Easily one of the most beloved JRPG series of all time, Persona has been mixing Jungian psychology, tarot, and anime teenagers since it first spun off from the Shin Megami Tensei series in 1996. And ever since, we've been joining these kids as they fight dozens of supernatural demons and real adults who are somehow even worse.
Now with 11 mainline entries in the series, all spread across multiple generations of consoles, and with a gameplay pivot midway through that introduced daily life between dungeons, it's tough for most fans to choose which Persona game is the best.
"Revelations: Persona" was born from the desire to chase the feeling of young adulthood struggles that proved popular in a 1994 Shin Megami Tensei release. Atlus saw its fans responding positively to a younger central cast, and thus, the Persona series officially spun off from Shin Megami Tensei to shift focus to younger protagonists.
And as a 90s RPG, the pixelated, grid-based battle system seems like a given. The game did its work to establish the central theme of young adult characters dealing with supernatural powers on top of daily high school struggles. While it's worth a play if old-school PlayStation titles are your thing, the series has changed so much in almost three decades that it's tough to return to older titles now.
"Innocent Sin" has one of the better stories in the Persona series, with many old-school fans heralding this one as their favorite of the pre-P3 era games. Introducing far more traditional RPG balance into the gameplay after shifting from Revelation's focus on dungeons gave fans more of a chance to know and love the players in their party.
The difficulty, though, is that the game wasn't properly localized for the West until its PSP re-release in 2011, 12 years after its launch on PlayStation in Japan. Between a staffing shortage and concerns over how a Western audience would react to some of its more controversial elements, Persona was already in its modern era when most fans got their hands on "Innocent Sin."
The first of the more modern Persona games, "Persona 3" was a turning point for the series as a whole. Atlus shifted away from putting a primary focus on dungeon-crawling and began to emphasize friends, school, and hobbies outside of supernatural adventuring. The game walked so later entries in the series could run, but nowadays, it can feel like a pretty rough walk sometimes.
The game has received almost too many additions, remakes, and ports to justify heading back to the original 2006 version. Being able to make friends was neat, but being made to date all our female friends without input from us or them was less so. Having a new perspective on our parties in battle felt immersive, but not having control over them was pretty frustrating.
It can be a bit confusing to keep "Innocent Sin" and "Eternal Punishment" straight if you've never played them yourself, but "Eternal Punishment" is the direct sequel to "Innocent Sin," curiously given the same number in the series. And though not much changed in the way of graphics, the characters feel more individualized than plenty of others in the Persona series.
The general vibe that everyone loved in "Innocent Sin" was kept largely intact but was served in a much darker light, with a heavier emphasis on the horror elements that are present but more muted in more modern Persona titles. The writing and characters are all far more mature than others in the series, but they're adults now, so it tracks.
Though the original "Persona 3" summed up its events in a way that felt complete, "FES" was released as an add-on the following year, containing a conclusionary story for P3 referred to as "The Answer." In this bonus content, another anti-shadow weapon, Metis, attacks the SEES members shortly after the conclusion of vanilla P3, trapping them.
You'll take control of Aigis, who gains your wildcard ability, as she and the other members of the gang fight Shadows once more, leading to an ultimate battle against a truly emotional adversary. We won't spoil anything for you, but the only reason "FES" isn't higher on our list is that "The Answer" hasn't been included in any re-release of "Persona 3" since.
It felt like "Persona 4" learned a lot of lessons from "Persona 3" and its subsequent remake in "FES," finally keeping its references to Japanese culture intact even in Western releases. Aiming to keep the gameplay distinct from "Persona 3" as the modern style of the game found its footing, the plot features a distinctly grim murder mystery for your protagonist and friends to solve.
The vanilla edition of "Persona 4" accomplishes this goal, keeping its small mountain town of Inaba grim by being constantly drowningin fog and introducing a mysterious TV world. But the real gem is "Persona 4 Golden," the enhanced version released on PlayStation Vita.
With new characters, social links, events, and an extended epilogue, "Persona 4 Golden" takes an already fantastic game and makes it even better. The expanded content adds depth to the characters and provides a more satisfying conclusion to the story. It's a must-play for any fan of the series.
"Persona 5" took the series to new heights, both critically and commercially. With its stylish visuals, memorable characters, and a gripping story about rebellion and societal corruption, it quickly became a fan favorite. The game introduced the concept of "Palaces," mental worlds created by corrupt individuals, and the Phantom Thieves, a group of high school students who use their Personas to steal the hearts of these individuals and change their ways.
The turn-based combat system was refined, allowing for more strategic battles and the negotiation of Personas. The game also introduced the "Confidants" system, which replaced the social links of previous entries. Building relationships with various characters not only provided character development but also unlocked new abilities and perks in battle.
"Persona 5 Royal," the enhanced edition of the game, added even more content, including a new Phantom Thief, Kasumi Yoshizawa, and a new semester that expanded the story. It refined the gameplay mechanics and added quality-of-life improvements, making it the definitive version of "Persona 5."
Most recently, "Persona 5 Strikers" combined the Persona universe with the hack-and-slash gameplay of the "Dynasty Warriors" series. The game served as a direct sequel to "Persona 5," reuniting the Phantom Thieves as they embark on a new adventure during their summer vacation. With its fast-paced combat and continuation of the beloved characters' stories, "Persona 5 Strikers" was a delightful spin-off that pleased fans of the franchise.
As the Persona series continues to grow and evolve, it's clear that its unique blend of compelling storytelling, deep character development, and engaging gameplay has captivated players worldwide. Whether you're a fan of the earlier pixelated struggles or prefer the stylish sadness of the modern entries, there's no denying the enduring appeal of Persona.