"Persona" stands as one of the video game world's most prominent exceptions — a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series that went on to become more popular than the main SMT games themselves. There's just something appealing about the concept of average high school teenagers, already too busy with growing up, suddenly learning how to summon demons with their minds.
Such is the tragedy of this reintroduction of the original "Persona" on the PSP. Whereas "Persona 3" and Persona 4" emphasized balancing a high school social life with demon-slaying excursions, the original sticks to a much more traditional "fighting, fighting and more fighting" role-playing game formula.
Even without the indescribable charm and brilliant pacing of the more recent games, the shortcomings of "Persona" on PSP have very little to do with its successors. It's just an antiquated, unforgiving and overly confusing game in its own right. To put it bluntly, the game just ain't fun.
Random battles can still work in RPGs if executed properly, but the system implemented in "Persona" feels incredibly intrusive and frustrating. Every four seconds on average, you're forced to endure minute-long battles. And that's with all the speedy options turned on.
RPG veterans understand that battles are necessary for powering up your characters. My beef with "Persona"'s encounters comes purely from its implementation.
That feeling disruption is compounded by the maze-like layout of the dungeons. Navigating these labyrinths full of dead ends and trap floors in first-person perspective is just no fun. It's one thing for random battles to pop up when you know exactly where your destination is, but when you're straight up lost and those battles mess up your bearings, the whole experience becomes dreadful.
"Persona" offers a unique and intriguing alternative to brute force: demon diplomacy. Negotiation is the true escape option; if your party is on the brink of death, you have a better chance of convincing the enemies to yield than trying your luck with running away. You might get some cash or cool items out of the deal.
Although fun to experiment with, there's simply no rhyme or reason to the negotiation tactics and your enemies' reactions. Would you have expected a troll-like creature with red eyes and sharp fangs to cooperate with you after choosing to "condescend" it? Eventually the process becomes akin to blindly throwing darts at a wall until hitting the bull's-eye.
Time has not been kind to the graphics of PlayStation games, which makes the lack of any sort of graphical upgrade to this 1996 relic all the more jarring. Graphics are usually first on the list of things to upgrade in a remake, and these visuals only reinforce the vibe of a port job.
With no voice acting, the only audio you'll get out of "Persona" besides footsteps and battle grunts is the music. And good lord, that main battle theme just grinds my soul into a fine powder.
Talking such slander about a Persona game eats me up inside. I know from "P3" and "P4" those guys have some serious talent, and the last thing I want to do is drag them through the mud, but after experiencing the genesis of this series, I can't help but feel like a complete sucker. Don't make the same mistake I did.