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What the Hell is a Persona?

So, I'll admit it right here: I know next to nothing about Persona, but given how big the series has gotten and that Joker from P5 is in Smash (it honestly blows me away that a Sony exclusive made it into a Nintendo game, this is almost as big as when SA2 came onto the Gamecube, especially if you take into account Nintendo and Sony's backstab-infused history lol) I've taken it upon myself to have a romp through the series, starting by nabbing myself an emulator and an ISO of the first game (I don't own a PSP, we never got it in Europe on PS1 and the PS Classic is like eighty quid, meaning I wouldn't be able to buy it anyway, no matter how much I want to, so I feel like emulation is justified here), all the while talking about my experiences and opinions.

Now I should probably stress that I AM aware of the localisation changes they made to the PS1 version when it came Stateside, the most obvious being the altering of several character designs, the absence of the Snow Queen Quest, whatever that is, and the iffy-at-best translation (see "No your stupid! Persona will work. Man I'll even bet you on it."), so before you bring up those issues, bear this in mind. 

I wouldn't mind it if you guys could give me some pointers about what to expect from the game going forward, things like strategies and play-tips, since I'm aware you guys are pretty savvy when it comes to these games, but if you do decide to do that, please keep things as spoiler-free as you possibly can. Minor bowl of poo doesn't bother me but major plot points like character deaths or big revelations (haha, see what I did there?) do.

Cheers. My next post will detail my thoughts on my first play session.
Okie dokie.

So, the first play session is done. I spent around an hour and forty minutes in-game, and I think I have quite a bit to say, but before I get into it I'll quickly go over the general structure these posts will follow:
  • First, I'll detail what's happened so far in the story, just to lay the foundations for what I'll say next.
  • After this, I'll talk briefly about the things I liked/disliked about playing the game up to that point.
  • Then finally, I'll pose any questions I might have after playing, and if the first session is any indication, this will definitely be something I do after every session.
Anyway, I've wasted enough time rambling, let's get on with it.


So the game opens with a cryptic FMV sequence, that opens with a quote regarding a dream about a butterfly, that asks some existential BS about (from what I understand) whether or not everything is a dream. It says something about cause and effect, but I forget exactly what. We're then presented with our title screen.

So the game actually  opens in some storage room, with a bunch of teenagers. They take bets on a game of "Persona", during which I assume they're trying to summon some sort of deity. Everybody (myself included) bets on Brad, who, much to the dismay of Mark, the token dickhead of the group, reckons that the being will indeed show. That said, none of the main cast with the exception of Ellen seem to be decent people at all; later on they were all so pushy and pretty rude to the other students around the school, including me. Anyways, we all bet on Brad, and we begin the ritual, and for a while nothing happens. Then, out of nowhere, a little girl crying for help shows up, and four of us (Nate, Mark, Yuki and of course myself) are struck by lightning, knocking us out. The others are unharmed, somehow.

Another FMV sequence plays, this one bringing me through some portal to, if I remember correctly, a place called the Collective Unconscious, where I meet a dude called Philemon, and can I just say now that this guy (or at least his PS1 rendition, I can't say much for the PSP version) has ridiculously broad shoulders? Not to mention he's looking incredibly dapper in that suit. Digressions aside, Philemon asks me to name myself (I went with Lachie, because, well, that's my name), and he bestows unto me his power: Persona, or the ability to call on others within me. The cutscene ends and I wake up in the infirmary, where my teacher tells me to go to the hospital for a checkup, saying that the four of us could have hit our heads when we passed out, which is a valid point, but, are you kidding me? I'm in the freakin' infirmary. Surely the school nurse is qualified enough to judge whether or not I'm okay after falling over, even if she can't cook (why that matters is beyond me but ah well). Speaking of, the nurse brings up that our friend Mary (I believe her Japanese name is Maki) is still there, and that we should go pay her a visit. That seems like a plan to me, so even if the first reason is completely stupid, I accept to go over there in any case, if only to pay a visit to our friend.

Before leaving, I walked around the school for awhile, talking to all the kids in each classroom, as well as my buddies (Brad, Alana and Ellen pissed off after telling the teacher what happened to us, I learned from the latter two), and boy, let me tell you, the other three did not shut up about it. Every time I talked to them, it was just "So are we going to go to the hospital sometime this year?" or "Hey, Lachie! Let's go visit our friend Mary at the hospital before visiting hours are up!" Gimme a break, we got some time to kill.

Anyway, once I finally did leave the school we were interrupted one final time by Nate's butler, Alfred, who had showed up to school for whatever reason - I assume it was hometime or something. Alfred calls the guy "Sir Nate", which cracks the others up, much to the annoyance of the man in question. Irritably, he orders me to get a move on, and I do, stopping at Joy Street and the Augustus tree along the way.

