A beginner’s guide to Persona

Atlus’ Persona series has exploded in popularity. This means there are not only mainline installments, but also ports, updated releases, reimaginings and spin-offs. There are all interesting games that do cool things with elements from the series, but it is also a series where you probably shouldn’t go and begin with the very first game. Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to find a good starting point.

persona 4 golden

The must-plays

Persona 3
Persona 3 FES

2006/2007, PS2 (Atlus)

Persona 3 is the game that made the series a worldwide sensation. Before this entry, this series was a bunch of Shin Megami Tensei spin-offs that were incredibly niche and not guaranteed a release outside of Japan. This installment, with high schoolers coming to terms with their own identities while facing the world’s challenges, was the one to define it as a standout JRPG. It was the first to combine a daily life with dungeon-crawling and bring in solid relationship elements, which all subsequent installments adopted. It was also the first to get an updated rerelease with an extended epilogue and new gameplay features.

Persona 4
Persona 4 Golden

2008/2012, PS2/Vita (Atlus)

Persona 4 picked up where Persona 3 left off, except with an even greater focus on making the teenagers the heroes of the story. It has a distinct Scooby-Doo vibe, is better at making its protagonists feel more like actual teenagers and helped define the series as a modern, stylish JRPG. Like Persona 3, it was popular enough to get an updated release. However, its rerelease let people take the massive game on the go.

Persona 5
Persona 5 Royal

2016/2019, PS3/PS4 (Atlus)

Persona 5 again oozes style, making the series look as fashionable as ever in its first PlayStation 4 appearance. However, a number of other concepts make this entry stand out. While all of the entries can be rather “dark,” the issues with authority and depiction of the lead character as someone framed and even arrested take things to a new level. Its updated release, which won’t appear outside of Japan until 2020, continues the trend of including something of an expansion. (It also adds a new character and another confidant.)


persona q2

The next steps

Persona 2: Innocent Sin

1999/2011, PSOne/PSP (Atlus)

Persona 2 is weird. Instead of being one cohesive game, it was broken up into two parts. They both play similarly, but you need to go through both to understand what is happening in Sumaru City and what Tatsuya Suou and Maya Amano are going through. Persona 2: Innocent Sin is the first half and, due to a number of reasons, its PlayStation version never received an official worldwide release. However, its PSP remake did appear worldwide with gameplay adjustments, new art and a new quest. Just know going in that it is completely different than the more recent Persona entries, as it has no life simulation elements, involves negotiations with demons to get items and has a more traditional dungeon system.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment

2000/2012, PSOne/PSP (Atlus)

The second part of the whole, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is notable in that you could play it and not its first part, but it really is best if you manage to go through both for the sake of getting the full story. Sadly, its PSP remake never appeared outside of Japan.

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth

2018, 3DS (Atlus)

Many of the Persona spin-offs tend to be “dream” games that allow for major crossovers or experimentation with different sorts of gameplay systems. Persona Q2 is a Persona game that follows the laws of the Etrian Odyssey series, as it sends characters from Persona 3, 4 and 5 into monster-inhabited dungeons you must map thoroughly. The second installment in this spin-off series is the most beginner-friendly and includes the more familiar faces.

Persona 4 Arena

2012, Arcade/PS3/Xbox 360 (Arc System Works and Atlus)

Persona 4 Arena is a game that can defy expectations. It somehow works as a fighting game, despite the original installments being turn-based RPGs. It acts as a sequel to Persona 3 and 4, with visual novel elements that follow a whole new anomaly involving the Midnight Channel. Plus, there are the cross-over elements that show people how select Persona 3 characters would get along with the heroes from the fourth game. At the same time, it’s one of the more beginner-friendly fighters out there.

persona 4 arena ultimax

The deeper cuts

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona

1996/2009, PSOne/PC/PSP (Atlus)

The original Persona is responsible for a number of firsts. It took Shin Megami Tensei concepts, but applied them to a modern setting where high schoolers were the stars of the story. It offered an exploration of people’s psyches and how their true selves could help people fight against evil. However, compared to more recent entries, it can be rather confusing and daunting. After all, it had first-person dungeons that, in its earliest incarnation, could require people to keep detailed maps. Even its overworld map was a challenge to explore. Also, the localized PlayStation release omitted an additional storyline. (The PC version was never released outside of Japan.) While the PSP’s Shin Megami Tensei: Persona does make things more user-friendly, it is still a very demanding and different experience.

Persona 3 Portable

2009, PSP (Atlus)

Persona 3 Portable is a very different sort of Persona 3 remake. It is based on the original Persona 3 and offers an entirely new storyline with a female avatar. She has different social links and some experiences can feel a bit dissimilar, due to her personality. It also changes up the gameplay, making the day-to-day portion feel more like a visual novel. (The dungeon-crawling remains the same.)

Persona 4: Dancing All Night

2015/2018, Vita/PS4 (Atlus)

Another follow-up, this spin-off is set after Persona 4 and involves the group getting involved with Midnight Stage, a Midnight Channel like area with Shadows and a mysterious figure controlling them. The kids from Inaba need to dance to save the day. It’s the most substantial entry in the Persona: Dancing series, as it has a visual novel story mode and free play options. The PS4 version is only available if you get the big Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection that also includes the two entries based on Persona 3 and 5.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

2013/2014, Arcade/PS3/Xbox 360 (Arc System Works and Atlus)

The second Persona 4 Arena is more of the same. There are more characters from Persona 3 and 4 fighting, and we see more people exploring events of the Dark Hour after both games. It’s a substantial game that’s still inviting, but you really should play Persona 4 Arena first.


persona 5 dancing in starlight

The rest

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

2014, 3DS (Atlus)

Like all Etrian Odyssey games, Persona Q can be demanding. You’re going through dungeons and facing tons of monsters, some of them intimidating F.O.E.s that you can’t even dream of facing until you have spent a lot of time grinding. You pick from two campaigns, depending if you start with the Persona 3 cast or ones from the fourth game, and try and find out what everyone is doing in an alternate dimension celebrating an odd sort of “festival.”

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight

2018, PS4/Vita (Atlus)

The characters of Persona 3 have been summoned to the Velvet Room! The idea is that the characters from this main entry are being tasked by Elizabeth to participate in a dance-off with the characters from Persona 5. You go through lots of songs from Persona 3 in a free-play mode, while also unlocking conversations with characters from the game.

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

2018, PS4/Vita (Atlus)

Caroline and Justine are competing with Elizabeth, and so they have summoned the Phantom Thieves to dance in a “competition.” The premise and gameplay is the same as Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, only with the characters and songs from Persona 5.

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