Hump Day Otaku News Report 09.03.03

Hey yo. Before we get to anything else, I just wanted to apologize for last week’s column. I reached an obvious point where I just wanted it done, and rushed through the whole thing and what started out as a really good column ended up really, really shitty near the end. In addition, since I started later than I usually do, I left out some games on my new releases area that people must like enough to steal and put in their own column yet neglect to put any emotion into it. F-Zero is a notable omission, and I just wanted to say that this week, I’m starting earlier, and putting in more. I’m going to FINISH the Persona review that I started on last week, and I’m going to review ANOTHER game. Those will be at the bottom because the Persona review was in last week’s, mainly.

I also wanted to say thanks to almost all of the writers here, especially Vinne Mac Chris, HBK Alex and Big Daddy Cool Bebito. These three have been working their asses off to make this site better. I mean, they’re doing a lot for us that may not become evident for a while, but what they’re doing is probably more important than anything any of the rest of us writes. The future is in sight. The future is coming. And the future is good.


Gaming News

Namco Loves Americans
Credit: The Magicbox
I love Namco. I haven’t always loved Namco. I’ve never been a fan of all their fighting or racing games. But I am a fan of their RPGs. The first I played was Tales of Destiny II (Tales of Eternia in Japan), but my favorite is Xenosaga Episode I. Monolith, the company behind Xenosaga, is also developing Baten Kaitos for the Gamecube, and Namco has announced that it would receive a release in the States sometime in 2004. REJOICE! Not only do we get Tales of Symphonia, but we also get Baten Kaitos, and sometime will also get Xenosaga Episode 2. I LOVE YOU NAMCO! Will you marry me? Ulp, erm, anyway, it looks like 2004 will be the year of the RPG on the Gamecube, because in addition to those two, there is also Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles set for release on the Cube, and who knows what else? So RPGers, go pick up a Cube and be happy!

Wild Arms: F U
Credit: The Magicbox
By now, you’ve probably heard about all the stuff that’s going on with Wild Arms. If you haven’t, I’ll sum it up. Apparently Sony wanted to go back to the drawing board and reboot the Wild Arms franchise. The original Wild Arms title will be completely remade and titled Wild Arms Alter Code: F. The story will be updated, the graphics will be improved, and there will be more player characters. As a fan of the series (though not WA3), this excites me. The screenshots have been released, and they are good. Anyway, those guys at Sony are taking this whole thing another step, and they’re going to release what appears to be a direct sequel to WA1 and Alter Code: F. This one is titled Wild Arms Another Code: F, or you could call it Wild Arms 1.5, or by Square Enix terms, I-2. Either way, this is a pretty ballsy move by Sony, to make a remake like this AND a sequel for it at basically the same time. But it’s also genius, because it’ll make people realize that they ARE serious about this and they want to improve the franchise. Another nice thing is that they are apparently making it possible to import the save data from Alter Code to Another Code, which is extra incentive. Several things that are unknown as of yet include if they are going to remake Wild Arms 2 next, or just continue with this series, and there has also been no announcement of an American release, though I don’t think we have to worry about that since the Wild Arms series has seen decently solid sales here.

It IS a Wonderful Life!
Credit: GamesareFun
The newest original installment of the critically acclaimed Harvest Moon series has sparked quite a bit of interest in Japan. Currently, there have been over 73,000 preorders made for Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, which is exclusive to the Gamecube. I will be released in a few weeks in Japan, and it appears that it will do quite well. It is currently scheduled for release in early 2004 on this side of the ocean. But for those of you wanting your Harvest Moon fix NOW, well, you need to wait no later than the end of October for Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for the Gameboy Advance. It appears to be a remake of the PS1/N64 version of the game, but with several differences. In addition, if you pre-order either of these two games from select retailers (EBGames is one), you get a cute cow plushie for free!). I don’t know about you guys, but I want A Wonderful Life. This title looks to be one of the best Harvest Moon titles yet, because you actually get to live A LIFE this time around. You meet people, you get married, you have a kid, you watch the kid grow up into an adult, etc. You give to live 30 years this time around, which will likely lead to a much longer game time and potentially a lot more fun.


