Persona is bigger — and better — than it’s ever been.
Since its arrival in 1996 in the form of a teen-filled role-playing game, the series has undergone massive changes. Each new title has been an impressive improvement on the last, a thoughtful refinement of old ideas coupled with the introduction of new concepts. The arrival of Persona 4 Golden, the latest major entry in the series, was no different; the game garnered near universally positive praise from critics, as well as one of Polygon’s elusive top scores.
As a role-playing series, Persona consistently follows a group of teenagers doing extraordinary things. As a dungeon crawler, it encourages players to grind to their heart’s content without forcing their hand. As a social simulator, it places heavy emphasis on building meaningful bonds — and more impressively, succeeds. It is the JRPG genre at its finest, combining confidence and style with engrossing storytelling.
The series celebrates both its 20th anniversary this year and the release of its next main entry, Persona 5, which launches Sept. 15 in Japan. Each Persona game is a contained experience that stands on its own. But it’s a franchise that spans years of heroes and an absolute crapload of games that often relate to each other in subtle yet important ways. Whether you’re a brand-new player interested in learning what Persona is all about, or a returning fan looking for a refresher, we have answers to your questions.
Unraveling the origins of Persona requires jumping through the convoluted evolution of the Megami Tensei franchise, which has spawned such elaborately titled games as Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers and mess of other JRPGs.
The most direct route you can trace to Persona is from 1994’s Shin Megami Tensei If…, a game about a group of high school students, to development on another supernatural high school story, Revelations: Persona, released in 1996 for PlayStation; it would later come to PSP (and Windows, in Japan). Developer and publisher Atlus eventually rebranded that game to Shin Megami Tensei: Persona with updated content.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona laid the groundwork for the Persona franchise. It opens with a group of high school students, circa 1996 Japan, playing a "Persona" game. It’s sort of like that old game where you yell "Bloody Mary" a bunch in order to summon a ghost, except in this case, the group gains the power to summon allies called Personas. The game follows a more traditional SMT style of gameplay: turn-based fights in which players can chat with demons encountered in battle, and no social elements to build relationships among characters.
Although this early title looks and plays vastly different from today’s Persona, it established a few series familiars — high school students living in cities and towns inspired by modern-day Japan fighting supernatural forces and achieving extraordinary feats.
Atlus built the sequel, Persona 2: Innocent Sin (1999), in much of the same way. Its main character was a high school student who, along with his friends, was granted the power to use Personas. In addition to overall battle system tweaks, Innocent Sin also introduced a rumor system — appropriate for high school teens — that players could use to influence events. Because Atlus loves its complicated web of games, the developer next released a direct sequel to that sequel called Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (2000). Eternal Punishment is set a few months after its predecessor and follows Maya (also from Innocent Sin) as the lead.
In 2006, Atlus released Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 — a sort of rebirth for the series — for PlayStation 2. Atlus re-released the game as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES with an additional campaign in 2007, and again for PSP in 2009. Notably, the PSP version did not include the extra campaign, The Answer, but did add the option to play as a female protagonist. Atlus has yet to release a package that includes all these elements, so to get the full Persona 3 experience you have to invest in more than one game.
Persona 3 starred a group of high school students charged with defeating powerful enemies, called Shadows, every full moon. The game was heavy on the social simulation side; players spent their time outside of dungeons bonding with classmates and building different personal skills. We’ll get more into the story and how this all connects — and could connect to Persona 5 — a bit later.
Where the previous games were more like siblings to Shin Megami Tensei games, Persona 3 is the first time the franchise felt unique — not only from its predecessors, but from other games in the genre as well. The introduction of a calendar tracking the course of an entire year, along with a new emphasis on social interaction, brought an impressive depth to Persona 3’s story. Persona 3 is a 70-plus-hour experience, easy, but it rewards players patient enough to dig into its world.
In 2008, Atlus returned with Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 for PlayStation 2 — another tale of high schoolers with extraordinary abilities. This time around, players spent a year in a small town investigating several mysterious murders. It too got an expanded re-release with Persona 4 Golden (dropping the SMT branding altogether) arriving on PlayStation Vita stateside in 2012.
Although Persona 3 and its variations were well-received upon release, Persona 4 remains the more critically successful of the two. It doesn’t just echo the gameplay experience laid out by Persona 3, but actively improves on it. Combat and dungeon crawling are tighter; characters are written with more confidence; and the game has more style and color than those that came before it. With Persona 4 Golden, the definitive edition of the game, Atlus further tweaked its already successful formula with additional content and storytelling.
