Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus USA | Release Date: 2009 | Genre: RPG | Website: Official Website
The original Persona was released in 1996 on the Playstation and received mixed reactions over drastic cuts and changes to the content when it was “Westernized” While it was still a good game fans knew what they were missing out on and wasn’t impressed. With the success of later incarnations of the series on PS2, Atlus has decided to dust of the original and treat PSP owners to an enhanced remake. Rather late than never but the question is, can a 13 year old game still cut it in today’s market?
The game opens with a group of high school students messing around trying to play a game called “Persona”. Things don’t quite go according to plan and their hometown soon become overrun by demons. The students find out that they have the ability to summon “Personas” to help them out in battle and get caught up in an epic adventure spanning alternate realities. The story is quite complex, but to be honest, it can become a bit muddled at times and often comes across as a bit pretentious. The whole demon scenario might also offend religious people so take note.
What’s nice about Persona is that it is set in modern times instead of the typical fantasy/sci-fi settings. Your characters are typical high school students with their own personalities and through extraordinary circumstances get to wield weapons, guns and magical abilities in their battle against the forces of darkness. Another unique aspect of the game is the first person mazes that make up the majority of the playing experience. These can become somewhat tedious and the graphics haven’t aged all that well, but its not something you see every day on PSP. Battles are turn based and take place on a isometric grid, but suffer from the same dated look and lack of animation. Random encounters take place at a maddening rate so patience is required to get through some of the latter dungeons.
It doesn’t always have to end in violence, though, as Persona allows you to talk to enemies you encounter and persuade/ threaten / charm them to your side. It doesn’t always work and can also become slightly tedious, but it’s an interesting addition to the genre. There’s also a whole card fusing aspect to the game which allows you to create new Personas from the cards you can receive during successful monsters conversations.
What is a nuisance is that only characters and Persona’s that actively participate in battle will gain experience and level up meaning you can end up with vastly underpowered party members if you are not careful. Battles can also be overly complex due to the vast number of strengths and weaknesses foes have and don’t even get me started on how annoying it is fighting against enemies that spam you with status ailments.
The audio has been almost completely revamped and while sounding a bit “pop-ish” for such a somberly themed game still stand out as memorable. Its not often that you hear music with spoken lyrics in a role playing game, but Persona has it in spades. Cut-scenes have also been given a snazzy make over and look great. A brand new over world map rounds off the improvements. Fans of the original will be delighted to hear that a certain very long sub-quest that was cut from the English PSone game have been reinstated. It’s a pity that the game’s graphics were not updated as the tiny sprites with their minimal animation really drag the game down. The story can also be overly complex at times and certain plot points just become lost in a endless stream of random encounters.
If you were a fan of the original game, then you’ll love this remake, which fixes just about everything that went awry in the first attempt. For someone that has played only the latter games in the series, this might feel like a step backwards, but it’s also a good opportunity to see where it all began. Playing Persona takes a lot of time and patience, so if you are not a fan of long stretches of level grinding you might be better off with something a bit more action packed. If you enjoy a good challenge and don’t mind spending almost all your time engaged in or trying to get out of random battles give Persona a try. Underneath its mask it’s actually a very good game
*Review originally published in 2009.