Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Updated Impressions

We get an updated look at the persona-summoning game that started it all.

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In the past 12 years, the Persona spin-off series has garnered a rabid fan following. But for new fans who want to start from the beginning, it's not easy to get a hold of the original game. Atlus is once again relocalizing Persona for North American audiences, but this time, it will be on the PlayStation Portable with new additions and slight gameplay changes. At this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, we were only able to play through a brief battle sequence, but an Atlus rep came by our office recently to walk us through the intro and go over some of the familiar battle mechanics.

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For those who discovered the niche series with Persona 3 and 4, one important thing to note is that the original Persona is more of a traditional role-playing game than an RPG/social simulator. The original set the tone of the series with its dark and eerie storyline, as well as the introduction of personae: spirits that can be summoned by a character to aid in battle. Persona's story begins with a group of high school students who--through some bizarre circumstances--get knocked unconscious by a mysterious force and wake up with the ability to summon their own personae. You play as one of the young students (whom you will get to name) who wakes up in the school's infirmary with a newfound power. One of your first thoughts is to see your friend Maki, a frail, bedridden girl who has spent much of her life in the hospital. Things start to get a little strange here because the hospital is suddenly invaded by demons and the sterile hallways turn into a maze where random battles await.

Persona feels like an old-school RPG, especially when you're navigating in a first-person view down the long, empty corridors, but the rest of the game is in the third-person view. A helpful minimap is displayed in the bottom corner to help track your progress through the area while fighting one random battle after another. The frequency of battles and difficulty will be the same as in the Japanese version of the game. The reasoning behind this has to do with the fact that Atlus wanted to keep the difficulty at the same level as the original. Fights are turn-based, but if you're grinding or uninterested in paying much attention, you can have the AI take over or set your own criteria, letting the battle unfold automatically and quickly. During these auto-fights, animations are skipped so battles will go by extremely fast. This is a nice feature if you don't want to micromanage every encounter and make it less tedious for those who don't like grinding.

You don't always have to fight when you come across demons though. To recruit personae to fight on your side, you can contact a demon during a fight and pick from a list of verbs to change its mood. The demon's traits, as well as mood level, are displayed onscreen so you can decide whether you want to sing to it or bully it into joining your team by raising its eagerness level. If you can raise the demon's eagerness, it will leave you its tarot card and the battle ends. By making it happy, the demon may leave behind helpful items so it's always in your best interest to encourage it to be happy or eager. We're not even sure we want to know what happens when a demon becomes angry or scared. Sometimes you'll have to give up your own items or health to seal the deal, but recruiting new personae is important for potential persona fusion.

Summon your persona to do all the dirty work.
Summon your persona to do all the dirty work.

Animated cutscenes, as well as voice acting, have been added to this version to help bring the bizarre story and its inhabitants to life. The dialogue has been relocalized by the current Atlus team, and the game is now in widescreen with higher resolution art. Other changes include a new over-world map and a new interface that will display more helpful information. The circle button can be used to run, and the start button will skip summoning and speed up battle animations. Fans will notice that Persona's soundtrack has also received a makeover. The music has been entirely redone by Shoji Meguro, so it's going to have that Japanese pop vibe, which is similar to the recent Persona games. Atlus also announced that the original Japanese soundtrack will be bundled with the game when it ships. One last addition--which will only be noticeable to those who were familiar with the Japanese version, as well as the original North American version--is that the snow queen quest has been re-added.

Our time with SMT: Persona was brief, but we were happy with what we saw and hope to get more hands-on time in the following weeks. It's great that Atlus is bringing these older games to the handheld so that a new generation of Persona fans can play them for the first time. Look for Shin Megami Tensei: Persona when it is released September 22.

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