So, with the announcement that Sega Sammy Holdings is taking over Index Corporation, Atlus' parent company, I thought, why not take a look at one of their most beloved and successful franchises, the Persona series.
The reality is that the series rose to stardom with the release of the amazing PlayStation 2 title: Persona 3, but you know, that is Persona 3, as in the third in the series, so where did it all begin? Let’s take a look:
Born as a spin-off from Atlus' flagship series Shin Megami Tensei in 1996 with the release of Megami Ibunroku Persona, it was just the start for the series that would become the most commercially and critically successful branch of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, with the most spin-offs, highest sales and revenue, and some of the highest review scores.
There are currently six main titles in the Persona series (Seven if you count P3:FES). All the games take place in the same universe and share certain common elements, like the importance of lunar phases or the use of real currency (with Macca being the SMT most common currency); but the most prominent of these elements, is the inspiration in Jungian Psychology, by Carl Jung who created some of the best known psychological concepts including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, synchronicity and of course Persona (all important element to the plot and mechanics of the series). The latter is described as a mask for the "collective psyche", a mask that 'pretends' individuality, so that both self and others believe in that identity, even if it is really no more than a well-played role through which the collective psyche is expressed, and is from here that the Persona series starts to deviate from de SMT formula: The characters use “Personas” instead of demons to fight which are a reflection of the users inner self
Now on to the games:
Released in Japan as “Megami Ibunroku Persona” and “Revelations: Persona” in North America, is the first game in the Persona series. The game centers around the protagonist and his classmates at St. Hermelin High School in Mikage-cho (Lunarvale in Revelations: Persona) when a sudden supernatural phenomenon occur. One of his companions talks all of his friends into playing a game called "Persona", which is played much like the ritual game "Bloody Mary". While playing, the students are struck by lightning, lose consciousness and meet Philemon (another reference to Jungian Psychology), who gives them the ability to summon reflections of their personalities, which are known as Personas. A short time later, the protagonist and several of his friends go to visit Maki Sonomura, who is ill and bed-ridden. During their visit, they discover that the town is changing and demons are roaming the streets.
Gameplay wise the player navigates and interacts with the world via multiple means. While traversing the main city, the world is seen from an overhead perspective and buildings and maze-like outdoor areas are navigated in a first-person perspective. However, whenever the player enters a room, the camera shifts to an isometric perspective, allowing the player to interact with party members and other non-playable characters. An icon displaying the lunar phase (another trademark of the series), also appears in Persona. Besides showing the passage of in-game time, the status of the moon determines the activity patterns of enemy demons and their mood if the player attempts negotiation with one. Battles with enemy demons are triggered via random encounters; the game's turn-based battles are also carried out in a third-person view. Each party member and demon occupies a space on a grid with each character able to attack with an equipped melee weapon or firearm, use an item, summon a Persona to cast a magic spell, or attempt to talk with the enemy to get items, money, or a card to summon a new persona (instead of getting the demon itself)
Remember JRPG censorship? Well, the PS1 version was practically a different game here in NA and you can read most of the changes here but long story short the get rid of all Japanese references. The game was later ported to the PSP where the changes made to the North American version, Revelations: Persona, intended to mask the game's Japanese setting, were all reverted for the remake, also the game got a new soundtrack, revamped graphics and new character designs (and a new opening), and also came in a nice limited edition.
The next one in the series is a two part game: Innocent Sin (Tsumi) and Eternal Punishment (Batsu) which narrates two chapters of the same storyline and serves as a direct sequel from the first Persona with several characters from that title playing various roles, both minor and major, in both games.
In Innocent Sin players takes the role of silent protagonist, Tatsuya Suou (Yeah, he has an actual in-game name, different from other Persona’s protagonist). His path intertwines with those of two other students, Eikichi and Lisa, during an encounter with the Joker, a jester-like antagonist who is rumored to grant the wishes of people who dial their own cell phone number. Anyone who fails to tell Joker their wishes, either because they lack one or refuse to tell, has their "ideal energy" stolen, reducing them to ambition-less shells called Shadow Selves. Joker tells the three students that they did something horrible to him in the past, and is angered when they do not recognize him. Swearing revenge and wielding an odd Crystal Skull, he departs, leaving the trio confused and eager to investigate the Joker. Later on they make a point of saying that Tatsuya and the Joker look alike...
Eternal Punishment takes place a few months after its predecessor; it is set in a parallel world where the events of the Innocent Sin did not happen. All of the characters from Innocent Sin are present, but they do not know each other. The central character this time is Maya one of the characters from Innocent Sin, who becomes the silent protagonist much like Tatsuya in the previous game. Maya, an editor for fictional teen magazine Coolest, is caught up in the investigation of a bizarre series of murders committed by a serial killer known as the "JOKER". Rumors are spread about how if you call your cell phone, the JOKER will come and kill whoever you ask it to. Victims reportedly receive a note stating "You're next!" from the JOKER before they die. While covering an assignment at Seven Sisters High School, a grisly murder brings Maya, her roommate, and a Police Detective together to solve the mystery of the JOKER murders.
