Did you know that Persona 5 invented jazz music, the colour red, and turn-based battle systems? I know right - Atlus is out here making a more significant cultural impact than the Notre Dame Cathedral and Mona Lisa combined. Except it didn’t invent any of those things, despite the fact much of the fanbase would like to convince you it did. It’s like that tweet about the guy who has only ever seen Boss Baby, and upon watching another film is all like, “I’m getting some serious Boss Baby vibes from this.” Or Elon Musk’s tweet about how Loki is a live-action Rick & Morty. As much as I adore Persona 5, I think it might be the Boss Baby of JRPGs. Before you cancel me into oblivion, please hear me out.
Persona 5 put the series on the map, although it was slowly but surely building a global audience with the launches of Persona 3 and Persona 4 in generations prior. It was only a matter of time until Atlus’ golden goose pierced the heavens and never looked back, and that moment finally came to pass with Persona 5. The vanilla release, Royal, and Strikers have all been monster hits, eaten up by a hungry fanbase who simply want to see more from this world and its characters. While the writing is littered with problematic elements and adult characters who deserve better, the core messaging and themes of young people fighting back against authority still resonate with so many, and that was enough for it to achieve blockbuster status.
When Shin Megami Tensei 5 was shown during the latest Nintendo Direct, many viewers were excited to see a game that took clear inspiration from Persona 5 as you ventured across a post-apocalyptic world to recruit monsters and meet a number of like-minded characters. The ironic thing is, Shin Megami Tensei is the very game that spawned Persona in the first place, with the property abandoning its forebear’s title as it slowly but surely outgrew it. Shin Megami Tensei is now the niche sibling, attracting a fraction of the audience despite executing many of its mechanics and story elements in much the same way. It isn’t nearly as stylish and is evidently old-fashioned, but it’s a shame its legacy has been so easily forgotten.
Persona’s 25th anniversary is right around the corner, and while I doubt we’ll see much from its earlier titles, I’d love to see these gems brought into the spotlight, if only to provide a history lesson to those who have only recently fallen in love with the series. And I don’t mean this in an “I was into it before it was cool” way, either. Released for the original PlayStation in 1996 as Revelations: Persona, the first game in the series is very archaic by today’s standards, yet it still maintains many of the tropes and archetypes we see in Persona 5. It’s a darker experience, once again following a group of high school students as they find themselves with the ability to summon monsters as an overarching conspiracy unwinds before them. Don’t go in expecting top-tier waifu material and anime melodrama, though - this comes from a time before all of that stuff was hip and cool.
Given the era of its launch, much of its writing and themes haven’t stood the test of time, but it remains a fiercely challenging RPG for those with a real soft spot for such things. I’d opt for the PSP remake if you’re going to play it today, partly because it updates the visuals, localisation, and softens the dated nature of combat and exploration. Don’t go in expecting something like Persona 5 though, as it couldn’t be further detached from where things would eventually evolve to. Persona 2 once again began life on the PlayStation before receiving an updated PSP port over a decade later. Many described the series as a collection of sleeper hits before the arrival of Persona 3, when Western attitudes towards it changed and Atlus noticed that perhaps it was sitting on a potential goldmine.
The second installment also received a direct sequel instead of a refined release in the vein of FES, Golden, or Royal. It was a continuation of its overall narrative, and one that did a compelling job of building a universe that has gone untouched ever since. I recently took to Twitter and expressed my excitement about Persona 3 Remake and Golden being ported to new consoles, but many of the responses wished for a return to the first Persona and Persona 2 - perhaps a compilation that remasters the PSP remakes and adapts them for new audiences. I’m unsure how warmly received something like this would be, but I feel it’s important for preserving a brand that has grown far beyond its origins. It’s a global powerhouse now, making it increasingly important to revisit what made it all possible in the first place.
While I desperately want to see Persona 3 receive a significant remaster or even a remake as part of the 25th anniversary, I’d happily let this slide if older games were to take centre stage. Persona 3 has already received an enhanced and portable version, although it’s a nightmare to play on modern platforms. I imagine Atlus will soon capitalise on its popularity with something like this, but that shouldn’t result in the dejection of Persona and Persona 2. Those games are great, and if I’m being blunt, a vast majority of fans probably haven’t played them or don’t even know they exist. As I mentioned at the top of this piece, Persona 5 is bloody excellent, but it’s often treated as the one and only JRPG that matters, when the history behind it is equally as rich and influential. Atlus would be wise to not forget that.
If Arcane sparked your interest in League of Legends, there are better ways to experience Runeterra than playing the game.