New Game Releases
* Ship Date — 09/2-3/03
Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure (PS2, XBox, GC, GBA), ESPN NFL Football (XBox, PS2), Dynasty Warriors 4 (XBox)

This is a rather small week, compared to some of the past ones. I haven’t heard jack about Disney’s Skater whatever, so I can’t really comment on it. Dynasty Warriors is a pretty popular franchise, and they must be somewhat interesting if they’re on number 4. Then again, so was Tomb Raider. Errrr, anyway, the big release for this week is ESPN NFL Football. I imagine they’ll tack on the 2K4 or whatever at some point, because they can’t call it ESPN NFL Football every year. It’s a big Sega release, so I’ll probably rent it in a few weeks and do some sort of comparative analysis between it and Madden. Why? Because I love you guys! Oh, and another release that isn’t really a game is the GameShark Media Player. I don’t know how well it’ll work, but basically it’ll let you play DivX and MPEG encoded movies, as well as OGG and MP3 sound files, on your PS2. This sounds REALLY cool, especially for you losers out there like me who use your PS2 as your DVD player. It’d be nice to watch fansubs on my TV rather than my computer (even though the screen size it the same, but still, it’s just not the same). If anybody gets this thing, shoot me an email and tell me how well it works.

Oh, and for the record, since some people aren’t really quite sure how it works, the ship date for a product is when it is shipped from the distributor. Neither the ship date nor the release date are ever set in stone, so it’s entirely possible that something could be pushed back weeks at a time. Anyway, if something ships on 9/2, expect that product to arrive at your favorite retailer NO SOONER than 9/4. In all my experience dealing with the snobby assholes at the local Gamestop (which isn’t to say that ALL Gamestops suffer this problem, just the one I go to), I have NEVER seen a game come in the day after the ship date. With mall stores like Gamestop and EBGames, expect it 2-3 days after the game ships. With larger electronic stores and Toys R Us, expect it to be out on the Friday of that week, or on the weekend. Walmart usually takes at least a week to stock games, if they get the good games at all. But just a tip: always, ALWAYS call before driving somewhere to pick up a game. Some stores (Gamestop, this means you!) are real assholes about preordering, so chances are, if you didn’t preorder you won’t get the game. EBGames isn’t so bad about it, and usually get a decent number of titles, preorder or not. But calling first will save a lot of ass pain.


Links to the Past

Thank God It’s Thursday News Report – Bryan Berg
Bryan has set himself apart from everyone else by doing a minimalist news section, giving out medals every week to who he thinks is the most deserving (sorry, I didn’t deserve the bronze this week), and most of all with his well thought out and always interesting commentaries.

Retrograding – Alex Lucard
Alex has had a busy week. He’s been trying to make nice with people so our site will actually be regarded as a REAL gaming site and been doing his real job as well. Still, cranks out a column every week for his adoring audience (which is to say, everyone). He doesn’t think this week’s it that good, and though it’s not his best, it is still very good. And number 8 makes it all worth it.

Gamer’s Hangover News Report – Cory Laflin
This column is always a great way to start out the week. His Quasi-Random Thoughts are always excellent, and this week he even rents Halo! Well, it doesn’t work for him, so he says Halo still doesn’t exist. He also talks about one of the oldest guys in the NFL, on the oldest team (by average age), Bill Romanowski of the Raiders. Now that’s one guy I wouldn’t want to screw with, because sure he’d end up in jail, but you’d end up DEAD.

Rumor Down-Lo – Bebito Jackson
Hey, where is the link? Dammit, there’s no link here! Oh yea, that’s because THERE’S NO COLUMN TO LINK TO. Anyway, I don’t know what the deal is. Either Bebito’s anniversary seeped over into this week as well, or he’s just too busy making sweet, sweet love to do his column, or maybe he’s working extra hard to make it special, kinda like I did this week. Who knows? Anyway, if Bebito’s column is up, read it. If not, read Cory’s over again. I don’t know why I bother. Chances are, if you’re reading my column, you read everyone else’s anyway.

