Review | Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
Dark. Oh so dark…
Format: PSP | Genre: RPG | Publisher: Atlus | Developer: Atlus | Release date: 11/08/10 | Price: £24.99
Jennifer Allen delves into the deep and dark world of SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI: PERSONA.
YOU MIGHT think that the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest sum up the peculiarities of the JRPG but you’d be very wrong. It’s the Personas of the world that really show how bizarre a JRPG can really be.
My first experience of the Persona series was long ago when I was but a fresh faced aspiring reviewer. One of the first games I ever reviewed was Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 on the Playstation 2. Having never played a Persona game before this, I’m still not entirely sure if it was a success but I tried very hard to sum it up. You see, the Persona series is rather quirky. Typically you play the role of a high school student who, alongside attending classes like a normal teenager, must also stop the world from being invaded by demons. The term persona comes about as each of the main characters can summon Personas which can be used to cast various special abilities.
The first Persona on the Playstation One was never released in Europe. However, with this PSP re-envisioning, Europe gets a chance to see just how the Persona series began. It’s rather nice actually as it means us Europeans get a superior version to the North American release of the game all those years ago. The difficulty level has been restored to its harsh beginnings and the Snow Queen Quest is back having been cut for the US release. Even the cut scenes and score have been remastered making it a lovely package all round. It’s impossible to deny that Persona has certainly aged in its appearance, at a formidable 14 years old, but look past the ugly exterior and it’s still oozing with potential. It’s the kind of game that you pretty much have to play if you say you like JRPGs. As a slice of history, it has its place. However, its place isn’t as an appropriate start to the Persona series any more.
I’m kind of a big deal
It’s worth noting that Persona really is rather drab to look at. You’ll spend much of your time wandering around very flat looking hallways in a first person view. It’s easy to get lost even with the addition of a minimap. When a battle does arise, it’s all on a similarly bland isometric grid. All battles are random and there are plenty of them. It’s all very old school indeed. Even the save points are rather limited in number although, from things I’ve heard, the original was much more unforgiving.
The battle system is refreshingly deep, with even the positioning of characters being vital to success, as is pinpointing your enemies’ weaknesses. There’s also the ability to negotiate with your enemy in order to acquire extra spell cards. It all becomes rather strategic as time goes on but expect to encounter many, many battles. Fortunately there are options for auto fighting and to speed battles.
What disappointed me most however was the lack of a social system in Persona. Past (or should I say, future) games in the series offered pseudo dating sections and lifestyle features so that you were doing more than just dungeon crawling. There’s no sign of that here, unfortunately. Persona doesn’t quite hit repetitive levels but it does veer dangerously near on occasion. While the dark and moody end of the world scenario keeps you hooked, it would have been nice to see depth in more than just the battle system.
For fans of the series, this is an unmissable instalment. It tweaks the original perfectly with improved dialogue, soundtrack and small bonuses such as a faster battle mode. For RPG fans that have yet to dabble in the series before, it’s a harder sell. I’d be inclined to recommend they start where the Persona story began for me: Persona 3. The combination of RPG and life sim makes for a much more palatable way of enjoying the Persona series. As a piece of history, however, it’s clear just what an impact the original Persona made all those years ago. It’s certainly something different and for that it deserves some credit.