The Persona series was once a “hidden gem” of the JRPG world. Few Western gamers have experienced previous versions of the series. But everyone who has played them praises them highly. With the massive success of Persona 5, the franchise has now entered gaming pop culture. 4 in the series are catching up. Available today on consoles and PC, and even playable at no additional cost for Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Both games originally appeared on the PlayStation 2 and have each received a re-release with additional content on Sony handheld consoles PlayStation Portable and Vita. The Director’s Cut Persona 4 Golden was at least already available via Steam, but now it’s available for console players as well. Joker steals the show! His appearance in Smash Bros. wowed fans. (Image source: Nintendo) So this is your chance. But the question you should be asking yourself if you’ve only experienced Persona 5 so far: Do you really want to play older games in the series?
A difficult pass
Persona is a spin-off of the dark JRPG series Shin Megami Tensei (SMT). It works independently of Persona and recently got a new game on the Nintendo Switch. SMT shares many gameplay similarities with Persona: you can recruit demons, merge them with others, and use your opponent’s elemental weaknesses for advanced moves in the battle system. But why am I telling you this? Shin Megami Tensei is actually known for one aspect of the gameplay: high difficulty. If you want to paraphrase it with the usual meme, SMT is the Dark Souls of monster collecting games and previous Persona games have portrayed this aspect of its gaming roots more than later ones. The dungeons do not offer checkpoints, it is only possible to save manually. If your main character is knocked out in a fight, it’s Game Over. Combined with the fact that some opponents can quickly overwhelm you with critical hits, this can result in multiple hours of dungeon gameplay being taken out at once. Those who are more old school will not be caught off guard. Many old JRPGs worked this way. But especially players accustomed to autosaves may be surprised by this design decision. The Grim Reaper has already reset quite a few saves in Persona 4. (Photo material: Atlus) But apart from this aspect, you have to be prepared for some cuts in Persona 3 and 4. As already mentioned, these are games that are released on the PlayStation 2. And while the design of the titles is always excellent, the appearance of some 3D models might turn off modern gamers. The version of Person 3 available on current platforms is Persona 3 Portable. In addition to this variant, there is, among others, the PlayStation 2 title Persona 3 FES. Portable differs from FES in a few aspects. And while some parts of the title have been improved, there are a few things missing that modern Persona players might expect. Persona 3 Portable does not feature animated sequences. The story is animated only by dialogues. Also, the game does not feature a “real” overworld. Instead, you click through the game world instead of exploring it yourself. In Persona 3 Portable, you don’t explore the game world freely, but in the form of individual scenes. (Photo material: Atlus) However, there are of course also positive changes. Persona 3 Portable lets you command your party members directly. Which isn’t possible in FES, while strategies could be chosen for your group, precise command selection was not available, but is it worth going back? Do you want to play the older parts of the series now? If you liked Persona 5, then by all means. Because Persona 3 and 4 also offer the same gameplay hook that makes the series so special: social simulation alongside the JRPG. In both games, you will meet interesting characters with whom you can spend your limited free time in order to strengthen your bond and thus unlock new skills. Logically, there is also a first and a second part of the series. As disappointing as the selection of games on the PlayStation Mini is, one of the games available is Revelations: Persona – the first game in the series. So if you want to go back even further and find out the origins of the franchise, this is an easy – legal – way to do it. But be aware that these are very old games that hit a very specific niche even more. The mixture of social game and RPG does not exist here either. You can find the first Persona part on the PlayStation Mini. (Imagery: Atlus)
What is the best order to play the games?
Since the Persona games each feature their own stories that aren’t intertwined, it doesn’t matter in what order you tackle them. You may tend to rely on the part that strikes you the most with its “vibe”. Persona 3 is darker, while Persona 4 is a little lighter. Persona 3 is hip hop, Persona 4 is pop. But for those worried about being bogged down by missing quality of life features, Persona 4 provides a useful bridge. The available version, Persona 4 Golden, is even more accessible than the vanilla version. Picture material: Persona 4 Golden, Atlus, P-Studio