Persona PSP Review: This Time It's PersonaS

Thirteen years ago, Atlus did a bad bad thing, butchering its Japanese RPG Megami Ibunroku Persona in order to release it in North America as Revelations: Persona. Can a PSP remake undo the damage?

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona for the PSP is where the Persona series got its start. Like many other games in the series, the story revolves around a group of Japanese high school students gifted with the power to summon demons called persona to do their bidding. It's a formula that's been proven three times over now, with the latest two entries for the PlayStation 2 achieving rather spectacular success among North American RPG fans. A success that Revelations: Persona did not share.

Why? It could have been the rushed translation, or the fact that a major chunk of content was left out. Perhaps because the original cast of Japanese high school students was palette swapped until one of them became an Ebonics-speaking black teen? Whatever the case, Atlus seeks redemption with a more faithful localization for this PSP remake. Have they found it?

Loved
Everything Wrong Is Right Again: When the game first hit the original PlayStation in North America as Revelations: Persona, it was a bit of a mixed bag. A shoddy translation and heavy-handed attempts to Westernize the game resulted in a disjointed storyline with characters that, while suddenly racially diverse, didn't quite fit with the vibe of the game. Perhaps learning from the success of Persona 3 and 4, Atlus has completely re-localized the game, preserving the quirk that fans of the series have come to expect, delivering a story that is much more compelling and coherent than the original attempt.

Polishing Things Up: Along with the re-localization, Atlus has tightened up the presentation in Persona considerably for the PSP remake, with brand new stylish cut scenes helping the story unfold; a crisper, more easily navigable menu system; and new arraignments of the original music. Together these features help the game feel like something new, and not a remake of a 13-year-old RPG from two console generations previous.

Combat Options: Varied battle options are a hallmark of the Megami Tensei series, and the first Persona game is no different. Rather than simply fighting your way through random encounter after random encounter, players have the option to interact with the demons they encounter, charming them with various actions that can result in benefits to the party or new Persona to summon. In some instances, groups of monsters will even approach you with questions at the onset of battle, which is generally a pleasant surprise. You'll be fighting a lot in Persona, and it almost never gets dull. If it does, you can always turn on autopilot and hope you don't die.

More, More, More: With the older features of the game mostly revamped and redone, Atlus still went ahead and added extra content, with new dungeon levels and puzzles to explore. Perhaps the biggest addition is the Snow Queen scenario, left out of the North American PlayStation release, which changes the very course of the game. It's a relatively huge new feature for U.S. fans, delivering an entirely different way to finish the game. That's some replay value right there.

You Can Take It With You: The only thing better than a 40-50 hour Japanese RPG is one you can take with you wherever you go without fear of losing your data. The quick save option in Persona for the PSP is a complete godsend, especially for someone who doesn't have the time to devote sitting in front of a television or waiting for the next save point to appear.

Hated
Showing Its Age: With all of the polish that this version of Persona received, the game still feels like a title from 13 years ago, largely in part to the stiff battle animations and relatively primitive sprites. The animations in particular are vexing, and anyone with a copy of Flash could do better. The fact that everything else is improved just makes it all the more jarring. Thank goodness battle animations can be skipped.

Remakes are generally released in order to capitalize on the success of the original release, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. Far more than just a fresh coat of paint on a new platform, Atlus has taken Revelations: Persona and made it into the game that it should have been when it landed on our shores back in 1996. It's not so much a remake as it is an apology for a mistake made more than a decade ago; an apology I can gladly accept.

It's not very often that a remake comes along that improves upon the original to the extent that Shin Megami Tensei: Persona does. This is the version of the game you should play.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona was developed and published by Atlus for the Sony PSP on September 22. Retails for 39.99 USD. Played through entire game on normal difficulty, bypassing the Snow Queen quest - for now.

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