Pixel Sundays: Charting the Persona Series’ Evolution

25 February 2024 at 14:00 in Deals, Gaming News with no comments
Pixel Sundays: Charting the Persona Series

What is Persona

Persona is a series of video games developed and published by Atlus. This series, spanning 28 years, initially originated as a spinoff of one of Japan’s most popular and renowned series, Megami Tensei. The series first gained significant attention with Persona 3, which radically diverged from its predecessors in terms of content. With changes that made it extremely popular, the Persona series has become quite renowned and has overshadowed Megami Tensei, at least outside of Japan.

Unlike Megami Tensei, Persona focuses on a group of teenage boys attending high school. These boys are able to summon manifestations of their own egos, known as Personas. The gameplay follows the classic JRPG turn-based style, where the active group of companions battles alongside their Persona, a spirit or a historical/mythological figure, against groups of enemies. All of this is accompanied by a story with a fascinating plot that often combines serious themes with those of analytical psychology.

Persona franchise featuring all the main characters

The Persona Classics

The Persona Classic games refer to the first 3 chapters of the series, all of which are interconnected unlike the modern ones, which are standalone chapters. We have Revelations: Persona, released in 1996, the first chapter of the series featuring a boy from St. Hermelin High School in the city of Mikage-cho (Lunarvale in the US version). During a ritual called Persona, similar to Bloody Mary, the group lose consciousness but receive powers from a certain Philemon to summon their Personas. Shortly after, they discover that the city has been invaded by demons and investigate to save the city. A unique feature of Revelations is that it opens two different paths depending on the initial choices.

The second chapter is divided into 2 games: Innocent Sin from 1999 and Eternal Punishment from 2000. Here we see Tatsuya Suou as the protagonist in the first chapter, with a focus on Maya Amano in the second. The first chapter takes place 3 years after Revelations. Innocent Sin sees Tatsuya and his friends dealing with a mysterious curse that has struck the city of Sumaru, with the mysterious figure of JOKER, where every voice seems to come true. While Eternal Punishment follows the epilogue of Innocent Sin and sees Maya Amano investigating and writing a story about JOKER several months later, but the encounter with Philemon awakens Personas in her and her friends.

The Persona classics were released exclusively on PlayStation 1 but received ports to PSP, which added new features, as well as graphical improvements and new sprites. Although Eternal Punishment Portable was released only in Japan (with an English patch from the community).

Persona main cast of Persona 2 Innocent Sin: Maya, Tatsuya, Lisa, Eikichi, Yukino, Jun

The Modern Personas

The modern Persona starts from Persona 3 of 2006. Definitely the most important chapter for the series, with a clear change in gameplay thanks to the introduction of Dating Sim elements and a Calendar. Set in the fictional artificial city of Tatsumi Port Island, we play as a student who has just transferred to Gekkoukan High School and returns to the island 10 years after losing his parents in an accident. But on the night of his return, he is attacked by Shadows, which manifest during the Dark Hour, and leads him to manifest his own Persona. Accompanied by others who, like him, have manifested Personas to solve the mystery and danger surrounding the island.

Persona 4, released in 2008, marks a clear change in location, with the rural town of Inaba and a background closer to reality than science fiction. Playing as the protagonist who will live with his maternal uncle Dojima and get involved in a series of murders linked to a mysterious TV channel that affects the peaceful countryside town. Persona 5 from 2016 instead takes place in the bustling city of Tokyo, with the protagonist transferring after being unfairly accused and punished for helping someone. After awakening his Persona, along with his new companions, he intends to change the hearts of corrupt people and rebel against society.

Persona 3 not only marks a change in the series but also continues a trend of enhanced versions with extra content. We have Persona 3 FES, which not only fixes and improves some weak points but also brings the extra chapter The Answer focusing on Aigis. Not to mention the conversion to PSP with Persona 3 Portable, which, although cuts down the city exploration in favor of direct party control and a new perspective with the female character. Not to mention the recent remake in Persona 3 Reload, a visual remake that does justice to the title with improvements brought by the fifth chapter. Persona 4 Golden, former PS Vita exclusive , offers a new character in the story and other new content. Persona 5 Royal brings new playable areas, new characters, one of whom becomes playable later on, and additional mini-games and interactions, not to mention mechanics.