The connections between the Persona games are a little twisted, as many of these games are not exactly direct sequels, but they often feature cameos or references to characters or happenings from past games. And over the series’ history, Atlus has also developed several spinoff games that continue the stories of Persona 3 and 4’s characters. These spinoffs are unlikely to have any major impact on Persona 5 — and none of them follow the standard setup of the main series — but we’ll get to them later.
Persona 5 is due out in Japan this week and set to arrive in North America on Feb. 14, 2017. The game is launching for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, making it the first entry in the main series to hit both systems at launch. Given what we already know about the game, it appears to be following in the footsteps of P3 and P4.
The franchise explains Personas as manifestations of the characters’ personalities — more specifically, they’re described as a mask each character wears in the face of hardship. If this concept rings a bell, you might be familiar with psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung, whose work was popular in the early 1900s, explored this theory extensively. In fact, the Persona series is rife with references and ideas — Personas, Shadows, even characters — taken directly from Jungian psychology. Jung considered the shadow, for example, the unconscious aspect of one’s personality, a concept that has a lot of negative connotation. In the Persona series, Shadows are major foes.
Characters rely heavily on their Personas in battle, using them to perform more powerful attacks. In the early days of the series, characters could equip multiple Personas in battle; later games restricted players to the game’s protagonist. The ability to summon a Persona at all, however, is a mark of special individuals, typically limited to a core cast that varies with each title. In Persona 3, these individuals were able to function during the game’s mysterious "Dark Hour," a time during which Shadows roam freely. Persona 4, meanwhile, needed each character to confront their "shadow shelves" while present in the game’s Shadow-filled TV world. These protagonists also had the power to create new Personas through fusion — combining existing Personas into something new.
Even the act of summoning one’s Persona is part of each game’s personality. In Persona 3, a game that dealt with themes like death, depression and loss (and some clear gun control issues), characters used an Evoker … which was basically a special gun they shot themselves in the head with. It’s some dark shit. In Persona 4, which was notably more, uh, upbeat, characters used tarot cards. Persona 5’s summoning takes the series’ Jungian themes to an even more overt level than ever before: Characters rip actual masks off of their actual faces. It looks pretty brutal.
Rewatching the Persona 5 trailer. Missed the part where they RIP OFF part of their faces to summon Personas. pic.twitter.com/KtiVlnDpCg— Megan Farokhmanesh (@Megan_Nicolett) September 18, 2015
Personas are powerful allies throughout the series, but their presence is not always positive. The series has established that users can lose control of their Persona, often leading to dire consequences; this is especially true if and when Personas are awakened unnaturally. In fact, Personas are actually Shadows that — once more for the psych nerds in the house — have been mastered by the ego of those they come from.
In very rare cases, it’s even possible for a Shadow to become a Persona user itself if it develops an ego. This process sort of works in reverse as well — a Persona can revert back into a Shadow under serious distress and, in extreme cases, even attack its user.
Persona has grown a lot since its initial release, but a few elements of the series remain staples. We’ve broken down what’s common to the identity of Persona as it exists today (i.e., from Persona 3 onward).
The Persona series follows groups of high school students in various settings around modern Japan. Each story takes place over the course of a year, during which characters will attend school, celebrate holidays and confront conflicts with the help of their Personas.
A substantial part of Persona is dungeon crawling. How these dungeons appear and function is a little different from game to game, but they typically involve a randomly generated set of areas that players explore. Enemies appear on-screen as you explore, meaning you can run or fight as you wish. Battles are turn-based, with the most effective strategy being to find an enemy’s weak point and launch all-out group attacks when every foe is down.
In between story-driven directives and dungeon crawling, there’s a lot of free time to explore. You attend school, join clubs, get part-time jobs or spend your time hitting up teen hotspots like the mall or the movie theater. There’s a heavy emphasis placed on spending time with characters you meet; this plays out through social links, which level up as you spend more time with each character. Even if you’re not into the pure social element of the game, social links are crucial to leveling and unlocking powerful Personas. It’s as much strategy as it is character building.
Speaking of building character, you also spend time leveling different personality traits — charm, academics and so forth. These traits have an effect on different aspects of the game, like relationships with specific characters or even your grades in school.