Cheat! – Alex Williams
Alex2 doesn’t realize how close he was to getting sued in his latest column. I almost got sued myself, but I’m good at groveling, when it really comes down to it. So be careful if you utter the name of Dracula’s Son, otherwise he may come and get you!

The Angry Gamer – Liquidcross
Liquid is very, very angry, and although I haven’t agreed with him on everything he’s written, I respect him. I do, however, agree completely with his latest article. It really sucks to not be living in Japan and to not know Japanese, because not only does that mean you get shafted on these sweet consoles, but you also get shafted on the games. I love Lucard, but it makes me so mad that he can speak Japanese and I can’t!! I want to play Tokimeki Memorial, but I can’t!! I want to understand what the hell I’m doing in Sexy Beach 2, but I can’t figure it out!! *sigh* Ok, I’m done whining.

The Gamer’s Conscience – Frederick Badlissi
This man is a genius. No, seriously. Most of us play games for the fun of it, but this man sees what the rest of us don’t. In this one, he looks deep into the Street Fighter II world and analyses the politics involved with each of the characters. This man, my friends, is brilliant.

A Thumb to the Eye – Chuck Platt
What does it mean to be hardcore? Chuck examines that question in detail in his new column. It includes some excerpts from some of the other guys here on the staff. Are we hardcore? Hell yea! So that means that hardcore gaming ISN’T dead and it loves on in everyone who plays games because they really and truly enjoy it. Me? I’ll be playing games until the day I die. I don’t have a deep and meaningful reason like they help me escape the shitty world I live in. No, I play games because I f*cking love it. The day I stop loving it is the day I will quit. Don’t hold your breath though.

Review of Tron 2.0 (PC) – Eric Szulczewski
Here we have another review by my favorite wrestling writer. The game doesn’t sound too bad, but since FPS typically isn’t my cup of tea, I think I’ll pass on it. But Tron is one of almost every geek’s guilty pleasures, so I may try it out after all.

Review of Freaky Flyers (GC) – James Renick
James comes out of the shadows again with another title that I probably won’t play. Not to say anything is wrong with that, it’s just that I don’t go for Kart Racing titles much. You know me, if it involves a deep (or sometimes shallow) story, or involves racing REAL cars and the title is Gran Turismo, then I’m down with that. The game sounds fun if you’re into kart racing type games though.


New Anime Releases
* Release Date — 9/2/03
.hack//SIGN Vol. 4 Special Edition, Bandit King Jing Vol. 2, Full Metal Panic Vol. 3, Love Hina Again Movie, Ninja Scroll TV Vol. 1, Please Teacher Vol. 3, s-CRY-ed Vol. 2, Saiyuki Vol. 4

It is a sad week. It is a week where Bandai and ADV conspire together to make me want to kill myself. On the Bandai front, you’ve got .hack, Love Hina Again (which Lucard claims does not exist), Please Teacher, and s-CRY-ed. ADV is releasing BKJ, FMP, and Saiyuki. At least with ADV’s, I don’t have any of them yet, but with Bandai, I’ve got the first discs of .hack and Please Teacher, and ALL that’s been previously released of Love Hina. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ninja Scroll TV, since the movie was badass. So if anyone wants to make donations, I’ll give you my address. Hurry, before Bandai and ADV get their wish!


Otaku Old Skool Review
Ok, since I copped out on the Persona review halfway through, I’m gonna do it again. If you don’t wanna read everything again, look for the new stuff below line. In addition, I’ll also give you a new review first. Enjoy!

Parasite Eve II
The original Parasite Eve was not really what you’d consider “special”. One thing it WAS was Squaresoft’s first foray into the world of survival horror. It also created a unique fighting system that was later modified and used in Vagrant Story, which is one of my favorite games. Though this is a sequel to Parasite Eve, it is very, very different in almost every regard. The only things that remain are the story and the main character. Since it’s been a long time since I’ve played the original PE, I won’t do many comparisons. The game stands on its own, and will be reviewed as such.

