Persona is a Japanese RPG series which usually takes place in high school setting. The game features a day and night cycle with the protagonists spending the day cycles as a student. All the tropes of a high schooler are there. You’ll interact with other students forming friendships and/or romantic relationships. You can spend your time hanging out with friends, participating in after school clubs, at you part time job, or studying for upcoming exams.
The night cycle however is a bit different. These same characters take on alter egos and are transported to other realms vaguely resembling their own worlds. Time is spent dungeon crawling and battling “Personas” against other demons and spirits. These demons can then be captured and fused with other captured demons to upgrade your personas to help in battle.
This particular iteration of persona is extremely stylized and its athletics are seen throughout. The character designs are similar to other persona games, but the overall style immediately gets noticed. The game has a real noticeable theme and feel similar to old style comics, and is on display throughout the packaging and game. This stands particularly well during battle sequences and transitions, but can be found everywhere. This gives the game a great feel and helps it standout amongst the other persona games
The first and last persona game I played was Persona 3 on the PSVita. (PSP version) When I played that version, I had learned the hard way that I was playing it all wrong. I would spend all my time working on my connections and never letting go of my original Persona, as if it were a Pokemon. I learned pretty quickly that this is not how to do things. Most persona’s are leveled by fusing with others to create more advanced monsters.
This time I decided to try a different method. I recently had a conversation with a friend that can be summed up with an understanding that sometimes a protagonist is developed with the idea that a player would try to slip themselves into the characters shoes. So instead of picking the safe dialog paths when interacting with other people, I’ve decided to choose things as close to what I would normally say in a given situation, however dickish they might be.
The problem with this method however is some of the dialog trees make no sense. One example which sticks out to me is while one high schooler is coming to grips with her new found powers your only option is to either tell her to calm down, or comment on her blouse.
Often times selecting what could be the wrong dialog option leads to a response which almost seems tailored to the option you should have picked. It’s as if you cant go wrong in some instances. I wouldn't call this a flaw by any means just a little disappointing. The main point of Persona is to find connections with the characters you interact with, and the game seems to push to make sure you don't miss any.
I’m about ten hours in and getting a good feel for the game, despite a pretty lengthy intro period. The over world has just begun to open up and I have begun exploring the world outside of school. I have about 7-8 connections and should be starting my part time job soon! Besides all those things what else could a high school kid have on their plate? Oh right, the night phases..
Persona games have an element to them that separate your daily life of being a teen, to the alter ego you become in a different world. This iteration has our hero and his friends assuming the role of cat burglars. You learn skills and different methods of stealth to traverse each dungeon looking to avoid enemies and find treasures.
As I said I’m learning from my mistakes from the last play through, so no persona is safe! I’m constantly capturing and fusing my enemies (with in my leveling limits) to better suit myself for upcoming battles. There is a level cap thought, so you cant create fusions that are higher in level than you are. The main point though is certain demons have elemental powers which can be combined with others when fused. This can create and interesting strategy when figuring out which Persona’s to take into battle. For me, I like to have as many elements present on my allies to combat the onslaught of enemies found in the dungeons.
The battle system in this game is much deeper than I expected. It allows you to use the bounds and connections you've developed with your teammates to interact more fluidly during battle. The player can score critical hits on an enemy and then hand the reigns to the next attack over to another team member creating chains for a greater damage output. Players can also “stick up” weakened enemies and either convert them to their cause, ransom them for items or preform a combined attack; decimating your foe.
For any RPG to be successful it's main elements need to hit; characters, battle system, and story. Persona seems to be knocking all three out of the park. The story begins with the murder mystery idea of opening at the end of the story and rewinding you to the beginning. This leaves players the task of playing and filling in all the blanks they’ve been presented. This story starts off well enough as it dumps our protagonist into a new school with rumors already swirling about him. Your time feeling like an outcast is short lived as more and more people whom have become similarly shunned, for one reason or another, find themselves connecting with you.
Theres still plenty of game left, as i’m only about 10 hours in but have only begun to scratched the surface of characters to interact with and things to do. Anyone looking for a good ultra Japanese RPG to get lost in, I’d recommend giving Persona a shot.
Words by - Gerry Martelly