REVIEW: Revelations: Persona


I didn’t actually want to cover this game here since I’ve already talked extensively about Shin Megami Tensei already, but most of the other games I’ve been playing lately are either totally unbeatable (Rei Cho Aniki), too popular to mention here (Dragon Quest V, Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2), or… SMT (SMT3: Nocturne).

I just got my Atlus Faithful e-mail that was talking about the spoils for the PSP remake of this game, and… well, it hit a sore spot.  Me and this game… I liked P3: FES so much that I decided I’d go back to the first installment of the series and start there, see how the series evolved into the awesome  P3 experience.  I paid $7o for a disk-only copy and was damn lucky to get it, since most other copies of the game were going for over $120.

Then I played it.  Never one to waste that much money, I also finished it.  Now, this game gets a bad rap for its localization.  Yes, the entire Snow Queen half of the game was taken out.  Yes, the sprites were changed.  But you know what?  If the Snow Queen half was there, you wouldn’t play it.  The sprite changes are cosmetic.  And the translation isn’t that bad.  None of those things would have helped at all, because this game is simply fucking awful.

I’ll tell you what the main problem is.  Imagine that you’re playing a Final Fantasy game where your party consists of five summoners.  In every random battle, you summon, and the move you use takes, at the very least, 10 seconds of (poor) animation, sometimes as much as 20.  This happens for all five of your characters as well as each of the enemies, of which there can be anywhere from two to eight in a random battle.  Each random battle can take several minutes to complete, but if you’re lucky and happen to be able to exploit a weakness with several characters, it might only take three minutes.  Which is still too long.  Battle time also doesn’t really decrease as you level up either, for reasons I will explain later.

Now, for all the localization haters, the random encounter was turned down and experience per battle went up in the English version.  This was a horrifying revelation, since random encounters still happen every four or five steps.  I can’t imagine how long the Japanese version must have taken to play.

Contributing to the lengthy battles is the grid system.  All the characters are arranged in a grid, and can only attack what they can reach.  You plan for this by putting short range sword/axe fighters up front and someone using a bow in the back, but that also means you can’t put short-range persona on that person in the back, or give long-range persona to the people in the front… and sometimes, that’s all you can make/equip these people with.  There will be a lot of battles that are artificially extended while you have four of your party members idling out of reach of the last enemy while one person struggles, likely unable to exploit a weakness for a quick finish.  You can rearrange the party mid-battle, but this is a huge, HUGE pain in the ass and not something I attempted more than once or twice.

The grid system is somewhat compensated for by each party member having a gun that they attack with along with their standard weapon and persona.  I actually like this mechanic a whole lot, but unfortunately the guns are never terribly useful, not even in an emergency.

But you know, this is a Shin Megami Tensei game!  You can negotiate with demons and not have to fight them!  Actually, that is part of the game, because unless you can successfully negotiate, you will never get more powerful personae for your characters and those random battles will just keep getting worse.   So let’s negotiate instead of fighting!

Okay, select a monster.  Now, select a character.  Main character it is.  Your options are… recruit, provoke, persuade, sing.  Oh… kay.  Well, we want to recruit, so select that.  A little indicator comes up for the monster.  Recruit seems to have made it angry.  Okay.  So, sing?  Nope, still angry.  Er, persuade?  Nope, sorry, three strikes.  You’ve either lost a turn in the battle, suffered a status effect, or… suffer no consequence.  You won’t be able to recruit that type of monster until the next random battle.  This system is a total mystery.  Your other party members have commands that are just as cryptic, including dance, lie, tempt, threaten, speech, et cetera.  Recruiting is never explained aside from the fact it has to happen, but what you want to raise on this meter is “interest.”  Even through trial and error, there is no foolproof tactic that works for each monster, because the moon has an effect on recruiting (I think), and sometimes the monster will ask you arbitrary questions that seem to have a random outcome on what tactics will work.  They will also leech all your items and money if you let them.  Usually giving them something will raise their joy, which isn’t helpful (though if you max out joy, they will normally give you an item, and maxing out fear will cause them to run away without a fight).  After I went several hours without recruiting a monster, I started using a walkthrough, and even that fails quite often because of the arbitrary factors I mentioned above.  Also, because your party is so customizable, some of the monsters can only be recruited with party members you don’t actually have.

I was amused by the recruitment system initially, because the characters and demons actually say really hilarious things, and the dances the demons do are usually really funny.  Some people often cite the mystery behind this system as part of the bad localization, but let me tell you, I’m sure it was just as vague in the Japanese version.  I’m sure the localization did not cut out the explanation on how this works.