Story
After the events in New York (as told in the original Parasite Eve), our heroine Aya Brea has left the police force and tried to track down as many of the creatures as she could. She ends up in LA and joins a special top-secret FBI task force called MIST, whose mission is to track down and exterminate any and all Neo-Mitochondrion Creatures, or NMCs for short. At the beginning of the game, MIST gets a call that there are odd creatures at the top of a tower. Aya is sent there, and sure enough, they find NMCs, which have wiped out an entire SWAT team. So it’s up to Aya to find out what the hell is going on.

While the story is decent, it is very predictable. This time around, there are a fair amount of people you deal with on your journey. There are your MIST team members, like Baldwin, Rupert and Pierce you meet along the way. There’s Kyle, a private detective who has a similar mission to your own. There’s Douglas, an old junkyard owner living in an abandoned town. And then there’s No. 9, a psychotic bastard that you run in to on many occasions. He’s definitely your enemy, but what exactly are his goals? That’s a question that you have to find out when you play the game.

Gameplay
Squaresoft redesigned the gameplay completely for PE2, making it more survival horror than RPG. Sadly, the battle system from the original has been replaced by another system. But the biggest problems with the game come from play control. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking, but instead of moving the direction you want to go, you have to use left and right to turn the direction, and press forward to walk forward based on the direction you’re facing. I honestly don’t know if I’m right about what I’m going to say, but I seem to remember Resident Evil and Tomb Raider having very similar movement schemes. In addition, to move up and down stairs, you have to press X, rather than just moving in the direction of the stairs. I suppose this has something to do with making Aya’s feet hit every step or rung on a ladder.

Battles aren’t random, and will occur only in particular places. Usually, you can tell which screens a battle takes place in because of your handy GPS (map) system. Hit Select to bring up the map, and usually areas where enemies are will show up in red. The map typically only shows places you’ve been, but there are places that you can find maps that will fill in the map on your GPS, which is nice. You’ll want to use the map a lot, because after almost every event, enemies will appear in different areas, and if you’re like me, you’ll want as much experience as possible. Oh, but expect the unexpected, because sometimes the game will try to surprise you and have enemies appear in non-red areas on the map.

The battles themselves are pretty straightforward. Once you target an enemy, or if one spots you, you start battle. If you leave an area during battle, the battle ends and you get penalized. To trigger an enemy, you press the Square button, and to fire on them, you press R1 (or R2, which is an alt-fire on some weapons). Of course, you have various amounts of weapons you can use, including handguns, shotguns, machine guns, and grenade launchers. As with most survival games, your ammo is limited, but fortunately, you won’t run out very often. You will occasionally find ammo boxes that have an unlimited supply of ammo, but it’s usually the weakest type. Still, it’s a nice touch.

You can also buy ammo and weapons and items at various places using BP, which are bounty points, which is kinda like the currency that MIST uses. BP can be gained at the end of battle, but if you leave the area, that’s how you get penalized. You also gain experience, which doesn’t level up your character, but you can use it to improve your spells or gain new ones. Since your character doesn’t actually level up, your HP doesn’t raise the way it would in a standard RPG. Instead, your armor will usually raise your HP and MP when equipped. There are also items that will fill all your HP and give you more max HP at the same time. In addition, when you improve or get a new spell, your MP will improve. So, because of this, you need to be very careful at times, because you may get caught with your pants down and die.

While most aspects of the gameplay are interesting, the control still sucks, which is why I wasn’t so nice on the score for this part. If they had only made it where you move in the direction you want to go, it wouldn’t be so bad. Yes, the camera angle changes make that more difficult, it would be greatly preferable to the way it is now. But like I said, everything else is pretty solid, though not spectacular.

