A group of friends are thrown into a crisis together – not an uncommon circumstance for the beginning of an RPG. Yet, as with the two most recent games in the Persona series, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona for the PSP has that extra little bit of edge, that added pep, that eerie atmosphere that makes it feel like you’re playing something new and different.
First, a little bit of history – this is a remake of a PS1 title, Revelations: Persona. With the remake, they added the more recent Shin Megami Tensei prefix to the title, and dropped the “Revelations”. Also, a disclaimer: I never played the original title, so any references to the PS1 classic come from what I’ve read.
Atlus rewrote the dialog for the English versions of the game to modernize it and bring it up to date with more recent localization standards. They did an excellent job, although it didn’t quite feel exactly right. Certain words and phrases sound “off”, but for the most part, the localization is still very well done. And, of course, this helps the story progress more smoothly for the gamer, and that’s a good thing!
The menus have also been redesigned and other graphics updated for more modern technology and to fit the PSP screen. You’ll also notice that visually impressive, anime-inspired cut-scenes have been added to bring a bit more depth to certain story scenes.
I mention all these things first because they all work together to bring the original PS1 title up to date with what most gamers will use to relate to the Persona franchise. Because of the recent success of those games, this is definitely a smart move. But, there are staunch differences.
Those who are more familiar with the third-person exploration of modern RPGs might be taken aback by the first-person exploration in Persona. I didn’t think it was going to be that big of deal at first, but I have to say that it was quite awkward. The movement is brisk and abrupt, and you have to rotate on the spot to move on. Moving the analog nub right doesn’t move you to your right, it rotates you around on the spot, then you press forward to move in that direction. You can use the D-pad to help in the movement department, but using a conglomeration of both control mechanisms is just…not right. It feels hard to control and just generally wonky.
While we’re on the topic of control, when you do get into a third-person isometric-type view to chat with NPCs, including your party members, it still feels difficult to maneuver. I find myself all too often unsuccessfully attempting to line myself up with an NPC, chest or other interactive object because of the odd visual angle and the heavy movement controls. In these instances, it almost feels like a direct opposite to the first-person control while exploring.
The battle system, while different, and likely a tad bit familiar to those who have played Persona 3 and 4, is nothing to write home about. It’s typical turn-based fare where you assign all your party members an action, then they perform that action. Certain characters and weapons only have a specific range, so depending on your party formation, you may have parts of the battle where one or more characters can’t really do anything. This interrupts the flow of battle and is really noticeable.
All that being said, the story and visuals carry the same atmosphere that we’ve come to expect from titles in the series more recently, and that is always a breath of fresh air, and sets this franchise apart from your typical RPG. The game looks good and feels good. Many things are a bit less impressive than we might be used to, such as when a persona is summoned. It appears over the head of your character, performs its attack (which isn’t very flashy) and then disappears. Granted, this can be explained away in the fact that you’re playing on a handheld system, but you would think that the jump from PS1 title to PSP remake would have been more noticeable.
What is noticeable, and frankly the most enjoyable part of the game for me, was the music. Many of the original songs have been remixed and new songs have been added that gives the game a pep and ambiance during certain parts that contrast nicely with the more subtle eerie undertones of the entire game in general.
For those who have been attracted to this title because of playing and enjoying either Persona 3 or 4, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, but don’t come into this thinking you’re going to get a similar experience. There is no relationship sim aspect (one of my favorite parts of the more recent titles). However, perhaps a precursor to that is used in the fact that you have to negotiate with the various demons your party might fight, and get them to join your side. I didn’t care for this aspect of the title, and frankly I am glad it evolved into more of a “choose your own adventure” with relationships with other NPCs.
Overall, I don’t feel Shin Megami Tensei: Persona got as much of a makeover for this update as it deserved. There are the animated cut scenes thrown in, as well as some other added content and new musical scores and remixes, but many of the game mechanics, while staying true to the original title, seem to be lacking in the RPG environment of today. I would have hoped that some of those would have been updated and refined, at least a bit, to allow for a smoother game play experience. Don’t get me wrong, though, the story and ambiance of this title is very well done and the presentation is what you would expect from an Atlus game. Fans of the genre shouldn’t be disappointed as long as your expectations are managed accordingly.