Finally, I get to the hospital, and we go and visit Mary since we've got some time to kill before our checkup, but not before I catch Alfred spying on us behind an Atlus vending machine (I see you game). Obviously, the old fart tells me not to tell "Sir Nate", and I shake it off, leading the others up the stairs to Room 302, where Mark says Mary is. Apparently, according to some of the other doctors, Mark has been paying Mary some visits in his off hours, which Yuki finds pretty suspect. I'm not sure why it bothers her so much but by the same token, I know virtually nothing about these characters so I suppose I'm not meant to.  
Still, it does make me wonder, too...

So we get to Mary's room and the game tells me that she's been in the hospital for a year due to minor mental delusions.


How stable is this game's world's economy if they can afford to keep kids in the hospital for a whole year straight for "minor" mental delusions? I'm assuming that was lost in translation, and in the original release something a lot more serious is going on. The doctors, as well as Mary herself, tell us that her mother has been spending all her time working and that she "doesn't care" about Mary. I'm going to make an educated guess and assume that this is solely because the health system in Lunarvale is expecting her to pay through the nose for keeping her daughter in the hospital, but what the hell do I know?

Anyway, Mary actually has one of her mental delusions right there, and freaks out for a bit, before she's carted to Intensive Care. We go and wait outside, and then the ground starts shaking. Mark and Nate assume it's just a large earthquake, but then Mark goes to check the ICU, only to find that the room has completely vanished, the door presenting us with a blank wall. Something very fishy is going on here... Before we can wrap our heads around this, somebody screams from downstairs and the game sends us there to check it out.

It turns out, some zombies from the morgue have gotten up and started to terrorise the civilians in the hospital, and it's here that we enter our first, albeit scripted, battle.

During the sequence, our Persona appear, stating that they are us and we are them, and that they would help us out. They defeat the monsters for us, and the battle concludes.

Before we were thrust into the fight, we learn that Alfred jumped in front of the zombies to protect the other people, but was struck down. He and Nate share their solemn goodbyes, Alfred requesting of Nate that he becomes a great man one day, and then the old man corpses it, causing Nate to break down right there. We share a moment of silence, and things move on on a slightly dreary note. Something tells me the rest of this game is going to prove to be similarly bleak.

So the entire hospital has been shifted around, it taking on an entirely different layout to what it was before this whole ordeal started, and it is hear that the game truly starts. Now we get random monster encounters, the likes of which are set to one of the most badass battle themes in any game I've played period, side rooms with item boxes, labyrinthine structures, the works. I can confidently say that already, not even an hour into the game, that Persona is good. Really good.

Anyways, I managed to traverse through the hospital and, after being joined by Ellen who helps us in another battle, we learn that the city has been completely overrun by demons and that the school is currently the safest place in all of Lunarvale. We also learn that Mary's mother is trapped at the Shrine to the South-West of town, so I stop by there on my way back to the school. And they weren't kidding about the city being overrun; random encounters are a thing on the streets now, as well, and might I add that the encounter rate is nice and high, which is usually the way I like it when I play a JRPG - it removes the need for grinding if you fight every single battle you're entered into, or at least largely.

Once I arrive at the Shrine, we do indeed find Mary's mother, and she tells us that the Sebec corporation, who she works for, is thrusting the entire city into turmoil through the development of some unknown weapon, and that if we don't stop it, we're all going to die. Or, something like that. Anyways, our characters must have ADHD or something because halfway through talking to her, they're distracted by a butterfly, and we encounter Philemon for the second time. He tells us that evil men are at work and that we have to use our Persona to put a stop to them. Or not, he gave us the choice but as far as I'm aware this is where the Snow Queen garbage would have come into play. That's not in the PS1 version, so I just buggered off to the school to move the plot along.

When we made it back, we were stopped at the gate by some presumably older students who asked for a password, which, shockingly, went as follows:

Roses are red, zombies are blue,
But my face is white,
So you know I'm true.

Am I the only one who sees the issue with this? This had to have been some gross oversight on the translators' part, especially given one of our main party members is black, but for all I know, this could be totally intentional; I have no idea how this was altered, if at all, in the PSP version. It's not even accurate: the zombies we fight in game have green skin.

Racially questionable rhymes aside, we're allowed entry to the school, and as soon as we get there, the teacher splits us up, having Yuki and Ellen help with plugging up the hole at the back of the school, and taking me with her to get Mary's mum to the nurse (she fainted after being grazed by a bullet). Oh, and I forgot to mention that Nate and Mark went together to the police station, I assume to get supplies. Why the two of them went together is beyond me, since it's blatantly obvious that they hate each others' guts. But whatever, I won't question it.

And that was essentially what went down in my first play session. Next I'll talk about the things I liked/disliked.


As a side note, I'm expecting only to have to cover this a few times, but, like I've said before, you never know. The game could throw a complete curveball and start lobbing super varied gameplay styles at me, but I'm assuming that's not going to happen.

