Atlus’ remastered PSP release of Persona is like watching a movie in technicolor. Same story, new presentation. Elements from Persona 3, arguably the series biggest hit, like a colorful cityscape and pop soundtrack have been retrofitted into Shin Megami Tensei: Persona so the original title feels like a later entry.
But, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona doesn’t have social links or random dungeons. This game is a dungeon crawler with a first person perspective like the pre-Nocturne Shin Megami Tensei titles. Dungeons in this game, mostly due to the perspective, are tougher to wade through. It’s easy to get lost even with the helpful mini-map that notes which areas you explored. This probably isn’t going to sound right, but getting lost is part of the fun. SMT: Persona is a dungeon crawler and these dungeons are tougher than the open fields where you can run in a circle to dodge shadows. Oh, and you can’t evade enemies in Persona either. Fights are random encounters and running from them is usually futile.
Battles in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona use a different system too. The crux of fights is still exploiting weaknesses, but now you have a wealth of attacks to manage. Nuclear, gravity, earth, expel, miracle, guns… the “element” list is lengthy. Even if you have the right spell you have to make sure your character is in the right position to hit a target. Persona has a strategy RPG style grid where attacks have a fixed range. Mark’s shotgun, for instance, mainly hits enemies in the middle, if you put him in the front row. Place Mark in the middle of your grid and he can shoot enemies in the front row, but if you do that his axe won’t be able to hit anyone. There’s a bit more strategy to SMT: Persona’s battle system than knocking enemies down and going for an all out attack. The thing that players need to watch out for are status attacks. Just like the list of elements there are a plethora of status effects ranging from staples like HP draining poison to happiness (your character may not listen to you) and guilt (can’t use physical attacks). Each status effect has a degree too. Higher levels of guilt prevent your character from casting sword slashing and spell slinging.
SMT: Persona also has the demon negotiating system, a Shin Megami Tensei staple dropped from future Persona games. Comparatively, it’s basic and demons don’t ask moral questions. Negotiating consists of picking conversation styles ranging from invite to condescend to dance. Nothing tames deadly demons more than a six stepping. Once you figure out which option works you do the same thing over and over to earn a spell card. Hand these to Igor and he’ll fuse new personae for you.
If this sounds like an old school RPG, you’re on the right track. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona’s system is largely unchanged, which has a love it or hate it appeal. The skip feature, an option that speeds up battles and turns off persona summoning animations, is the biggest gameplay enhancement in the PSP version.
The story and bizarre world is what made and still makes Persona worthwhile. In the beginning of the game you and a bunch of misfits play a tag-like game in a classroom while bellowing “Persona!”. This summons butterflies and Philemon, a masked man who bestows the ability to summon personas. There isn’t time to date your teammates after that since a barrier seals everyone in town and demons start appearing. Good thing 7-Elevens carry assault rifles. The journey takes players through “worlds” and neatly wraps up the question “what are Personas?”
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona features a new stick to the source material localization and original character artwork, but the cast acts more or less like Atlus’ 90’s localization. Nanjou is still stuffy and abrasive. Mark is a dancing fool and Hidehiko is an annoyingly cocky. Fortunately, you have some choice in who joins your team, which adds a little replay value to Persona.
Actually, there’s a whole second quest in Persona to discover, if you take the time to find it. The Snow Queen quest, a grueling trek through dungeons with a different plot, is included in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. And its easier to
suffer play through. Thanks to the quicksave feature you can take breaks through hours of grinding.
On second thought, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is like a remastered director’s cut. The PSP re-release has new for North America content and a faithful localization old and new fans will appreciate — if they don’t mind dungeon crawling.