Graphics
If there is one reputation that Squaresoft has had no problem upholding, it is their reputation of producing the best games graphically on the market, and this game continues to uphold that reputation. All of the backgrounds are beautifully prerendered, and the only drawback is that the items you can pick up aren’t always evident. Every area you enter has a different look and feel, from the garden-like top of the Akropolis Tower to the desolation of the desert (and deserted) town of Dryfield.

Likewise, the CGI scenes are as brilliant as you’d expect from Squaresoft. The movement of the characters looks lifelike and the characters themselves look very realistic. The only drawback to be found graphically is the non-CGI character models. Granted, it was the best on the PS1 at the time, the models are still somewhat jarring to see after playing a PS2 or GC game. All the enemies are designed well and some are downright disturbing.

The only real downfall of the graphics department is that it simply is too good. It overshadows the other departments in the game so much that it goes to show where Squaresoft had been focusing all of its efforts. While this isn’t true for all of their games, it’s true for their big money ones. But this isn’t meant to be a commentary on Squaresoft’s design decisions regarding form over function, so I’ll just say that the graphics are spectacular.

Sound
This is another area that could have been spectacular, but wasn’t near as good as it should have been. The sound effects themselves weren’t bad, but they aren’t great either. The sound of footsteps and gunfire is good enough, but the smattering of voices in the game aren’t that great.

Likewise, all the music in the game is completely forgettable. I can’t remember a single tune. And I know there was music there, but even after playing it for a few days, and since it was only yesterday that I last played, I can’t remember any of it. Music is one of the things that really sets the mood of a game, and sadly, the mood was never right.

Fun Factor
Really, all that can be discussed in this area is the replay aspects of the game. The game has 3 endings: good, normal, and sad. Oddly, it’s pretty difficult to get even the normal ending, unless you know EXACTLY how to do it, which shouldn’t be the way it is. Anyway, once you finish the game, you can save your game, and depending on how much total experience you accumulated in the previous game, it will unlock items you can buy with BP.

There are also several different modes you can choose when you replay. First is simply the Replay mode, which is the same difficulty as before. Bounty Mode is more difficult because the enemies become stronger, and you fight more powerful enemies much earlier in the game. Scavenger mode doesn’t have much stronger enemies than normal, but the items you can buy are much more limited. And Nightmare is just masochistic, really. Not only are the enemies a lot stronger, but you start off a lot weaker AND the items you can buy are limited. One nice thing is that depending on what your BP and EXP ends up being at the end of the game, some of it will carry over, depending on which difficulty you choose.

As for me, I’d much rather start the game out with EVERYTHING from the previous one, just so I could blow through, and I wouldn’t want it to be any harder, but if you are masochistic, then by all means, play through on the other modes. It’s just not my thing. But that’s about it really. There aren’t any minigames (other than the pointless target practice) and not really any sidequests (unless you count going for the best ending).

Scores
Story: 7
Gameplay: 7
Graphics: 9
Sound: 7
Fun Factor: 7

THE 411: Really, this game isn’t as much of an RPG as the previous PE was. Square really wanted to go more of a survival horror route and took out a lot of RPG elements. Sadly, they include enough elements to make it less survival like (being able to buy ammo, for example), and because the mood is never right, the horror part isn’t there either. Really, the only point to play the game is if you’re looking for a DIFFERENT survival horror experience. Other than that, the game isn’t really THAT great, which just goes to show that graphics do not define the quality of the entire game.