The Velvet Room plays a crucial role in Persona lore. In many Persona games, the protagonist is whisked away to the Velvet Room to sign a contract just as their journey begins (it’s also how players name their characters). Its appearance is also subject to change, depending on the current guest it serves; previous designs include an elevator (Persona 3), a limousine (Persona 4) and a club (Persona 4: Dancing All Night). That’s because the Velvet Room isn’t a physical place, but rather a space occupied between the conscious and subconscious: It "exists between dream and reality, mind and matter," as one of its residents will tell you.
the Velvet Room serves as a home base
In practical terms, the Velvet Room serves as a home base. Players come here to fuse new Personas, take on side quests and more. As the series has changed, so too has the Velvet Room — or, more specifically, the beings that occupy it. In the early games, the Velvet Room housed different artistic characters such as a singer, a piano player and a painter. This was in addition to series regular Igor, perhaps the most important character in this room.
Igor is initially introduced as a servant of Philemon, an overarching figure in the series. He helps players fuse or summon new Personas, and by Persona 3, he’s joined by an attendant to assist him in this cause. The completed series to date has introduced three core Velvet Room assistants: siblings Elizabeth, Margaret and Theo, with Margaret being the eldest and Theo the youngest. Curiously, Theo is introduced in the PSP version of Persona 3 as an option for the female protagonist. However, as the female protagonist’s story is not considered canon — it would drastically alter a few established events in the Persona universe — his inclusion in the universe is only solidified through other titles.
In Persona 4 Golden, the Velvet Room added another visitor to its ranks, a girl named Marie. However, Marie has a larger role to play in this expanded version of Persona 4 and doesn’t fit the assistant profile established by the aforementioned siblings. Elizabeth, Margaret and Theo each assist the game’s protagonist primarily with side quests and Persona compendiums. They also have their own social link, which means you can spend extra time with them outside of the Velvet Room.
They all share names with characters from Frankenstein
In Persona 5, the Velvet Room assistants are two young girls named Caroline and Justine. Caroline is said to be the more ill-tempered of the two, while Atlus describes Justine as being a calmer presence. In keeping with Persona 5’s Velvet Room theme (a prison, yikes), Caroline and Justine act as the protagonist’s correctional officers.
Another fun fact about the Velvet Room assistants: They all share names with characters from the Frankenstein series — Elizabeth Lavenza, Theodore Bohmer, Margaret Saville (and Igor, too, of course). Persona 5 appears to be continuing that trend, referencing Justine Moritz and Caroline Beaufort. There’s a delicious number of fan theories about the Velvet Room, but this fun Frankenstein theory accurately predicted the appearance of Justine back in 2014.
The Velvet Room is perhaps the most mysterious element of the series. Each assistant has a role to play in their respective stories, as well as in the Persona mythology at large. You can find more details about their individual roles for their respective games in the spoiler section below.
Ah yes, we kind of glossed over that guy, huh? Philemon plays a pretty big part in the early days of the series. He first appears to the original Persona’s hero as a ponytailed figure with a Phantom of the Opera-esque butterfly mask. He’s another not-so-subtle Jung reference; in Jung’s The Red Book, Philemon was a spirit guide. That’s pretty similar to the role he plays in Persona as well.
Being an immortal enlightened being sounds kinda catty sometimes
Philemon has the ability to awaken Personas within people, but he is largely unable to meddle directly — hence, his servants in the Velvet Room. The series kicks around the ideas of higher beings pretty often, especially in endgame material, and Philemon is a part of that. His greater purpose is very lofty, typical god kinda stuff — he’s basically betting with another higher being about whether people are good or bad and able to overcome their faults, or if we’re all just going to end up destroying ourselves. Being an immortal enlightened being sounds kinda catty sometimes.
From Persona 3 on, Philemon has taken a bit of a back seat in the series’ lore. Fans have surmised that the blue butterflies — a strange, yet surprisingly common sight throughout the series — represent the mysterious deity in these later games. Because his role has been diminished so much as the series has worn on, it’s hard to say if Persona’s creators have lost interest in the character or are continuing to weave his story in the background. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
This section contains major spoilers for Persona 3’s story, as well as references to the game throughout following Persona titles.
OK, so you don’t want to sink 70-plus hours into a game that came out a decade ago, but you want to know what you missed. I really can’t condone skipping Persona 3 (aka the real MVP in the series; don’t @ me), but I’ll still help you.
