Aside from a few Steam sale bits, I haven’t really bought any new games since the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, and there’s a bit of a void in terms of forthcoming game releases that I’m interested in. The perfect opportunity, then, to LP (or “Let’s Play”) Persona 1 – a game that I’ve bounced off continually and never had the patience for. I love the Persona games, but only the newer ones; the first game lacks the social linking, calendar events, one-more attacks, visible roaming enemies during dungeon-crawling and other features that made P3 so refreshing, and it’s hard to play it coming from the newer games. Often I’d lose patience with the random battles, labyrinthine maps and complex negotiations before silently giving up. However: I have time to kill, and the decision to LP Persona 1 – in the classic, pre-video Let’s Play format of written updates within an online discussion board (in this case, rllmukforum) – would offer the motivation for me to keep coming back. After all, if I’ve entered a discussion board and stated that I’m going to do a thing, I’ve got to stick to my word.
Admittedly, I had one or two other advantages this time. Despite owning a digital version of the PSP game, it’s on an old account that I’d have trouble getting to right now – instead, I opted to use the PPSSPP emulator. This enabled me to take advantage of screenshots that I could add to the LP updates, and some welcome additional tools such as a turbo mode that played the game at an increased speed – making tedious battle animations play out in moments. Also, since I was playing from my desktop I could keep a written file on anything I wouldn’t be able to accomplish in a play session; it sounds nuts, but I never enjoy that feeling of coming back to a game and not knowing what you were planning to do.
LP Persona 1 with understanding
When choosing to LP Persona 1, a player has to remember that this is a much more typical JRPG structure – you have establishing dialogue, your first dungeon and boss, post-dungeon dialogue, a moment to shop for better things, more plot development, the location of the next dungeon and boss, post-dungeon dialogue… and so on. Therefore, the majority of that gameplay is going to be in those dungeons. Dungeon exploration is done in first-person on a grid (similar to, say, Demon Gaze), and like newer games you need to explore your surroundings in order to fill out the map, but you’re going to run into dead-ends, lifts with multiple floors, locked doors and unlock switches, loose foundations that make you fall to a previous floor, floor tiles that spin you in a random direction, multiple exits (some of which go nowhere)… And remember, this is all done whilst being interrupted by random battles. Anyone who criticises the way in which P5 drags out its dungeon gimmicks (myself included) should know that P1 is a much worse offender.
Those random battles can be a drag too – with grid-based positioning to consider, about 20 different interactions to use in negotiations, lots of status ailments, and none of the “One More” or “All-Out Attack” systems from the modern games. The high frequency of encounters encourages a player to just mash any command and hope to get the battle out of the way, but you have to think about every encounter, and it bloats dungeon exploration time further. Again, keep in mind that P1 offers little of the downtime you get from modern Persona, so it’s little wonder that fatigue sets in. However, several days after my decision to LP Persona 1 I did appreciate a key mechanic that offers some relief from the dungeon-crawling: spell card ownership. If anyone in Team Persona is reading, know this: if you’re planning another remake of Persona 1 in the future, the importance of owning spell cards (through successful mastery of those 20 negotiation interactions) needs to be stressed to any and all players… because it makes dungeon exploration fun.
LP Persona 1 with negotiation
Strictly speaking, a spell card’s primary use is to open up new fusion possibilities in the Velvet Room; it’s the most rewarding result you can get from a negotiation (granting new toys to the player), and it’s generally the end goal of every negotiation. However, if you negotiate with an enemy who’s already given you their spell card, they will end up fleeing the group of enemies (and sometimes dropping money or an item). Obtain spell cards for more enemy types, and you can skip entire battles. Obtain spell cards for yet more types, and it trivialises dungeon exploration. You’d think that ignoring battles might leave you underlevelled, but you need to reach certain levels before you can obtain certain spell cards, so you’ll still get the experience you need for those tricky boss encounters (where negotiation isn’t an option.) Sometimes negotiations can have different results; make an enemy scared and they’ll flee the battle, make them angry and they’ll get a free turn. If there’s one thing I would have liked, it would be a “memory” feature that displays the result of an interaction if you’ve used it on a particular enemy before, but that’s just a small thing.
Learning negotiations can make battles less of a chore, and quicker battles make dungeon exploration less of a chore. So how does the story connecting these dungeon sequences hold up? Well, without giving too much away, it revolves around a hospitalised student named Maki who suddenly turns up whilst the main characters are handling the creepy adversaries who have shown up around the gameworld. As the game progresses, we get more background on Maki’s appearance, and it’s quite refreshing to see a game where the story is centred on a party member who isn’t the protagonist – this is Maki’s journey. Admittedly, for a game with a female character at its core there are one or two scenes that come close to damsel rescue, but even these can result in Maki dealing with her inner demons. The rest of the story has mystery, villains, revelations and even some lighter moments such as the “Tesso” boss encounter, and it’s every bit as engaging as a modern Persona plot. Again, it’s easy to lament the loss of social links or calendar events, but the lack of downtime at least results in a focused pace.
With an engaging story and (eventually) rewarding dungeon exploration, Persona 1 holds up well if you’re patient. Does Persona 1’s universe deserve more attention in a world where there are many more spin-offs for the newer games in the series? I don’t know how many of today’s gamers would be as patient with the classic gameplay, but a new adventure in the P1 setting with modern Persona design sensibilities could work. So when’s the next Atlus Consumer Survey?
To view PlayStation’s page on Persona 1, click here