Friday, June 10, 2011

Revelations: Persona

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Revelations: Persona
Developer - Atlus
Publisher - Atlus
Release date - September 20, 1996

Revelations: Persona is a role-playing video game developed and published by Atlus. It is the first entry in the Persona series, itself a subseries of the Megami Tensei franchise, and the first role-playing entry in the series to be released in the west. Originally released for the PlayStation in 1996 in Japan and North America, the title was ported to Microsoft Windows in 1999. A port to the PlayStation Portable retitled Shin Megami Tensei: Persona was released in 2009 in North America and Japan, and 2010 in Europe. This port featured new cutscenes and a redone localization.


The game takes place in Japan in 1996, in the town of Mikage-cho. All the main characters attend St. Hermelin High, the town's high school, being in Class 4 taught by Saeko Takami. The other main feature of the town is the local branch of SEBEC (Saeki Electronics & Biological & Energy Corporation). All the main characters have the power to summon Personas, described in the manual as "the power of their hidden selves". The power to call Personas is granted by Philemon, a being born from the Collective Unconscious who acts as the party's spiritual guide and helper. He appears both in a human form and as a butterfly.

The player controls a silent protagonist, a second-year student who acts as their in-game representation. The rest of the cast are Maki Sonomura, whose near-constant ill health has made her inwardly bitter; Kei Nanjō, a self-confident heir to an important family business; Yukino Mayuzumi, a former gang member reformed through the efforts of Saeko; Hidehiko Uesugi, a man who puts on a facade of strength to cover his weaknesses; Yuka Ayase, a girl who consciously acts like a stereotypical "high school girl"; Masao Inaba, a spoiled and rebellious youth; and Eriko Kirishima, a woman with half-American parentage with an interest in the occult. The main antagonist is Takahisa Kandori, who runs the local SEBEC facility. During the SEBEC route, the player has the option of recruiting Reiji Kido, a student with a vendetta against Kandori.


Revelations: Persona is a role-playing video game in which the player takes control of a group of high school students. A mixture of navigation styles are used: navigation round the students' hometown is done using an overhead view, navigation of standard environments such as outside areas and story locations use an angled third-person view, and dungeons and most buildings are navigating in first-person. An icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen displays a lunar phase: this display shows the passage of in-game time, and its status determines the activity patterns and moods of enemy demons. Battles are both triggered by story events and through random encounters around the world map and dungeon environments. If the player attacks an enemy from behind, the party is given a set of attacks costing no magic points or health points.

Battles take place on a grid-based battle arena, with characters and enemies moving according to their position on the grid. Four commands are available to the party: Attack (fight enemies), Contact (talk with an enemy), Analyze (check an enemy for its strength and weaknesses), and Form (rearrange the party on the grid). The character's main means of attack is their Persona, beings summoned into battle to cast a spell that can heal the party, and inflict physical or elemental damage on an enemy. Each Persona has access to up to eight skills, and each character can change their Persona during their turn. Personas earn experience points independent of the characters they are assigned to, and gain new abilities through extended use. Experience is awarded based on how often the player uses certain characters or Personas. Alongside their Personas, each character is able to attack with an equipped melee weapon or firearm, use an item, or attempt to talk with the demons that act as the game's standard enemies.

Talking to a demon has different effects based on its personality, responding in a specific way to certain actions. There are four emotional responses that the player can elicit from a demon: anger, fear, joy, and interest. Triggering one of these emotions three times will cause the demon to perform an action: an angry demon will attack the party, a frightened demon will flee the battle, a joyful demon will give the player an item, and an interested demon will either leave the battle, give the player an item, or give the player a special spell card (tarot cards aligned with a particular Persona family or Arcanum). Functions related to the customization of Personas are performed in a special place called the Velvet Room: there, the character Igor can summon new Personas from among the various enemies defeated for a fee. He can also use two spell cards along with a special item to create a new Persona, which can inherit skills from the Personas used in the fusion. A Persona can only be fused using cards from certain Persona families. Personas can also be deleted if the player so chooses.


