The Persona series began as a spin-off from the Megami Tensei games beginning with Revelations: Persona on the Sony PlayStation in 1996, and continuing with the release of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4.
All the games in the series take place in the same universe and share certain common elements. The series typically revolves around groups of high school students, and takes place in modern day Japan with a heavy focus on occult plots of world destruction and rebirth, potential Messiahs/Antichrists, and a myriad of personae.
The personae (or personas), being one of the strong binding elements of the series, are what provide the magic and special in-battle abilities of the characters throughout the games. Taking heavy influence from various gods and demons from many different world cultures and religions, as well as the major arcana associated with the twenty-two tarot cards.
The Term "Persona"
The term "persona," as derived from the psychology term, also has a vital meaning to the series. Persona, meaning the mask or appearance one presents to the world. The persona is not a facade or some other intentional misrepresentation of the self to others. Rather, it is the self that naturally presents itself to the various people we deal with in our lives and may change according to situation and context. This theme is always a core concept explored in the stories presented in the series.
Personae give their users strength in battle. The type of Persona being used has a significant influence on that character's abilities in combat. The character's stats, elemental affinities, and skills available are all decided by the Persona currently equipped. Having a wide variety of Personae available and using them appropriately is the key to success.
How characters can use the ability of Persona has differed depending on the game. In Persona 1 and 2, all characters were capable of using multiple Persona. Persona are grouped into different classes called Arcana, and each character has different levels of compatibility with each Arcana. As a result, some characters would be able to use a Persona of a given Arcana more effectively than other characters, and some characters would simply be unable to use a certain Arcana at all.
Persona 3 and 4 changed the use of Persona so that only the main character could switch between multiple Personae. Instead of having affinities, the protagonist would be able to use a Persona of any Arcana with equal ability. The other characters only had access to a single Persona each, which is capable of eventually evolving into a more powerful version of itself.
Although the Persona series' time-line is fairly straight forward, with each new game that is released the series changes so much that it is hard to believe the stories all connect.
Original Release Date: September 20, 1996
Platforms: PS1, Windows, PSP
The first game in the series centers around a group of teenagers that use melee weapons, firearms, and their Personas to defeat demons in random encounters. The silent protagonist and his friends gain the ability to summon Personas after they play a ritual game, are knocked unconscious, and are granted the ability by a mysterious fellow named Philemon.
During battle, players can actually contact the demon they are fighting and try to negotiate with it. Depending on the demon's mood, the player may be able to scare the demon away, anger them further, or convince them to give up an item. The dungeons are explored in a first-person perspective, but when in a room or exploring the normal world the camera switches to an isometric view and an overhead view respectively.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is a PSP re-make of the original Persona released in 2009. It features an updated interface, remastered cutscenes, a complete re-localization, and an all new soundtrack composed by Shoji Meguro.
Original Release Date: June 24, 1999
Platforms: PS1, PSP
The first chapter in the Persona 2 duology, Innocent Sin centers around protagonist Tatsuya Suou and his friends as they investigate the strange happenings in Sumaru City. Much like the first game, combat consists of random encounters fought with the power of "Persona", once again granted by the enigmatic, Philemon. Taking example from the early Shin Megami Tensei games, players can once again contact demons and convince them into providing items, such as tarot cards, which can be used to fuse new personae in the Velvet Room.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 - Innocent Sin is a PSP remake of Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and is the first version of the game to be released in the west. The remake has similar updates to the Persona remake, such as improved visuals and new soundtrack, as well as a new Climax Theatre mode, offering optional quests and the ability for players to create their own quests.
Original Release Date: November 30, 2000
Platforms: PS1, PSP, PSN, PSVN, PSPN
Eternal Punishment takes place a few months after its predecessor. The game is still in the same universe, albeit a parallel one, as Revelations and it's predecessor, Innocent Sin. Many characters from both Revelations: Persona, as well as Persona 2: Innocent Sin, make a return in this conclusion to the Persona 2 duology.
Original Release Date: July 13, 2006
Platforms: PS2, PSP
Persona 3 was a major turning point for the series due to the refined gameplay elements, enhanced visuals, and many new features. The story centers around a once again silent protagonist who transfers to Gekkoukan High School in the city of Iwatodai. Every night at midnight, the Dark Hour occurs. During the Dark Hour, everyone transmogrifies into a coffin and the school itself turns into a massive tower known as Tartarus. Those that don't turn into coffins have formed the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, or SEES for short. They soon discover that the protagonist has a Persona, and recruit him for the team. These Persona-users fire a gun-like object called an Evoker at their heads to summon their Personas, which are used for magical attacks like previous games.
