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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Review

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On 10/09/2009 at 01:17 PM by Nick DiMola

Don't be fooled by the dated presentation, the remake of the original Persona reveals a game that was years ahead of its time.

RPG fans in general should not pass this game up. Furthermore, MegaTen fans should already own this title - though different from other Persona titles, it's nearly as enjoyable, even without the Social Links.

I'll be the first to admit, I have a giant soft spot for the MegaTen series. Moreover, I especially have a soft spot for the Persona series. Persona 3 was the first title in the series I had the pleasure of experiencing and I loved it to death. I eventually went on to purchase and play all of the MegaTen games on the PlayStation 2, and even Persona 2 on the PlayStation. Needless to say, when I heard that the remake of the original title in the series was due for a US release, my interest was piqued to say the least.

I will also say this, I wasn't expecting much. Let's be honest, it's the first game in a series that has seen much refinement over time and it also dates way back to before even the release of Final Fantasy VII. The first person RPG element also seemed very off-putting to me, as it is a decidedly old-school design. Needless to say, after just a few minutes with the game I was absolutely blown away.

Falling in line with many RPGs of its time, Persona features a cast of all teenage protagonists. In this instance, a group of teenagers perform a ritual at the start of the game where they manage to summon their "Personas," a result unexpected by the group. Thankfully this ritual comes in handy as it gives the teenagers the ability to take on the various zombies and demons that subsequently (and conveniently) overrun the world. As the story presses onward players will begin to unravel what caused this infestation, and they will fight the evil corporation SEBEC in order to return things to normal.

American players now have access to a previously cut scenario in the game: The Snow Queen Quest. As an alternative to pursuing SEBEC, players are able to take a branching path mid-game which allows them to explore another ancient ritual involving the mask of the Snow Queen. Again, unexpected consequences ensue, yet this time the teens find themselves in a totally frozen world which they must escape.

In either case, the story and dialog are engaging and well-translated; a trademark of modern day Atlus titles. However great the story though, the real meat of the title comes from its gameplay.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is an unbelievably deep and layered game. As I originally stated, I was expecting very antiquated gameplay, but was met with something much different. Undoubtedly at the time of release, Persona was far ahead of its time, as even today many concepts exhibited in Persona have only been put to use with the MegaTen world.

Unlike other titles in the Persona series, this first title does not offer the same dual experience wherein players build social links as well as dungeon crawl. While there is plenty of interpersonal communication, none of it is a focus of the game, and none of it has any effect on the rest of the play experience. Additionally, there is no presence of any sort of schedule. While the cycle of the moon still plays its part, players will not need to complete tasks within a certain number of game days.

While much of the depth seen in other Persona games was derived from this duality, Persona mainly draws its depth from the combat system. As with most other entries in the MegaTen series, Persona incorporates a battle system built around strong and weak attacks, as well as attacks that inflict a variety of ailments on foes. Unlike the other Persona titles, players will also have the ability to negotiate with demons they are fighting.

Players use their Personas to perform what are the equivalent of magic attacks. Given the fact that each demon has a weakness and each persona has a strength, players can utilize this to more effectively attack demons. Persona also incorporates an attack range and a team formation which will force players to manage their team members' location to effectively attack all of the various demons on the map.

On its own, the strength and weakness system provides a deep battling experience that encourages players to strategically use their team of fighters to attack demons' weaknesses. However, with the presence of the negotiation system, the result is something that is exponentially deeper.

If you haven't played a MegaTen game before negotiation is a foreign concept, but is in actuality a simple process. While involved in a battle, players are given the option to either negotiate with the demons they are faced with, or simply attack. Negotiation will utilize the entire team's turn, but with one round of negotiation, players can "defeat" all of the demons.

The premise is this: Each demon has certain personality traits as well as a current mood. On the flipside, each character in your party has certain negotiation skills. Given the demon's personality, players must use the optimal negotiation skill to either frighten them or make them happy, causing them to either lose some number of turns or leave the battle. Players can also interest the demon, which will cause them to forfeit their Spell Card, or anger them, making the battle harder (yeah... try not to do this). Earning a Spell Card will complete the battle, regardless of what foes are left on the battlefield.

Each demon type has a single Spell Card which can be used to either ward off the demon when spotted in battle, or used in the fusion room, yet another returning MegaTen staple. What this does is allow players to more strategically battle when they have a demon's card. Players can pick a fight with a demon and try to best them to earn experience, or simply pull the card when things get too rough forcing the demon to leave.

Players will also need to eventually sacrifice their card in order to fuse better personas in the Fusion Room. This trade-off provides for just another layer of depth not typically present in JRPGs.

While all of this depth is appreciated, the game does suffer from a few minor flaws. With random battling and labyrinth-like maps, dungeon crawling can become quite tedious. It's also quite strenuous to make your way through the levels completely unsure of where your next save point will appear. This forces a more conservative play style, which has the tendency to further enforce the tediousness.

Thankfully, the game's presentation, though dated, is quite stylish and appealing. The replacement of the interfaces with those similar to the ones found in Persona 4 is a nice touch. The music which has been replaced in certain spots and remixed in others by Shoji Meguro (composer for Persona 3 and 4) is also quite excellent. Given how often most of it is replayed, it's amazing that it never grows tiring to listen to.

Overall, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is the definitive version of the game. It's a perfect example of how a remake should be done, and it's a shining example of an older title that still holds up to today's standards.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Emperor Pilaf

10/13/2009 at 11:59 AM

I think it's much better that this game doesn't have the repetitive school schedule, there's much more action.

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