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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona

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In the wide world of RPGs, games that offer the same experience as the Shin Megami Tensei series are quite scarce. It’s been more than a decade since the release of Revelations: Persona, a mere piece of the venerable and expansive Shin Megami Tensei (MegaTen) series (though more of a spinoff at the time of its inception) and these days it’s never looked better. Atlus, famed publisher of quirky niche titles that go a long way to satiate our bloodlust for solid roleplaying experiences, has released a special revival of the kooky adventure many of us played as mere tots on the original PlayStation — now for its soon-to-be defunct cousin, the PlayStation Portable.

Revelations: Persona, now working under the guise of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, begins simply enough: something is rotten in the town of Lunarvale. As a popular (unnamed, as is the tradition of the Persona titles) student at St. Hermelin High, you and a group of friends are flirting with the idea of trying out an insidious game that’s all the rage — Persona. Much like our obsession with Ouija boards, Persona is all about summoning the dead to communicate with them. Though attempts have been made many times over to contact a spirit, it’s never actually come to fruition. Today, however, is a fateful day, as what is assumed to be a harmless game summons forth a crying apparition — a young girl.

Startled that the game has actually pulled forth something this palpable, you and your friends are stunned, but before anyone can step back and analyze the situation, the lot of you black out, with the protagonist waking up in St. Hermelin’s infirmary after a strange dream. With this you enter the twisted world of Persona. That little girl was just the beginning, as you soon begin to delve into a dark and twisted world of monsters, the forces of evil, and a darkness that threatens to swallow humanity whole.

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This rendition of Persona is a striking one, and a reminder that when it comes to visual improvements, time is often an ally. The classic RPG has been varnished with a fresh, vivid coat of paint in the form of slick new cel-shaded cut scenes, voice overs, and improved menu navigation as well as a bevy of other (much appreciated) changes. Conversation flows naturally between your party members and NPCs, and this diminutive release of a classic game has been given such loving attention to detail that it’s one of the most impressive reworkings I have come across. Character models are svelte (and their correct race), environments have been given much more detail, and the entire package seems to flow much more smoothly than in the past.

Primarily a strategy RPG, Persona forces you to work alongside strange beasts in order to combat the evils that would threaten your way of life. Latecomers to the party, including those who jumped on board around Persona 3 or Persona 4’s releases will notice that Persona is a much slower-paced game than they have been spoiled with in the series’ present incarnations. While growing up in the 90s as a younger child who had all the patience in the world, I have come to enjoy the frenetic pace of the later Persona titles more than the sluggish — though explosive — battles of the past, and it should be quite easy to understand why.

An isometric grid is now your playfield, rather than the confines of Tartarus or TV locations. Party members are lined up on the side of your screen rather than surrounding baddies, and each player can move several units toward the enemy or around the grid rather than simply running forward, planting an attack, and running back to their starting point. Your party is more than capable of calling forth Personas, though doing so is a much more muted affair than what you may be used to — there are no extravagant animations or flashy decor accompanying the arrival of your deity; attacks are carried out by Personas in the same manner as regular, boring humans. It’s a bit of a shame that no improvements were made upon where the original game falters, as a short animation would have been much appreciated to liven up the mood of battle even the smallest bit. Luckily you can assign auto commands to your party in order to save jogging through the battle menus and toggle a Fast mode on and off that significantly cuts down on time spent wading through the corpses of your enemies.

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When the excessive amount of battling seems to bog you down a bit, the inventive style of conversing with enemies should serve as an interesting pick-me-up. In order to obtain new Personas, you will not be relying on social links or tarot cards. Instead, you’ll need to say the correct thing to the monsters in order to recruit them. Mince words, and you could very well be taking a dirt nap. This livens up the grinding process, and grinding is absolutely mandatory if you want to live to see the end of the game. Be forewarned that the encounter rate in this particular MegaTen installment is particularly brutal. Newcomers to the series should be wary of this fact, and heal and save accordingly, as your progress will be impeded by untimely deaths if you do not take the correct precautions.

Unfortunately, most of your grinding will be done via first-person views in maze-like dungeons that employ shoddy 3D perspectives and in scattershot areas throughout the town. This aspect of the original failed to impress me, and not much has been done to alleviate the process of aimlessly wandering through first-person areas save from a map that you can use in the event that you get lost (which you often will.) An overhaul of one of the worst parts of the game would have been a welcome change, but perhaps minor annoyances such as this are what gives certain games their edge.

Employing a stellar first-person view of explorable areas and the MegaTen style of “pegboard” world maps in which you cruise around a game board-like map in order to advance, it abandons inconvenient mechanics such as overworlds and open exploration via world maps in favor of simplified navigation. Chances of random encounters aren’t reduced, but time spent exploring a massive overworld is cut out entirely unless taken upon yourself to thoroughly examine every locale on the board. Often this is an unnecessary endeavor, as plot details will reveal your next destination at every turn.

While the town map has been given an obvious graphical facelift (as well as characters and menus), it should be duly noted that musical prodigy Shoji Meguro has stepped in to completely make over the existing Revelations: Persona soundtrack into a sweeping, hipper version of its former self. Shimmery vocals have replaced somber tracks, and the new face of Persona is a hip-hop fringed imitation of tracks such as “Burn My Dread,” which are no doubt a breath of fresh air.

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Fans of the later Persona titles would do well to heed the warning that this installment lacks all of the socialization popularized in the latest two adventures. There are no social links, NPCs to befriend, or classes to skip in favor of hanging at the mall to pick up some new accessories. Persona is a true dungeon crawler with the heart of the MegaTen series, and some fans may or may not appreciate this. For the dedicated followers of the almighty RPG, this is a slick renewal of the beginning of one of the greatest franchises ever to hit the industry, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you chose to opt out of picking up a copy.

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