stronger incarnations of the Full Moon shadow bosses — save for Arcana Magician — and partake in special battles that test the party's abilities. When all of the battles have been successfully met, a second optional boss can be fought: Margaret, Igor's assistant in Persona 4 and guardian of the Desert of Doors in P3P.
Another new addition is the ability to pick who the protagonist spends the last moments of the game with. This feature is only accessible on a New Cycle, and the protagonist can only select members of SEES with whom they have maxed social links and are romantically involved with. Both male and female protagonists have 4 choices to choose from: 1 is the default Aigis ending and 3 from the others. The male endings include Yukari, Fuuka and Mitsuru, and the female endings include Akihiko, Shinjiro, and Ken.
Navigation in P3P overworld is menu-based. Players cannot walk around as in the PlayStation 2 version, although interactions still retain the "visual novel" feel. Overworld characters are rendered in sprites.
The facilities in town where the player can increase the protagonist's social stats still function the same way, but some of them now offer part-time jobs on certain days, rewarding the protagonist with money, which can increase if the protagonist repeatedly works part-time at a specific store or restaurant. It also bestows higher boosts to the protagonist's conditional stats than if the protagonist simply attended the store as a customer.
In Paulownia Mall, the police station is now the only place where the protagonist can buy equipment and sell items. Aohige Pharmacy is now a buy-only store, and Be Blue V is just a part-time work site and hangout to improve the main character's condition.
From previous versions, two difficulty modes have been added: Beginner and Maniac alongside Easy and Normal in Persona 3 and Hard in Persona 3 FES:
- Beginner: Enemy damage is significantly toned down, and the player is given 30 Plumes of Dusk to continue in case of a game over.
- Easy: Enemy damage is toned down, and the player is given 10 Plumes Of Dusk to continue in case of a game over.
- Normal: Standard difficulty. Enemies deal average damage.
- Hard: Enemies deal 1.5 times more damage than normal and can gain a higher chance of Enemy Advantage when not taken by surprise.
- Maniac: Enemies deal 2 times more damage than normal, can gain a higher chance of Enemy Advantage when not taken by surprise, and certain weapon fusions cannot be performed (Ultimate Weapons are still available). Moreover, when starting a New Cycle from any difficulty level to Maniac, no data from the prior game carries over to the new one (character level and social stats start at 1, the Persona Compendium will reset, and the doors for Vision Quest and Monad will not be present early in the game).
There have been changes to battle mechanics from previous versions of Persona 3, often falling in line with convenient features and changes in Persona 4:
- A new tactic, "Direct," has been added to the game, allowing control of the party members, unlike Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES.
- The "Wait" command is replaced with the "Defense" command, and will decrease the damage and any knockdown effects of the next attack the user suffers.
- The game grants "1 More" to a combatant who attacks multiple enemies not knocking all of them down; the original Persona 3 required all hit enemies to be knocked down for a 1 more.
- Party members who have been knocked down no longer spend the turn by getting up and can act as soon as they stand.
- Upon landing a critical hit or striking an enemy's weakness, party members can follow up with a co-op attack.
- Fusion Spells from the original Persona 3 are now activated from items instead of equipping a persona and selecting it like other spells.
- Allies can now take a fatal blow to the protagonist for them if they are able.
- "Dizzy" has been added as a status effect.
There have also been general changes to the game from previous versions:
- Returning to the main lobby in Tartarus no longer automatically restores the party, and must now be done for a fee via the save point (this cost varies based on the date in-game and status effects currently inflicted on the party).
- Floors can be directly returned to from the entrance of Tartarus instead of being restricted to the restore point like previous versions.
- "Tired" status no longer is inflicted during Tartarus exploration, and is inflicted to all used party members after leaving (this will only drop to "Good" if the character used was at "Great" during exploration).
- Unlike previous versions, money found by party members when split up will now be given to the protagonist.
- Party members' equipment and status can now be accessed at any time from the pause menu, unlike in previous versions, which required the protagonist to speak to them while exploring Tartarus in order to change their equipment or view their status.
Persona Development, New Skills and the Skill Card System
The system of fusion remains relatively the same, and Heart Items released by specific Persona are still intact. However, all Personas now have the ability to produce a Skill Card when raised to a specific level. Each card can be used on any Persona to teach them a skill (for example, the Agi Skill card will teach any Persona the skill "Agi," regardless of if that Persona is naturally able to learn or inherit Agi or not). Aside from Personas, Skill Cards can also be obtained by trading gems in Shinshoudo Antiques, purchasing them through mail-order in Jika Net Tanaka, completing Elizabeth/Theodore's requests, topping exams (rewarded by Mitsuru along with minor arcana stat-booster cards) and as rewards for finding certain people trapped in Tartarus (given by Officer Kurosawa).
In P3P, the protagonists only have access to one weapon type (instead of having access to all weapon types like in P3 and FES); the male protagonist wields one-handed swords, and the female protagonist wields . As a result, the Skills "Fist Master," "Bow Master," "1hdSwdMaster" and similar skills have all been combined into a single skill called "Weapons Master." Its skill card is called "Phys Boost," and all Personas which had learned a "master" ability (like Cybele with Bow Master) now learn "Weapons Master."
In addition to "Weapons Master," the new skill "Magic Skill Up" has been added in P3P. It can only be learned by Messiah, and strengthens any Magic skills used, including Almighty skills.
The Inari Sushi in Naganaki Shrine no longer grants random bonuses for item gaining and Tartarus explorations. Instead, it offers to duplicate Skill Cards, which will take 5 days to complete.
Almost all abilities can be learned through Skill Cards, with the following exceptions:
- Thunder Reign
- Panta Rhei
- Die For Me!
- Morning Star
- Black Viper
- Main article: Persona 3 Portable Original Soundtrack
Music is written by Shōji Meguro, with lyrics by Reiko Tanaka, and Lotus Juice. Performed by Mayumi Fujita, Lotus Juice, and Shuhei Kita. The official soundtrack was released on November 25, 2009. New tracks have been composed for the female protagonist's path.
- Soul Phrase - New opening theme
- A Way of Life - Played during Port Island's overworld
- 放課後 (Hōkago, lit. After School) - Played during select Social Link events
- Time - Played during the First Semester
- Wiping All Out - New battle theme
- Sun - Played during the Second Semester
- Easy Feelings - Played during select Social Link events
- Danger Zone - Played during Tartarus boss battles
- Soul Phrase -long ver.-
- A Way of Life -Deep inside my mind Remix-
- The title of the game on the start screen is misspelled as "Persona3 Poatable."