Look carefully at the mini-map. See the footsteps?
Most of you reading this probably had your first experience with the Persona series in its third installment; and if not, this impression probably isn't for you (go read Sam Marchello's). If, like me, Persona 3 was your first experience with the series, you've probably also been eyeing the remake of the original game with an air of caution. After all, the element that made the last two games in the series so terrific, the social link system, is conspicuously absent from the earlier renditions. However, this new, updated version of the game manages to capture the same style and charm of the PS2 series entries.
One of the things I noticed quite quickly is that the game didn't seem nearly as hardcore as I was expecting. I'd heard about such things as its first person perspective, high encounter rate, and maze-like dungeons, but was surprised to see just how different it was from all that. The encounter rate we saw was quite low, and a very clear mini-map made it obvious where you were going. Even the first person perspective didn't feel terribly out of place, as it moved smoothly and seamlessly from tile to tile. One of the more unique features in the mini-map was a footstep feature, which shows the direction the player came from, making it impossible to get turned around; a feature that isn't, but should be in far more games.
The soundtrack has also been completely changed to closer resemble the style in the PS2 games. According to Atlus, all but two songs have been changed, one of which is the fan-favorite pharmacy theme song. The new cutscenes, however, are surprisingly different. The anime style used is much crisper than the traditional style used in Persona 3 and 4. The characters had heavier outlines and the art style bears more resemblance to other Shin Megami Tensei titles than the newer Persona games.
The Arbor Day Rule in action.
The Once More battle system of Persona 3 and 4 is sadly not present in this earlier incarnation, but combat has its own uniqueness that should keep fans of the newer games satisfied. Each character has an attack range for their skills, and choosing positions for your party seems to be quite important. The number of different elements seems far more complex. Supposedly there are sixteen different subsets of spells, and other differences such as hama skills dealing damage rather than causing instant death. Another oddity is that the SP cost of spells and skills is fixed based on the persona rather than the skill. What this means is that all skills for a given persona cost the same amount of SP, with more powerful personas coming with a greater SP cost.
Although lacking social links, Persona PSP seems to have many of the same elements that attracted players to the PS2 titles. The characters are interesting, the localization seems to be very good so far, and stylistically, it has the same urban Japanese appeal that made Persona 3 so intriguing. While it seems to be a fairly different experience from what the PS2 titles offered, the way it's shaping up shouldn't disappoint fans of those games either.