We can’t deny the effect that Persona 3 and 4 had on gamers, most call them the best J-RPGs ever (debatable opinion), they get a lot of attention from their creators and fans, appearing in almost all kind of medias. But people always forget that there are other Persona games before those.
For people who played Persona 3 or 4 first, getting into Persona 1 is kind of difficult, the game has changed a lot over the years, to the point that most people wouldn’t think they are related if it weren’t for the title.
I’ve been a Shin Megami Tensei fan for several years, but I didn’t get introduced to the main series. My first game was Devil Survivor on the DS and the first thing I discovered with that game is that Megaten games are hard, then I played Persona 3 and enjoyed it a lot, specially the social links, and how they affect the game. Some time passed and I got curious about the franchise, and made a research to see the previous Persona games on the PSone and didn’t like them, the things I enjoyed from the sequels weren’t there, and to me, they didn’t have that “Persona” feel like the third one, but after some thought I gave the Persona PSP remake a chance since they tried to make it more appealing to gamers who got introduced to 3 and 4 first (mostly by getting Shoji Meguro as the composer, and updating the UI).
The game starts with you and your classmates in a classroom trying a game called “persona” where you try to summon a ghost girl, after some skepticism, the girl actually appears and everyone gets struck by lightning, upon waking up they go visit their sick classmate, Maki, after their visit, an earthquake occurs and the hospital shapes into a labyrinth with hostile creatures called demons, and they find out they can summon “personas” which they can use to fight these demons.
Battles are done in a classic RPG style with some “positioning” elements, for example, your party can be set in a square grid, and depending where you put them, some attacks may or may not reach the enemies, it is kind of annoying at first, but when you get a feeling on where you should put everyone, and specially with firearms having more range than melee weapons, figuring out the position of everyone is a fun mini puzzle (in my opinion). Only three people can be put on the very front line, since they have to be a square apart from other characters, and when you get spells that attack globally, it is pointless. But what dominates most of the combat are Persona skills, and for those used to the few elements of newer Megaten games (Fire, Ice, Wind, Electricity, Almighty), here, there are Gravity, Ground, Blast and Nuclear (which are now called almighty, but before they could be resisted/drained/repelled) attacks, also, Nuclear attacks are WAY overpowered against enemies that don’t resist it. By the way, it is important to press start during battles to skip animations if you want to complete this game in less than a year (they take way too long).
As for the graphics, I have to say, I like that they didn’t update all of them, I like the character sprites and the first person dungeon crawling graphics, I’m glad they updated the world map, the PSone first person navigation was extremely confusing and slow, in the PSP remake, they changed it to a Shin Megami Tensei Nocture kind of world map, in which you are a marker and move through the map, that saves time.
The music is a hit or miss, I really like it to the point I have the opening, battle and boss battle themes on my cellphone. They are your regular Shoji Meguro’s J-Pop/J-Rock, people often complain about them being repetitive, specially the battle theme (A Lone Prayer) that plays every single time you fight, but I don’t hear that complain in Persona 3 and 4, in which the same issue happens, in fact, people like hearing those songs over and over, well, that’s my case with this soundtrack. It really depends on music taste.
As for changes from the PSone version to this PSP remake, the first change was to eliminate all the localization bullshit that the PSone release had, so no black Mark, no english names, no censorship of demon names and specially, no translation mistakes. They also reverted the low encounter rates and high money rewards from battles that the PSone USA release of the game had, so the difficulty was set back to Japanese standards. And what got more hype for its release: The Ice Queen Quest was added and translated, adding more content. Also they added very well done CGI cutscenes to tell several parts of the story, obviously the music by Shoji Meguro, new and easy to navigate user interface and a suspend function to save outside a save room with a suspend savefile.
Now that I addressed the good things, it is time to talk about the problems:
1- Balance: If you can get your hands on a persona with a nuclear attack, you can pretty much breeze through this game (specially Gozu-Tennoh, that persona is crazy overpowered, huge attack stat and comes with Megidola), except in the end game when it is practically required that you get the ultimate personas for each character, the only times where the game can be a challenge is when you face enemies who repel magic or resist nuclear attacks, and obviously, boss battles, most of them are just damage sponges and some come with annoying 1-hit KOs.
2- Level design: There’s no thought put into the dungeons and levels, they look like someone just made random lines on a paper and decided to put them in the game. Sometimes they change the formula a bit with trap tiles, holes in ground dropping you to a lower floor, automated floors that make you walk automatically, with the sense of incorporating a “puzzle” element to the dungeons, but there is no such thing, it is just an annoyance that make you waste more time and you have to keep in mind avoiding them in the future.
3- Status conditions: This is the single most annoying problem of the game, a problem that almost made me break my PSP, status conditions can stack, at first you would think that it would be awesome, but it isn’t, using status conditions on enemies is worthless, the accuracy of those spells is low, and you’re just making the battle unnecessary longer because you could just have attacked and the battle would have ended. What is most annoying of the status conditions is when the enemies use them on you, specially since those demons come in herds, and all of them do a global status change spell, resulting in your party getting charmed or put to sleep, and the demons keep repeating these attacks, adding a stack to that status condition, eventually making it last another turn, over and over and over, to the point no one in your party can act, and you’re just pressing “escape” each turn in hopes that the game decides you had enough.
4- Escaping from battles: I wouldn’t have a problem with this issue, but the status conditions make this really annoying, because you only have 10% chance of escaping from a battle, I don’t know why they went with this design choice, but I can say it was just for the sake of being a “old school hard J-RPG”.
5- Bad Ending: I simply despise when games do this, specially when you don’t see it coming. Let me explain how this is done in the game: at several boss battles and moments in the game, someone will ask you a question, and depending on how you answer, it will determine if you get the bad ending that cuts the game abruptly with a stupid anti-climatic cutscene or you get the good ending, please note that you have to answer correctly to ALL these ambiguous questions to get the True Ending, and ALSO note that you don’t get feedback if your answer was correct or wrong to the game standards, so you would need a guide to achieve the real ending. If you answer correctly, you get several more hours of gameplay, experience the rest of the game and get to unveil the truth of the story and get to the real final boss. This is frustrating specially since the first time I didn’t know there was a bad ending, and since there is no New Game+ option, you have to play the game from scratch.
6- Negotiating with demons: This a trademark of the franchise, but in all honesty, it was done poorly in this game. Demons have 4 “bars” (more like triangles) when negotiating with them: Angry, Happy, Eager, Scared. Filling all of them except angry will end up in something positive for you (the demon gives you an item, money, heals you or flee), but the most important reward is getting their demon card, which you can fuse with another one and create a persona, and to get one, you need to fill the Eager bar, which is quite the challenge since demons in this game are unpredictable, you can’t use reason to figure out a way to approach each demon, specially with so many options to do so (each character has 4 interactions, like “Bribe”, “Dance”, “Invite, “Sing”, etc) so it ends up being a simple trial and error that ends up in more failure than anything else.
Still, with all its problems, I can’t bring myself to hate this game, I can’t explain why, but this game has a charm that makes me want to play more and more, it might be the worst persona game of the series, but I still like it. Maybe I can qualify it as a “guilty pleasure”, in fact, it is the only PSP game I have with a Special Edition, I needed to have Meguro’s work on my hands that bad.