The game takes place entirely within a small part of urban real estate. You move around a large over world much like you would in Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, only instead of caves and castles it's a police station and an abandoned factory. On top of the overhead map, there are a lot of different buildings and areas you can explore. Generally when you enter a building the game switches to a rather jarring first-person perspective. This perspective change reminded me of the original Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System and a lot of the early generation PC role-playing games.
When you're not in the first-person perspective, you will find yourself exploring rooms and talking to people from a isometric overhead angle. From a visual point of view this is all good, but it doesn't translate well to the D-pad. To walk in the direction you want to go you will need to use the diagonal buttons, which isn't where the PSP excels. I found it easier to use the analog stick to control the character, but even that is fraught with problems. I really wish that Atlus would have addressed some of the control issues when recreating it for this handheld system.
As I mentioned before, this PSP version of Persona has been enhanced in almost every way. I was happy to see that all of the names have been preserved, the script has been rewritten to better reflect the original Japanese story, they added back in much that was edited out of the original American release and there are a great deal of good looking (and sounding) cinema scenes. On top of all of the much-needed changes, the game also adds a lot of new content, including more dungeons, items and puzzles. One of the additions (the Snow Queen scenario) has the potential to literally change the course of the game, something that will make some adventurers want to play through it a second time.
Unfortunately there's one thing that didn't get much of a make-over: The visuals! While the game has been altered to take advantage of the PSP's widescreen display, it's impossible to ignore the outdated graphics. All of the characters are small and kind of look the same, while the world is full of repeating textures and weird scaling issues. That's not to say the graphics are bad, but they don't represent the level of detail that has gone into upgrading every other element of this game. I would hate to see people turned away from this amazing game simply because the graphics look like they're from 1996.
Once you get to know these characters and get wrapped up into their plight you will forget all about the dated visuals. This is a game that takes no time getting going, offering a speedy pace right from the get-go. Within minutes of starting the game you'll have a mystery to solve and somebody to talk to, which is more than I can say for many recent RPGs I've played through (I'm looking at you The Last Remnant). But just because the story zips right along, that doesn't mean you'll always know what you're doing and where you're going. I found myself constantly confused as to what my next objective was. Thankfully I was able to work my way through, but it's not always clear what you're supposed to be doing.
Playing Persona now makes me sad. Oh sure, it's an amazing role-playing game that should be played by just about every adventure-loving gamer, but why did it take so long to do properly in the U.S.? Had the American arm of Atlus simply followed this playbook thirteen years ago, Persona would have been a household name by now. But instead they neutered what turns out to be one of the most original and inventive role-playing games I've ever played. I'm happy that I finally have a chance to play this incredible game (on a system that is perfect for this type of experience), I only wish everybody involved could have gotten it right from the get-go. Still, as apologies go, Shin Megami Tensei: Person for the PSP is a damn good one.
Proving once again that the PSP is the place to go to get your favorite obscure old school role-playing game, Atlus offers us Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. This thirteen year old remake not only improves on the original in every way (except for the graphics), but quickly becomes one of the system's top adventure games. With its cast of likable characters and a lurid present-day storyline, Persona PSP is not to be missed!
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