Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Preview
The PSP has turned out to be a fantastic platform for RPG fans: not only do new (and top-quality) titles arrive on a consistent basis, but we’ve also seen examples of older role-playing classics remade for handheld owners. This fall, you’ll be able to lay your hands on another great remake; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, which began the critically acclaimed franchise that has been going strong for over a decade. However, if you’ve only recently jumped into the world of Persona with recent PS2 installments, you should realize that the “social simulator” you see on display in those games didn’t exist in the first few titles on the PS1. In other words, you won’t be managing social events and activities that have a direct impact on your character advancement; Persona is set up more along the lines of a traditional RPG. However, you’ll still be in control of high school students (a recurring theme in the series), and you’ll start your atmospheric adventure with a new and mysterious power. From there on in, you should enjoy one of the better RPGs of the PS1 generation.
There’s a great deal of the “old-fashioned” in this remake, which should appeal to all fans of the original iteration. For instance, you will explore in a first-person view but the rest of the game is played from a third-person format, and that includes the combat. Random battles are the name of the game, as they often were in those days, and according to a recent GameSpot hands-on session, both the “frequency of battles and difficulty will be the same as in the Japanese version of the game.” As for the fighting itself, you likely won’t be shocked to learn that it’s strictly turn-based; even more so than a few of the recent installments in the past. However, if you get a little tired of the level grinding at some point and you wish to speed up the process, you can just let the AI take over. See, Persona contains a feature that lets you put your characters on auto-pilot during any given battle, and in this mode, we can skip all unnecessary animations. On the other hand, if you’re a true RPG aficionado, you’ll likely want to manage every last aspect of every encounter, so the Auto-AI won’t be an oft-utilized option. After all, we play RPGs for the intricacy of the experience, right?
And this brings us to another staple of this entertaining and original franchise: the recruitment and usage of demons. You will usually have the option of either fighting or recruiting and if you’d rather have the enemy on your side, you must find a way to alter the demon’s aggressive mood. That mood level, along with the creature’s traits, are right there on your screen; depending on the situation, you will want to either tempt it or bully it into submission. The goal is to raise its “eagerness level” and if it gets high enough, the demon will choose to join your team and leave its Tarot Card behind for you to collect. Of course, this is a delicate process, which is half the fun. If you take the wrong approach, you can easily cause a demon to become frightened or angry, which means you won’t complete the capture, and even worse, you risk fresh rage and reprisals. But it’s certainly worth the risk, as the follow-up procedure of Demon Fusion is almost as addictive as the base gameplay itself. This also requires much in the way of micromanagement, attention to detail, and even luck, but that’s why this complex system has always been a big draw for hardcore RPG fans.
If you’re wondering about the new content that is always destined to arrive in these remakes, you’ll be happy to know that new cut-scenes and voice-acting has been added to this PSP version. The new Atlus team has even gone so far as to “relocalize” the dialogue, and with the inclusion of widescreen viewing, Persona should feel like a whole new experience, even to those who have fond memories of the original. GameSpot tells us that the Circle button will now be used to run, the Start button will let you skip the summoning animations during combat, and the soundtrack even represents more than a few new pieces of music. In fact, the entire soundtrack has received an overhaul by Shoji Meguro, which means we’ll get a distinct J-Pop style (and this fits with the musical attitude of recent Personas). This remake should be perfect for those of you who enjoyed the first title way back in the day, and if you’ve never had the pleasure, don’t discount it due to its old-school format. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPGs that focus more on storyline and character development rather than using “freedom” as an excuse to sacrifice a quality plot, you should definitely give it a try. PSP owners certainly have a diverse library to select from, don’t they?
7/13/2009 Ben Dutka