“Once I dreamt I was a Butterfly”
Y’know, over the years I have watched a lot of different Anime series, read a lot of Manga and played a lot of video games. From this I have come to many conclusions about life. Perhaps one of the most interesting realisations that I have had is that going to school in Japan must be awesome!
Really, it seems like every other school kid in Japan, if the video games, Manga and Anime are to be believed, has secret powers, are trained by Ninjas and spend most of their free time battling the forces of evil, in one shape or another. Take, as an example, Persona. A group of school kids play a silly game in between classes that results in them being able to summon forth aspects of their psyche as independent personal body guards. Of course they don’t realise this until, whilst visiting a friend at the hospital, disaster strikes. This leads to the dead rising and demons walking the streets. Thankfully our teenage heroes discover their Persona powers in the nick of time and head off on an adventure that takes them all across the city. My experience of being at school feels somewhat unimpressive.
The Shin Megami Tensei series is the third most popular RPG series in Japan, after Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Persona is a spin off from this series and has already had a number of installments, with this one being an updated remake of the first that was released in 1996 on the original PlayStation.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect to the game, which even this many years later offers something that seems to be rare amongst RPGs, is the combat system. When I say combat, I actually mean “conflict resolution”. Having played many, many RPGs over the years, I leapt into the game pretty much knowing what to do. When an encounter is triggered, the player chooses an action for each of their characters. This was no problem for me – select fight, select ability to trigger the Persona powers and, if the health gets low, use some medicine to heal. Stomping the monsters was fairly straight forward and exactly what I expected.
It was not until later that I realised I was missing out on one of the most interesting aspects of the “conflict resolution”. In Persona, the player is able to fight, use items and runaway, as you would expect. But they can also negotiate. Yep, that’s right. The player can actually, through a series of responses, talk their way out of a fight, or intimidate the monster so much that they run away. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of fighting to be had. But this option offers a nice alternative, and will be very handy during the games numerous and surprisingly difficult encounters.
Unfortunately this is one of the games flaws. The random encounters, which are quite normal in a lot of RPGs, are so frequent that they become annoying. It seems as though the player cannot move more than five yards without getting attacked by another bunch of enemies. When this is added to the fact that the difficulty level rises quite steeply through the game, it becomes frustrating.
Another thing that is quite evident is the games age. There are three main views in the game. The one showing it’s age the most is probably the first person view that the game enters when wandering through corridors of buildings. The environments are very bland and easy to get lost in, and it has an overall feeling of playing Doom, just slightly less pixelated. The second view is the isometric look that the player gets when they go into a room. There is a lack of detail and the sprites look small and awkward. The third view is when the player leave a building and wander around a map of the city. Buildings that can be visited are highlighted and the player has to move along the roads between them.
Although the difficulty and the random encounter frequency can be a problem, I can’t help but think that it is the graphics that will put gamers off more than anything else. The game offers an interesting story in a modern setting, with a surprising amount of depth. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is certainly worth considering if you fancy an RPG for your PSP, but only if you can overlook the dated graphics.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is now available for digital download via the PSN Store