Review by Xathael
Reviewed: 04/25/00 | Updated: 04/25/00
A True Masterpiece in Every Respect
Few game players have ever heard of Atlus's rare RPG, Persona. Fewer have ever played it. This is partially because it was never publically acknowledged, and partially because very few copies were released in the United States. It's truly a pity, because Persona is the pinnacle of diehard role-playing excellence, plot originality, engrossing gameplay, and well-developed characters.
Gameplay: 10/10. Absolutely incredible. The Persona system is perhaps the best system of battle/magic/powering up ever devised in a RPG. Basically, you mix various items and spell cards (won through negotiation with demons) to create Persona: warrior incarnations of the countless faces of a character's inner self. Up to three Persona can be equipped to each character, and each of them is a sub-character who gains his/her/its own levels, statistics, and abilities. Being fused with the player, the Persona's skills become the player's, and their statistics and attributes as well. Each Persona is only compatible with characters who have the sort of personality that allows for the Persona's nature. For example, Judgement Persona, which are all angels, can only be used by righteous characters. Demons can only be used by angry, hateful characters. Even once you've raised your Persona to its maximum level, you can morph it into a rare and powerful item, depending on what Persona it is.
Another wonderful, unique aspect of Persona's battles is the concept of in-depth negotiation with the enemy. This is an alternative to fighting in which the player party attempts to either end the encounter peacefully, confuse the enemy, or charm them into forking over items or spell cards (for Persona creation). Each player character has his or her own set of unique negotiation skills, each of which a demon reacts to differently, depending on their personality type.
Yet another positive aspect of Persona's gameplay is the huge variety of skills avaiable in the game, and the diversity of effects they have on the enemy. Each character has their own type of melee weapon (sword, axe, bow), and their own type of gun in addition to their roster of Persona spirits. This huge diversity of skills is well-utilized in battle, because many enemies are either immune to, absorb, or reflect one or more types of attacks. This means that you HAVE to know your enemy to kill them (unlike many RPGs where you can just breeze through most battles without any thought).
Persona also offers an interesting blend of 3/4 overhead perspective where you see your characters walking around, and first person dungeon crawling, as seen in most computer RPGs. A very nice combination, I must say.
Secrets: 10/10. Persona is jam-packed with hard-to-find secrets. There are many, many Persona spirits who cannot be created without finding a super-rare item randomly dropped from enemies (can you say Pink Tail, kids?). A lot of items are well hidden in the environment, too. Opening closets, boxes, and such sometimes results in finding new items. Also, Persona creation holds a vast number of secrets itself. Many Persona can only be created by mixing certain cards with certain items--and there are hundreds upon hundreds of each. It's enough to keep you going for days, if you just want to search for new Persona. I'll also mention that this game has one secret playable character who is extremely difficult to get to join the party. Good luck finding this character!
Challenge: 710. Persona isn't mind-bendingly sadistic when it comes to difficulty, but it's certainly a lot harder than most other console RPGs. Enemy encouter rate is extremely high in dungeons, and without equipped Persona, you won't make it very far. The battles themselves are generally moderate in difficulty level, but a few of them are quite tough near the latter half of the game. What makes the battles tougher than those of most other RPGs is the aforementioned fact that many enemies reflect, absorb, or are null to certain types of attacks, forcing you to plan your battle strategy well. All of the boss fights are a nice, hard challenge. The dungeons themselves are very confusing in areas, and tend to be very, very long. You'll definitely be paying close attention to a map while navigating these dungeons, and luckily, you can access an automap in the game. If you want to thoroughly explore this game, finishing it will take you a good 70-80 hours. How I tire of RPGs that are simple and require no thought to complete. Thank God for Persona.
Storyline: 10/10. I wish I could give this a higher rating than just a 10, because Persona's plot is truly phenomenal. I can't express in words how fed up I get with RPGs that just regurgitate the same old pulp RPG plot and offer little in terms of new ideas or deeper philosophical concepts. Persona does no such thing. Set in a modern day city, Persona takes a new perspective on the term ''epic adventure''. You won't see the usual old RPG cliches happening anywhere in this game. Persona is highly sophistocated, incorporating numerous philosophical elements along the course of the story, symbolism, and so forth. It's gauranteed to really make you think.
Persona is about a handful of normal high school students who happen upon supernatural phenomenon while playing an occult game. After witnessing a ghost appear before them and having a very surreal astral experience in a different dimension, they head off to the hospital to get a checkup and see their friend, Mary, who's suffering from psychological problems and is committed to the mental ward. It's there that the plot picks up when Mary has a psychotic episode, and the town is suddenly overrun with demons and mythological creatures, as well as a number of buildings changing structure. I won't reveal anything more, but I will say that Persona is full of mystery and suspense about just what's REALLY going on behind the scenes, offers some killer plot twists, brilliant concepts, and great characters. Speaking of which...