Persona 3 begins in the year 2009, when the game’s teenage protagonist returns to the city of Iwatodai 10 years after his parents’ deaths. You can name him whatever you want, but for the sake of clarity we’re going to call him Makoto Yuki, the name he goes by in Persona 3 The Movie, a series of anime film adaptations of the game’s story. (His name differs in the manga and live adaptations, but who needs continuity?)
In the game, Makoto is a mostly silent hero, responding only with occasional dialogue options chosen by the player; the movies go a little more in-depth and largely portray him as a withdrawn, somewhat strange kid at the get-go. At the opening of Persona 3, Makoto is a transfer student to Gekkoukan High School, moving into a dorm occupied by a handful of other students who make up the group SEES, also known by its totally easy-to-say full name, Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. SEES is a covert unit, made up of only a handful of individuals who are aware of the Dark Hour.
Makoto, like his dorm fellows, possesses the power to summon Personas. Unlike the others, however, Makoto has the power of the Wild Card — a recurrent ability held by protagonists of the series that allows them to summon a variety of Personas, as opposed to just one.
It’s a handy skill that makes him the best choice for a leader, and Makoto spearheads exploration into a strange tower called Tartarus that appears every night at midnight — or, what should be midnight. At 12 a.m., the Dark Hour takes hold; the world changes into a blood-filled horror show in which people are transformed into coffins. Well, the lucky ones, anyway. People with the potential to summon Personas are immune to this change. Shadows prey on those who aren’t strong enough to resist, and those victims often succumb to a numbing state called Apathy Syndrome. If they’re not killed outright.
Makoto and his pals spend their Dark Hours exploring Tartarus and fighting Shadows. Soon, they realize that during each full moon, a larger, more powerful Shadow than usual appears to wreak havoc. Eventually, SEES member Mitsuru explains that the Dark Hour and Tartarus are the result of her family’s company, the Kirijo Group, experimenting on Shadows. They make it their mission to destroy all of these Shadows (there are said to be 12 total) and to end the Dark Hour for good.
Of course, it isn’t that easy. As SEES grows, adding members like combat android Aigis, Shinjiro Aragaki and Ken Amada, things get more complicated. The group finds itself tangling with a trio called Strega, a group of Persona users who want to keep the Dark Hour. Shinjiro has a troubled past and a lot of guilt. Ken, who lost his mother, has a lot of anger. As things come to a head with all three, Ken learns that Shinjiro accidentally killed his mother after losing control of a Persona. Ken seeks vengeance for his mother, but Strega captures them both, and Shinjiro sacrifices himself to save Ken. Despite the team’s loss, the members vow to continue on in their mission.
But killing the final Shadow doesn’t banish the Dark Hour. SEES learns it’s been misled and betrayed by its advisor, Shuji Ikutsuki; by killing the Shadows, they’ve actually reunited pieces of Death, which will help bring about the end of the world.
Oh! One super important thing you need to know: When Makoto first arrives at the dorm, he’s greeted by a creepy kid in some jailhouse-style pajamas. This is Pharos, and he likes to pop in and check on Makoto periodically — usually late at night when he’s asleep. Like I said, creepy. Anyway, Pharos is actually part of Death, when it was split up into those big, tough Shadows. Oops! He appears to the protagonist because Aigis, during a battle with Death some 10 years prior, sealed it away inside of young Makoto. This all took place on the Moonlight bridge, where Makoto and his parents crashed their car, likely as a result of the fight.
Once SEES defeats all 12 shadows, however, Pharos splits, and a new student named Ryoji transfers to Makoto’s school. The timing here is no coincidence and foreshadows darker days to come. Ryoji is actually Death in human form (which is, coincidentally, how I feel about all teenagers).
Ryoji eventually remembers his true self, including the parts of him that are Pharos. He gives Makoto the option to kill him; this wouldn’t prevent The Fall, but it would allow SEES to forget the Dark Hour and live peacefully until, like, the end of the world actually happens and everyone dies. This is what you’d call the "bad" ending.
SEES chooses to instead fight, and confronts Ryoji in his final form. The gang’s victory is short-lived, however, because things get really weird. The moon turns into a nightmare eyeball and the group finds itself overwhelmed. Because of his special abilities, Makoto is the only one able to resist; he levitates up to the moon/monster eyeball (idk, video games) and fights Nyx alone.