Persona Spin-offs

The deep success of the franchise has led Atlus to experiment and bring further spin-offs of the Persona series, rather ironic considering the series’ origins. And it is precisely starting from the success of Persona 3 that the first spin-offs of the series arrived. At the beginning, we have a series of titles more than others freely available via browser like Persona 3: The Night Before and Persona Ain Soph. If the first spin-off begins with Persona 4, we have an impressive series of spin-offs, often with sequels or divided by genre.

  • Persona 4 Arena (fighting game) and the revision Arena Ultimax. Series curated by Arc System Works.
  • Q (rpg in Etrian Odyssey style): We have Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth and Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth.
  • Dancing (rhythm game): We have Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight.
  • Persona 5 Strikers (Musou / Hack & Slash)
  • Persona 5 Tactica (Tactical and Strategy)

We also have confirmation of Persona 5: The Phantom X, a mobile title that seems to use a gacha-type model, although it remains to be seen how much it impacts Personas (potentially making it pay to win).

Persona: Evolution and Reasons for Success

The success of the series can be attributed to various typical elements of the series. While the classic Personas still show a root that is mainly connected to (Shin) Megami Tensei, they also begin to show some of the modern elements of the series. We have:

  • Gameplay in JRPG turn-based style, with a team of companions. Combined with a dungeon crawler style system combined with the story. Combination of types and strategization of available tools/abilities.
  • Complex themes explored through interactions with characters. Themes that form the basis of the story and are often reflected through the soundtrack.
  • Each game in the Persona series has a main theme.
  • Story and dialogues told through a typical Visual Novel style.
  • Themes of adolescence and inner growth and daily hurdles very close to the demographic target of the games.

Persona 3, however, represents a profound change and direction of the series, moving from a pure JRPG to a hybrid. In fact, the big change comes with the introduction of the Social Link and many Dating Sim elements, we have:

  • Calendar system, with activities to be carried out during the day.
  • A balance between the daily life of a student and the supernatural explorative one.
  • Social Link: interactions with teammates, exploring the various characters, and establishing relationships (including romantic ones). A point system that rewards and enhances Personas of the same Arcana.
  • Advancing in relationships will also unlock abilities that will help us in the game, sometimes with an influence on their or the game’s ending.
  • Wild Card: Main Character’s ability to use multiple Personas. Thanks to the Social Link, we can also use and unlock more powerful Personas of their respective Arcana.
  • High replayability thanks to the Calendar and the Social Link, not being able to maximize everything except with a guide. Also thanks to a New Game +.

In addition, with the recent Persona 3 Reload, besides adding further interactions with the characters with The Link Episode, we also have a change in the Unreal Engine 4 graphics engine which introduces modern features like Ray Tracing Reflections.

These elements introduced with Persona 3 remain in the series to this day, and combined with those already proposed by the classics, along with the innovations brought by each chapter, have made the series extremely popular. Popularity that has expanded to touch many other media. Starting from the very catchy and well-made Soundtracks, with light rock and thematic genres for the first Two, more Rap and Hip-Hop for the Third, J-Rock and J-Pop for the Fourth, and a mixed but heavily Jazz-influenced one for Persona 5. There are also Animated Films, Manga, and even Animated TV Series, all of high quality. As well as a lot of various merchandise of characters and Personas, especially Jack Frost symbol of the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series, often used as mascots by Atlus.

Furthermore, if the series was once exclusive only to Sony home consoles, with the arrival on PC, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch, it has seen a further leap in popularity and active user base for the series. With almost 20 Million copies sold worldwide, of which about half are just from the Persona 5 series.

Official Persona artwork featuring all the main protagonists of the series


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By whizzerlow whizzerlow