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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: UMD
Release: US 09/22/09
Japan 04/29/09



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Elly, why do hot dogs come in packages of ten but hot dog rolls come in packages of eight?
 
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New anime cutscenes punctuate key plot points.
 
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The overland has received a lovely visual upgrade.
 
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Battles can be quite involved.
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Neal Chandran
Hands-On Preview
08/25/09
Neal Chandran

When I played Revelations: Persona on the Playstation, my initial impression was that it is a very strange, yet compelling and fun RPG. I played it to completion multiple times back in the day because I loved its unique modern setting, characters I could relate to, and the use of darker occult themes and demonology. What I (and other fans) did not love was the overly Americanized localization, the alteration of the character art (one character was infamously changed from Japanese to African-American), and the omission of the game's alternate story branch: the Snow Queen Quest. Persona is now a popular RPG franchise, rather than the underground cult hit it was over a decade ago, and the original has been remade for the PSP. US audiences can finally experience Persona as it was meant to be localized.

The new remake now meets the gold standard of localizations. The dialogue flows well and the characters have plenty of personality. Gone are any Americanizations. The game is set in Mikage-cho (not Lunarvale) and the characters have their original Japanese names and character art. In other words, the main character has long black hair (as opposed to short red hair), and Masao "Mark" Inaba is not black. Some nods to the original localization are still present, such as "Mark danced crazy" - Persona's equivalent of "You spoony bard!"

As mentioned above, US fans were not happy about the omission of the Snow Queen Quest in the original localization of Persona. The Snow Queen Quest is an alternate story branch that opens up after some specific criteria are met in the early portions of the game, and import gamers say it is very difficult. Happily, the Snow Queen Quest is fully intact in this remake and I will verify its difficulty in my upcoming review.

This remake also contains some nice upgrades from the original. The cutscenes have been dramatically upgraded into the smooth anime/CG blend the series has been known for since Persona 2. The new opening sequence is gorgeous, and it has some nods to the original opening, though some fans may prefer the original's more quiet emotional imagery. Environments and sprites are now rendered in higher resolution than before, and scrolling in the first-person dungeons is smoother and faster. The best graphical upgrade, however, lies in the overland. Gone is the mass of grey blocks, and in its place is a lovely pre-rendered map that makes Mikage-cho look like the sinisterly charming small city it is.

The soundtrack has been given the Shoji Meguro touch. Many pieces sound like the original tunes with crisp new arrangements, but there are plenty of replacement tunes in the same pop-vocal style Shoji Meguro used in Persona 3 and 4. Once again, fan opinion can go either way with this, especially since Persona had a fantastic soundtrack to begin with. Personally, I'm disappointed at not hearing some of the old pieces I remember so fondly, but I am quite happy with the new, more appealing battle theme. And since fans will ask the question, I'll tell you right now that yes, the Satomi Tadashi song that plays in the pharmacy is still as goofy as ever. There is also more voice acting than before, particularly during the newly-created anime cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game.

The gameplay is largely unchanged from the original, but it has some upgrades as well. There are three difficulty levels to choose from: Beginner, Normal, and Expert. Regardless of the difficulty, the labyrinthine dungeons will definitely challenge players and have them frequently checking the automap. The turn-based battles occur randomly and players will have to strike a happy balance between striking enemies for EXP and striking up conversations with them for a share of their powers. If an enemy's full interest is gained via effective negotiation, they will offer "Spell Cards" that can be taken to Igor in the Velvet Room to be fused into personas - the summoned spirits based on mythological figures that hold the key to the characters' offense and defense. Not only will characters dispatch enemies with their personas, but they can equip both a melee weapon and a firearm as well. In terms of interface upgrades, the menus are more intuitively laid out and easier to navigate than before. There are also more save points in dungeons than I remember, and a Quick Save feature has been added. This should make older fans quite happy, since the original was stingy with save points.

So far, I am thoroughly enjoying this trip down memory lane. The various upgrades given to this game make the experience smoother than I remember it, without watering down the original formula. Persona for the PSP crazy dances onto retail shelves September 22nd, so there is still time to get those preorders in.



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