We need a Persona 2 remake

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The last few years have seen a craze for remakes. On the whole, I’d say this is a good thing. So long as they’re not merely cashing in on nostalgia, remakes and ports play an important role in bringing classic games in front of new audiences. We’re at a point now where young people are playing games without having grown up with classic consoles like the NES, Super Nintendo or even PlayStation, and making classic games available helps develop an appreciation of video game history. Remakes and remasters can also help games find an audience if they were released on neglected or commercially unsuccessful consoles like the Dreamcast or Wii U. The PS4 has seen a glut of remakes over the last year and a half, and I caught up on games I missed on PS3 like The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls. I also played a bunch of Resident Evil HD remakes, while on Nintendo consoles I was finally able to enjoy Majora’s Mask and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.

Of course, it’s important not to get carried away with remakes and re-releases. It’s arguable that you shouldn’t have to fork out for the same game on multiple consoles (like repeatedly buying the same port of a classic game on different iterations of Nintendo’s Virtual Console). Moreover, publishers need to be warned away from relying on cheap and badly done re-releases as an easy money-spinner: a rash of low-effort remasters is bad for the future health of the industry if people spend all their money on classics rather than trying new games.

But there’s one game I think is crying out for a remake: Persona 2. Persona 2 is actually two games, P2: Innocent Sin and P2: Eternal Punishment. They were released for the PlayStation in 1999 and 2000, and developer Atlus has since ported them to different Sony consoles. However, they’re still hard to get hold of: in the UK, you can only play Innocent Sin on PSP (and who plays PSP now?), unless you still have an old PSX knocking around and are prepared to mess around with NTSC discs off ebay. And even if you find a way to get the game up and running, you’re faced with a seriously outdated gameplay system and have to contend with an unreasonable number of random battles. Basically, the only way for a contemporary-minded gamer to play it now is with a walkthrough open the entire time.

The Persona series is big business these days, not just in Japan but in the West too. The games are loved for their stories, characters, and dialogue; areas where Persona 2 does not disappoint at all. The game’s story needs to be brought to a modern audience, many of whom would be put off by the game’s frustrating and old-fashioned mechanics. The graphics actually hold up pretty well, but would be easily improved; while the excellent soundtrack, which was re-done for the PSP version, barely needs any work at all.

Atlus could potentially release both games as one “Ultimate” version of Persona 2, perhaps even containing the original games as “extras” for the few diehards who might want to play them that way – the memory requirements are pretty trivial these days, after all. The overall play time for the two games combined would likely be around 80-100 hours, which is pretty standard now for most AAA RPGs. It would also help fill in the release schedule nicely before the next mainline Persona game. Finally, we know Atlus is not averse to ports and remakes: their release schedule is full of them, many of which were originally series spin-offs in the first place like Strange Journey or Devil Survivor. The sales ceiling for a P2 remake is much, much higher – even if the risk of damage to the brand is higher too.

This brings us to the small matter of Innocent Sin’s… unusual story, which is awesome but does contain time-travelling Nazis and at times adopts a surreal tone which might be poorly-received by some games journalists today. But this is surely not insurmountable. Persona 2 is a game which really deserves to be enjoyed by more people, especially considering how many have fallen in love with the series over the last decade. Atlus asked fans for their opinion on a P2 remake earlier this year, so they’ve clearly considered the idea. Now it’s time for us to apply the power of positive thinking!

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U) – Review

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Fire Emblem has been my favourite Nintendo franchise for years now. We bought a 3DS to play Fire Emblem Awakening, and we bought a Wii U this summer to play Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. During development the game was often referred to as Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, suggesting it would be a mashup of these two wildly popular Japanese RPG franchises. In the end, as the hashtag suggests, Fire Emblem is more a flavour here than anything else: sure, there are Fire Emblem characters and gameplay devices, but don’t buy this game expecting anything like a standard Fire Emblem experience. Instead, what you’llĀ  get is much more akin to a Persona game (it was developed by Persona developer Atlus, after all, rather than Intelligent Systems). But don’t let that put you off. TMS #FE is one of the most enjoyable JRPGs in years, and I had an absolute blast playing it from start to finish.

I had actually never played a Shin Megami Tensei or Persona game before, so the mechanics and style of this game were something of a novelty to me. The first thing to note is the distinctive setting and storyline. TMS is an unashamed celebration of Japanese popular culture, and the main story sees you control a group of teen pop idols. In the UK that would be the worst thing ever, but what’s remarkable here is that the game manages to make the pop idols thoroughly likable. Not only that, but even their managers and trainers are, for the most part, pretty decent and entertaining people. It’s quite an achievement.

The main character is high-school student Itsuki Aoi. Itsuki can’t really sing or act but he certainly knows how to make friends and bring out the best in others. Itsuki is joined by several other aspiring musicians and actors who for the most part are well-written and pretty fun to hang out with. There’s only one real exception in the form of Barry, a former platinum-selling American Death Metal musician who gave up his career to become an Otaku and who is obsessed with little girls’ anime. Lame. Your troupe of artists (who, of course, don’t just sing but also act and model as well) get caught up in a sinister plot to destroy the world. Basically, demons (called ‘Mirages’) are invading our dimension in order to consume people’s ‘Performa’, which is the embodiment of confidence and the performing arts. Once people lose their Performa they become depressed, mope around, and eventually die. Much of the game revolves around returning people’s stolen Performa, which often involves some kind of minor fetch quest followed by a boss fight and some kind of awesome musical performance or comedy routine.

