The PSP is one of the greatest handheld gaming consoles to ever grace a glass container at a local Wal-mart, however one of the system’s weakness has always been its lack of RPGs. Sure, we do get RPGs from time to time, but they are usually the newest fetch-quest Japanese anime style cash-in game with no true intention of mesmerizing the player with a deep storyline and a hard-as-hell campaign to match. Don’t fear fellow gamer, for international video game fan favorite Atlus has just resurrected a true classic from the fiery pits of gaming hell’s past. Shin Megami Tensei Persona for the Sony PSP is the flash point from which the Persona series was first ignited, but first a bit of gaming history.
Persona for the original Playstation One was released in Japan in the mid-nineties. Persona was a teenage high school side story to the original line of Shin Megami Tensei games that had been running in the Land of the Rising Sun for several years already. The first few games in the Megaten (short for Shin Megami Tensei) series never appeared in the United State due to the fact the series was almost looked upon as being Satanic due to demonic summing and some very controversial plot devices.
The original Persona was the very first Megaten game to be released in the United States due to a more light-hearted approach and a less religiously blasphemous nature. Renamed Revelations: Persona the game went into the western video game scene with very little fanfare due to the fact a 1000-megaton bomb called Final Fantasy was already claiming the hearts of western RPG gamers. Even more tragic is the fact that Revelations: Persona was a victim of nineties era localization, some would even say that this title in particular would be a greater victim then most.
Simply put Revelations: Persona is almost a completely different game then what was originally created in Japan. The western branch of Atlus approached import localization very differently then they do now. Instead of the game taking place in Japan, Atlus created an alternate universe if you will, and created the game using a western setting and a multi-cultural cast. As time passed, gaming companies would become more and more comfortable in retaining a true eastern nature to video games due to the rise of eastern cultural acceptance and popularity.
Now, over a decade has passed and Atlas is once again diverting the attention of the modern western gamer with eastern taste, and the newest dish to be served is a complete updated and revised version of the first Persona game. However, this is not just a port of the original Playstation classic, but a slightly more modern version that takes advantage of the PSP’s capabilities.
Persona is a turn based RPG that takes place in Japan. The main protagonist and his friends are high-school students who have teenage tendencies and the character flaws that come with the territory. One day, the students are in a classroom playing an occult game (called Persona) and they walk to each corner of the room and call out “Persona”. Nothing seems to happen immediately and the students leave the school to visit a fellow female student who is in the hospital. Once the students arrive at the hospital and have a short visit with the student a strange earthquake happens that shakes the foundation of the hospital and the very fabric of reality. The students quickly realize that they are in the midst of the apocalypse and that Japan is being taking over by a demonic army.
The game is darkly lit and uses a variety of colors to create a look of post modern art. The visuals are crisp and clean, and look very good on the PSP screen. Also, the graphics in Persona have been re-calibrated for the widescreen aspect-ratio of the PSP and look fantastic.
The playing field for Persona is a top-down isometric view, which takes some getting used to due to the fact that you can only move in four directions. However, a vest majority of the game’s interior stages take place in a first person mode that runs very smoothly. An in-game map is provided that gives the player a basic view of the buildings’ interior structure floor-by floor. However, sometimes it is still easy to get lost due to the game’s progressively labyrinthian nature.
As you progress though each of the game’s playing fields, you will encounter some of the craziest monster designs to ever grace a video game, this is Persona after all. The battles take place on a top-down isometric view battle board and you are given the options to fight, guard, and negotiate with the enemy party. If you choose to fight you are given the options to use a hand held weapon like swords or long poles. You will also receive guns – yes that’s right, guns – and they can be quite effective against a party of demonic hordes. Lastly you may attack using a “Persona”, a demonic/angelic entity that will obey your battle commands and will level up just like the rest of your party.
Enemy negotiations are one of the staples for the Megaten series as a whole. Each human has a set of negotiation tactics that can be used to entice a member of the enemy party to help you. This could lead to good or bad things; you could be heavily attacked or given a helpful item as a friendly jester. However, if you’re a master of negotiations you could persuade an enemy into joining you on your quest. The new ally will become a Persona for certain types of characters to equip and use in battle, and each character can equip up to three Personas at a time.
The music in this game will be a mixed bag for some players, and for various reasons. The soundtrack has been completely recreated for this version of the game in order to fit with the Jazz and J-Pop feel of the later iterations of the Persona series, namely Persona 3 and Persona 4. I guess you could say that this is a George Lucas approach to establish an even snugger continuity between multiple titles in a series. Personally, I do really enjoy Composer Shoji Meguro’s work and I feel that it adds a bit of disorientation to the player. Altering a person’s emotional state in a scene of despair can sometimes masterfully induce a deeper since of dread.
One of the things that I do not like about the game is that the battles can sometimes be a bit slow. However, the battles in this version of the game are vastly quicker then the original version of the game which were mind numbingly slow. Also, the act of social-linking is not in this game due to the fact that social-links were introduced in later iterations of the Persona series.
Overall, Persona for the PSP is great slice of RPG history, a very entertaining story with a great and challenging single player experience. If you like your RPGs hard and intriguing with a dash of complete insanity then by all means pick up Persona for the PSP today.