Persona Review

Overall: 8.6 Graphics: 7.7 Sound: 8.9 Theme: 9.0 Translation: 6.0

I first found Revelations: Persona when I was looking for a good Playstation RPG, still with the bad taste of Beyond the Beyond in my mouth. I was brought in by the odd setting (more on that later) and kept in by the demon negotiation and persona creation.

First, I’d like to note that this game came out before Final Fantasy 7, so if you are looking for incredible 3-d animations, you’re out of luck. However, the hand-drawn graphics of the majority of the game are quite nice. Characters have well-drawn portraits, and the “personae” that can be summoned in the game are also quite nice. Demons are vibrant and varied in size and shape, from toilet-inhabiting ghosts to succubi.

The mechanics of the game differ a bit from the standard for the genre. The main difference in the game, for which the game is named, is the “persona”. Persona are assigned to an individual character, and work as a sort of temporary set of abilities and stat bonuses/immunities. For example, some personae grant immunity to certain types of magic. Each persona you create starts at level 1, and as they are used they grow in both stat bonuses they give and the types of magic they can use. Another interesting battle mechanic that deserves a mention is that each character has a gun as well as a “sword” (or axe, or bow…), so there are two different types of physical attack. The only caveat is that some enemies reflect bullets, so some caution is recommended.

Another main difference in the mechanics lies in demon negotiation. When you encounter a non-boss, demonic set of enemies you are allowed to negotiate with them. Generally, the most useful emotion you can try to evoke in the demons is interest, although you can also try to make them especially happy or afraid if you just want to avoid battle. If you are successful in getting them interested in you, it is possible to get their “spell card” if you are a high enough level. To make new personae, you need to combine two compatible spell cards. There are several dozen personae you can create through combining the spell cards.

Most RPGs have a fairly standard setting – usually in a medieval-themed past, or a spacefaring future, or a sometimes incongruent combination of the two. Persona, however, takes place in modern-day America, or so it claims; apparently the translators (or Atlus) felt that RPG gamers in the United States wouldn’t be able to sympathize with a plot that takes place in Japan. They didn’t want to do too much extra work, so even a casual observer will notice that, for example, there are shoe-racks in the entrance area of the school, or that there is a Shinto shrine that figures into the plot. One of the characters was also changed to an African-American. In any case, the game takes place in an “American” city called Lunarvale. You (there is no default name for the main character) are a junior at St. Hermelin High School. One day, while playing an odd game called “Persona”, you see an apparition and are struck by lightning. After having an odd dream where you saw a masked man named Philemon, you wake up in the infirmary and are told to go to the hospital for a check-up. Before long, you find yourself trapped in a demon-filled Lunarvale, with only the persona and your friends to assist you. The game also has two different endings, a “good” ending with about 30 hours of gameplay and a “bad” ending that takes place around the 20-hour mark along the same path (apparently the original had a full “other” path to it, which involved staying in the High School at a certain point, which was not translated, giving the Japanese version a total of 3 endings), depending on how you answer certain questions in the game. Unfortunately, the game never really lets you know what you should say, but most of the time it’s pretty obvious.

Speaking of friends, the characterization of the cast in the game is pretty well-done, despite the occasionally questionable translation. The ability to talk to your party members inside any “room” gave the writers the ability to flesh them out and make them believable characters. Even the villain for the first half of the game is made believable when you finally get a chance to talk to him face-to-face.

The sound in the game is so-so, but some of the music is really good. Even though the battle theme sounds like it came out of Mortal Kombat, several themes are very original (The theme for the Deva Yuga dungeon, for example, has talking over the music which actually fits into the music very well, and the Pharmacy theme is quirky Japanese karaoke). Voice acting is pretty sparse (usually amounts to characters in battle saying “Take this!” or “Persona!”), but what is there is pretty good, especially for the time it was made (and the fact that only one voice actor did every single male character’s battle voices).

My main complaint about the game is that there are either too few encounters or too little experience. There was some sort of conversion from the Japanese version, and the U.S. version has fewer battles, but they give more experience – unfortunately, unless you level on your own quite a bit, or get lost in dungeons easily, you may end up like me – 10 levels lower than you should be, in the final dungeon. Another frustration linked with this is that characters gain experience based on what they do – so a character that doesn’t do much damage or heal much will get very little experience. There’s a big balancing factor involved if you want levels to be roughly equal.

Persona is filled with some philosophical themes that usually fall flat on their face due to the translation. The main themes seem to come from Daoism (a quote from Zhuang Zi is featured in the intro), but it seems to be more a general “we live to learn” philosophy.

All in all, I recommend playing this game at least once, even if it’s only to try it out. There are some frustrations involved, but you will also find a very different experience from the standard and a lot of mechanics that aren’t used that often.

(Originally posted: Long ago)

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