Against my better judgement, I’ve been on a Persona rampage. After 120 hours, I finally completed my first playthrough of Persona 5. While I fully intend to give it another go, I decided to play through the main entries in the Persona series in its ‘correct’ numerical order. You see, like most people, P4 was my first foray into the velvet room with the strange long-nosed man. That was 2010. In the seven years since, I’ve time-skipped my way through the series starting from P4, P3, P4 Golden, P2 and finally P5. I’m sorry P1, I just can’t get into you. After a short break, I resolved to play through the entire series (sorry P1) in the correct order to properly experience the evolution of the series that is Persona.
The Evolution of Megami Tensei to Persona
To understand the evolution of Persona, one must delve into its Megami Tensei roots. Persona was first conceived as a Japanese high school spin-off of the Megami Tensei franchise. This new series kept Megami Tensei’s core mechanics of negotiating, recruiting demons and using them in combat. Megami Tensei had numerous spin-offs but the Persona series quickly became the largest and most prominent of the bunch. While the first 2 persona games stayed close to their roots, the series started to develop an identity of its own from P3. Booting up P3 after finishing P2 made me realise how radically the game had evolved in the span of one game. Starting from P3, the Persona series fully embraced its high school setting and incorporated a school calendar, complete with school tests, exams and events. In addition, P3 also included another mechanic which gave us one of the most iconic elements of the Persona series. The introduction of social links and stats, which only further intensified the inevitable Persona Waifu Internet Wars. Internet, Internet, my provider is a rip-off, who is the best Waifu of them all? From P3 onwards, the game had metamorphosed from a combat driven, dungeon delving story into a dungeon crawling, social stimulation RPG. This transition marked Persona’s departure from its humble Megami Tensei beginnings and laid the foundations that gave us the modern Persona games as we have now come to know and love. No longer was Persona just a mere spin-off. It was now its own series with its own unique identity. While I thoroughly enjoyed each iteration of the series, my coffee fuelled Persona spree made me wish P5 had kept of my its processor’s more interesting mechanics.
Mechanic 1: Fusion Spells/ Tag Team attacks
I miss fusion spells and tag team attacks. Present in P2 and P3 Portable as fusion spells, it disappeared in P4 before reappearing in P4G as tag team attacks. This is a mechanic I wish P5 kept. Fusion spells were special attacks that combined the skills or powers of two or more specific personas, unleashing a powerful combo.
Its successor, tag team attacks in P4 functioned a little differently. These attacks were not dependent on skills or personas but were instead triggered when specific team members were present on the team. For example, having Chie and Yukiko in the party could trigger the Twin Dragons attack.
While this is not an essential mechanic, I felt that it added pizzazz and flare to combat. While the baton pass mechanic in P5 allows for more strategic play, I miss the special interactions that were present in the older games. It also gave me an incentive to rotate my Personas and team members. My playthrough in P5 saw me sticking to certain teammates, switching them only when necessary. It’s a minor and inconsequential nitpick but it’s something I hope will return. Persona 5 Golden perhaps?
Mechanic 2: In depth Persona negotiations
I miss in depth Persona negotiations. Ah demon negotiations. Haggling, wrangling and arguing with temperamental demons. A core mechanic of Megami Tensei, it found its way into P2 before being unceremoniously shoved into the attic. After years of neglect, it has finally made a triumphant return in P5. Persona has undergone much change throughout its course and the return of demon negotiations feels like a homage to the series’ heritage. But this mechanic is a contentious one, even within the Megami Tensei community. Some find the system absurd, deliberately obfuscate and frustrating; others like it for the interesting battle strategies and scenarios it provides. I lean towards the latter and like the in depth negotiations found in P2. Unlike P5, P2 features an extremely detailed demon negotiation system, to the point of it being overwhelming. Overwhelming at first, highly entertaining later, at least to me. Demons had a combination of personalities and all party members possessed a set of unique negotiations skills. Take on a demon alone or pair up with up to 2 different members to create different negotiation combos. The best part of this system was how the party’s relationship with each other affected the negotiation combos. Pair bickering members? Nah, they hate each other’s guts. Pair lovers? An amusing lovey-dovey combination. In addition to this myriad of choices and options, P2 also featured special demon conversations or “Persona Talk”. These could be occasionally initiated if you encountered a demon when equipped with a specific Persona, and usually stemmed from a mythological reference between to the two. Meeting a kin could result in a friendly, hearty conversation.
Meeting Angel with an equipped archangel Michael, could trigger a Master-Servant dialogue, leading to a pact or a special item. Meeting Fenrir with an equipped Odin (In Norse mythology, Fenrir is prophesied to eat Odin) sends both of them into a rage, inflicting a berserk status. While P5 doesn’t feature such a diverse negotiation system, I’m still happy it was finally reintroduced. Negotiation adds another layer of strategy to combat and I would be glad to see it further fleshed out. I may be the only one who wants this though.
Mechanic 3: Reversed and Broken Social Links
I miss the variability of social links, although I know many people hated this mechanic. Present in P3, P4 and P4G, this mechanic was stripped from P5. Remember the initial panic when an arcana card reserved and the frantic google search that followed? Well, I do. My first playthroughs saw reversed social links with Yukari (P3), Ai (P4) and Naoto (P4). This was the bane of many players who saw their relationships stall or break because they picked a wrong dialogue option. While potentially annoying and frustrating, it felt like dialogue with your social links carried weight. Be an asshole and they’re gone. Sure, you could repair the social link but at least something happened. Social link dialogue in P5 feels weightless. Nothing I say fazes them and the only thing my dialogue alters is their resulting response and relationship points. Social links don’t break, don’t reverse, nothing happens! It’s like I’m talking to a wall and everything I say just bounces right off. That’s not to say that I dislike P5’s confidents. I just wish the social links in this game demonstrated a little more flexibility.
Mechanic 4: Yusuke, please?
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, the Persona series featured homosexual relationships. No, seriously. Throughout its long history, P2 (Innocent Sin not Eternal Punishment) is the only game in the entire series to have featured a gay character with whom you could purse a romantic relationship. Granted there were no special cutscenes or intensive social link interactions, just differences in flavour text and dialogue to reflect the relationship. Rumours abound on the interwebs that P4 had planned to include gay relationships but decided to scrap it due to topic sensitivity. Now, I’m as straight as a pencil but damn, I wouldn’t mind having the eccentric artist as my husbando. Atlus’ stance on this issue may never change, but hey, I can dream.
Nitpicking aside, P5 is truly an excellent game and combines the best parts of its predecessors. Both mechanically and thematically. Although a quintessentially Japanese game, P5 touches on themes not just prevalent in Japan but throughout all societies. Persona has come a long way and I wish for nothing but its continued success.