Makoto is victorious, and he and his friends are able to return to their lives. But the outcome is a tragic one; only Makoto remembers the Dark Hour and the related events that took place. On the game’s final day, the other members of SEES regain their memories and find Makoto just as he slips off to sleep in Aigis’ lap. While Persona 3’s original ending was perhaps a little ambiguous on what this meant, Persona 3 FES confirms in its additional campaign that Makoto passes away shortly afterward.
The Answer is an additional campaign starring Aigis that’s bundled with Persona 3 FES. It picks up on March 31, a few weeks after Persona 3’s conclusion, when Aigis and the other members of SEES are struggling to cope with Makoto’s death.
There are a few important takeaways from this epilogue, which plays out much in the same way as the original game. Aigis is granted the power of the Wild Card, making her one of a handful in the series to date with such a power. SEES, after going back in time, learns the truth behind Makoto’s death. By returning to his fight with Nyx, they realize that Makoto became the Great Seal; his soul is acting as a barrier between Nyx and Erebus, whom they encounter and defeat, however temporarily.
The Answer’s resolution allows the team to come to peace and accept Makoto’s death, but it’s still pretty grim. People will always wish for death, and so Erebus seems to be undefeatable ... which means that Makoto would basically be trapped forever as a big, angsty-looking statue.
Makoto’s untimely end is never deeply discussed in subsequent Persona games. However, other characters do reference it throughout the series, and it has repercussions on the larger lore — particularly in regards to the Velvet Room.
In Persona 4, Velvet Room assistant Margaret reveals that her predecessor and sister, Elizabeth, left her post in order to free Makoto from his fate. In recounting this story to P4 protagonist Yu, Margaret recalls Elizabeth’s words:
"A soul slumbers at the ends of the world — that of a young man who devoted himself to becoming a seal. That soul is risking itself to prevent mankind, who has lost the joy of living, from calling down ultimate destruction."
She adds that Elizabeth "will accomplish her mission," even if it takes eons. If other games in the series are to judge, however, Elizabeth’s quest might come to fruition sooner than expected. In Persona 4 Arena, we learn that Elizabeth has been destroying the ever-regenerating Erebus on a regular basis; after defeating it once more, she acknowledges that it’s likely to return in a year. If it’s destroyed for good, however, Elizabeth could free Makoto’s soul from the Great Seal.
"A soul slumbers at the ends of the world"
She appears again in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax in both the P3 and P4 campaigns. Elizabeth, still focused on her journey, shrugs off Margaret’s attempts to get her to return to the Velvet Room. Elizabeth may return one day, but likely as a visitor, by Margaret’s guess. It’s worth noting that at the end of the first P4A, Elizabeth receives a tarot card with the Fool arcana. While the Fool is typically associated with the start of a new journey, it’s more important to note that it’s a card bestowed to lead characters throughout the series with the power of the Wild Card — Makoto, Aigis and Persona 4 lead Yu.
This section contains major spoilers for Persona 4’s story, as well as references to the game throughout following Persona titles.
OK, look. I get why you’d skip Persona 3, but you really should play Persona 4. The Vita version is superb. Unlike Persona 3, which really has more of a serious, heavy vibe, Persona 4 is brighter, more focused on friendship and goofs. And, like, OK, some murdery stuff, but it’s mostly cheery, I promise.
Persona 4 is set in 2011 in the small town of Inaba; this is after the events of Persona 3 and yes, it does include a few nods to its predecessor. The game’s protagonist (whose canonical name has since been established as Yu Narukami) moves in with his detective uncle and young cousin. Inaba is a small town with its share of urban legends. There’s one of particular rumor going around town about something called the Midnight Channel. Supposedly if you stare at your TV at midnight on a rainy day, you’ll see your soulmate.
Yu is starting to settle in and make friends in Inaba, and things seem to be going pretty well. Until — there’s always an "until," isn’t there? — a local broadcast anchor is found dead, hanging from a local TV tower. Police suspect foul play, and shortly afterward, another young woman in town goes missing.
Even stranger, Yu discovers that he has the ability to stick his hand inside of a TV. As in, into the screen, which acts as a portal into another world. He and his friends start exploring this weird TV world, which seems to be connected to what quickly becomes a series of murders (or attempted murders).
But the TV world is dangerous; it’s a fog-filled realm packed with Shadows that exhausts those who stay inside it too long. Yu and his friends, who dub themselves the Investigation Team, learn that the town’s murderer is using the TV world to kill their victims. These victims appear briefly on the TV as part of the Midnight Channel urban legend before someone tosses them into this hostile world to die.