The game retains the random encounters system, but the dungeon perspective is changed, from first to third person, something that will be retained for subsequent games, the combat system is basically the same with a little overhauling in Eternal Punishment, but each character can equip and change Personas (can only hold 1 at a time), which in doing so, combines the character's attributes with the Persona, along with its innate strengths or weaknesses, and also you can get new personas for everyone in the velvet room.The original PS1 version of Innocent Sin was not released outside of Japan, possible reasons being the possibility of Tatsuya Suou having a homosexual relationship with fellow party member Jun Kurosu, and the appearance of Adolf Hitler, but there is a fan translation patch, and of course the game was later ported to PSP and released in NA so there is that.
The remake is an extended port with an updated user interface, new character portraits designed by Shigenori Soejima and heavily improved controls (and a new opening), but keeps most of the game's original gameplay systems. The battle system, however, is overhauled and based on the one used by the game's sequel, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. Meanwhile Eternal Punishment was released in NA in November 2000, and just like Sin, it got an enhanced PSP port but the port was not released outside of Japan, and instead, the original PS1 game was released in the NA PSN store in February 2013.
And this is when things really got started. With the change of Kazuma Kaneko' more dark, spooky characters to Shigenori Soejima's more Anime-Like, vivid ones the series took a serious turn away from the original SMT series. For example, in the first two Persona games, most demons can be negotiated with to get Tarot cards, to get and fuse new and more powerful personas. Now this feature is dropped to include a new System. The Social Link system, which is kind of a date-sim (more on this later), also parting from the Revelations: Persona experience, the game openly features a lot of Japanese traditions and references, most of which remains intact in the NA and EU release (the only one I can remember is the way Junpei refers to Yukari, Yuka-tan in the English release and Yukaricchi in the Japanese version)
Persona 3 begins with the Protagonist (again a silent nameless one) returning to the city ten years after his parents died from an accident. He is introduced as a transfer student that just moved in Iwatodai Dorm. He is quickly brought into SEES (Special Extracurricular Execution Squad) when his awareness of the Dark Hour (the incident the SEES is investigating), a time period between one day and the next that few people are aware of and his ability to summon multiple personas is discovered. The team is resolute to uncover all the secrets hidden in the appearance of the Dark Hour, the existence of Persona Users, a mysterious disease and the enigmatic tower, The Tartarus, a large structure containing Shadows, creatures that feed on the minds of humans.
Persona 3 combines elements of standard console role-playing games and dating sims. The game takes place over the course of a Japanese school year. In the morning you are a student (with exams and all), in the afternoon you spend your time to either, build a Social Link or to improve the Main Character's attributes and in the night you may opt to explore the Tartarus (that serves as the game dungeon) where floors are randomly generated in a roguelike manner but the enemies (Shadows, blob-like creatures) are visible, and you only enter combat if you come into direct contact with them (all exploration is done in a third person perspective) thus getting rid of random encounters, and again the moon phases a central part of the story.
Social Links plays a vital role in the game because as you deepen your relationships with the different characters, you get access to bonuses in fusing Personas with the same Tarot affinity, or gain the right to fuse more powerful Personas. But the charm comes in the interaction you get from the characters, because their stories are pretty much developed in their Social Links interaction and help expand the story and delve deeper in to their background, motivations etc (and also you can make you own harem which I totally didn’t do).
Combat is turn-based. Each character can perform 3 types of melee attacks with their weapon, summon their Persona to unleash an attack or spell, or use recovery and battle items. One thing that stands apart Persona 3 from the other Persona titles is that he player only directly controls the actions of the Main Character. The other members of the party can be guided through specific tactics assigned to each of them, such as maintaining the health of the party, or going all out with Persona attacks.
The game was a hit and an enhanced epilogue Persona 3 FES (the new chapter is called “The Answer” in NA and "Episode Aegis" in the Japanese version) was released soon after with a modified combat engine (the same that appears in Persona 4), and some other little tweaks from the original (including a new opening). Sometime after, the game received a PSP port called Persona 3 Portable; the game allows the player to choose the gender of the protagonist (The new one being the female protagonist), which opens up new routes and scenarios in the story, the option to chose between a male or female attendant for the velvet room and some other things that I will not spoil (Also a new opening). The exploration in the PSP version is now done by selecting places with a pointer instead of the third person perspective from the original game, except in the dungeon where the third person perspective still remains.
All of the versions are a must play of course. A Little trivia as bonus: the game also featured this little teaser for an upcoming Atlus game developed by Team Persona
Do i know you from somewhere?