The persona creation process works just like it does in other Persona games.  Negotiating with the demons gets you their  cards, then you take these to the Velvet Room, where Igor (complete with his usual theme song) will combine them into a persona for you.  I was highly amused by the combination process in this game, since it consists of Igor calling up the demons on the phone and dropping a curtain over them while they combine.  Then you equip each of your party members with a persona that has a level equal to or less than their own.  Also, there is some tarot arcana finickiness in play here (personae are all part of an arcana, as are your teammates), but you won’t be alerted to an incompatibility until you try to use your persona in battle.  If that happens, it will take one turn for your party member to swap out their persona for a different one.

You use personae until they hit level 9.  This is hard to get the hang of at first, the game keeps track of the persona’s level as well as how many levels its gained since you equipped it, both of which are different than the level 9 you’re looking for.  At level 9, it won’t learn any new skills, so you’ll probably want to equip a different persona that has a higher level and possibly better moves and leave that one for emergencies.  Each party member can have three personae equipped that you can switch in battle (but again, it takes one turn, unlike the new games where you switch and then use it), and then you also have a persona reserve.  This will fill up later in the game, so don’t be afraid to convert useless personae to items at Igor’s place.  Unfortunately, you can only switch between your three active persona, calling a persona out of reserve requires a trip to th Velvet Room.

How do you level a persona up to 9?  Use it.  It won’t gain experience in battles unless it is used.  Leveling can be very easy or very difficult.  Some of those persona are ABSOLUTELY USELESS.  I figured I would be rewarded later for leveling up useless personae, so I would use the pathetic, non-damage-dealing, non-helpful moves in an attempt to unlock better ones.  Sometimes this never happens, but you get demon cards so rarely, and can create so few persona, that it’s hard to convince yourself to give up.  Occasionally a persona will get a great move at level 8 (Leviathan, which was useless almost the entire time, falls in this category), but this almost never happens.

Remember that this, like all SMT games, has an extremely powerful strengths/weaknesses system.  Once you defeat a demon the first time, you can always bring their strengths and weaknesses up in the battle menu.  Plan accordingly.  This is, again, not explained, and contains a few categories not in the later Persona games, so some things I was totally lost on since it wasn’t clear what category moves fell into sometimes, or what some of the designations meant.  Some have different names too, which is good and bad.  They don’t go by the names we know them by… fire and ice are called something more obvious than agi and bufu, for instance, and unfortunately I never even ran across vague categories for hama/mudo even though a few spells seemed to fall in this category. I never quite figured out which moves equaled things like rakukaja or sukukaja.  But sometimes the strengths and weaknesses fall on specific weapons or specific spells or status ailments.  I ignored the system about half the time, but when I say that, I mean two of my party members at bare minimum would be exploiting them while the other three tried to raise the level of their persona.

Oh, yes.  Experience isn’t even, and reflects how much each party member contributed in battle.  So if you’re trying to raise a pathetic persona, that party member’s level will fall behind.  It evens out during random battles since everyone will have their own strengths and weaknesses shine at different times, but it can be a problem in certain dungeons, and again, if all three of your persona on a character happen to be duds, there’s nothing you can do about it until you run across the next velvet room.

So what about the dungeons?  Well, they’re first person (like all the early SMT games), which is pretty cool.  First person RPGs have gone out of style, but that was actually something about the game I liked, it was a pretty unique experience.  BUT.  Each dungeon is usually inside a building, usually consists of several sprawling floors, and usually has an intricate puzzle that requires you to map out whole floors and fall through pits to other sections in an attempt to find the way out.  This process can take several hours, and you have to remember that you’re running into those long-ass random encounters while you’re exploring.  It behooves you to automap out all accessible areas of a floor before advancing, including the dead ends, because you will be consulting maps often, and you will be in tears for some of the later dungeons trying to figure out how the hell you get higher, lower, or just to a specific area you can see but can’t access.  Also, these dungeons usually only have one save point, and it is normally at the very beginning, so once you start, you better have enough time to find the boss and then get back out before you have to quit.  The worst dungeon took me seven hours.  You can go back to the save point and quit, if you want, but not only will you lose a lot of time working your way back to the beginning, you probably won’t remember exactly how the pitfalls/series of trick doors worked when you go back to it, so you’ll probably want to do each dungeon in one sitting.  I can assure you, this is boring as hell, and I normally don’t begrudge grind-y RPGs their long dungeons.  Hell, I loved Tartarus, possibly the most boring dungeon known to man, and I even went back to level-grind an extra 30 hours I didn’t even have to at the end of P3.  And I couldn’t stand even one round of most of these dungeons.

