"For example, jokester Masao Inaba, complete with Asian skin tone, playful freckles, and pseudo-jester hat, did not make the cut. Instead, heís overwritten by Mark. Mark, the token black kid akin to Billy Dee Williamís role in Star Wars without a smattering of the charisma, wears a funky red baseball cap, speaks fly street talk, yo, and has a mad crush on the white chick. Heís also armed with hip-hop moves: to try to tempt enemy demons over to the side of good, Mark will dance sexy at them upon command. Inaba wasnít hip: he was artistic, offbeat and unique. For this, he was to die."
Persona is the best half-arsed port ever released.
Buy the Japanese version and find a full game with a rich, adult story draped in darkness and misery. Purchase the NA release and discover a dumbed-down setting, a counter-productive attempt to Americanise the cast, and the clumsy removal of a labyrinthine dungeon that led to an adventuresome secret ending. The poor localisation is glaring: youíll easily spot the changes as they pop up with depressing regularity.
For example, jokester Masao Inaba, complete with Asian skin tone, playful freckles, and pseudo-jester hat, did not make the cut. Instead, heís overwritten by Mark. Mark, the token black kid akin to Billy Dee Williamís role in Star Wars without a smattering of the charisma, wears a funky red baseball cap, speaks fly street talk, yo, and has a mad crush on the white chick. Heís also armed with hip-hop moves: to try to tempt enemy demons over to the side of good, Mark will dance sexy at them upon command. Inaba wasnít hip: he was artistic, offbeat and unique. For this, he was to die.
The Snowís Queenís quest didnít make the NA game, either, but just to confuse you, the opening CGI for it did! Venture far enough into the game, and your school, which serves as home base through the introduction, undertakes a startling transformation. From each corner, sylphlike pillars burst from the snow-laden ground, rocketing towards the heavens while ominous orchestral music whispers in the background. The spectre-filled building takes on the feel of a fairytale laced with unhinging macabre, whetting your explorer spirit. Then the cut-scene ends, and the pillars vanish and are neither seen nor mentioned again. Hackers armed with gamesharks routinely break into the gameís code to unearth the half-translated version of this quest buried deep within the discís data, but risking this ghost of a level is almost certain to end in a system crash long before you can battle through the shockingly disturbing journey and reach the sobering conclusion.
The other problems are scarcely more subtle, but the slow, apocalyptic death of an unsuspecting urban centre just about pokes its head above the hosts of amateurish errors. Direct translation without basic localisation lends itself to lines of unintelligible gibberish; uncountable grammar slips and out-of-character moment are all too frequent as the cast flounder in the new US-friendly personalities theyíre haphazardly shoehorned into. You can more or less make out the plight of Lunarville and place evil corporate head Guido Sardenia as the title's lead villain. This suave businessmanís company, SEBEC, has been flooding the small town with electromagnetic waves in an attempt to open up various wormholes into alternative dimensions.
A task that he succeeds at, with the odd drawback. A phantom wall surrounds the town, cutting it off from the rest of the world while demons and devils take advantage of the weakened dimensional barrier. While the machineís output changes the lives of everyone around them, they prove nearly fatal to Mary Sardenia, whose unique brain waves resonate alarmingly with SEBECís warped machine.
Slowly, the snowy town starts to change. Survivors herding together in the mall find clothes stores no longer stocking chic mini-skirts and skinny jeans, but rather flak jackets and firearms. Local drugs stores, run by perverted old men that leer at young schoolgirls, stock healing potions, revive draughts and status annulments. Your small team of teens (including the aforementioned
Inaba Mark) will find the new style stores a godsend.
Stalking through the infested suburb, numerous demons fall upon the unwary in groups, attacking with otherworldly powers and needing to be seen off sharply before their numbers overwhelm. Your groupís first handful of encounters take place in the perverted hospital they patronise to visit Mary as she recuperates. The once-pristine corridors warp into an ugly abortion of dead ends and twisting turns, littered with hungry zombies, shrieking harpies and chibi snowmen(?!). The six children need pick their way through the winding innards via a first person view, fighting off the undead, the demonic and the melty with whatever weaponry they can find at hand, be it lead pipes, flick knifes, submachine guns or hidden version of themselves locked within their subconscious.
They have Philemon, a faceless phantom that haunts their minds, to thank for that last one. Guided by his enigmatic hand, the troupe of youngsters can summon demonically twisted or angelically beautiful alter-images of themselves to aid them in trouble. Further summons are made available by successfully bartering with your opposing forces to gain possession of their cards, which you can then have forged into a new mystical ally at a special store in the Mall. Rather than mash wayward monsters under your heel, you can try to comfort them, pander to their egos, bribe them or even befriend them. And, yes, even ask Mark to dance sexy at them. Some unworldly beasts seem to like it; others quite rightly get scared and run the hell away.
It's the unique settings and the dark humour that runs through the very core of this game that stop the awful localisation from turning Persona into a joke. There's a continuous motif of perverting normality, of turning everyday locations into something wholly unexpected, that never stops shocking or disturbing the player. Altus tried so hard to drop the ball on this one with its ludicrous attempts at making it more accessible to a foreign audience, but they didn't understand that every single one of the game's strengths were the very things they were trying to alter. We're fortunate that these aspects were strong enough to survive their attempted abortions, because, even if it takes a little more work to recognise than it should, this game deserves to be recognised for what it is.
Persona is the best half-arsed port ever released.
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