Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Review

By Shawn Collier on October 20, 2009

The unexpected success of Atlus' Persona 3 and 4 introduced tons of new fans to the series that probably haven't experienced anything that came prior. Thus, Atlus is releasing a remake of the original Persona (released on the PlayStation back in 1996) on the PlayStation Portable, with some changes that bring the game closer to the experience found in Persona 3 and 4. But does this tarnish the original game, or deliver a refined experience that both long-time and new fans can enjoy?

The most notable change long-time fans will notice in the North American version is a completely retranslated script. The original PlayStation version westernized the Japanese setting of the game, giving the script an entirely different take. The characters were radically edited (some even changing nationalities in one severe case) and an entire sub-quest was removed from the game. The remake is much more faithful to the original Japanese script and adds back the removed sub-quest. For newer fans, all the same spells, items, and Persona names from Persona 3 and 4 are kept, making the transition much less jarring than if one was to play the original PlayStation version.

While a new translation is nice, a game needs a good story to back it if it's going to interest players. Thankfully Persona's story, while nothing truly groundbreaking, is entertaining enough to keep player's going. The story begins with a group of kids who are granted the power of "Persona", the ability to summon the powers within themselves in battle. They get caught up in an evil plot involving a madman trying to take over a parallel dimension to become a god, although as the player gets deeper into the game more truths begin to come to light. Most of the characters are also nicely developed, having their own flaws and strengths that are touched upon, although sadly a few characters are given more attention over the others, which was a bit of a disappointment.

Battles in Persona are very different than those found in other RPGs, or even Persona 3 and 4. Characters and enemies are placed on squares on a grid. Depending on where the characters are placed, they might not be able to attack certain areas of the grid, or use a magic spell on a specific enemy. This also applies to the enemies, which requires the player to constantly keep track of where everyone is placed on the grid to deal the greatest amount of damage while limiting the damage they take from enemies. While the game makes this easy to edit in and out of battle, in some battles this becomes somewhat of a bother because players have to spend too much time micromanaging instead of enjoying the battle. Another issue with the battle system is that guns are completely unbalanced in regards to normal attacks. Unless the opposing enemy repels or nulls gunshots or has a weakness to a specific element, the player is almost always better off enabling the game's auto options for guns and waiting until all the enemies are dead. Halfway through the game, when access to more powerful guns and ammo is granted, this becomes the only way to avoid wasting tons of time healing a party after each battle. For what is such a strategic approach to battle, it is unfortunate this breaks the game so badly and is needed unless the party is over levelled.

In another twist on the genre, Persona's dungeons use a first-person viewpoint. While nothing is wrong with this approach, the game fails to utilize it to its full potential. The generic slews of traps (movement reversal, status effects) are present, as well as switches and tile puzzles, but outside of that, the objective is to simply find the next floor or the boss of the dungeon. Treasure rooms are plain to see in the mini-map (which reveals the areas a few squares away from you). There's no reason to explore areas on the map which lead to dead-ends, unlike some games which give a special bonuses for discovering areas of the beaten path --- the only reward will be incurring more damage due to the game's use of random battles.

The graphics in Persona are quite detailed in some areas, and incredibly dull in others. The overworld has been entirely redone in a style similar to Persona 3 and 4, although it's required to move around the overworld instead of picking items from a menu. The new animated cutscenes are very impressive, giving a pseudo-3D effect that is technically amazing when seen in motion. However, the dungeons are incredibly dated compared to the facelift the game got everywhere else, with the same dull designs used for the walls. The change to widescreen only draws more attention to the game's occasional graphical flaws and considering that the majority of the game involves trekking through these dungeons, it's something that's rather hard to ignore.

The main campaign is a very decent length for a game on the PlayStation Portable, but for those who want to engross themselves more into the world of Persona, there is a hidden sidequest that can radically alter the story. Also, because only five characters can be used, further playthroughs can disclose more story, if different characters are chosen. Hidden dungeons also have an extra level to them, and this is only available after completing the game.

Final Thoughts

With this remake, Atlus was walking a fine line between trying to use elements from Persona 3 and 4, while keeping the same feel as the original. But when there are obvious issues such as the archaic and unbalanced battle system and graphics in dungeons that are incredibly dated, it weakens what Atlus has done here to enhance the game's storyline. Those that can look past the issues present in Persona will find a lot to love, but for everyone else, this is a game that might not appeal.

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