Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (PSP) review

The original PlayStation Revelations: Persona was a great game but sadly very rare. The localisation was actually pretty awful as well, so it was great to see Atlus finally making do for their western fans (well America anyway, no idea yet as to when this will be released in Europe - so as usual hit the usual import stores). The PSP version of Persona is basically an enchanced port of the original game with some new features added on that makes an already compelling game even sweeter.

There is a new soundtrack for one. Personally I prefer the original soundtrack more, but Shoji Meguro's new 'modern' score isn't too bad. I guess they wanted to invite the new fans, those who are more familiar with Persona 3 and 4. The models used for characters does not seem to have received significant upgrade, if at all. On the other hand, the remake does feature new FMV cutscenes, a far improvement over the original clunky CG video. Also, unlike the PS1 localisation, Persona for PSP features the Snow Queen Quest, an alternative storyline to the main plot - something I have always wanted to play but could not bother with the Japanese version.

Unlike the slow build up seen in the later games, Persona storyline begins almost immediatelty, which was kinda disappointing. I was hoping Atlus would have modernised the storyline and dialogue a little bit (still cheesy as ever), but at least the localisation is more faithful (no longer is the game set in America for one). The game begins with the silent main characterand his friends in a classroom playing a game called 'Persona' when they find themselves knocked unconsious. Whilst still unconsious, they were visited by a masked man called Philemon, who bestowes them the ability to summon Personas.

In the meantime strange things has started to occur throughout town. This is caused by a machine, invented by a stereotypical evil corporation SEBEC, that allows for creation and passage into other alternate dimensions. Demons soon start to appear and it is up to you and your party to stop these evil geniuses from causing further mayhems and reverting the town to its original self before the dimensional rifts. It may not seem at all original, but trust me the game is worth playing for its storyline.

Persona for PSP has three difficulty levels, a new feature not seen in the original game. Seasoned RPG gamers should probably start with the high difficulty setting, as normal setting is pretty darn easy. There are more save points than before as well. Each characters can hold multiple Personas (summons) as well, unlike the recent games. As before the characters and their Personas earn EXP independently, so levelling up depends on how much the gamer uses each characters. Combat and general chit chatting takes place on an isometric 3D field, where as exploration is via a first person 3D field map. Unlike the original, where the city is rendered in untextured polygons, the remake features a lovely looking easier to navigate 2D rendered map.

The visuals has been upgraded, but only slightly and pretty much resembling the original PS1 visuals. The 3D rendered dungeons looks significantly smoother, with slightly better textures. The interface during combat (a pull down menu now) has been updated, and does not look as clunky as it was. Atlus has unfortunately left the sprites alone. Even the character cutouts are seriously outdated. It isn't a pretty sight to be honest, but it will do. Getting a definitive Persona game is better than the botched PS1 version, so I guess we all should be thankful that Atlus bothered to bring this over in the first place.

The game also features a demon negotiating system where you can earn demon spell cards. These spell cards can then be traded with Igor in the Velvet Room(s), who will then fuse a new Persona (two cards are needed). This works by conversing with the demons (contact). Each demons have their own unique personality and depending on the demon's reaction, it will offer you rewards such as EXP, loots or spell cards. Piss it off, or scare it and it may attack back or just bugger off.

The random encounter rate can get annoying. At times taking just two steps would trigger an encounter. It gets annoying, and this is from someone who played plenty of Japanese RPG in his lifetime. As I said earlier that Persona is pretty easy, but getting ambushed isn't something you would like. There are moments where it would be better to restart the game than continue attempting to save your party. Thankfully save spots are plentiful. Regardless K.O.'ed party members are automatically revived after each successful encounter.

New fans of Persona series will find the lack of social links a disappointment. Instead this is a pure dungeon crawler like those older Shin Megami Tensei games. Exploring mazes through first person mode is a huge chore and the mini map helps a little. Thankfully Persona 2 ditched the first person mode. Combats are random though the encounter rate will depend highly on the moon phase. The moon's phase may also have an effect on the creation of a Persona demon.

The game's replayability is high due to its multiple endings. As previously mentioned, there is also the alternative Snow Queen Quest. Also like before you will have the option to pick from a list of four, the fifth member of your party. Getting Reiji (Chris in the PlayStation localisation) is still a lengthy process, but probably worth it for first timers who do not want to miss out when doing the main SEBEC quest.

All in all, Persona for PSP is a brilliant game, one worth the attention of veterans of the old classics as well as those introduced via Persona 3 and 4. It is a definitive upgrade over the old classic, and best of all, you get to play it whenever and wherever you want. Now if enough of you buys this, Atlus will see that there is a market out there and will hopefully remake both Persona 2 titles as well.

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