Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona: Portable Persona
Company: Atlus

I'm fairly confident I can say a decent chunk of the current Shin Megami Tensei audience began with Persona 3 or one of its multiple spin-offs. Then again, it could just be the story behind my relationship with the series. It started with Nocturne and, well... it was enough to get me hooked. The problem with coming into such a long-running series (relatively speaking) is it is hard to get your hands on the original game. Once again, Atlus comes to my rescue with a rebuilt version of the original for the PSP.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona shares some of the same DNA with Persona 3 and 4, though it is likely fans will find the original is completely different from other games in the series. Although the game still revolves around a school and its demon-summoning students, there are none of the social aspects like the ones found in later titles. Persona is more of a straightforward RPG, but with a twist in perspective. Battles and "conversation areas" take place in 3rd person, while exploration is handled via a 1st person view. Interaction within the level is limited to opening doors while in 1st person, though it makes for an interesting way of getting around. Areas are large, though the view's travel speed causes them to feel smaller.

The grand holdover from RPGs of the past - random encounters - is in full swing while exploring the game's labyrinthine environments. Like current games in the series, you aren't forced to fight in every battle. During fights, you can contact demons, hopefully recruiting them to your side. All demons have traits and mood. Performing actions will appease these traits, raising their affinity towards you. Sometimes this is as easy as bullying or joking with the demon, though there are times where you may need to offer it a gift from your inventory (like health potions) to seal the deal. If you can make the demon happy, it will leave and drop an item. However, your ultimate goal is to make it eager, causing it to join your crew.

Story-wise, Persona is every bit as mysterious and "otherworldly" as other games in the series. It all begins with a group of students playing a "Bloody Mary"-like game (you know... where you perform stupid actions attempting to summon a spirit) in the school's basement. The game doesn't work - or at least it seems like it doesn't work - and the students go about their day. Soon after, you pass out and wake up in the infirmary thinking of your friend Maki, who has spent most of her life in-and-out of the hospital. After your visit, demonic forces consume the hospital, trapping you inside. The attack also awakens your personal demon, a persona, giving you a fighting chance of getting out.

Story is told mostly through text boxes, though you'll get a few rendered sequences for big events. You'll have to wait for the full review for my thoughts on the visuals because, quite frankly, I haven't decided if I like the look yet or not. The style is all-SMT, all-the-way, but the technical aspects are a bit of a put off. Everything is sharp, but the funky, "90's rendered" look seems a little too Gumby, at least during story sequences. The soundtrack, which is a sort of a mix of JRock/ JPop makes up for some of the graphical issues. It's incredibly catchy and a good reason for players to pre-order. Atlus will include the soundtrack with copies of the game.

The good news is the visuals are the only part of Persona I'm not digging so far. Even though the gameplay is a bit of a step back compared to the series' modern entries, so far it doesn't feel like much of a downgrade. Look for a full review next month.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
Related Links:

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.