This time it's Persona…L
It’s always daunting to try and sit down after putting in 140 hours plus into a game and try to review it, but I guess in that fact is Persona’s my biggest compliment to the game. Despite my busy life, work and general “adulting” I was compelled to keep coming back to finish my first foray into a Persona game where other games have fallen at the wayside.
Admittedly I took my time, followed sidequests, leveled up confidents (more on that later) and generally meandered in the beautiful depiction of Japan and the fantasy worlds of the title, but I can’t see any other way to play this game that would bring such a rich experience.
The basic premise of the game is that a small group of high schoolers discover they have the ability to visit and infiltrate “Palaces”. Palaces are the physical manifestation of, often corrupt, people’s desires. By infiltrating these palaces and stealing their treasure (read heart) the kids are able to change the real life personalities of these people.
The one thing that struck me about the story is that the game was not shy in dealing with quite complex themes in a very adult way. Themes such as sexual abuse, suicide and domestic violence are treated in a way that is neither dry nor exploitative and really add to the maturity of the story.
In regards to gameplay Persona is, at heart, a solid turn based RPG. Fans of the genre will have no difficulties slipping into a familiar pattern of finding an enemy’s weakness and exploiting that through the 12 or so strengths and weaknesses. Whilst more complex than the usual elemental rock paper scissor it remains approachable at all times.
Fleshing out the combat is the use and collection of “Personas” by our hero and his team. Personas allow our characters access to magic abilities and skills. Whilst your teammates will have a set persona each that grows throughout the game the lead character has the ability to wield multiple types allowing for on the fly adaptation dependent on the foes you are facing. You gather these personas by defeating and then negotiating for their allegiance in a series of multiple choice questions, your answers should they match what the personas personality traits, win that persona for your use.
Outside of the combat much of the game is spent in “the real world”. A rich depiction of Tokyo and its surrounding areas. This is where persona really comes into its own and differentiates itself. Along your journey, your hero will meet a number of “confidents”. These are people who will help you on your way, ranging from new team members to support characters to trainers and shops. Leveling these up is completed by basically hanging out with them and growing closer through little interactive cut scenes. Some of the bonuses produced by this can really bolster your chances in the shadow world palaces.
A theme I understand is present in most Persona games is time management. Do you spend that free evening hanging with a confident? Working out at the gym to increase your skills? Crafting keys to open chests in palaces? or working at the ramen shop to make some money? Your time is finite and at first it was genuinely a source of stress as to what I was missing out on, but once you start being able to complete the palaces in shorter runs (Your stamina/mana in a palace run does not regenerate without items and so runs are often cut shorter by not being able to use your heal or magic abilities forcing you to spend multiple days completing a palace) then you realise you have plenty of time to spend on each of these activities.
I do believe the game could have done a better job of explaining what there is to do in your spare time and how it will affect the game but after a little reading of guides etc I was much more confident I wasn’t always missing out. The only other gripe I have with the game is that some of the status ailments seem very overpowered. It can be frustrating to have your playthrough cut short by a rogue low level minion that manages to land a sudden death kill on your main character. This is exacerbated by the return of save points meaning that you can be set back some way by a death.
The music and graphics to the game are beautiful. Whilst I would never have thought “Acid Jazz” was the direction for any game to go in it suits the game to perfection and the anime feel to the characters looks and clothes defines the genre well.
For those who constantly want to be in control and in the action there is A LOT of reading and story/character development to this game. Whilst you can usually break to a combat area whenever you feel the need to grind or get away from the reading for a while the game will always require you come back to the story to progress. This for me was perfect but I can see how some people may find this game a little story heavy. Think of it more as an interactive anime experience rather than an action RPG.
For those looking for a solid RPG with an engaging story, rich cast of characters and a shining level of polish I can’t think of many games to better recommend.