Characters: 10/10. I was completely amazed at how believable and realistic the character cast was. Each character will probably remind you of someone or another you knew in high school, and always acts true to their character type. What REALLY gets you closely acquainted with the cast is the fact that they're constantly in conversation with eachother or you, regardless of where you are. Talking to the average person in an area does not only result in the usual monologue, but rather in a big conversation. Each character always interjects their opinions on everything, whether it's just talking about the selection of items in a store, during battle, or during a major plot event. You really get to know their interests, feelings, and quirks. Few RPGs are so deep in character development. Furthermore, they all act how you would imagine a normal group of kids would if they were thrown into a nightmarish, dreamlike setting. You get to see a variety of emotion coming from each character, and NONE of them are one-dimensional. A few of them are dynamic, overcoming their own personal ordeals, and a few of them are static (it would be a little unrealistic if they were all tormented, wouldn't it?). Either way, they all manage to grow on you. Even the non-player characters all have interesting personalities and stories behind them. You'll really love some of them, and really love to hate others.
Mood: 10/10. Persona's overall tone is unlike any I've seen. It's usually very mysterious, eerie, and surreal, but always manages to fit the situation and setting perfectly.
Music: 10/10. Persona's music is much unlike the fantasy-type music you hear in other RPGs. Persona's music offers a variety of deep mood music and fast-paced techno adrenaline rush. Much of the music takes a Mannheim Steamroller approach and blends new age with classical instruments, resulting in a truly dreamlike musical experience. Every time I hear a slow, beautiful piano interlude, I automatically think of the Doctor's Office in Persona ^_~ Don't think it's all calm, though...the battle themes and themes in some of the more dangerous dungeons are totally exciting, and will get even the most apathetic person's blood pumping at a fast pace. I can't really compare it to the sort of wonderful music by RPG composers like Nobuo Uematsu, because it's something in an entirely different class.
Sound: 810. Persona has a lot of voice acting during the battles. Some of it's good, some of it's a bit annoying, and some of it's just plain weird. The only reason I gave this category an imperfect score is because it does get a little annoying hearing the same battle cries a couple thousand times in a row. Although, while the player characters don't exactly sound like marines, we need to keep in mind that they ARE high school students, not Rambo. Another big plus to the sound is the fact that all of the attacks sound very realistic. Gunshots vary depending on the type of gun, and all sound exactly like that gun would sound. The melee weapons all sound believable when they slice through flesh, and the spell sound effects are nicely done, too. I also really liked how you can hear the characters' footsteps as they walk through the maze. It added a realistic touch to the experience. In some dungeons where there are other people wandering around, you can even hear vague mumblings and crowd noise in the background. EXCELLENT touch, Atlus.
Graphics: 7/10. The graphics aren't exactly top-notch for the Playstation, but a diehard RPG fan knows very well that graphics mean little in a RPG. Anyway, the graphic quality is somewhere between 16-bit and 32-bit, except for the full motion video that pops up once in a while. The FMVs are few, but are all beautifully eerie, surreal and artistic. Especially the intro FMV. Also, the character portraits that appear whenever that character talks are very nicely illustrated in semi-anime style.
Replayability: 10/10. There are a million things in Persona that one could go back and play again to experience. For one, you can take one of four characters as your final party member. It's great fun to play through again and take someone else just to see how their character develops and acts throughout the game. Also, Persona has two endings, only one of which lets you see the full game. Getting the good ending requires you to answer a number of questions the right way, which you may or may not do the first time around. Finally, even after beating the game, there will still be a TON of Persona and items you will have not found yet, many of which will require you to basically max out your levels to be able to use. It really gives you a lot to do with your gamesave even after beating the game.
Well, all said and done, I should note that my overall score of Persona is a 10. I feel that in a RPG, graphics and even sound and music are not as important as the factors of gameplay, storyline, character development, and originality. It is these most important areas in which Persona really shines and outdoes most, if not all, other console RPGs. Persona is a truly unique, wonderful, and engrossing experience--perhaps the best you could get out of a video game. All I can ask is that you approach this RPG with an open mind, and not expect the same sorts of concepts or events you see in most other RPGs.
If you manage to find Persona (and I wish you luck in doing so, because it's close to impossible)...buy it. If you can find it for rent, it would be a good idea to rent it first, because, like I said, it's very different from any other RPG you'll have played.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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