SMT: Persona

Review

posted 9/23/2009 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: PSP
With the release of Star Ocean: First Departure and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, the PSP is quickly turned into the system of choice for cult favorite adventure games.  Not to be outdone, Atlus has stepped up with a remake of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, a little played PlayStation-era role-playing game.  With its unique story and modern-day settings, there's a lot to like in this remade Persona.  But at the same time there are more than a few quirks I wish could have been addressed in the thirteen years since its original release.

Persona has always been one of those role-playing games I've always intended to go back and play, but never seemed to find the time.  I remember seeing it in magazines, but then hearing the negative press about the poor localization and all-around butchering of the story.  These stories (and the fact that companies all around the world didn't stop making games for me to play) kept me from experiencing an enthralling world full of likeable characters and wicked evil.

Persona tells the story of a group of St. Hermelin High School students who one day discover that they have a rare power that lets them summon powerful "Personas".  Soon enough the kids find themselves embroiled in a convoluted story that involves the head of the SEBEC Corporation inventing a machine that allows people to go from one dimension to another.  Unfortunately everything gets out of hand and the entire town starts to change.  In other words, it's the storyline of Fringe combined with turn-based combat and teenagers.

All joking aside, the game's set-up is strong and I'm a sucker for role-playing games set in the present day.  Like most Japanese role-playing games, the pacing is slow towards the beginning, stringing you along with hints and suggestions.  But soon enough you'll have full control over your team, allowing you to buy new weapons, customize characters and create brand new personas.

The personas in question work like magic spells.  You summon your big, mean-looking persona and they attack in all kinds of devastating ways.  Early on everybody is given their own persona, but soon enough you'll be able to craft new summons that are more your style.  On top of having large characters shoot out of your body, you can attack with both a traditional weapon (sword, knife, bow and arrows, etc.) and a gun.  The whole thing goes down in a turn-based battle to the death, where each side goes back and forth choosing attacks, using items and summoning their personas.

Like the characters in the game, there's more to Persona than what meets the eye.  At first it looks like just another turn-based adventure where you have to put up with random encounters.  But look deeper, because there's actually more than one way to win a battle.  You can go in, swords out and guns-a-blazing, that will certainly get the job done.  But maybe you can work out your problems in a conversation.  Have you ever thought about coming to an understanding without worrying about blood splatter?

Although simple to learn and understand, the concept was so foreign to me that at first I didn't know what to do.  Here was a game that was actually wanting me to use my words, that's such a rare occurrence in a marketplace filled with attack first, ask questions later.  The idea is that you choose a stand hoping that one of your opponents will see eye to eye.  You'll find that some unruly monsters are susceptible to sarcasm, while some of the women ghouls are easily flattered.  Although it may seem useless at first, you'll quickly discover that you can earn items and money from these negotiations, as well as scaring off the more timid bad guys.

As I played deep into this 40+ hour adventure, I found myself approaching each battle a little differently.  This isn't one of those games where I would just mash the "X" button until everybody on the screen is dead; I actually planned out my strategy beforehand.  Sometimes I just needed to level up, so I ran around the haunted corridors and had the computer play for me automatically.  Other times I made sure to negotiate with the baddies.  This freedom really opened up the combat, something that is rare for such copied formula.
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