Aegis: The First Mission was recently released on Japanese DoCoMo and SoftBank mobile phones for a small fee of 525 Yen ($5.24 USD) and stars Aegis, the android from Persona 3, in an all-new adventure. Although it is far from perfection in any regard, the old adage "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" applies here. As such, its action-oriented gameplay, likable characters, and solid mechanics amount to a fun experience which fans of Persona 3 and Persona 3: FES will certainly enjoy.
The events in Aegis: The First Mission transpire in May 1999 over six days on Yakushima Island, a familiar location to veterans of the original game. In the opening scene, a shipment containing the Anti-Shadow Weapon "Aegis" arrives at the Kirijou Ergonomics Research Laboratory. It is received by Yuu Kimijima, a chief scientist who is in charge of the android's development. Kimijima, a sensitive and idealistic individual, treats Aegis as a human being and adorns her with a red ribbon on her breast. Her warm personality is a distinct contrast to Souta Aizawa, Aegis' head trainer with a dirty attitude and a dirtier mouth, who prematurely awakens the android. Aizawa introduces himself, but becomes frustrated that Aegis cannot comprehend his name. Kimijima admonishes him for his insensitivity; after all, it was Aegis' first conversation, and Aizawa's complacent demeanor and unreasonable expectations could confuse the impressionable android. Aizawa and Kimijima have an interesting dynamic; they share a love-hate relationship dating back to their school days, but still, they remain inseparable friends.
Persona 3 veterans will immediately recognize the name "Kirijou" in the laboratory's name, and naturally, the question "Are there reoccurring characters?" comes to mind. Only two, Eichirou Takeba and Mitsuru Kirijou, appear in Aegis: The First Mission. Takeba has an integral role in the story, although Mitsuru (who is still a child at the time) takes a back seat to the original characters.
The original characters in Aegis: The First Mission are the primary focus of the storyline, the lion's share of which focuses on Kimijima's inner conflict as she comes to term with the nature of her work. Kimijima is visibly fascinated by Aegis' human traits, but has difficulty facing the reality that she is a mere weapon. This leads to some introspective scenes on the definition of life itself, whether man has the right to give (or take) it, and how the "shadows" fit into this equation. Eventually, the noble scientist betrays Aegis and the laboratory, but in the end, she sacrifices herself for the greater good. Kimijima is an interesting character whose role in Aegis: The First Mission is well-developed.
Quite unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. They are all fairly flat characters who mainly serve as a catalyst for Kimijima's development as the focus of the story. Even Aegis, the protagonist, is backed into this corner. At one point, Aegis meets a boy who assists her on the journey. As a result, the two come to be good friends. Later on, the boy is (rather predictably) manipulated by Kimijima in a treacherous event. This serves to draw out Aegis' emotions and reveals her human side. Aegis saves the boy, but in the aftermath, he is not mentioned again. What's worse, Aegis' memory of the conflict is entirely erased. I understand the scenario writers' intentions; Kimijima is a torn character who ponders existence, its value, and its meaning. This thread was well-presented. However, I wished Aegis herself was a more integral factor in the storyline, and since ties to Persona 3 were shallow (at best), I felt that a more substantial connection between the two games was the missing link.
Overall, the story presented in Aegis: The First Mission is entertaining enough, but veterans of the original looking for a deeper understanding of the characters, events, and setting of Persona 3 will likely be a little disappointed.
Gameplay, however, was far from a disappointment. Aegis: The First Mission is a somewhat standard Action RPG, but for a mobile game, it easily exceeded this reviewer's expectations. Aegis has three weapons at her disposal: a gun, a grenade launcher, and a drill. The gun fires in a spread formation and can hit multiple enemies at a time. The grenade launcher focuses on a single, powerful shot, and is rather useless. The drill is a melee weapon that, for the most part, is even more useless than the grenade launcher. I'll elaborate on this uselessness in a moment, though. Each of the three weapons can be upgraded, Rank C to Rank S, for an increasing fee at the laboratory. As the weapons are upgraded, they increase not only in attack power but are also enhanced in other ways. The gun, for instance, can shoot bullets in a wider spread. Aegis also has armor which can be upgraded in the same manner: spending cash at the laboratory shop. Her foot equipment, however, is obtained from treasure chests scattered across the land and in various dungeons. In retrospect, it's somewhat silly to think that the laboratory equips Aegis with an impressive arsenal for battling shadows, but the android scavenges for her shoes on the beach.