The Investigation Team members take it upon themselves to enter this world and save these would-be victims — many of whom end up joining their efforts. Inside the TV world, victims find Shadows in their image spouting their worst thoughts and fears. In order to awaken their Personas, they must confront, defeat and accept these Shadows as parts of themselves.
Yu and his friends continue to thwart this killer until the TV begins to show them someone who is not a victim. Instead, it’s a fellow high school student who claims responsibility for the deaths in town. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple; this turns out to be a copycat killer, while the real culprit remains at large. After threatening Yu and his friends, the killer is revealed to be a man named Taro Namatame; he kidnaps Yu’s cousin, Nanako, and takes her into the TV world, where he believes he’s "saving" people. The team captures Namatame and brings Nanako out of the TV, but her condition is dire. Like in Persona 3, P4 includes a turning point here. If the Investigation Team members deem Namatame the true mastermind, they dispose of him, and the mystery goes unsolved.
By leaving Namatame alive, the team learns that he was indeed trying to save the Midnight Channel’s victims and had no idea what the TV world was actually like. In truth, the real murderer is a man named Tohru Adachi, the police partner of Yu’s uncle.
Adachi’s motivations on this whole thing are ... well, pretty sociopathic. He enjoys watching the Investigation Team and Namatame scramble, and he wants to fill the world with the deadly fog from TV land.
Mystery solved, right?
Well, not quite. There’s still the question of how anyone got the power to enter TVs in the first place. The game’s "true" canonical ending sees you facing off against the master of all these strings, the goddess Izanami. Izanami is actually responsible for spreading the Midnight Channel rumor and awakening power in three people in this particular drama — Yu, Adachi and Namatame — but, it’s quite likely there have been more. Izanami’s intentions here aren’t totally of the "let’s screw with humans" nature, but they’re pretty close. It’s part of an effort to understand humans and in some ways, give them what they want ... which usually falls into the death and disaster category. God, humans can be so melodramatic.
In addition to the main series entries, Persona has seen several spinoff titles spanning mobile and console releases — some that are pretty darn good, and some that are totally forgettable.
In the "worth a mention" category, we have Aegis: The First Mission, a Japan-only mobile game set 10 years prior to Persona 3. This game follows Persona 3’s anti-Shadow weapon, Aigis (her name is spelled "Aegis" in Japan), in a key plotline impacting the events of Persona 3.
Other Persona 3 spinoffs that we’ll classify as "not that important, but possibly still worth mentioning" are Persona 3: The Night Before and Persona Ain Soph. While The Night Before is set — yep, you guessed it — the night before Persona 3 begins, Ain Soph is more vaguely defined, though still based on Persona 3. These Japan-only, web-based titles have both been shut down and have almost no bearing on the series today. This is true of ... honestly, most of the mobile spinoffs, so we’ll skip ahead to the good stuff (with spoilers to follow).
If you’re curious how all these games fit into the Persona series chronologically, Richard Eisenbeis over at Kotaku put together a pretty neat timeline that does a good job placing events.
Persona 4 Arena, dubbed Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena in Japan, is a fighting game that includes characters from both Persona 4 and Persona 3, set after the end of their respective games. The game takes place back in P4’s town of Inaba, where the Midnight Channel has begun broadcasting again. The Investigation Team members reunite and return to the TV world, only to find themselves forced into a one-on-one fighting tournament.
There’s a lot to dig into with this one, as 12 different characters have their own story modes. Most of the Persona 4 cast members have pretty similar stories that land them in a fighting tournament, while Naoto is wrapped up in investigating a covert group (run by Mitsuru of Persona 3): the Shadow Operatives.
Persona 4 Arena sets up a greater conflict for its sequel
It’s been three years since the end of Persona 3. Most of the cast has gone off to college, but their lives are hardly normal, thanks to their involvement with the Shadow Operatives. The group has an important role to play in the Arena games, as it’s the Operatives’ anti-Shadow weapon, Labrys, that goes missing and kicks off the whole mess.
The game’s end reveals that the story’s major antagonist, General Teddie, is actually the shadow self of Labrys. She confronts this shadow and masters it as her Persona, but — as is typical of Persona games — there’s a greater malevolent force at work here. The tournament was an effort to weaken the group and revert the members’ Personas back to Shadows. Defeated, the culprit escapes, as do answers about his greater intentions.
