"WTF is going on?! is perhaps what Im supposed to say."

As a somewhat part of the Shin Megami Tensei series, Persona does stand out. For starters, it puts central attention upon a bunch of teenage kids who receive special powers which they must use to save the world. This is a good thing because they don't end up meeting a giant face who tells them to become Power Rangers. Another thing is that, unlike the ‘normal' Megaten games which mostly talk about apocalyptic ends, Persona relates itself more to the occult rather than a religious ‘the end'. It was butchered a LOT when ported for the US, but surprisingly, it's still worth playing.

1. A Brief Introduction to Persona

The game begins with a rough, freaky CG sequence which somewhat explains the essence of what's going to come. Then the scene changes to our classroom, where we find our fellow classmates who also happen to be our potential party members. We then meet our homeroom teacher, who scolds us for doing one of those weird and crazy things nowadays teenagers do. Up until here, Persona manages to visualize these basic environments well enough despite its poor graphics. The view takes place from a three-quarter bird's eye-view with a fixed camera angle. The dialogues are… well, not entirely what I had expected; but from the beginning we can already see that it has the chance of having a good storyline.

On later scenes, we are advised to relax a bit and try talking to plants might do the trick. But then comes our first shock as the plant we were told to try talking to LITERALLY talks back and asks us whether we want to save our game! How weird. This plant, who calls itself an Augustus tree, speaks in different accents(!), depending from where we find it: from roadside parks to abandoned cupboards.

But that wasn't all. After we leave the infirmary, the place where the beginning scenes end, I was then quickly reminded that this WAS a Megaten game, so of course it's natural to have everything except the battles and the exploreable areas viewed in first person mode. Once again, MOST of the things in this game are viewed in first person mode. We explore the school we are in (and the game's later dungeons) by traveling through long, winding corridors where we find nothing else except staircases, doors, and other corridors (and eventually, demons). Our footsteps echo through these corridors and it's amazing to notice how dramatic these footstep sounds can be, despite the emptiness and the bland colors. Combine that with the appropriate background music and we find ourselves in very intriguing situations.

Thus comes our first task. As we walk through the disturbingly deserted school corridors in first person mode, our footsteps thunder throughout the hallway. Voices and noises from other people seem to come from some place far, far away. The flashing classroom windows speeds pass us. The background music sounded natural, but it disturbingly made me feel that something bad was going to happen. The weird thing is that the corridors were completely devoid of people. We only find other schoolmates in other classrooms. But it's weirder that the topics our schoolmates gossip about couldn't possibly seem to get any weirder. Or could they?

The tension breaks after we finally leave our school but then we find ourselves somewhere on this complicated viewed-from-above city map (yes, ‘city', not ‘world'). It seemed that the developers did intend to make a three-dimensional version of the map in Shin Megami Tensei but… they didn't manage the job very well.

Anyway, after getting lost for about two hours because of the poor navigation system, we then arrive at the hospital. After doing the medical check up we were told to do, we visit our classmate Mary, who turns out to have been hospitalized for a quite long time. Finally, its Megaten all over again as demons start appearing out of nowhere and start rampaging, pillaging, devouring, killing, bending, twisting, demanding, crying, etc. while our latent powers, our last hope of survival, are suddenly awakened: we have now possess control of the Personae.

2. The Persona's Mechanics

Right, what the heck IS a Persona? According to the game (I think), within one soul, there are myriads of personalities which the soul can choose to manifest. Awakening these latent personalities through a certain ritual, however, grants us the ability to summon the powers of the original owner (?) of that personality; or, should I now say because as they are now being manifested, the Persona. Since they grant us status boosts, access to magical powers, and sometimes demonic understanding for us, the Persona seems to have become our main means of survival other than the uncanny number a couple of wits, blades and firearms we eventually find. The demons themselves turn out to be the loose manifestations of those within that ‘sea of personality'.

The question is: whose ‘sea of personality' are they coming from? WTF is going on anyway?

Speaking about Persona, of course there are stronger (and different) Personae than the ones already granted to us, right? Yeah. We could get them, use them, manifest them, SUMMON them, but only after we're strong enough to control them (I mean, after our level is higher than them, similar in how to get a demon to join you in Shin Megami Tensei).

Like in other Megaten games, we negotiate with the demons (each of our characters have four different types of ‘communication' which can be used for this; with really interesting remarks). If we do this, the demons would either go crazy, run away, hand over items, donate some money, or grant us their spell card. These spell cards that we get, THAT is what we need to summon our Persona (aside from a few items in some cases) in this mysterious shop known as the Velvet Room, which (just like that weird Augustus tree) happens to appear almost anywhere at the right place, at the right time, in front of the right person.

The Velvet Room itself is a somewhat eerie place. An old man with a long nose keeps that place alive, accompanied by no one except an opera singer and her piano player. The way he summon Personae for us is down right unimaginable too.

Enough of that; the true essence of this RPG itself is to find out what the hell is going on and, like usual, solve the problem and save the world. Yes, but the Megaten series are not known for how typical they seem to be. How often do you find an RPG which has a convenience store selling the most dangerous machine guns to high school kids? Where else can you find a mall with a boutique selling bulletproof vests? Where else do you get an apothecary with the weirdest BGM you've ever imagined? These bizarre ideas and events are perhaps what the true charm of the game becomes.

The battles against the demons (with all those wits, blades, and machine guns) are basically turn-based. We input commands to our characters at once and the battle commences turn after turn. Sword attacks require close range but are often the most effective melee attacks. Guns are usually not as powerful but they can be used from a distance and normally hit multiple enemies. Summoning a Persona requires PP but only by using them you can devise the most effective strategy to win. Other options include the use of items (some can be used as a replacement for magical spells) and demonic conversation.

Each Persona has its own parameter boosts (using one is like wearing equipment which affects all your parameters, e.g. attack, defense, speed, etc. at once), attributes, and set of spells. That is why every member of your party may carry up to three Personae at once, but of course you can only use one at a time. This is important, because there is as much variety in the demons you'll face as much as the variety the Personae has. Variety includes immunity to certain elemental spells and even some that can reflect 100% damage of your attacks! Also, while not often, some Personae react to certain demons too, which brings interest to battle negotiations.

3. Personal Conclusions

As a dark game, with dark heroes and a dark (ok, not THAT dark) storyline, Persona is highly advanced. It means that it is absolutely NOT for the beginner role-playing gamer. You really must understand how this game works if you want to fully enjoy it and I have to say it took a lot of time for me to get the hang of it (simply not just getting used to its controls). If not, believe me, you may find the game extremely frustrating and you will deeply regret spending your time and money to play this, this… err, game.

The game has a lot of secrets and hidden tricks related to Persona summoning (I suppose half of them are gone in the US version). But to balance out the stress, the game also has a good number of mini-games in it. Overall, I think this will appeal most for older veteran RPG players. Even I myself find the Persona games harder than the other Shin Megami Tensei games.

The game does have a lot of humor despite its disturbing theme. But still, for several obvious reasons at its time, the game HAS been toned down. Meaning it could've been greater and grander and scarier than it is now. Nevertheless, with a great gameplay, memorable characters, a good number of laughs and a good lot of suspense in it, it's still a great game. It still has its own replay value since your fifth party member is optional; because with different members, the ending is slightly affected. Do you see what I mean?

If you're looking for a game which has rough but simple yet unimpressive graphics, good sound effects, unusual plot, curious BGM, and crazy gameplay, then Megami Ibunroku Persona is absolutely for you. Yes, I even consider the main gameplay even crazier than in Persona 2, mind you. Interesting, no?

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/03/06, Updated 04/17/06

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