Mysteriously, towards the end of the game, I wound up horribly under-leveled for the last dungeons.  I don’t know how that happened, since I took what was probably three or four hours more than I probably needed to in each dungeon since I got lost so frequently.  Not only does being under-leveled make you weak, but it’s extremely frustrating when you (finally) successfully negotiate with a demon and it won’t give you its card because you are too weak.  I would normally finish the dungeons five or so levels higher than most of the demons, but then be eight to ten levels lower than the demons at the start of the next one.

The plot is… only okay.  There is a megalomaniac that is trying to tear holes through alternate dimensions, you have to team up with a Mary that isn’t your classmate Mary but almost is, there’s weird plots where people you know are turned into demons, you travel what seems to be light and dark worlds, your school gets sucked into a void, you have to eventually stop a man named Guido and a pair of little girls… you know.  Normally I enjoy the plots of SMT games quite a bit, but that was not so much the case here.  There are some entertaining things, though.  One dungeon that amused me greatly featured a girl that forced everyone to call her beautiful despite the fact that her use of magic had made her develop moles all over her face.  She’s also a friend of yours from school, and there are some nice little stories that come up while you explore.  Unfortunately, her dungeon was one of the ones I got horribly lost in, and it commits the sin of kicking you out to start back at the beginning once you reach the end, so you have to go back down to the bottom again to fight the boss, and if I’m not mistaken, go through it one more time in order to get back out.  Fuck you, game.

I played until I got to the bad ending.  I didn’t actually get the credit role/see the bad ending sequence, only defeated the last boss for the bad ending part of the game.  I could have kept going, but when I found out I had put 45 hours in and had only played 1/2-2/3rds of the content, I had to quit.  It was too goddamn bad for me to put up with.

In actuality, I probably would have triggered the Snow Queen quest had that been in the English version of the game, because I had explored the school rather thoroughly right where the game splits.  One of the other unique things about this game is that there are actually three paths you play.  There’s a split right at the beginning for the Snow Queen or Guido storyline, both of which are full games that do not share content or stories, or even most party members (another unique thing is that there are 8 possible party members, three of which I believe you have your choice of, but they are permanent choices, not ones you switch out later).  The Guido storyline has two possible endings, the one I mentioned above and another that reveals significantly more story.  The thing about the Snow Queen storyline though… I’ve heard that the dungeons are even longer, like 15+ hours with no save points.  As I said, some of the dungeons I played on the pussy storyline were 7 hours with no saves, so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to take what the Snow Queen has to give me.

Let’s not talk about what happens when you get 3-4 hours into a dungeon and die, or run out of heath/heal items, or a boss wipes you out unexpectedly.  Rage takes over.  Profanities are invented.  Roommates are assaulted.  Taking it out on the game itself is not an option, because hell, you paid seventy dollars for that fucker.  It’s actually not as bad as it is in other SMT games, because wiping out the main character isn’t an automatic game over and there aren’t any fuck-you random battles where your party is wiped out by a monster that unexpectedly exploits a weakness.  Yet another thing that was added to the English version is the fact your magic recovers as you walk, so if you’re running low on MP, let that character rest for a bit in order to get recharged.  The items aren’t terribly helpful as far as health/magic recharge or mid-battle pick-me-ups, and you’ll still be limping at the end of difficult dungeons since persona heals will sometimes be all it takes to drain your MP between battles.  Even careful players will get a handful of game overs.  It sucks, but such is the nature of SMT.  It’s so old-school that remembering to save still won’t save you from losing hours of game play.

So what about the PSP remake?  I hear that the graphics are better, and that there are more save points and better balance.  I think fixing the moves to be more in line with the other US releases will help  a lot too, since that will clear up the mysteries with the strength/weakness system.  But I’ve seen videos, and I know that those random battles still take a hell of a long time to play and still use that stupid grid.  Those dungeons aren’t going to be any shorter, and I’m sure there’s nothing you would be able to do about that broken recruiting system without significantly changing the game.  But we’ll see.  There’s some unique stuff in here, and if it can be made to shine and hauled into the 21st century, there might be an awesome game waiting to be played.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.




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