Boring, repetitive and annoying... but it will make a man out of you!
This is a bad game for the most part. It will drive you crazy, you will curse as you play it and you will probably quit playing it somewhere during the middle, but it's not all bad...
The story is half terrible and half good. The good part is the whole idea behind Personae. A group of students plays a game called "The Persona game", where they run around in circles calling out Personae. Personae are something such as inner demons that some people are able to awaken. These Personae vary according to ones personality. An aggressive Person would have a Persona of a Greek god, while a tender sentimental person would have a Persona of a mythical beauty. These Personae aren't just for show. People who are able to awaken them can use them for fighting, which is what this game is basically about.
Anyway, the students play the persona game, and are suddenly able to use their personae in battle. In battle against what? Other students they don't like? No, evil demons and monsters. Yeah, apparently something else happened at the very same time while the students were playing the persona game that awoke all the evil demons. What are the odds? So the students, because they have nothing better to do, set out to stop whatever caused the demons to start roaming. That's pretty much the story. It doesn't sound so bad does it? Just wait...
What makes this story bad are the characters. All of the characters are incredibly undeveloped. You start of with 5 characters that you know nothing about. You get no back story and no character relationship until the late middle of the game, and by the time you get to it you just won't care. Seriously, during the first part of the game all I could think about was: "Who are these kids?", "Why are they even hanging out?" , "Where are their parents" "Why is one of the guys such a jerk?", "What the heck is up with the main character?".
Heck, the game is actually focused on the only female character Maki and all the other characters are just along for the ride.This is really surprising for a Japanese Anime style game because characters usually have plenty of back stories.
The gameplay is interesting, not necessarily the good kind of interesting. This is a JRPG and for the most part it plays like one. You have random battles, leveling up, using items and a few good additions that make the game kinda stand out.
In battles you have two types of attacks, a persona attack and a contact option. Since every persona is different it will also have different types of attacks. You will have elemental attacks, healing spells, booster spells and such. When you use your persona abilities a lot you will earn ranks which will give you new abilities. This can only be raised till rank 8 which doesn't take that long for any persona. The contact option is quite unique. Have you ever thought while fighting a monster in an RPG why you are even fighting a monster. Can't you just reason with a monster? Well... yes! You can actually talk to a monster to make them leave you alone, give you items or even join you! POKEMON gotta catch them all!
Too bad it doesn't work at all like Pokemon...
When you get a monster or a demon to join you, they give you a spell card. At first, the only use for a spell card is to make that same monster go away the next time you contact them in battle. Only somewhere in the middle of the game will you find out that you can actually fuse 2 spell cards to create a Persona. This makes no sense to me.
If a persona is supposed to be your inner demon that reflects on your personality, why are you able to fuse two random monsters together and use the result as another Persona?
Ok, it isn't really like that. You can't fuse any two Personae unless they match in some attributes. Also not all characters can use the same persona. Some characters are more compatible with one, while others aren't or can't even use them.
While fusing two of them you can also make mistakes which will result in a poorly fused persona. Once a persona reaches its maximum rank you can delete it and get an item out of it. You may think that this system is incredibly complex but you might be wrong. A lot of fusions will result in a same persona and there are only so many tweaks you can do to.
As for normal attacks you have the regular melee weapon attack. This is usually a sword or an axe. Kinda weird, but ok. What makes me laugh every time is when I pull out my 9mm Uzi and kill a bunch of demons. I mean, come on! You summon Personae to use their magic to fight demons and if that doesn't work, you go Die Hard on their ass!
Leveling up your characters is mostly just like in any other JRPG. You gain a level and you gain a few attribute boosts and you move on. You gain 3 attribute points per level and you can only distribute them to your main character, while others get them distributed automatically. You also get Persona Levels which allow you to equip stronger Personae.
Even with all these cool innovations with boosting each character you will never feel the satisfaction of being overpowered. No matter how much you grind (and you WILL have to grind a lot) you will always be in danger of dieing. Some spells can backfire, some enemies are overpowered and sometimes the game just feels like killing you because it's bored. For example, there is a Toilet demon (I really wish I was making this up) who has a self-destruct spell, similar to the "Bomb" from Final Fantasy, that takes all but 1 hp of your entire party. The problem is that the toilet never travels alone so most of time the other monster will finish your party off, and it will be game over. This will teach you an important lesson: Always be in good terms with your toilet!
Navigating through the world is kinda boring as well. You navigate the town through a birds eye view. Here you can go from location to location and stock up on items. The real navigation starts when you enter a dungeon. Dungeon crawling is the basic formula behind navigating in the game. You navigate through mazes of buildings, factories, basements, forests and such. These mazes are incredibly boring. If it weren't for a few rooms in them and a few traps they would pretty much look like mazes you see in a kid's magazine puzzle section (and of course without a battle after every two steps).
The graphics in the game are not so impressive. The battle system and the dungeon system is just a tiny bit more polished them the PlayStation version. The CG cut-scenes look nice and the voice acting is nice when available, too bad you won't really care for them because the characters are "so interesting".
The music on the other hand will make you want to kill yourself.
Before this remade release the authors bragged about this game having a real music soundtrack, and they delivered unfortunately. Every time you fight you will hear the same song which just sucks! It may have been interesting the first 100 times I heard it, but after that you will thank god your PSP has a volume control. And the songs are like those modern anime openings. You know how Japanese artists try to add a few English words every time they sing a song. Well here only a few words are in Japanese and all others are in English and it's not even good English. I mean, after hearing this song so many times I still have no idea what that woman was singing about. You will turn the sound off and probably play your favorite music. I was listening to "Friends" reruns while playing...
So with all the bad stuff I wrote about this game there is something that really makes it stand out.
If you are determined to beat this game you will probably get tired of how repetitive, boring and hard everything is. The game will literally laugh at you every time you get frustrated or when you die. It would be like that game is shouting: "I know I suck and that I'm hard for no reason, but you can't beat me". You will want to beat this game just so you can brag about it. Also this is the first in the series of what will become a great game by Persona 2(3). The battle system is very original even though it's incredibly repetitive. Also, the persona making system can be fun at times. Also, I believe that the PlayStation version is superior to this one.
I know I'm not the only one who thinks like this seeing how I only found 1 decent walk-through and little to no gameplay footage on youtube.
I wouldn't recommend this game unless you want to earn bragging rights to say I beat Persona 1 on PSP. Also if you are looking for a really tough RPG that will make a man out of you get this game. Other then that, stay away from it. It just isn't worth playing this one. Better go and play Persona 2,3 or 4...