The writing in Tokyo Mirage Sessions is consistently excellent and often very funny. There are a welter of side quests, including several personal quests for each party member. These often put you in unusual situations, and generally revolve around using The Power of Friendship to inspire other people and help them reach their potential. It’s a well-worn trope in anime and Japanese RPGs, to be sure, but here it’s handled with a sincerity and vivacious panache that will win over all but the most hardened cynic. I also wondered about the subtext: ‘Mirages’, many of whom are actually video game characters, come to our world and prey on people’s potential, causing them to lose confidence in themselves and the wider world. How many of us have seen this happen to people we know (or even ourselves) when becoming a little too immersed in video games? However, Tokyo Mirage Sessions shows that it’s perfectly possible to create video games that inspire and bring wholesome joy, rather than sucking the life and/or money out of you. It stands in the best tradition of video games.

The game’s graphics are colourful and the characters are well-rendered and animated, and most of the environments are vibrant. The game’s dungeons do feature some very flat backgrounds, but then they are all set in inter-dimensional space. Nobody plays the Wii U expecting amazing graphics, but TMS does a great job with its art style and design. At first, when I saw T. playing it I thought the graphics looked somewhat primitive; but as soon as I started playing myself, I stopped worrying about that. It just sucks you in.

As well as the colourful and fresh visual style, TMS features a pretty amazing soundtrack. There’s plenty of J-Pop, as you would expect given the subject matter, but also a number of rock and electronica-inflected themes, and even some jazz. It’s surprisingly varied and a major part of the game’s attraction. There are several stand-out themes and some of them rank with the best RPG music I’ve heard in years. Only fitting for a game which revolves around the music industry.

There is a great deal of conversation and exposition, and Itsuki occasionally gets to make choices in the form of dialogue options and so on. This is mainly played for laughs though, as you can’t really change the direction of the plot. Most of the actual gameplay revolves around exploring several hub areas in Tokyo, before entering ‘Idolaspheres’ which serve as dungeons which you have to explore and where you fight semi-random encounters. You see generic ghostly creatures as you explore; Itsuki can whack them with his sword for an advantage before running into them to start an encounter. Fights are a turn-based affair where each character and enemy can attack during each round. You have a selection of physical and magical attacks, and by targeting enemy weaknesses you can trigger ‘Sessions’ which cause your party members to attack in turn, giving you free hits and building up combos. This way you can also build up your ‘special’ meter, which allows you to unleash devastating ‘Special Performances’, and you also eventually unlock Duo Arts where your party members attack in unison.

The combat strikes a great balance between strategy and spectacle, and it is pretty well-paced for the most part. Even on Normal difficulty your party members can easily die if the enemy targets their weaknesses, so you’re forced to plan and use your entire team. Your attacks, and especially special performances and duo arts, often look incredible and are a real pleasure to behold. Your teammates tend to be quite talkative in battle and the voice acting is really good. Even though it’s all in Japanese, and unfortunately none of the in-battle dialogue is subtitled, I still found myself enjoying some of the silly phrases spouted by Touma and the rest of the gang.

It can be very silly to see two teenage girls doing a song-and-dance routine in front of some weird monster in order to cause a huge amount of damage to it, but it’s always fun. Generally speaking, combat is not too difficult if you do all the side missions; there is one very challenging boss fight about halfway through the game, but once you unlock the gamut of special abilities combat is not too frustrating. This is relatively forgiving as JRPGs go. Unfortunately, although your party will eventually grow to well beyond the three-person limit you can have in combat at any one time, Itsuki always has to be in the party.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions sold very badly, which is no surprise I guess considering the low install base of the Wii U but still something of a shame. I’m aware there was some controversy over ‘censorship’ of its Western release, which saw the removal or adaptation of some more revealing outfits from the female characters. I’m opposed to censorship in general, but that said, I don’t think it can really be said to have detracted from the overall experience in this case. There’s no question that the pervier side of anime can put some people off engaging with it, so I don’t have a problem with pre-empting potential criticism in the hope of reaching a wider audience. Sensibilities about these things are different in Japan than they are in Europe and North America, and a couple of bikinis wouldn’t have added to this game. If anything, the lack of fanservice adds to the game’s whole positive and upbeat aesthetic.

Another criticism of Tokyo Mirage Sessions that has done the rounds is that the game is heavily based on ‘anime tropes’. This is true to an extent, but I suspect a lot of people dogpiling on internet forums about this simply have no idea what tropes are. Every production of popular culture is based around tropes, either from within that culture or borrowed from another one. Tropes can be adhered to or subverted, but they’re always there, and it’s completely fallacious to condemn an artwork merely because it ‘uses tropes’. That said, Tokyo Mirage Sessions sticks quite closely to some familiar anime and JRPG tropes, especially The Power of Friendship. But its execution is so good, and the experience of playing the game so damn positive, that it’s self-defeating as well as wrongheaded to avoid the game on this basis. This is a game that’s definitely a force for good in the world. Although I came expecting more Fire Emblem, I’m delighted to have been introduced to Atlus’s world of video games. TMS may have sold badly, but since finishing it I’ve bought at least half a dozen SMT and Persona games in preparation for the release of Persona 5 next year. Bring it on.

9/10