Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Retro Review

For this review, I’ll be analysing the PSP Version of Revelations: Persona on the PlayStation 1 titled, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.

The PSP remake keeps the plot settings of the original Japanese version, having a more accurate translation, containing fully voiced FMV cutscenes and cosmetically changes some of the UI interface from it’s PS1 counterpart.

Since the whole TBN crew are massive fans of the Persona series, (there’s an ongoing debate about whether 4 or 5 is superior haha) I thought it’d be a fun idea to start from the beginning and see what the fuss is all about.

Being a huge Final Fantasy nerd myself, I’ve only ever dabbled in Persona 5 here and there. So I was curious as to how the original separated itself from other competing titles of the time, in an overly saturated JRPG genre, even back then…

Right out of the gate, Persona introduces that high-school setting the franchise is renowned for. But don’t expect to be doing pop-quizzes or eating giant hamburgers in restaurants a la Persona 5.

St. Hermelin High School is rather a hub for key story scenes to occur, and to catch up on all the gossip from other college students – all that ‘real life simulator’ and ‘social links’ stuff comes later in the series.

The Protagonist in one of the new FMV cutscenes

Akin to classic Shin Megami Tensei games, going back to a first-person perspective from the later entries can be a little jarring. The controls do feel a touch over-responsive, as the protagonist (I titled him his ‘canon’ name, Naoya Toudou) zooms down hallways with the slightest twitch of directional input. There’s even a run button which has Naoya careening down corridors at break-neck speed, with hilariously loud footsteps that sound like a muffled jack-hammer in motion.

There’s even a strafe button you can use when you’ve mastered the navigation controls though, so you don’t have to turn and face to begin moving every time.

Notice I used the words “hallways” and “corridors”, as that’s how this game is consistently presented. There’s no large areas to walk around in, like the Shibuya crossing of Persona 5. Instead you’ll traverse tight, narrow pathways that’ll start to look a little samey on occasion, especially in the dungeons. It does eventually become easier to manage after a while, but what doesn’t is the exceedingly high encounter rate.

As encounters are random, expect to be hearing the main battle theme being played over and over. Although, that’s not actually a bad thing in this case.

Shoji Meguro, the SMT veteran returns and delivers us a remixed OST of the original, with an assortment of new tunes out and out replacing some of the darker ambiences with J-Pop sounding vocals.

I must say I’m a huge fan of the boss fight track, ‘Bloody Destiny’ for its electro-meets-punk vibe – I’d just sit there in battle listening to this epic tune for ages, no cares given.

There’s been some mixed reactions from the Persona community about these new songs, but I think they suit the tone and settings of the game superbly.

I’ll let you guys be the judge of that though.

Back to the encounters; battles play out in a traditional turn-based affair, where you decide your party’s moves ahead of time. You can scan enemy weaknesses, status effects etc. and plan accordingly, using a range of different options including: short-range weapons, firearms, your persona’s skills and even negotiating with the enemy to leave you alone or grant you the opportunity to create new personas.

The ‘Auto’ option saves you from a lot of tedious inputs

To help balance the excessive amount of random battles, an ‘auto’ function allows you to repeat past actions for your entire team, even from previous fights. Also permitting your party to exclusively use physical attacks, guns, auto-act or manually assign their auto-attacks for them.

It’s a small, but much appreciated implementation; some engagements can require a tonne of inputs and it’d honestly just drag out a lot longer than necessary to be constantly cycling through menus, merely for one trivial encounter.

With the multitude of different tactics available in combat, Atlus even incorporated a formation system which further necessitates thoughtful consideration. Each party member’s abilities have a fixed radius to their reach. So for example, your team mate, Maki Sonomura utilises archery to attack from long range. The dilemma is, the game won’t allow you to target enemies in the front row, and thus keeping her in the back line will serve you most optimally.

Making sure your four custom formations are strategically set up are integral for random encounters especially, as enemy placement is different almost every, single time. You’ll also find yourself being ambushed with certain encounters and this also reverses your formation, just so you’re aware.

Now the game itself doesn’t explain much about the battle system or how to persuade enemies for negotiation, and it can leave you scratching your head at a few of its mechanics. Hence, I’d strongly recommend playing along with a guide as it can be a tad overwhelming at first glance.

I didn’t find the hostilities to be particularly hard on normal difficulty, especially since you can heal up between battles with minimal magic cost. The best plan of action I found was to focus on enemy weaknesses and try to exploit them as much as possible.

Outside of combat, you’ll be walking around a bunch and chatting with your friends and associates, with some catchy tunes playing in the background. There is some extracurricular action floating around in the casino, but don’t expect anything near the level of Persona 5’s variety of activities.

Like I said at the beginning, ‘social links’ or anything intricate like that isn’t present in the original title, although you can find some extra hidden dialogue about the place if you’re of the explorer type.

The story is firmly at the forefront and being worked toward steadily, so it doesn’t branch out too much.

The story follows Naoya and his classmates who ‘accidentally on purpose’ awaken their personas (dark alter egos manifested) by playing a children’s chant game, akin to repeating “Candy-man” three times over.

The following scenes thrust them into an alternate reality; demons are now on the loose and they must thwart the evil plans of Takahisa Kandori, who’s taking advantage of the current situation to position himself as a deity.

The story is definitely not Persona 1’s strong suit, and it does start to become too ‘JRPG-y’ towards the end. The typical themes of friendship and not giving in are the leading subjects, but they don’t really go beyond that.

Masao ‘Mark’ Inaba had his skin tone altered to appeal to more Western audiences in the original release

It’s the characters that carry the interest here, specifically the interplay between the trouble-maker with a heart of gold, Masao ‘Mark’ Inaba and his frenemy, Kei Nanjo, the intellectual, cold archetype. These guys provide the moments of laughter and conflict but aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty for each other and their mates, whilst having clashing ideologies that erupt when major plot points occur. Their loyalty to each other, even when they perceive a moral choice differently is highly compelling to watch.

The other main characters are fine but don’t particularly stand out as much. The protagonist, Naoya doesn’t really have a solid connection with the main plot either, his plight being more ancillary to everything else that’s going on. Chisato Kasai, Maki’s best friend has a rather captivating scenario which did catch me off guard, as her character arc is played out with the graceful delivery of a Shakespearean-like tragedy – excellent writing there!

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona contains some exciting, turn-based JRPG combat, music and character dynamics that are highly entertaining to witness. The game-y aspects can come across as dated in certain parts, particularly the constant random encounters and old-school dungeon crawling approach. The overall story does feel a little by-the-numbers too. However, if you are a fan of the Persona series or are looking for another retro game to play, it may be worth your while in seeing how this flourishing franchise began.

Reviewed by Anthony Culinas

One thought on “Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Retro Review

  • I’ve started playing this recently, and it’s awesome!!! Definitely want to see it through

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