So, wasting no more time, let's get on with the things I liked:

  • Despite the wonky translation, all the characters have really good chemistry, and, even though most of my friends were complete jerks, I could see myself getting along with them, had they happened to be real people. I wonder how much that says about me, haha...
  • The plot, so far at least, has been pretty engaging. The game throws you straight into the deep end almost immediately, what with all the weird goings on at the hospital, and you know that there's something more wrong with Mary than just minor mental delusions, and that Sebec is totally up to no good but you're not entirely sure why... I'm loving already.
  • The visuals for the most part (the town looks a little jank but I'll give the game the benefit of being a 1996 PS1 game) are really clean. The insides of dungeons are well-designed, which fits well with that most of them are the sorts of buildings you would expect to be very squared and boring in design anyway, like a school or a hospital. The sprite-art and character portraits are really well done, also, and I'm not sure I'd be able to tell that they'd been altered if I didn't know the original version existed.
  • The soundtrack freakin' bops, man. Enough said.
  • The inclusion of strafe buttons was really smart. It saves having to manually turn around every time you want to go left or right, and they're in a comfortable spot on the controller, so, yeah. Good decision on Atlus' part.
And, now, onto the things I wasn't so hot about.
  • The way the menus are set up messes with my head, yo. The whole orbital thing they've got going on and the circle button closing everything is kind of eugh, especially when I'm so used to the PS1 Final Fantasies (IV, V, VI, VIII after I've changed the controls). This is probably something that I'll get used to over time, however, so I'm not that annoyed by it.
  • Contacting enemies in battle for spell cards. This is a major source of tedium, but only because the game doesn't give you any hints on how to interact with the monsters. This problem would be totally negated if you entered a battle and the monster you wanted to talk to said something like: "You know, I've been really getting into music lately," which would give you the idea to either Sing with the main character or Dance with Mark, or something like that. I get that this would by the same token negate any puzzle-solving aspect of it, but since the game doesn't give you any hints I don't feel like the puzzle-solving aspect is there in the first place. It essentially boils down to just trial and error, and I assume this will only get worse the further into the game I get.
Okay, so my likes and gripes are out of the way, so, let's move on to some of the thoughts and/or questions I had.


One thing to note going into this was that a lot of the questions I have will probably be answered by the end of the game, and will largely involve spoilers, but I figured I'd include them here anyway since they still interest me.
  • How did the characters come to know about Persona before they started "playing" Persona, or before their first encounter with Philemon? Is the use of Persona something widespread in this world? Is it something you can read up on in books? What's with it?
  • What's the deal with Mary? It's pretty obvious to me that she's not just having "minor" mental delusions, and that she's got some major involvement in the plot, as all this weird stuff started happening right after she had her attack in the hospital.
  • What is Philemon? I get that he's some sort of angel, based on the stone in the school courtyard, but where did he come from? Is he a recurring character?
  • What's all this moon BS in the corner of the screen? What does it determine? I know the later games follow a more standard day-by-day timing system, and I can fully comprehend why - this stuff is just cryptic and I don't get what effect it has on anything, if at all.
  • Why do Nate and Mark hate each other so much? Who pissed in whose hair? I get that this one probably won't get answered at all, but it's still interesting to me.
  • What does each stat that you raise with points after levelling do?

So, yeah, that was my first session of Persona for PS1. After the next session hopefully I'll have a little more understanding of what's going on and *hopefully* the story will unravel a little further - I'm really enjoying it already!

I'd appreciate it if some of you could address some of the gameplay-related issues and queries I've had, or at least try, since I'm going to do my best not to use a walkthrough.

Thanks, guys!
Joker is in another Persona game on Switch so he’s not exclusive to P5 FYI.
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So, having played the PSP remake with its much cleaner (albeit less Americanized) translation, I might be able to answer a couple of the plot questions that aren't quite so spoilery but more lost in translation.

So the Persona "ritual" at the beginning, that was a big dare, it was supposedly some sort of fortune-telling urban legend, as far as the team knows.
Mary (or Maki in the original/cleaner version) also has an unspecified chronic illness that keeps her in the hospital.
And phase of the moon will come into play later; not plotwise but when you finally can make use of the spell cards.
Nate and Mark? Nate's your basic uptight rich snob, Mark's family isn't so rich and and a bit more whimsical; so it's a clash of class and personality.
Okay, so a quick update:

I just recently started playing the PSP version of the game (the translation on the PS1 version, particularly where it was explaining things to me, like in the Velvet Room for example, was too incomprehensible) and I gotta say, already I love it. The translation is much, much better, meaning it's a lot easier to understand what's going on; the new cutscenes with full voice acting look and sound really nice (the cast seem to have so far done a great job of giving character to their... well... characters, and that new intro... Hoo boy, that thing is amazing. The song that it's set to, called Dream of Butterfly, is catchy as all hell, and it does a much better job of letting you know that Maki is important to the story. Seriously, you should give it a watch if you don't believe me. Maki shows up every other shot it would seem.

I only just started so more word on the story when I get to that point, and I apologise for taking such a long time to get around to it ('^_^)>

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