Persona 4 Arena sets up a greater conflict for its sequel, but it also acts as an update on what everyone’s been up to. For some characters, this answer is more interesting than others. The Persona 3 cast remains dedicated to fighting Shadows, despite achieving their goal three years prior. Elizabeth is still absent from the Velvet Room as part of her mission to free a certain character. She gains her own Wild Card powers, perhaps the most promising sign yet that she’ll achieve her goal.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax addressed the uncertainties left in P4 Arena by picking up the very next day. Unlike the first fighting game, this title is split neatly into episodes that focus on characters from P3 and P4, rather than individual character-based stories. There’s some overlap (and some discrepancies) in how things play out, but in order to get the game’s "true" ending, you need to play through both and see how everything unfolds.
Both storylines follow their respective casts in the wake of P4 Arena. The Midnight Channel returns — this time with images of the Shadow Operatives being crucified — and disrupts the temporary peace they fought for. As a strange red fog fills the town, the cast learns that their fight will take place in the real world, as opposed to the TV one. Even more alarming is a Tartarus-like tower that’s sprung up in place of their school.
seriously, can we get mankind a puppy or something?
Tartarus isn’t the only Persona 3 callback here; Ultimax essentially takes place during the Dark Hour and returns players to places like the Moonlight Bridge and Club Escapade. There’s an important connection here in Sho Minazuki, the game’s villain and the perpetrator behind P4 Arena’s events. Sho is a tortured young man, experimented on by Persona 3’s Shuji Ikutsuki (whom he refers to as his father) and eventually abandoned. He houses a second, Persona-wielding personality, Minazuki ... who is working with yet another all-powerful being called Hi-no-Kagutsuchi to bring about the end of the world. Like so many of Persona’s godly characters, Hi-no-Kagutsuchi is another avatar of death, a product of mankind’s unhappiness (seriously, can we get mankind a puppy or something?).
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax concludes the larger conflict of both games while also setting up a lot of potential for the series to branch out from here. It strongly suggests that Sho may end up as a guest of the Velvet Room one day, a path that characters like Makoto and Yu have taken.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a crossover title between the Persona series and the Etrian Odyssey series. Persona Q’s plot revolves around both casts joining forces to make their way through a series of dungeons in order to get back to their real worlds. These events have little impact in the grand scheme of things, and both casts basically forget they ever met at the end.
Persona Q is an excellent game that’s also notable because it throws the cast of Persona 3 and 4 together in the middle of their respective timelines. There’s some finagling of fan-fiction proportions to make this happen, but it’s a lighthearted entry meant more as fan service than a serious addition.
Dancing All Night is a rhythm-based dancing game set shortly after Persona 4 Golden’s epilogue. It’s a story being told to the player by Margaret, who recounts how Yu and his friends found themselves entwined with shadows once again.
The plot here is entangled in Rise’s career as an entertainer, the disappearance of her fellow pop stars and the cast of Persona 4 being roped in as backup dancers. Dancing All Night is the most recent update we have from the Investigation Team and the Persona universe in general. It’s also the first time Apathy Syndrome has been mentioned since the events of Persona 3.
Although Persona 5’s launch is tomorrow, Sept. 15, in Japan, there’s still a great deal we have questions about.
What we do know so far is that the game will bring back many hallmarks of the series: day and night cycles, part-time jobs, bonding with classmates and dungeon crawling. It will also follow a young group of students, the Phantom Thieves in modern-day Tokyo; the Velvet Room and Igor make their return with new child attendants Caroline and Justine.
Persona 5’s hero is a troubled teen of sorts; he assaults a man and winds up on probation. This is heavily reflected in the game’s Velvet Room, which takes the form of a prison; Caroline and Justine act as his correctional officers. Atlus has revealed many members of the cast so far, including the game’s party members. Ryuji is regarded as a delinquent; Anne is said to be isolated and withdrawn at school; Yusuke is an art student; Makoto, student council president; Futaba, the computer genius; heiress Haru; Goro, a student detective; and Morgana, a talking, shape-shifting cat.
Persona 5 appears to again take a turn to the more serious side for the series. Its themes deal heavily with ideas of authority, being a slave to modern society and freedom. How it ties into the larger universe of Persona and the many stories still at play remains to be seen when the game comes to North America on Feb. 14.