Overall: 7

Parasite Eve II Tips
So, you want to try the game out but don’t have a clue. Here are a few tips that should help you out. Most, if not all of these came from my good buddy Matt Hardin.
-Always Run is your friend. Before moving a step, turn it on in the options menu.
-When you move, always use the D-pad. The analog sucks ballz on this game. When moving forward, don’t let your thumb off the up button. Always press right or left just a tad, otherwise you’ll find yourself STOPPING to turn.
-When in battle, you want to be moving almost all the time. Aya has an annoying tendancy to sit in one place for too long if she’s hit.
-Buy the M4A1 machine gun the first chance you get. It is your friend. Not only does it have a high rate of fire and hold a good amount of ammo, but it also has things you can attach to it for an alternate fire. My personal favorite is the Hammer, which is a stun gun, which can stun enemies for a short amount of time. There’s another one called the Javelin, which is actually a laser. I missed it myself, but it apparently kicks ass.
-Status effects suck. Confusion makes your targeting and movement go out of wack, blindness means you CAN’T target, and paralysis makes you occasionally just STOP and get a breather, until it wears off or an enemy wacks you. If you get the paralysis status, IMMEDIATELY nullify it, because it can cause you to die fast. The others aren’t as bad, but it sucks to have a combo of paralysis and silence, because you CAN’T heal it with magic and you’ll just stop for any enemy to wack on you.
-All of the magic spells are very useful, but don’t go overboard. One nice one is Plasma, which causes an electric charge to be emitted from your body, which will stun (and sometimes kill) enemies around you. This is especially good for bats.
-Always have a backup weapon in one of your armor slots, and make sure it’s loaded with ammo you have plenty of. Nothing sucks more than being out of ammo for a weapon and not being able to switch it.
-And I’m sure it’s obvious, but SAVE OFTEN. Some enemies can be real bitches and will kill you quickly.

Persona
Every few years, a game comes along that is very good, but few people hear about it. Maybe it’s because it was overshadowed by another game, or maybe it was just not released in a large number. Either way, Atlus has a tendency to produce (and localize, in some cases) top-notch games that seem to be everything BUT mainstream. Just look at classics like Ogre Battle, Thousand Arms, Kartia, and Rhapsody. These are games that many of you may have not heard of, but needless to say, they are worth looking at. And Persona (and its sequel, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment) is no different. Overlooked by the masses (including myself, until a certain Alex Lucard pointed me to it), these games are very popular amongst hardcore RPG fanatics, and popular in Japan as well.

Story
The Persona series is somewhat of an offshoot of the ever-popular Shin Megami Tensei series in Japan. With a setting of modern Japan, we see a group of school students playing a game called Persona, where they attempt to summon otherworldly beings called Persona to, umm, I don’t know. They never really say WHY they’d want to summon something potentially malevolent to their school, but you know how kids are. The group features probably every stereotype known to man. First off is Mark, the brotha (who for some reason wears a lame yellow hat and backpack) that carries around a battle-axe and has mad graffiti skillz. Next is his archenemy, Nate, who is a stuck up, rich, nerdy guy. There’s also Brad, who appears to be a skater punk, and Yuki, who is the typical dependable, intelligent Asian. (Funny how in a Japanese school, most of the people ARE NOT Japanese! It’s almost like anime!) To finish it out, there’s Ellen, the pretty blonde snob type and Elana, the dumb blonde bimbo type. Oh, and how could I forget YOUR character, who is a red headed goth type lookin guy.

Anyway, during their little game, several of the students collapse and all have the same dream of a guy in a mask. Thinking little of it, they are told to go to the hospital by the school nurse. The trip will have another purpose, because the students’ friend Mary has been in the hospital for a while. When they get there, and visit Mary, she starts to have some problems, and goes into the ICU, and then all hell breaks loose. There is an earthquake, and suddenly, the hospital morphs into a completely different configuration, and you have to fight zombies and stuff in the halls. But you aren’t just regular students anymore. Now you have the help of the Personas, who did come to your aid and give your team strength and powers that they didn’t have before. Thus the adventure begins, and your group must find out why the town is overrun by demons and how to stop it.

Gameplay
This is where the game truly shines. First and foremost is the Persona system, which is actually very deep and complex. When you start battling, each character is equipped with one Persona. Over time, you can gain more, which I’ll get to in a bit. Each Persona has its own stats that augment your own, and they also have spells and skills that use SP (Skill Points) to utilize. As you use the spells more, then your Persona’s rank will increase, up to a level of 8. Your character also gains two types of experience: regular character points, which increase your levels, and Persona Points, which improve your P-Level, which determines how powerful of a Persona you can equip.