In addition to her footwear, Aegis must hunt enemies which come in "original" and "from Persona 3" varieties. Almost every enemy in the game is a "shooter" that sprays bullets at the heroine. Aegis must evade, jump, and return fire in order to defeat adversaries. The lion's share of these enemies are also "flying." As a result, jumping and shooting simultaneously is often necessary to deal damage. On a small phone, this can be a cumbersome endeavor and it is a primary source of the game's challenge. Remember earlier, I mentioned how two of the three weapons are useless? The drill is the worst offender, because in Aegis: The First Mission, melee combat is nothing short of a death wish. Eating enemy fire hurts, and when Aegis collides with an enemy, it hurts even more. Considering that avoiding streams of enemy fire is one of the main difficulties, standing still and "drilling" an enemy to death is far from an ideal strategy. This leaves two weapons, the gun and the grenade launcher. The grenade launcher is useless because, generally speaking, the gun deals the same amount of damage and can cover a much larger area of the map. Although Aegis can switch weapons on the fly, the gun is her best friend from the first encounter to the last boss.
There are several bosses in the game and they are all complete pushovers. Like the aforementioned enemies, they tend to spray bullets at you incessantly, so the best (and simplest) strategy is to run up to their faces, mashing the "fire" button as fast as you can. Naturally, Aegis takes massive damage in this process, which can be mitigated by pumping potions and other consumables. Every boss can be defeated in this simple manner, and since healing items are very cheap at the laboratory shop, absurd amounts of level grinding and/or complicated tactics are never necessary.
If three weapons weren't enough, Aegis also comes with a persona, Palladion, at her disposal. Palladion levels up and learns abilities, four maximum, along with the heroine. Some enemies are immune to normal damage and can only be defeated by the persona's abilities. The first two abilities are unimpressive attacks, but the third ability is a special one. It inflicts "stun" on all enemies in a large radius, making it a practical tool for interrupting enemy fire as you blast back with Aegis. The fourth ability allows her to escape from a dungeon, and using it a second time returns her to the laboratory. There are items available from the start of the game which have the same effect, however, which made me wonder why a more useful "final ability" was not given to the persona.
Naturally, control is of the utmost importance in a mobile game, as cellular phones are small and limited devices. Thankfully, Aegis: The First Mission is quite sufficient in this department. Aegis can be controlled using the directional keys or the number pad. Moving her in a given direction fires her weapon simultaneously, while the '0' key allows her to stand still and attack. She can switch weapons with the '#' key, while jumps are performed with the 'confirm' and '5' keys. It's not exactly flawless, but compared to other mobile games, the control scheme is smooth, responsive, and did not cause me any unnecessary headaches.
Graphics, too, were well-done. For a mobile game, the aesthetic presentation is fairly impressive. Aegis: The First Mission is standard 32-bit fare; there are a fair number of anti-aliasing issues, but again, it is due to the limitations of the medium. Character models are on-par with, say, Final Fantasy VII, and the environments themselves are quite attractive. A beach, forest, waterfall, and a couple 'psychedelic' themed dungeons are a few of the more scenic locations. Palette-swapped enemies are a common sight, but regardless, I had few complaints in this department.
The music, on the other hand, left much to be desired. I started Aegis: The First Mission with fingers firmly crossed for some classic tunes from Persona 3, but alas, I was given one of the most ear-grating musical messes imaginable. The boss battles, in particular, made me hit the 'mute' button on more than one occasion. Despite an uphill battle in the technical sense, the musical composition in this game is, in a word, "meh." Sound effects, on the other hand, are acceptable. They feature an orthodox assortment of weapon noises, footsteps, and so forth; it is not enough, however, to save Aegis: The First Mission from its lowest score in the sound department.
Aegis: The First Mission is not flawless, and it doesn't deepen the characters, events, or story of Persona 3 in a meaningful manner. For these reasons, fans in the western hemisphere: do not lament! You are not missing much. It is, however, ~10 hours of classic gameplay, familiar characters, and solid fun. For that reason alone, I digress to the adage "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," and offer Aegis: The First Mission a limited recommendation.