Being a fan of dark, gripping stories and settings in video games, it’s a shame that Shin Megami Tensei: Persona failed to deliver a solid experience. It had the goods, the heart and the soul of an occult thriller, but it failed to showcase them properly. Sure, this PSP remake is miles ahead of the Playstation original, but the ancient gameplay and boring dungeons didn’t get the upgrades needed. Unless you have a some insatiable desire to see the origins of Persona, it’s best that you eschew from it or watch a Let’s Play.
Of course, you’ll turn away from the Let’s Play if you’re a graphics junkie. One reason for Persona’s being mediocre is because of the look. Persona has you control your main character through endless corridors in a first person perspective. The corridors are boring to look at and they’re extremely repetitive. Certain rooms will change the perspective to an overhead view that allows you to see you and your fellow classmates. Unfortunately, this view doesn’t look much better. Characters look like stick figures with traditional, private school uniforms. I hate sounding like a graphic gourmand, but they can’t keep up with today’s standards. This is supposed to be a remake; a fresh coat of paint should have been the first thing added. Even the various Personas, monsters and spell effects look as though little effort was put into creating them. The PSP is capable of something gorgeous in terms of visuals and Persona failed to use it. The animated movies, however, are amazing. The art used in these taps into an avantgard type of style. They also allow you to listen to the character’s voices. The voice acting did a good job both in battle and the animations. However, the music is a different story. It’s mainly JPop. I’ll admit that JPop is awesome, but it’s not awesome for a game like Persona. And it’s not in small amounts. No no no. It’s everywhere. Battles, exploration, the world map and even while shopping for items. They take away from the atmosphere and they’re not very catchy.
I know I’m making it sound a game can’t be good without shiny visuals or legendary music. That’s far from the truth. Game play is everything and the story is almost as important. Of these two features, one performs admirably while the other does the opposite. If you haven’t guessed it yet, the story is the one that deserves praise. It takes place in Japan in a private school. You and your classmates, all of which have unique quirks and personality traits, are performing a ritual after school hours to summon something called a Persona. After the last part of the ritual finishes, there is an earthquake, a power outage and a mysterious little girl appears before you. Worried that the earthquake hit the hospital where your friend, Maki is staying, you head over to it to find out that demons have crossed over to the earth. However, you have also awakened the powers of Persona. These magical entities will allow you to combat the forces of evil, a diabolical corporation and mysterious visions. That’s just the beginning. Persona’s story, characters, topics and setting keep you wanting to know more about the goings on in Japan. The question is, will you want to attempt to learn more via playing the game?
If you’re not a fan of tedious dungeon crawls, money issues and difficulty spikes, my guess is no. Persona has a few interesting things going for it, and it’s important to recognize that this is an enhanced port of a game that was released back in the late 90s. First and foremost, there are many more save points available. The insane amount of random battles are turn-based. You can combat your foes with melee weapons and firearms, but how effective they are depends on your party formation. Most of the time, you’re better off using magic that comes with your Persona. Besides enhancing your abilities, the Persona are associated with various types of spells. The more the Persona get used, the more powerful they get which, in turn, means you learn new magic spells and have higher stats. The spell animations are slow, but they can be turned off. Even better, there’s a few auto battle options to make the battles finish faster. Battles can drag if you let them. While mixing and matching the various Persona grants a hefty amount of customization, battles take too long.
That’s not the worst of it, though. Persona’s experience point distribution is silly. Those who do the most “stuff” in battle gain more experience. This means that one character will be a power house while the others try their best to keep up. An interesting feature is that you can negotiate with the enemy in attempt to gain items, money or their cards. Cards are used to make new Persona. Demon negotiation seems more like a crapshoot than anything else, though. Examining the demon’s personality traits should allow you to pick the right responses to their questions, but it doesn’t. If the wrong things are said, the demons get angry and damages your liaison. Money is a huge issue when it comes to upgrading equipment, too.
Fans of Persona on the Playstation will be happy to know that the Snow Queen Quest has been added to the PSP version. Translation? You’ll need to play through the game a second time. To that I say, “Ick.” Needless to say, the problems with Persona are enough to turn away casual RPG fans. However, they were also enough to turn me away. It’s a shame, too. The story is excellent and has some great characters. Graphics and silly JPop could be overlooked if the game had more fun stuff going for it. Giving birth to a new Persona is fun, but the fun stops there. My recommendation is that you avoid this game and read a plot synopsis. Persona is a well-told story, but it’s hard to enjoy something of that sort when it’s hampered by messy game play.