I fondly remember (vaguely) when I first played Persona on the PS1. Ever since, I have enjoyed delving into the twisted franchise. The wonderful people at Atlus have done me (and the entire gaming world) a huge favour by updating and re-releasing the original title on the PSP.
High schoolers will do as every other student has done before them, and St. Hermelin High students are no exception. There is a rumor going around that by performing a special chant you can summon otherworldly creatures known as Personas. The game begins with a group of students, including the main lead who you will name, playing this game at school and passing out when they witness a crying girl in the middle of the room. They wake up and are sent by the school nurse to go to the local hospital for a check up, and encouraged to visit a girl from their school (Maki) who has been in hospitalized for over a year.
Shortly after arriving at the hospital and a brief visit with Maki, a lunar haze covers the town. Demons and evil creatures appear everywhere, with the exception being the high school. Upon first facing a group of demons, our group of students discover they all had the same “dream” when they passed out, and now have the ability to call upon Personae to assist them in battle. And in a miraculous turn of events, Maki seems to be completely fine. Oddly enough, she has no recollection of even being hospitalized. There is definitely more to Maki than the students realize, and soon they discover secrets that SEBEC, a local and very sinister corporation, has created a machine that allows people to travel into an alternate dimension. (I want to add here that the Snow Queen side story which never made it to North America in the PS1 version of Persona is available to play in this version, which is another big plus.)
Always controlling your main character (who I named Tsuki Yuki, since there is already a character named Yukino), you become the party leader. Other characters will join him or split off when you reach certain points in the story, but for the most part there are almost always others in your group.
When you encounter demons in random battle, you are first given your main battle commands: Fight, Contact, Analyze, Form, Auto, and Escape. Some of these are self explanatory – Analyze lets you see the HP/SP and other important information available on the enemy you scan, Form lets you choose the formation your characters take in battle (moving stronger players to the front, weaker in back, etc), and Escape gives you the option to attempt escape from battle, which is not always guaranteed.
Fighting is pretty simple and follows the basic guidelines of any RPG: Attack, Shoot (option to use firearm once you acquire them), Skill (call on your Persona to perform magical moves, such as elemental attacks or healing spells), Persona (assume a different Persona to battle with), Item (use an item to assist in battle) and Guard (defensive position to lessen damage from attacks, does not attack).
The most useful thing you can do is choose to Contact demons at the beginning of each encounter. If you negotiate with them properly you can get items, money and most importantly Spell Cards, if they are eager enough. Spell Cards are necessary for forming new Personae to equip your cast with. Happy and Eager demons will give you items, Scared ones will run away, and Angry ones will just get more peeved with you and send you straight into battle. When Contacting a demon whose Spell Card you still have in your possession, they will remind you that you have their card and leave the battle. You can always get a card from them again, but not until you have fused their card with another in the Velvet Room.
Ah, the Velvet Room. A staple in every Persona game, it is here where you visit Igor and combine Spell Cards to create new Persona. Igor will assist you in matching up the right cards to fuse or you have the option to do it yourself. You may also add items into the mix, selecting from any items that you currently have available. Keep in mind that as you unlock stronger Persona, your characters must be leveled enough to support them. While its great to create a level 20+ Persona within your first 20 hours of play, you might not be able to use them for a while. Also, make sure to assign Persona evenly amongst the team. You don’t want to have three strong players down and depend on a weaker character that you have neglected before you can save and heal!
While the characters and cut-scenes have been updated, the game play remains the same. Some people will not be overly fond of the first person view as you wind through the dungeon maps, however, the nostalgia factor outweighs redoing the dungeons, in my humble opinion. The maps are easy enough to follow, as they highlight yellow with little footprints as you walk on sections of the floor. You can expand the map by pushing the Square button to see the floor of the area you are on. I also recommend using the directional keys instead of the nub for moving your character. There were too many instances of walking the wrong way or getting turned around because the nub registered where I wanted to move incorrectly.
Because Atlus loves their fans, they’ve thrown in the 2 disc soundtrack for you to listen to in your car or as you are cleaning your room. I will admit that the soundtrack is catchy and one of the best out there. I also have to say that while you are playing the game, you may come to dislike the music and turn your volume down. As much as I love Persona titles, they all have the same problem of overplaying the songs. There is one song in the background when you are traveling on the map, another song for battles, etc. Having to listen to the same song on loop over and over while you are searching through a five story building can and will definitely get on your nerves. I have had many nights of waking up with a song looping in my head.
Buy. This. Game.
There are not many PSP games that make me run out to buy them, but this was one of them. If you want something with substance, humor, and an intriguing story, then Persona is right up your alley. That said, if you can’t stand random encounters in maze dungeons, maybe this isn’t for you. But if you are a fan of Persona 3, FES or P4, then you definitely should pick up and play the title that started it all.
My favourite part of Persona hands down is messing around with fusion in the Velvet Room. There are so many combinations of cards with or without additional items for you to discover, and creating ones that work well with your team is not only important but a lot of fun to mess about with. My second favourite part is Contacting the demons. I love seeing the various reactions they respond with and trying to figure out who the best person to negotiate with each type is. So glad I picked this one up. Now if Atlus would re-release Persona 2…. *hint hint*
(Reviewed for GamingAngels – Nov 16, 2009)