Random battles are fought in a unique amalgamation of strategy and traditional formats. You don’t actually move around a map or anything, but there are definite strategy elements present in battles. First of all, your characters (maximum of 5, good number) can be configured in a particular position, and if the enemy is too far away, you can’t attack them and they can’t attack you, unless it’s with magic. Everything has range, just like a strategy game. So if you’re too close, you can’t fire that bow. If you’re too far, your mop or rapier will not hit. If you’re too far, your machine gun won’t hit either. Yes, guns are in this game. Hell. Yea. And like any good strategy game, the experience you get is based on how much damage you do and how many enemies you kill. Also, healing spells give experience. TIP: For easy experience, give a character a Persona with a Cure All or Heal All spell. Likewise, if you have a mucho damage-kill all spell, use that for mad exp.

Movement is somewhat odd in all counts. When you’re in “safe” areas, you move around from a 3/4 Isometric view. This is somewhat unusual, because up is not up, it’s actually up and to the left. It plays like the old game for the NES called Solstice. Fortunately, these types of areas aren’t that frequent. More often, you will actually be going through a dungeon area, which is to say anyplace inside that isn’t a “safe” room. The navigation is all done from a first person 3D perspective, a la Phantasy Star. Don’t groan. It’s not as bad as you think. For one thing, the walls have textures and aren’t just…blah. Second, there is a nice minimap in the top right corner. And third and most important is the big map that will keep track of where you’ve been before, and also special places (save points, clinics, traps, etc). Great job here on what could have potentially been a deal breaker for me. Instead, it makes the exploration aspect a lot more fun. The other movement area is the “world map” which is actually a city map, where you navigate throughout streets to get to your destination. This is the least pleasing aspect of the game aesthetically, because you are basically a nondescript green figure that moves around the non-textured city. Occasionally, you can talk to people on the street. They show up as nondescript red figure. It feels like a real town though because you can only cross at crosswalks at intersections (no jaywalking for you!) and occasionally cars will drive by, so you have to wait to pass. But the realism ends there because you’re still a frickin cone or whatever moving around a bunch of blocks.

Battles have a unique aspect because in addition to fighting enemies, you can also speak with them and get various results. Each of your party members has 4 different things they can say, and depending on what you say, you can either make the enemy really angry or really happy. You can even scare them off. The best result is getting them interested in what you say so that they’ll give you something. What you really want is Spell Cards, which can be saved up and combined to form new Personas.

NEW STUFF BELOW!

All of this is done in the Velvet Room, which has a singer and pianist, but the main man here is a creepy guy named Igor. You give him two of your spell cards and he’ll make them into Personas. You can either pick which cards you want to combine in the Self Service area, or go Full Service, where you pick the result and then which cards can make that. It also lets you include items, which can change the results entirely. In addition to Fusion, or combining the Spell Cards, you can also choose to assign a Persona to a person or to delete a Persona. Each party member can hold up to 3 Persona at a time, and the Velvet Room will hold 12 on standby, so deleting Personas becomes important as the game progresses, so you have to decide which ones are good enough to keep. Keep in mind that deleting a Persona prior to them attaining 8th Rank is a waste, but if they are already rank 8, then you’ll get an item for deleting them. Keep in mind though, that you can’t combine or equip Personas if your P-level isn’t high enough.

Overall, the gameplay adds quite a bit to this game, because without it, it’d be just another generic RPG, but because of the unique strategy elements and the Persona system, it plays like a cross between Pokemon and Tactics Ogre, with a little bit of crack thrown in for good measure.

Graphics
Though not THE first, this game is ONE of the first RPGs to be released on the PS1, even before Wild Arms and Final Fantasy VII. Because of that, the graphics are a little rough around the edges, but are still very good for their time. As with most games these days, several types of graphics are involves: CGI, 3D and 2D, so I’ll try to cover each individually.