Time management plays a huge role in Persona 3. Every major event in the game occurs during a Full Moon, and the player must decide how the spend their time every day. Social Links, which are the relationship bonds formed with other characters, determine the strength of Personas that are in the same arcana as the Social Link. For example, a high S Link rank in the Priestess arcana will allow players to create very strong Personas of the Priestess arcana in the future. In addition to S-Links are attributes that will dictate who the player can go out with and other factors. Players can raise these attributes, like Academics or Charm, through several means including studying or eating special complexion-improving noodles.
While exploring Tartarus, players can initiate combat by striking enemies. The battles are turn-based and the player only has control over the protagonist. However, the player can set different tactics and parameters for the A.I. teammates that they will follow when it is their turn.
Original Release Date: July 10, 2008
Platforms: PS2, Vita
Despite still having dark/mature themes, Persona 4 is generally more light-hearted than its predecessors. This time around the game focuses on weather patterns, ditching the Persona 3 system of the lunar calendar which determined various scenarios/events to happen in the game world. The story focuses on a set of bizarre murders that occur in the small town of Inaba in 2011. Instead of joining a secret organization (SEES) to battle shadows during the "Dark Hour", the game simply follows a young group of high schoolers who find themselves discovering their Persona ability while trying to solve the mysterious murders being perpetrated in their town.
Combat takes place in dungeons modeled after the hidden personality of the character who will be murdered next. The Investigation Team access these dungeons by stepping into television sets. The combat in the game is turn-based like Persona 3, but the game allows players to control teammates entirely rather than have them be A.I. controlled (although that is still an option).
- Persona 4 Arena is a fighting game spin-off for the PS3 and Xbox 360 developed by Arc System Works, whose story acts as a direct sequel to the events of Persona 4. Arena also features a number of returning characters from Persona 3.
- Persona 4: Golden is a remake of Persona 4 for the Vita. Unlike Persona 3 Portable, which had features removed compared to the original release of Persona 3 due to the limitations of the PSP, Golden is a faithful reproduction of Persona 4, as well as introducing a variety of new content.
- Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the sequel to Persona 4 Arena that continues the story and adds 8 new characters from both Persona 3 and 4.
- Persona 4: Dancing All Night is yet another spinoff of Persona 4, exclusively for the PS Vita. A musical rhythm game where the Investigation Team must join Rise to save her idol group in a dance-off competition and defeat the Shadows who threaten them again.
- Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: A spinoff game where the main characters of Persona 3 and 4 team up with a couple of original characters to solve a new mystery taking place during their respective school festivals.
Original Release Date: September 15, 2016 (JP)
Platforms: PS3, PS4
A brand new addition to the Persona sub-franchise, Persona 5 tells the story of a rebellious child and his classmates who form a band of thieves, in order to "steal" the hearts of crooked and evil individuals whose superegos threaten to consume more than just themselves.
Combat and exploration take place in large dungeons/castles with themes that differ with the antagonist's ego. All main characters carry both a melee weapon and a gun that carry separate strengths/weaknesses, though the guns have limited ammo. In a nod to the more mainline Shin Megami Tensei titles and the earliest Persona titles, the Shadows in P5 are not generic enemies, but Personas that can be recruited by the Protagonist.
Unlike previous Persona titles, this game features stealth mechanics, encouraging the player to surprise enemies or sneak around them to find hidden treasures. The players must also deal with an "alarm system" that will increase the quantity of enemies with higher detection rates, and even force the player to flee the dungeon completely if the meter reaches 100%.
The popularity of Persona 5's release spawned a new sub-franchise of its own. Included were tons of merchandise along with an anime series and OVAs, and a few spinoff games plus a remaster that was released in Japan on October 31, 2019.
- Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight: Is a musical rhythm game released at the same time as its Persona 3 counterpart. While it had a story, unlike the Persona 4 Dancing All Night game, the story was not considered canon.
- Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers: Is a musou-style game that involves the Phantom Thieves fighting through a ton of Shadows in Shibuya. This game was also ported to the Nintendo Switch.
- Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a dungeon-crawling spinoff and sequel to Persona Q that merges several main characters from the stories of Persona 3, 4, and 5, as they get sucked into a strange world featuring a mysterious movie theater that they cannot escape from. Unlike the last Persona Q, the focus here is mostly on the Phantom Thieves instead of allowing the player to choose which team's story to focus on.
- Persona 5 Royal: A remake of the original game including new characters, new gameplay features, new graphics and animations that were not included in the original title.
- Labrys/Shadow Labrys (introduced in Persona 3 Drama CD: Moonlight)
- Sho Minazuki (Persona 4 Arena Ultimax only)