I've got a bit of a dilemma, but first I've got some context (there's a tl;dr if you don't care). Just last night I finally beat Persona 5 (after a little over 120 hours 0_0;). I really loved it, so much so that about partway through I was inspired to go back to Persona 3 and Persona 4, both of which I had given a try in the past but didn't really get into at the time (mostly because the battles were tough, spell/ability names were weird, and persona fusion confused and intimidated the hell outa me). I had, at one point, owned the vanilla PS2 version of P3 and bought the vanilla version of P4 through the PS3 on the PSN (that's a lot of P acronyms!). Sadly, I sold off my PS3 when I moved last year, and I traded in my copy of Persona 3 long ago, so I no longer own the base game for either. So I've got some choices as to which versions of each game to get. At the time, I didn't own any Sony handhelds, so I was looking at just picking up P4 on PS2 again (since I didn't have access to the PSN version, frustratingly), but after reading a lot of praise for Golden, I started to reconsider. I'll fast-forward a bit here and just say that after doing some more research, I decided to put off getting a Switch and instead went and bought Persona 4 Golden and a shiny used Vita (slim).
Now that I have a Vita though, I have another set of versions to consider for Persona 3, FES for PS2 (which I think I'd have to get a hard copy of) or P3P for PSP (which I can get on the Vita PSN store). I went in assuming that the better version would again be clear-cut, but sadly that doesn't seem to be the case. From what I can tell (through some googling), I have to choose between P3P's superior gameplay (and fem MC option) and Fes' superior presentation/story experience.
Normally I'd be OK sacrificing some gameplay tweaks in favor of an overall better story and presentation, but the tweaks in P3P are, for me, ones that can make or break a game. I've straight up stopped playing and returned games before because of AI incompetence driving me up a wall. That said, I can look past an aggravatingly stupid party AI in some instances. For example, games where most battles don't require a lot of very specific team synergy, or resources are easy to come by/conserve, or the MC is just super OP making your party not very important (I'm looking at you Berseria). But Persona is not that kind of game (well, except for maybe the OP MC thing, but that seems like more of a late game thing). In P5 I was constantly messing around in practically every fight with who was doing what in and in what order so I could conserve resources and deal with awful situations I'd sometimes put myself in. Having to deal with questionable party AI in situations like that sounds like an absolute nightmare to me, and it drives me nuts when party AI is slinging spells left and right when a simple physical attack would suffice, especially if those spells are using up a valuable resource.
Based on this alone, it would seem that getting P3P on Vita is the way to go. On top of that, there's the benefit of being able to play as a fem MC (which I would love to be able to do, especially in a genre like this that seemingly doesn't give that option practically ever). If the Persona series wasn't so well known for its stories this would be a no-brainer. But that isn't the case, and after playing through P5 I think losing out on both the animated cutscenes and all of the 3D interactions would be a massive blow to the story presentation and overall experience. I'm worried that not having that is going to severely hamper my enjoyment of the game and what I take away from it.
To you all who have actually played one or both versions of Persona 3, what were your experiences? Was the AI intelligent enough for you in FES? Did the lack of cutscenes/full character interactions make you lose interest in the story in P3P? Have any of you tried playing P3P and watching the cutscenes on YouTube as you play? There's also the silly option of getting and playing both, but are the two different enough for that to be worth it? I'd love to hear some thoughts!
P.S. I plan on playing through P3 before getting to P4G, but I'm going to finish Gravity Rush as a bit of a palate cleanser first (and I'm still debating if I want to go for P5's Platinum now or maybe sometime later as well), so there's time to mull things over.
P.P.S. For the record, I don't really care about "The Answer" from FES. It sounds like it's basically just a grind fest and I'm definitely not willing to deal with the AI party members through that. Plus, I've read it doesn't really give that great of a closure to the story anyways. Also, portability is not something I consider a plus or minus. If I play a game on a handheld, I play it at home like every other game. It just has a different vibe (which sometimes I really like).