The development of Revelations: Persona began in 1994, after the release of Shin Megami Tensei If.... The high school setting of If... was received positively upon release, so Atlus decided to create a dedicated subseries focusing on the inner struggles of young adults. This concept eventually evolved into Persona, and its underlying focus on the "human soul" would become a mainstay of the Persona series. The title Megami Ibunroku was designed to show the title's status as a spin-off directly related to the Megami Tensei series, although it was removed for later Persona titles. The Persona system was directly inspired by the Guardian system used in If..., originally designed by future Persona director Katsura Hashino. Veteran Megami Tensei producer Kouji Okada, and character designer Kazuma Kaneko took over these respective staff roles. New to the production team was writer Satomi Tadashi. The script took about a year to write, with the staff going through twenty drafts. The first draft involved the students going on a field trip and being caught in a series of mysterious events. This was one of the more fondly-remembered versions. Shigenori Soejima, a future designer for the series, was involved in designing minor characters and coloring promotional and cover artwork. The main concept behind Persona was a Megami Tensei game that could be enjoyed by people new to the series. The popularity of casual games on the PlayStation was a key factor in making this decision. The development team's focus on Persona resulted in development on Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne coming to a near-halt.

Kaneko designed the main cast around multiple notable celebrities and fictional characters of the time, along with members of Atlus staff. While the characters wearing the same uniform helped designate them as a single group, it also made them look the same. To balance against this, Kaneko expressed their individuality through accessories. Atlus staff members also made cameos as minor characters. The character of Philemon was based on Carl Jung's titular wise old man archetype, described as a contradictory existence. His appearance in-game was based on paintings of Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou. Multiple ideas and terms used in-game were based on Jungian psychology and archetypes. The Velvet Room, a key gameplay location, was based on the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. One of the characters focused on by Kaneko was Maki, who was given multiple forms throughout the story. The first versions created were the original Maki, who had been bed-ridden for a long time, and the "ideal" version, whose inexperience with the outside world and interactions with others made her an expressionless doll. In addition to these forms, black-clothed "Aki" and white-clothed "Mai" were created when Maki's personality split, representing her extremes. The true Maki represented balance, so Kaneko made her uniform grey. Because of this, the school uniform had to be grey. To represent her psychological immaturity, she was given a ribbon to represent her girlishness, along with a locket she believes can grant wishes.

Ports and localization

Persona was the first role-playing entry in the Megami Tensei series to be released in the west, with the first Megami Tensei release being action game Jack Bros. in 1995. While the main Megami Tensei series' use of Christian imagery made it unsuitable for localization at the time, Persona employed a different naming system to make it more acceptable. Persona was localized by Atlus' then-new North American branch Atlus USA. Persona was chosen as a series that could help define the company and compete with the likes of Final Fantasy, Suikoden and Breath of Fire. The team that localized Persona was quite small, which made the process quite difficult: not only was there a large amount of text to translate, but the team needed to adjust or change the Japanese references as they feared it might alienate western players. Among the changes were altering the player character's hairstyle, the ethnic origins of multiple characters, the character and location names, and multiple pieces of dialogue. The entire Snow Queen route was also cut from the game, leaving only the SEBEC story route open for exploration.

The PSP remake's localization was similar to those done for Persona 3 and 4, with the dialogue being in tune with modern youth and keeping as close to the original dialogue as possible except for Japan-specific cultural references. To provide a reference for their work, the localization team played through the original version of Persona. The changes made to character names and appearances were all changed back to how they appeared in the original Japanese release, with the exception of a couple of lines that had become fan favorites. These were included as a kind of homage to both players and the company's history of game localization. The entire Snow Queen quest was also reinstated.


The music for Persona was written by Hidehito Aoki, Kenichi Tsuchiya, Misaki Okibe and Shoji Meguro. Persona was Tsuchiya and Meguro's first major work, with Meguro beginning shortly before he officially joined Atlus' internal staff. Meguro worked on the title for approximately a year, composing ten to twenty percent of the score. The first piece composed by Meguro was "The Aria of the Soul", the theme for the Velvet Room, originally commissioned by Aoki. "The Aria of the Soul" would become a mainstay in future Persona titles. For the PSP re-release, Meguro composed new music alongside remixing original tracks. While he kept the original atmosphere, he also used the experience and musical techniques gained from his work on Persona 3 and 4. He also tried some new techniques, such as with the opening theme, which began with a pop motif before transitioning into heavy metal, along with changing the important lyrics from English to Japanese.

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