This week, it was announced that Persona would finally be making an appearance on the next generation of consoles, as well as on PC. Persona 3: Portable, Persona 4: Golden and Persona 5: Royal will be available for a whole new market of gamers to enjoy. This port avalanche begins in October, with Persona 5: Royal being the first to release. Persona 3: Portable and Persona 4: Golden are set to follow in the future.
That being said – if you don’t own a Sony console, you probably have only heard about Persona from afar. The franchise has been (mostly) exclusive to the Playstation since its inception. While Persona 4: Golden saw a port to PC in 2020, Persona 5 and Persona 3 have only ever been locked to Sony platforms. If you’ve always been a Nintendo or Xbox gamer, you were flat out of luck.
Now, that’s changing. Almost everyone (sorry, Nintendo fans!) is going to be able to get their mitts on the most popular JRPG franchise since Final Fantasy. If you want to dive in, then good news! I’m here to help. Persona is a personal favorite franchise – so with this article, I’m going to give you the run-down. What is Persona? What is the series about? Why should you give it a try?
Hopefully – I can give you the kickstart into some of my favorite ever video games.
Time To Make History
So, what is Persona?
Persona is a series of Japanese RPGs that began back in 1996 as a side-project from Atlus – a company known for their work on the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Shin Megami Tensei focuses on a society in the apocalypse, with the protagonist acting as an arbiter for the fate of the entire world. You could either choose to plunge the world into chaos, establish a world of strict order – or carve your own path. Demons with unique designs functioned as the players party, similar to a hellish Pokemon team. The series still continues today with Shin Megami Tensei V releasing on the Switch in 2021.
Persona’s relationship with Shin Megami Tensei is hard to pin-point. In localisation, Persona 3 and Persona 4 have both been referred to under the title of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona – implying them to be spinoffs. However, in Japan, the games are merely franchises that share some common elements, but are mostly disconnected.
While Shin Megami Tensei focuses on the gravitas of changing reality itself in the demonic post-apocalypse, Persona chooses to focus on a much scarier threat: being a teenager.
Throughout the various Persona games you play as a teenager attending high school over the course of a single in-game year. During this year, you meet new friends as you struggle with every-day school life. You engage in all sorts of menial tasks so as to build up your social stats, which allow you to develop stronger bonds with your friends and learn more about them. This is known as the social link mechanic. You invest time into yourself, and it lets you invest time more into your friends.
At first, you could be fooled into thinking you’re playing some kind of life-sim. Don’t be fooled – there is a whole underbelly to this teenager’s everyday life. In each Persona game, their ordinary life has a catch. Before each protagonists’ journey begins, they receive a warning in a dream: an existential, supernatural threat is coming and you must fight against it. They sign a contract in their dream and are unknowingly inducted into a fight against a greater threat beyond human perception – the repressed thoughts and feelings of the unconscious.
To combat the monsters in this supernatural world, you are given a unique ability: the power to use a Persona. A Persona represents something different in each game – but at its core, it is a projection of the protagonist’s identity into power. They have cool designs, and a host of moves that can be used in turn-based combat to fight enemies. Each party member gets their own Persona that represents their own identity, attained by confronting an aspect of themselves. The protagonist, as a result of signing their contract, has the ability of using more than one Persona at once. The gameplay of the supernatural world is about fighting monsters, juggling each Persona you have, and trying to make it through dungeons with the party.
This contrast between the real and the unreal is at the core of the series and its identity. You have to juggle fighting through the mysteries of this new, unknown world – and doing your exams. The two worlds are not disconnected from one another, either. The protagonist’s work in their everyday life gives them power in the supernatural world. Their strengthened bonds with their friends through social links allows them to become stronger.
This is also true of the negative things happening in the real world. When something negative happens in the real world, its negative impacts on the psyche begin to have negative effects on the supernatural world. They function based around unconscious desires, thoughts and feelings – so when something negative happens, the supernatural worlds change to fit the negativity and get more threatening.
So, don’t fail your exams.
Colors Flying High
This premise is what creates the basic structure of each Persona game. Average teenager by day, explorer of the human psyche in monstrous form by night. This idea, playing out day by day over the course of an in-game year makes for a compelling and interesting spin on the JRPG genre. Juggling real life responsibilities with solving larger-than-life threats makes you almost feel like an anime version of Spider-Man.
However, that is just the framework. Part of what makes Persona so compelling to me is that it adapts this framework to new environments, new styles of gameplay and new stories to tell. Each game has a new cast of characters, a new setting and a new core theme that it is seeking to tackle with its story. This shift is represented by the changing colors in each game’s aesthetic: Persona 3 is blue, Persona 4 is yellow and Persona 5 is red. These aren’t just idle color choices – they permeate the aesthetics of each game.
Persona 3 focuses on the acceptance of death, and a rejection of apathy in the face of sorrow. The main character is attuned to a time of day known as The Dark Hour – a mysterious hour between days where a tower erupts from the ground, filled with enemies. In this game, each character awakens their Persona by holding a gun to their head – and pulling the trigger. In doing so, they accept their own fear of death and gain the will to fight. The core color of blue represents two things at once: blue represents sorrow and fear in many cultures around the world, but according to the art director for the game, it also represents a sense of adolescence. With these meanings in mind – blue in Persona 3 represents not just that feeling of existential dread, but also overcoming them and laying a foundation for yourself in the future.
Persona 4 chooses to discuss identity, and overcoming other people’s expectations for who you want to be. The main character is accidentally pulled into a television at midnight, after hearing a rumor of the Midnight Channel. From there, he gains the power to access a mysterious realm where thoughts shape their reality. Inside the Midnight Channel, each character sees a reflection of themselves that shows something about them they don’t want to accept. To awaken their Persona, they must accept this reflection as part of who they are. It might be a personal flaw they’re afraid to admit, or just something they refuse to accept about themselves. The usage of the color yellow throughout the games Ul represents a sense of happiness – the joy of self-love and acceptance.
Lastly, Persona 5 is filled with a muted anger. The game is about being held down by society and fighting for who you want to be. The main character is a delinquent, who was wrongfully charged with assault. The protagonist tries to make an effort to start over – until he is given an app on his phone that transports him into a strange dimension known as the Metaverse. The Metaverse is a dimension that shows the twisted desires of bad people. However, it is possible to change their ways through tampering with the Metaverse. With this idea in mind, the protagonist and his ragtag friends seek to change the hearts of corrupt people – and make the world a better place. The red present through Persona 5’s color scheme represents that anger at injustice.
Each Persona game comes equipped with something to say about the world using its characters, aesthetics and contrasting playstyles. It is a part of the reason the series has such staying power – Persona speaks to people about the issues that affect them in some way, and validates how they feel. While Shin Megami Tensei may have gotten popular by giving players broad questions about the future of society, Persona chooses to discuss contemporary issues that can relate to every-day life.
Memories Of You
So, why is Persona worth your time? Why should you give these games an earnest fair shot?
Sure, they are fun. I love the fast paced battles of Persona. Sure, there is great music and visuals. Persona 5 especially has some of my favorite presentation in any game ever.
Despite that, I think you should play them for another reason. I think Persona and its set of messages are empowering, and help people feel seen. These games are about people questioning if they have a place in the world – and eventually finding their own answers.
That message is important. Persona is a franchise that, above all else, tells people that it’s okay to be you regardless of what the world thinks. It tells you that you’re going to be okay.
I think some people really need to hear that.