It’s been a long time, but finally people in North America are going to get a second chance to experience the first game in the Persona series. True, the opportunity happened once before with the PlayStation release Revelations: Persona, but that was a limited release and the localization was fairly poor. Now, we get a chance to see a remastered and complete version of the game. Gamertell recently got the opportunity to test drive Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.
I decided to go with the beginner difficulty level, though normal and hard were also available. When I played the original PSX version of Persona back in high school, I gave up near the end. I don’t want to spoil anyone, but let’s just say that the incidents happened that caused the “world map” to become maze-like, and that, combined with frequent and sometimes difficult random battles, caused me to ditch the game. I was less patient back then, and heard Atlus had fixed those issues for the rerelease, so I look forward to a more pleasant experience this time. Still, to be safe, I decided to go with the easy mode.
If you’d played the original PSX game, things are going to look very familiar. The game starts the same, with a group of high schoolers playing the “Persona” game in a vacant classroom at St. Hermelin High School. The game seems to have no results, but then half the students present, the main character, Nanjo (Nate), Yukino (Yuki), and Masao (Mark), pass out. (Note: in case you played the original game, I left the PSX names in parenthesis so you can identify the characters.) They all have the same dream, of a strange man called Philemon who offers foreshadowing to future events.
Players awake in the school’s infirmary, where they’re instructed to head to the hospital for check ups, to make sure they’re really okay. Oh, and by the way, make sure you visit Maki (Mary), the girl from their class who’s been in the hospital for a very long time.
At this point, people have a bit of freedom to explore the town. There are no random encounters at this point, so I decided to use this time to figure out how to proceed. I debated going the Snow Queen route for my first playthrough, since that’s the additional story that was left out of the original PSX release. Then, I decided that since it’s been so long since I’d actually played Persona, it’d be best to just go through the main story.
Since I heard the map had been redesign and reworked, I decided that perhaps I could accomplish two things at once, explore the new town and start off on the Chris sidequest. In the original Persona, you have four standard party members and you get to choose a fifth one from some other classmates. For those who don’t bother to talk to everyone and visit everywhere, you can choose from Brown, Elly and Ayase. If you go to a little extra trouble, though, you can unlock a secret, stronger character named Chris. It’s a lot of extra work, and for a while you have to go through some tough dungeons understaffed, but he’s worth it.
Rather, I should call him Reiji, because thats what it turns out his name actually is. So I wandered around the school, talking to a teacher, then encountering Reiji. After that, I left school grounds to see the “world”.
The map should look familiar to Shin Megami Tensei fans, as it’s reminiscent of the town maps used in the Devil Summoner series of games. Your character is represented by a little blue icon, and moves down city streets into various buildings. By pressing the square button, all locations you can visit will have their name appear on top of them. I noticed that, in this incarnation, there are far more save points and doctors offices than there were in the original.
Since I had decided to recruit Reiji, it was time to do a bit of exploring. First, I headed towards Joy Street, a mall district that’s on the east side of town. I stopped at Yin & Yang, a general store with pharmacy products, to talk to Reiji’s mom. I also explored the other mall stores, but found their inventory was all pretty much the same – just medicines. Then I stopped by Judgement 1999 to talk to Masao’s friends from the Tailors. Apparently some guy has been hanging around the abandoned factory – their hideout. Could it be… Reiji? (Dun dun dumm!) Time to check it out. Heading south, there it is, and sure enough, there’s Reiji.
The preliminary portions of the recruit Reiji process done, I headed north towards the hospital at a leisurely pace. Though, if you hold circle while moving, your character will dash either in locations or on the world map. It’s not all that useful at the moment, but when random battles occur it will be helpful to try to race from place to place.
Speaking of hospitals, there’s an interesting perspective shift that occurs in the game. When you’re traversing dungeons, it’s like an old-school RPG or Etrian Odyssey, where everything is presented in the first person view. When you enter a room, you change to a standard RPG 3rd person viewpoint, where you can explore, talk to your party members and talk to other people in the room.
Upon reaching the hospital, first order of business is visiting Maki. She seems to be okay, when suddenly she doubles over in pain. While the hero and his friends wait outside the ICU as the doctors examine her, something goes horribly wrong. The whole hospital shifts and changes, becoming some sort of maze. Zombies are everywhere, along with demons. Starting from here, there are monsters everywhere. Random battles will frequently occur, unless you’re inside of a room.
If you’re familiar with turn based RPGs, the battles will seem familiar. The heroes are on the left, monsters on the right. Characters have a range of attack for both physical and magical attacks. Personas can be equipped on all characters to effect what kind of abilities they can use. Each character can utilize three personas, and switch among them during battle (though it takes a full turn to swap). Personas learn new skills when their abilities are used in battle, and will learn quicker or slower, or be more effective, when they are most compatible with users.
There are two means of attacking, physical attacks and guns. Ammo is unlimited, though you do have to purchase and equip it for every player. You don’t need to take a turn to switch between weapons, you can automatically choose weapons or guns and use them.
Like previous Persona games, all enemies have stengths and weaknesses. So far, it seems like the previous games, where magic is more effective against enemies than weapons or guns.
The auto system is also quite a blessing. You can assign actions to players, replay the same actions you performed the previous turn (or turns) from that battle or prior battles, have all characters attack with guns or all characters attack with weapons. It really helps streamline things for boss battles, or when you’re facing a large number of enemies and you’ve already figured out the best course of action.
If fighting isn’t your style, there’s also the contact option. Selecting contact allows you to choose a party member to talk to the demons. Each demon has a certain kind of personality, and each party member has four possible ways to interact with demons. If you choose correctly, you can make demons happy, interested, angry or scared. Interested demons may give you a spell card you can use to make a persona, happy ones will give you a gift, angry ones will violently attack and scared ones will run away. If you already have the spell card of a demon you’re contacting, that demon will recognize you as a friend, perhaps give you a gift and then leave the battle.
The Shin Megami Tensei: Persona PSP port is sure shaping up to be quite interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out on Gamertell for the forthcoming review!
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