Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Review
If there is one thing gamers can be counted on to love, it's nostalgia. For whatever reason, we continue to buy and re-buy new versions of games that we've not only played before, but in most cases, we've played a number of times before. Just look at how many different versions of the original Final Fantasy are available and you'll see what I mean. Having "played it before-itis" isn't what contributed to Atlus redoing the PS1 game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. The decision was made, no doubt, by the legions of fans who ate up and swear by Persona's third and fourth chapters, both latecomers released in the final months of the PS2, but a new classic in the minds of more than a few RPG fans. Surely gamers would plop down the cash to experience the very beginning of the Persona story, right? After playing this game, all I can say is that I hope not. Warning: I'm going to make some enemies with this review.
What makes a great RPG? If you said characters and story, you're right. Persona doesn't really boast either of those things. The game begins with some Japanese high school kids playing "Persona," which is, to the best of my knowledge, kind of like chanting "Candyman" in front of a mirror fire times. Well, it turns out there is some truth to that, and before long, the characters are using their Personas (kind of disembodied spirits of each of the characters) to fight demons and take down Evil Corporation #279,341 (that's not the real name, just me being sarcastic). Aside from the Persona aspect, this is a story you've heard no less than three or four times before.
The characters have a little more going for them. Each of their personalities plays heavily into the gameplay (more on this later), and the new translation of the original Japanese text helps flesh them out a little more than they were in the PS1 original. But we both know the Japanese teen group cliche is becoming about as common as copying the personalities of the Space Marines from 'Aliens.' From beginning to end, the interactions within this group are a lot like those in the found in the film Battle Royale, only a lot less interesting.
But a rehashed story and cookie cutter characters aren't what does this game in. The gameplay itself is far more responsible for dragging this game down. First, things are presented in an isometric, slightly tilted overhead view. I'm a big fan of this perspective (Final Fantasy Tactics, Jeanne De Arc, Scurge:Hive), but the character controls are stiff and counter-intuitive, making the simple act of walking around and talking to NPCs a maddening chore. Even after hours of playing, I still had to second-guess myself about what pressing down on the d-pad would actually do. Now that I've mentioned it, I STILL can't remember whether that action makes the character move right or down. If just moving your character is a frustrating guessing game, it couldn't get much worse, right?