The PlayStation 1's Revelations: Persona was one of the first Shin Megami Tensei games released in the U.S. Compared to most modern translation efforts, though, Revelations: Persona was ... somewhat lacking. A large number of changes were made to the game, and most of those were considered universally for the worse. All of the characters were "Americanized" in some way, and the artwork changed — in some cases, dramatically — between the original Japanese and American release. Some changes were made to the game's basic gameplay so that it became notably easier. There were even large segments that were just removed, leaving certain plot lines completely unavailable. Thanks to the popularity of Persona 3 and Persona 4, however, American gamers can finally look forward to playing the original Persona as it was meant to be played with the PSP port, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.
Persona is set in the modern day, although with a few twists. Players take on the role of a group of schoolchildren who are attending high school in Japan. A popular rumor at this school involves a mysterious game called "Persona," where a group of people perform an arcane ritual and ask for the power of Persona to be granted to them. Naturally, most people consider this to be a joke, but when your main character and his friends perform the ritual, they find that they've been granted mysterious powers. At the same time, their city has come under attack by mysterious demons, and a number of their friends have gone missing or are in grave danger. It's up to the Persona users to rescue their friends and bring back peace to their hometown.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona's plot has seen quite a few changes from the original Revelations: Persona release. The biggest and most obvious change is that everything and everyone in the game now have their original Japanese artwork and names. Furthermore, everything has seen a complete retranslation to be more accurate and more appropriate with modern-day translation efforts. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona also adds back in the Snow Queen quest, which was removed during the original translation of Revelations: Persona. The Snow Queen quest isn't just a side-quest, but an entirely different path to follow through the game. It adds a significant amount of gameplay, most of which is geared toward "hardcore" gamers who enjoy high difficulty and great challenges. Either way, the game has a number of possible plot variations depending on the choices you make in the game. This can lead to different characters joining your party, and even different endings to the game, a number of which were unavailable in the original release due to the absence of the Snow Queen quest path.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona has more in common with old-school dungeon crawlers than with any of the PlayStation 2 Persona titles. Players use an overworld map to travel from location to location, but when you enter a building, the game switches to a first-person view, and you wander the maze-like hallways, trying to find the various hidden treasures and enemies. If you find a room within the dungeon you're exploring, the game may switch to an isometric view, allowing you to guide your character around that small room and pick up treasures. For the most part, your time is spent in the first-person view. Dungeons are not particularly complex, and the hardest part of getting through them is keeping your characters alive through many random battles. Healing and save points are sparse to almost nonexistent, and you have to master conserving your hit points and magic points in order to survive to the next safe place. PSP owners can make a temporary quick save inside the dungeon at any point, but this only lasts until you start up the game again.
Combat in Persona is a little different from how it is in the later games in the series. Combat is still turn-based, but the Press Turn system introduced in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is nowhere to be found. Instead, combat speed is determined by your basic stats. Both your side of the field and the enemy's side are divided into a grid, and you can position your characters anywhere on your side of the grid to create formations. Different formations have different advantages; certain weapons can only hit enemies if your characters are near the front of the grid, and others can hit from anywhere, but only in slim lines. Depending on where you position your units, they may have better defense against certain enemy attacks. Of course, the same applies to enemies, and some attacks and abilities can only hurt enemies in particular positions. You can keep multiple formations of your characters and switch between them at will.
Your characters also have a wide range of different combat abilities. Characters have a regular fantasy weapon, like a sword, a gun and a Persona that allows them to cast magic. Different weapons have different elements associated with them. Some are classic elements, such as fire or ice, or just "weapon elements," such as "gun." While the Press Turn system isn't present, elemental weaknesses still play a big part in the game. There are a wide variety of different weaknesses that enemies will face. If you want to defeat enemies effectively, you'll need to exploit their weaknesses. Some enemies are immune to many kinds of attacks and can only be defeated if you target their weak points and make careful use of all your abilities. It's difficult early on, but toward the end of the game, you'll find that if you don't keep a good stable of Persona and weapons to exploit enemy weaknesses, you'll have a much harder time defeating foes, as you'll take damage and use more magic power to defeat what should be a fairly easy enemy.
One of the most interesting things about Persona is that combat is not the only way to handle enemies. While fighting plays a big part in going through the game, you can't possibly succeed unless you talk to your enemies as well. One option you can take in battle opens up the ability to converse with enemies. Each character in your party has a number of available options: Some can sing, some can make snide comments, some can bribe the enemy, and some can even lie and try to trick the enemy into believing outlandish stories.
Regardless of which path you take, it will influence the enemy in one of four ways. You can make enemies angry, happy, eager or sad, and each enemy responds to different actions in different ways. A timid monster may get scared if you brag or threaten it, but a brave enemy may get angry instead. Repeatedly conversing with an enemy will fill up one of their four emotions, and once the emotion is full, you'll gain an effect. Depending on the emotion and monster, different things can happen. You may earn free money or experience points from the enemy. They may grant you items, including the rare and valuable Spell Cards, which are required to make new Persona. On the other hand, you may anger them, which will cause them to attack you like a berserker. Conversing with enemies allows you to finish fights without having to fight, and you can earn valuable rewards. On the other hand, you don't gain the same combat experience that you would from fighting enemies, so conversation isn't always the best way to go.
Persona, like the other games in the series, is built around the concept of your Persona, which is a magical being that represents some part of the character's personality and, in turn, can be summoned in battle to grant magical abilities to your character. Persona uses a different system from Persona 3 when it comes to gaining Persona in that you earn new Persona by conversing with enemies. When an enemy gives you a Spell Card, you'll be able to fuse these cards to create new Persona. Every character in the game can change their Persona, and using Persona in battle causes them to level up. The more you use a Persona, the more skills and abilities it learns. If you get rid of a Persona, you'll gain special items depending on the level of the Persona when you get rid of it. You'll also find special Persona to create, which are unlocked by making certain choices in the game or using certain items. While it's reasonably possible to get through the game simply by creating powerful Persona, you'll find that it becomes much more difficult in some of the more challenging dungeons if all you do is making strong Persona. You have to learn which Persona is appropriate for which situation in order to get the most benefits from your magical pals.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is a touch older than the modern Persona games, and as far as basic design goes, it doesn't really resemble them. Despite this, it remains a surprisingly interesting and in-depth RPG. The gameplay is frantic and interesting, encouraging gamers to use strategy, not just pure power, to survive their encounters. The old-school dungeon-crawling gives the game a feel that's unlike most modern RPGs that you'd play on the PSP. Perhaps most importantly, the characters are interesting, and thanks to Atlus' much-improved translation, they make a significantly greater amount of sense when compared to the original Revelation: Persona versions. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona will be available both in stores and via the PlayStation Network on September 22.
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