Revelations: Persona is the first game in the Persona series, which is a spin-off from the Shin Megami Tensei series, and was first published by Atlus for the PlayStation in 1996. It was actually the first game in the entire Megami Tensei series to be officially released in the West.
Persona is a Role-Playing Game with turn-based combat and it follows the exploits of a group of young students as they are confronted by a series of supernatural incidents. After playing a fortune-telling game the students gain the ability to summon ‘Persona‘ – supernatural beings drawn from their subconscious – and they can use these to fight demons that they encounter on their adventures.
The kids visit one of their friends in hospital and all hell breaks loose when they hear a scream and encounter demons wreaking havoc in the lobby. Their Persona take over and defeat the monsters and from that point on the game starts proper, with random battles taking place as you walk around.
The game pretty much follows the Shin Megami Tensei template as far as gameplay goes. Exploration sections are first-person, with combat encounters happening during these parts (the screen either explodes into squares or melts when they happen). Conversations usually happen in side rooms and these are shown as isometric screens. As far I can tell random battles don’t occur in these places. If you’re at a door that leads to hostile encounters the game usually shows the word “dungeon” as a label. Which is funny because with the modern setting the locations are anything but “dungeons”, but it’s understandable RPG jargon and at least fair warning of random encounters to come. Outside, when moving from location to location, the screen cuts to an overhead 3D representation of the area, with your position shown as a peg marker. Initially random battles don’t happen outside, but that changes after leaving the hospital.
Combat is represented as a separate isometric stage with your team on the left and enemies shown on the right. You have a choice of actions during battles. You can use either a melee weapon or a gun if you have one. If you don’t have a sword or another melee weapon equipped you’ll use your fists. You can also summon a Persona to use magic, and the type of magic each character has available to them depends on the Persona they have, and the spells they’ve learned. Other actions during combat include: “PRS-CHG”, which changes a Persona (if you have access to more than one – you don’t until you’ve made some); “item”, which allows you to use anything you’re carrying; “defend”, which makes a character defend and not attack, and “escape” which is the ever-useful ‘run away’ option. You can “analyse” demons before battle, engage autobattle, change formation, and “contact” demons (to communicate with them to try to obtain their spell cards).
One aspect of combat that is important in this game and wasn’t a factor in previous Shin Megami Tensei games is the formation of the party. Attacking characters must be near to a demon with certain melee, gun, or magical attacks, otherwise the game will just say “out of range”. The biggest downside to this is that if a demon you had targeted is killed, and nothing else is in range, then your character will effectively miss a turn. It’s not a major issue, but one that you should bear in mind when issuing commands.
Levelling-up occurs when each character earns enough experience to do so. The main, named character you level up yourself by choosing where to put your skill points (into strength, vitality, technique, agility or luck), and the non-player characters level-up themselves (although the game does tell you when that happens).
As is standard in a Megami Tensei game: the phases of the moon are important and this has an effect on how demons behave; there’s also an excellent automap feature, and there are multiple playable characters to obtain, depending on your actions.
One thing I particularly liked about this game were the conversations you have with demons when trying to persuade them to give you their spell cards. It’s similar to previous Megami Tensei games, but much funnier. The responses you get from talking to demons, and their associated sound effects, are laugh-out-loud funny. The conversation system is also very clever, using a combination of four emotional responses to get what you want from them, and these vary depending on which of your characters converse, and what they say. With some thought it is possible to get spell cards from demons most of time, and the conversation system feels a lot less random than in previous games.
Slight differences to previous Megami Tensei games: changing a Persona is only possible if you’ve earned demon spell cards and fused them at a place called The Velvet Room (which is found at Sun Mall, Joy Street, The Black Market, and in dungeons throughout the game). This is similar in some ways to the demon fusing of previous Megami Tensei games, but different enough to warrant a mention. To fuse new Persona you need two demon spell cards and an (optional) item from your inventory. The process of making new Persona is actually a treat in itself… Not only is it interesting and imaginative, but the music inside The Velvet Room is absolutely phenomenal (with a beautiful piano tune playing and a solo female vocalist singing in the background). The characters, sets, and animations in this one room are all very David Lynch-like in tone and evoke a really stunning atmosphere that you don’t often see in a video game.
The only disappointing thing about Persona is the English translation. The localisation of the game is pretty dodgy to be honest, with a naive use of English at best and also spelling and grammatical errors on occasion, which make it look a wee bit amateurish. It just goes to show that official translations aren’t always the best. But anyway… If you disregard the occasionally ridiculous dialogue, Revelations: Persona is a superb game, with great graphics, wonderful music and sound effects, and detailed, absorbing gameplay. It’s arguably the best RPG on the PlayStation!
Note: the Japanese and American versions of Persona have significant differences. For starters: the level of difficulty of the American version is much lower than the Japanese version, with fewer random battles and higher experience points earned per battle in the US version. Plus: an alternate storyline, called The Snow Queen, has been completely removed from the American version. Although I haven’t played The Snow Queen storyline I have read about it, and it sounds extremely difficult, so maybe that’s for the best. Of course the names of the characters and their associated voice actors were changed in the US version. The only release Persona got in European territories was a 2009 re-release on the PlayStation Portable. For the PSP version the entire English localisation was changed and The Snow Queen quest was re-introduced.
See also: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II, Shin Megami Tensei, Shin Megami Tensei II, Shin Megami Tensei If…, Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor.