NOW PLAYING: Tales of the Abyss (PS2) & Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (PSP)

Since finishing up the majority of what Dragon’s Dogma has to offer, I needed a break before heading in to NG+. RPGs have always been my favorite genre and my back catalog of unbeaten games is ridiculous, so I figured what the hell, I’ll dive in to one and see what happens.

My first choice (which has been at the top of my list for months) was the original Disgaea, but much to my dismay there are a small handful of PS2 games that are not supported by component cables on a majority of HDTVs. Like ICO, La Pucelle: Tactics and Phantom Brave for the PS2, Disgaea runs at a weird resolution (240p, I think?) which most HDTVs do not recognize. It actually works fine on our gaming TV but the girlfriend is currently 50+ hours in to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and asking her to stop so I can play Disgaea would most likely end in a fatal stabbing whilst I slumber. We have a spare TV, so I hooked up the PS2 with our component cables and tucked my tail between my legs as I walked back to our gaming shelf to search for an alternative.

I found a used copy of Tales of the Abyss for PS2 at the local Gamestop months ago for about $15 and it’s sat on my shelf ever since. I read a few reviews, watched some video reviews and saw this game on more than a few top PS2 RPG lists, so I figured it would be a solid choice. I haven’t really been exposed to the Tales series since the original Tales of Destiny for the PSone (despite owning a majority of them) and I didn’t even play that one too much, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Anyway, I popped in the game, watched the anime intro and settled in to my comfy gaming chair for a night of random battles, level grinding and typical JRPG tropes. For a JRPG, the voice acting is actually pretty solid outside of a few purposefully comedic characters (Dist, Anise and Mieu) but constantly breaking the spoken dialogue for text-filled conversations between my party members started to get a little annoying. That is, until I realized that a majority of character interaction was done this way and it was really the only way to see what everyone was thinking. Now I actually look forward to them on a constant basis.

At first the plot made absolutely no sense and 10 hours in to Abyss it still doesn’t. Fonists, Scorers, Orders.. what the fuck, am I playing Quidditch? Once Abyss moves along and Luke (the main protagonist) is thrown out in to the real world for the first time since his (typical JRPG) amnesia/kidnapping, I started to realize that the game is supposed to be confusing because everyone else in the world knows exactly what’s going on. You, the player, are playing the role of Luke, the amnesiac aristocratic dickhead, so it only makes sense that both of you don’t understand a damn thing about what everyone else is referring to half the time. He learns slowly as do we and I really dig that about Abyss so far.

Combat can go from simple button mashing to crushing boss fights where you barely scrape away within an inch of your life. I like the combination of 2D and 3D movements and how simplistically difficult it is to master chaining artes together, side-stepping magic attacks and knowing when to go balls deep in a boss or when to swipe once or twice and back off.

Right now Luke is still a whiny bitch who treats everyone like shit and I just wish he’d man up and pursue Tear because I like tomboy characters. Guy, on the other hand, is completely making the game for me right now with his gynophobia that comes and goes in comedic spurts. I actually like all of the characters for what they are, but after 2 hours of hearing Luke tell Mieu to shut up or whining about wanting to go back home, I have to take a break before I punt my kitten across the room.. and I love my kitten.

So that’s where SMT: Persona comes in. SMT is probably my favorite RPG series of all time, spanning across Persona, Digital Devil Saga, Devil Survivor, Nocturne, Strange Journey, etc. I loved the original Persona: Revelations for the PSone with its masochistic difficulty, completely original storyline and its abandonment of anything familiar in the way of locales. I was just an ignorant teenager when it released way back when so I was unaware that North America was missing the Snow Queen questline and Mark wasn’t supposed to be black. I was just happy to be playing another RPG.

The original Japanese Mark, left, and the Americanized ridiculous looking Mark from the NA release of Persona: Revelations (PSX), right.

I didn’t buy my PSP until 2010 but my first purchase was the SMT: Persona collectors edition. It was a no brainer. I couldn’t wait to jump back in to the realm of Persona, con demons out of spell cards and suffer through the SEBEC building with only four characters to recruit Reiji.. so why in the hell did I wait until 2012 to actually start playing it? I hate handheld systems. That’s why. Even my most favorite RPG series couldn’t suck me in to playing a handheld when the luxury of a next-gen console is sitting in my bedroom. Sure, I’ve played my fair share of handheld games, but I’ve never invested more than 20-30 hours in to any of them (Pokemon Red and Pokemon Heartgold). I don’t take road trips where I’m not the driver, I didn’t want to sit in my car and play one during my lunch breaks at work and the only time I brought my PSP with me on a plane, it died after playing Crisis Core for 15 minutes because I forgot to charge it before I left.

So with my dilemma being that Abyss requires a break every so often and not being able to play my PSP for extended periods of time, playing both games was actually the perfect alchemy concoction I could come up with.. and it’s actually working. I’m 10 hours in to both games and loving it. I usually start with Abyss and when Luke makes me want to burn my laundry I save, turn it off and play Persona until my earphones make the insides of my ears melt away or I can’t take the mass amount of random battles anymore. Each one makes the other so much more tolerable! In Persona, I don’t have to deal with Luke being a whiny bitch and in Abyss I don’t have to suffer through random battles every five steps. It’s nice!

Holy crap, this is a long post. Sorry I didn’t warn you about the wall of text. Sorry I also didn’t warn you that this post, in all honesty, is pretty pointless. While I’m on the subject though, has anyone out there played either of these two games? What did you think? Which PS2 RPGs were your favorites that you might have recommended instead?

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