Revalations: Persona
Reviewed: 07/09/2007

Revelations: Persona is the first game in the Persona subseries, an offshoot of the Shin Megami Tensei series.

Persona can best be judged as both a benefactor and a victim of its times. It benefits because it was released during the early PlayStation era, a time before RPGs were as mainstream as they are now, and hordes of them had little or no distinction in plot development. Many RPGs of the time had the standard “boy meets girl then saves world” storyline, just with different twists and turns to get there. Persona did away with all of that. Instead of some fantastically large medieval-technology level world, it placed gamers in a modern era high school, playing as students who are just having a good time…for the moment. This unique setting really helps to set the game apart from the crowd, and makes it more memorable than many of the “horde” of RPGs previously described. However, it is victimized because in spite of the fact that the setting and story set it apart from the rabble, the ancient gameplay elements significantly reduce the fun factor, the snail-paced battle system makes conflicts last much longer than necessary, and several localization issues changed important elements of the game.

The story of Persona is respectable, but hampered by a few key issues. The story centers around the nameless main character and his group of friends. The game begins with these friends playing a game they call “Persona.” It is perhaps because of this game that they draw the attention of an old man, Philemon, who appears to them in a dreamlike vision. After a day at school, the characters go to visit a friend, Mary, who is in the hospital. During this visit, the characters are thrust into battle with demons. To make a very long explanation short, it is up to the characters to figure out why there are demons roaming around, and why they can suddenly communicate with them and summon them on their own.

The issues with the story are mainly due to choices made with the localization. For example, one of the main characters, Mark, is rather offensively stereotypical for an African American. In fact, in the Japanese version, he was a Japanese boy, not black at all. It seems Atlus decided to insert a “token black guy” into the game. While some may say this is no big deal, it is extremely annoying and offensive to constantly have a character in the game sputing such stereotypical nonsense, especially when it usually comes at times when the game is trying to be serious. Not only that, but the dialogue is simply moronic in many cases. The localization team apparently thought that all teenagers talk to each other in such a manner: “You’re stupid.” “No, you are! And you look like butt! HA!” “No YOU look like butt!” etc. It is extremely annoying, and really ruins the whole “modern high school kids” feeling, because as far as this reviewer can recall, that sounds more like elementary school. High school had far more breakup drama than pointless name calling. In any case, the story in Persona is certainly different for its time, and gets credit for that, but its shortcomings cannot be denied or overlooked.

Screen Shot
I wouldn’t either.

The gameplay of Revelations: Persona leaves much to be desired. The battles take place on a tiny rectangle with the characters on one side, enemies on the other. When entering a battle, characters should not get too excited, however, because it will be quite some time before they get to actually attack. There are about three menus to wade through in order to do so. First, players must decide whether or not to talk to the enemies. Then, assuming they choose not to, they must choose to attack, then which enemy, and confirm. Repeat this countless times. The worst part is when the option to talk to the enemies is accidently selected, because this involves wading through several more menu screens (sometimes accidently skipping a character’s turn in the process), in order to get on with the assault. It really is annoying that even the most simple battle can comsume three to five minutes per battle, even if players have their actions predetermined.

A unique aspect of the battle system is that formation plays a big part in how well characters can perform in battles. Players must choose from eight layouts that they can set up prior to battle to use in combat. This positioning effects characters range and sometimes their effectiveness in battle, depending on how the enemy’s formation is set up. Thankfully, players can change the party’s formation at will during the battle. This is a truly innovative and fun part of the game.

Communicating with demonic adversaries does play a huge part in the game, however, and it can be entertaining to convince them to leave battle or come to the characters’ side. While the system isn’t as deep as it could have been, it is definitely innovative for its time.

Personas in the game must be created using spell cards given to players by monsters they manage to cozy up to. Players must then decide what combination of cards they want to use to create a Persona based on various attributes. This is another unique and fun part of the game that makes it worth going through the time and trouble of communicating with enemies.

Players guide the party one step at a time through dungeon hallways in a first-person view. There is a mini-map that lets players more easily follow their progress by using the cardinal directions. This aspect of the gameplay is really hit or miss, depending on whether players like or dislike first-person exploration. Town exploration is done in classic Shin Megami Tensei style, by using a pointer to represent the character and moving it about on a map of the town.

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Some battle animations are simply great.

The music and sound in the game are average. There are few sound effects that stand out or attract the players attention. The music is suitable, not memorable. Judging the graphics of Revelations: Persona is a hard task, because the game is over 10 years old. For its time, the sprites were superb, and the spell effects were pretty good too. The characters walk very stiffly, though, and the environments are fairly boring.

Revelations: Persona was sort of a genre-breaking game when it came out due to its setting and themes. The storyline was uniquely dark at the time, and even now the gameplay is deep, albeit tedious. Despite several minor flaws and a couple glaring ones, Persona is a good game and easy to recommend to fans of RPGs who aren’t afraid of dungeon-crawling, tedious gameplay that has a lot of depth and fun behind it.

-Joseph Wartick

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Good
Story Good
Graphics Average
Sound/Music Average
Replay Value Average
The Verdict: 5