First we’ll start with the CGI. To say the least, it is very primitive, but not bad. There aren’t many CGI scenes, and they did know their limitations by not making the existing scenes too elaborate. The modeling is done well in these scenes, but the movement is very robotic, and the textures aren’t that great. The 2D art is a different story. Though not used a whole lot, it is used with all the character portraits. Each character looks very unique and their personality is somewhat obvious just by their facial expression. Sadly, there is only one portrait per character, so those expressions never change. The characters themselves are animated using 2D sprites when in safe rooms and in battle, and so are the enemies. All are fairly detailed, but not incredibly detailed. Still, I can’t really complain about any of it. All is executed well.

The rest of the game (dungeon movement and world map) is done in 3D. For the dungeons, it actually looks somewhat like Wolfenstein 3D because the textures on the walls are very pixilated. At least each place is different and you feel like you’re not roaming around the same area, which is exactly the way it should be. As for the world map, really, there is no excuse for how that turned out. Yes, it could be attributed to processing limitations of the PS1, but they could have broken up the world map into 4 different areas just as easily. I just got the feeling like they either didn’t finish this part, or didn’t care. That’s fine anyway, because you really don’t spend much time roaming the map. Most of the time is spent in the dungeons and fighting. But clearly, Atlus didn’t care about graphics as much as some of the other aspects of the game, but you know what? That’s exactly the way that other companies should look at it.

Sound
This is a really mixed bag for me. On one hand, you have the music, which is simply splendid. Each song makes use of the full potential of the PS1 hardware and they sound like real instruments, rather than synthesized. The soundtrack has a jazzy or classical feel to it that really gives it a lot of style.

There’s also the voice acting, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great, but really the only time you hear voices are during battle when your Persona does a spell. And lastly, is the sound effects themselves. I don’t know where they got these sounds, but they ruin the mood completely. The main sounds you will hear are footsteps. Lots of footsteps. Seriously, when you walk down the hallway of the school, it sounds like a horse’s clippety-clop sound they make when walking. It gets very irritating as time goes by, and I’d seriously consider muting the TV, but then I wouldn’t be able to hear the sweet, sweet music. Then I realize, hey, it’s not so bad. I’ve heard Fred Durst attempt to sing, so I can live through this.

Fun Factor
The ability to collect cards and such is a lot of fun, but it’d be more fun if you could keep a list of which cards and Persona’s you’ve collected. They could make it just a separate fun thing, rather than anything that actually helps you. I just think it’d be an extra little touch for the psycho gamer out there, like myself. The act of contacting the monsters is very interesting, and it’s cool to try all sorts of different things to see what the monsters say. And it’s a great payoff once you finally get the Spell Card.

You can only hold 12 Cards at a time, so you’ll end up making a bunch of trips to the Velvet Room to see if Igor can make anything new. Chances are you’ll have the cards to make a really cool kickass Persona, but won’t be anywhere near close enough to his level. That my friends, sucks. But hey, it’s part of it. The map also makes it fun to try to explore 100% of the dungeons. It’s not necessary, and really there’s no reason to, but like I said, I’m psycho and it’s what I do.

Scores
Story: 9
Gameplay: 9.5
Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 8
Fun Factor: 7

THE 411: If you like Shin Megami Tensei, then you probably already have this game. If you’re an RPG fan and have never heard of MegaTen, then you’ll probably like Persona, because I hadn’t really heard anything about it myself. You probably can’t rent it anywhere, but I got it for $20 on Half.com in great condition, so it’s not a bad price. You can certainly do worse.

Overall: 8.0


I’ll make this short and sweet, and finish it off with a quote from one of the Masters of the Universe himself, HE-MAN!
“You know, Watson, the secret to a good skull f*ck is pulling off the jaw bone. Here, I’ll show you.”
Cthulhu bless He-Man AND Chuck Platt, for all three are Masters of the Universe!

This is The Bad Guy. Seeyas.

Lee Baxley is THE Bad Guy. When not downing a bottle of some alcoholic beverage, he can be found taunting people by either throwing his toothpick in their face or feigning fright, or sometimes even both. Despite these pastimes, he still enjoys playing RPGs and watching anime. You can read about his further exploits on his blog.