Persona as a franchise has been around for far, far longer than the recent surge in popularity might lead you to believe. Hell, Persona 4 came out originally nearly 10 years ago, which is probably why all the buzz around its long in development sequel is really getting the attention the series finally deserves. But with this break in to the mainstream it’s easy to sit down through a couple of Persona 5 trailers and still not know what the hell it’s about. That’s fine, but there’s a couple of things you should know before getting your Shin Megami Tensei fix from tomorrow.
Ok, so what’s this Persona business all about? And how long ago did it start.
Very, very long ago. Persona originated as a spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei, originally being released with “Persona” only as an attachment to the title. The first (and by extension, second) games were hardcore dungeon crawlers, with the more social aspects of the games that came afterwards missing. The games did, however, set the trend of engrossing stories and fascinating characters for players to interact with – something which has been a strong aspect of all Persona releases since.
In all honesty though, the first two Persona games act more as a jumping off point than integral entries into the series. Gamespot released a really neat retrospective that dives more into the mythology surround the first two games, but we’ll be moving on.
Ok, still don’t know what Persona is about. Actually, what is a Persona in the first place?
So Persona is first and foremost a dungeon crawler of sorts (we’ll get to the other half of the game soon). You’ll battle either demons or shadows throughout Persona 3 to 5, with your Hero and his teammates taking command of, well, Personas. These creatures are physical manifestations of a person’s personality, which make for some fascinating visual representations. On a more mechanical level, they govern your abilities within fights. Personas have their own strengths and weakness, which tie into the game’s many different elemental statuses. One Persona might have a bunch of fire attacks but be weak to ice, for example. Another might be able to wipe out Darkness prone enemies with a single attack, but do little else beyond that.
Persona are the lifeblood of the series. You’ll fuse them in the Velvet Room (a reoccurring point in all games that ties them all loosely together), while upgrading their stats, acquiring new ones and shuffling between them in battles. Persona 3 and 4 both tied this progression of Personas to Social Links, which make a big impact on how you play the other half of these RPGs.
Social Links? Like making friends or something?
Precisely! Social Links in both Persona 3 and 4 opened up new Personas for you to acquire and upgrade, while also introducing you to the stellar side cast that both titles had. Each of these characters are complex, unravelling their inner turmoils the more you get to know them. These personalities are directly tied to the Personas they unlock, taking on specific traits and appearances based on the people they manifest from. The stronger your social link to the character, the more powerful Personas in that branch you’re able to fuse. It’s easy to want to work on all your Social Links at once, but Persona 3 and 4 make you mange your time wisely. You can only be best friends with so many people, but just be sure to always go for lunch with Yukiko.
Yeah, Yukiko. She’s the best character in Persona 4. Although let’s not fight about that now.
Ok then. So back to time management – are you saying Persona limits how much time I get to play?
Yes, and it’s nowhere near as bad as you might think. For as much as Persona is a dungeon crawler, since Persona 3 it’s also been a heavy social life simulator of sorts. Outside of the mystic worlds you’ll find yourself in, Persona really focuses on the day-to-day activities of your characters in traditional Japanese school life. You’ll attend classes, answer stupid questions from tutors, hang out with friends and eat ridiculously large bowls of spicy noodles on rainy days.
Each of these actions have an effect, whether it be on your personal stats which help progress your own growth through the game, or on those of your Social Links. but just as in reality they take time. Performing one action usually locks all the other out for the rest of the day, with the entirety of Persona’s campaigns taking place during a calendar year. As the days tick by, the game progresses, making each of your decisions vital and important as you edge closer to the end of the year.
In Persona 4 especially, this time was used wisely to pressure you into solving the game’s central mysteries. Victims would have specific times as to when they would be murdered in the game’s alternate world, which added a neat element of urgency to your player progressions and leisurely activities. Persona has employed this system expertly since Persona 3, and it’s alive and well in Persona 5.
And steak! I get really hungry playing Persona, truth be told.
So we’ve got social and dating simulations mixed with dungeon crawling. Is this what Persona 5 is all about.
Yes and no, with good reasoning. Persona 5 expands on the core pillars that both Persona 3 and 4 have established. It retains the calendar system introduced in three and keeps the multiple dungeon structure of Persona 4. but it also dives deep into the heritage of older instalments. unlike Persona 4, dungeons aren’t just randomly generated floors with empty hallways and shadows. Here’’ they’re specifically designed spaces, allowing you to employ some new stealth mechanics to get the jump on demons.
Like earlier games too, you’ll be able to converse with these demons again. Original Persona titles allowed you to sometimes talk your way out of combat, forcing demons to reward you with gear, additional Personas and more. This system was eventually replaced, culminating in the random Shuffle Time card system in Persona 4. Here, gear, Personas and combat benefits were dealt out randomly at the end of fights, with little control over what you could get out of them.
Persona 5 ditches that and draws a ton of inspiration from older entries. Not only that, but it’s just bigger in every sense of the word. The more central Tokyo setting is larger and packed with more side activities to lose yourself in, and that’s discounting the many side missions and alternate dungeons you can find yourself exploring. You still have to keep your grades up though, so try listen in class and ignore the talking cat.
Wait there’s a talking cat? Why didn’t you lead with that?
Oh Morgana? He seems pretty cool, and a nice replacement for Persona 4’s Teddie character. Seeing him act like a miniature fluffy Zorro has my heart bleeding.
Great! Persona 5 is out tomorrow on PS4 and PS3, but unless you’re planning on getting it digitally you might have to wait a while. Reviews have been pretty stellar too, and since each story stands on its own there’s no need to worry about missing out on the long lineage of the series. Just go eat some noodles, attend class and kick demon ass at night. Sounds fun right?