Now imagine a game that takes all the great things about Persona 3, and takes them to a new level, and you get Persona 4 (I still prefer Persona 3 cast of characters, but that’s another story) one of the most acclaimed and loved JRPGs (And games in general for that matter) of all times.
Persona 4 takes place in the fictional, rural Japanese town of Inaba. Unexplained murders have taken place in the small town, where bodies are found dangling from television antennas and their cause of death is unknown. At the same time, rumor has begun to spread that watching a switched-off television set on rainy midnights will reveal a person's soulmate (“Midnight Channel”).
The protagonist is a high school student (Yep, a silent one named by the player) who has recently moved from a large city to Inaba, where he is to live and attend school for a year. A few days into the game, the protagonist, along with his new classmates Yosuke, and Chie follow the "Midnight Channel" rumor, which leads them to discover the TV World where they meet Teddie, a friendly creature that appears as a hollow bear costume requesting help from them. Discovering that they can awaken and use Personas inside the TV, the students form an Investigation Team to investigate the connection between the TV world and the murders, and possibly capture the culprit.
Like its predecessor, Persona 4 gameplay mixes a traditional role-playing video game with a simulation game, with the times in the day distributed the same way, but the game dungeon being replaced with the different worlds inside the TV but moon phases are replaced with a weather system. Social Link retains the same mechanics but the combat system is overhauled; there is only one type of physical attack and you can control all your party members’ actions (this thing saves you a lot of cheap deaths when comparing to Persona 3), all in all the game is a step forward from its predecessor.
The game was a success of course winning several awards and spawned an Anime adaptation this little fighting spin-off game called Persona 4 Arena (I don’t know if I should call it that because it expands the story from both P3 and P4 so…), a game that holds the not-so-flattering title of being the first region locked disc-based game (the second one overall) for the PS3, I won’t explain much from this game, developed by Arc System Works of BlazBlue and Guilty Gear fame, if you have played one of those games, that is what you are getting, an hybrid between a very technical fighting game and a Visual Novel but Persona themed of course.
In what now seems like a tradition, the game also got an enhanced port, this time for the PSVita, the game featured new content, two new Social Links that unlocks new story content additional scenes for all endings, a new difficulty level a new ending and much more (read it here… oh and a new opening of course). The game was again a success and was even ranked better that the original and you can check Kotaku’s review here if you still are not convinced to play it.
Of course there are more things like mobile games, another Anime, Manga, Novels, Drama CDs and a lot more but this thing is already too long so let’s leave it at that for now.
What Comes Next
With Sega announcing that it has now taken over the operation of Index Corporation we don’t know how things will play out, but at least it would seem like things for Atlus would continue like always, so here’s a look at the upcoming projects for the Persona series and what we may expect:
Persona 4 Arena
A new version of Persona 4 Arena has been showed in arcades in Japan, the game will be adding Yukari Takeba (cosplaying as Pink Argus!) and Junpei Iori to the roster of playable characters (maybe they will consider changing the name to Persona 3 Arena: The ultimate in Iwatodai or something with so many P3 characters on the roster), to date this is only an arcade version, so we don’t know if this would hit consoles as a sequel to the first game (P4A2 sounds weird) or even as DLC. That is of course, if the game does not end as an Arcade exclusive which of course, will suck.
Persona 3 The Movie
There is an upcoming movie adaptation titled Persona 3 The Movie: Chapter 1, Spring of Birth produced by AIC ASTA which will be screening this November 23 in Japanese theaters, the film was first teased during the limited theatrical release of the Persona 4 The Animation: The Factor of Hope feature film in Japan on June 9, 2012 (most of the staff involved in the P4 anime will reprise their roles) with major updates done at midnight during full moon days (nice homage to the series)and minor ones during other moon phases, the project had been slated to be a series of anime films and not just a single release, with the first film given the sub-title: "#1 Spring of Birth". As a side note the protagonist will be called Makoto Yūki
And of course I have to mention Persona 5, so let’s do this by quoting from the Megami Tensei Wikia:
On August 2011, Persona 5 was officially confirmed to be under development. According to the Famitsu magazine, the basic preparations for the game development are finished, with the usual staff, Katsura Hashino as director, Shigenori Soejima as character designer and Shoji Meguro as music composer.
According to Famitsu, Persona 5 will be made with a new engine and the themes that will cover the game have been solidified. The team also wants to add new aspects to the game.
A Persona 5 website domain was registered on June 25th, 2013 by Index Corporation, owner of Atlus.
There is no release date or platforms announced for Persona 5.
With Shigenori Soejima in charge character design and Shoji Meguro as the music composer, we may expect the game to be more akin to P3/P4 which in my opinion would be the smart thing to do. The game has been in development for more than 2 years, but there is a big possibility that the game would end up in a new generation console.
So with that much information, we only have to wait and see how things will play out from now on, but tell me what are your expectations, are you worried about the Persona series (or the other Atlus franchises for that matter)? Share your opinion in the comments.