Persona is a franchise that’s recognized by RPG fans everywhere. It’s sold close to 10 million copies worldwide so far and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, as a new entry in the Persona Q spin-off series, New Cinema Labyrinth, is set to debut on June 4 in North America. The following is a ranking of every main entry and spin-off in the franchise, in order from weakest to strongest. Note that similar entries, like the original game and its PlayStation Portable port, have been grouped together for clarity’s sake. Also keep in mind that Japan-only games and mobile titles have been excluded.
Best Persona Games | 9. Persona 4 Arena/Arena Ultimax
The Persona fighting spin-offs, Persona 4 Arena and Arena Ultimax, eschew established lore in favor of telling their own self-contained narratives. While longtime fans of the franchise may find this bothersome, each title’s gameplay translates surprisingly well from the main series and strikes an excellent balance between normal attacks and Personas. Arena and Arena Ultimax ultimately feel like they were made solely with fighting game aficionados in mind. However, fans of the main series may find it in their best interests to skip the titles, as their campaigns and characters may frustrate them.
Best Persona Games | 8. Revelations: Persona/Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
Revelations: Persona, otherwise known as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, has not aged well. Controls feel clunky, levels look boring, and shifting between perspectives is jarring. That’s not to mention that each narrative is disjointed, as battle sequences get in the way of major plot points too often. This being said, each title’s complex gameplay systems are fun to experiment with if players stick around long enough. As they invest more time, they’ll find it to be a lot darker than modern Persona games, too. This could be a good thing for fans who love the franchise’s signature mechanics but want a change of tone.
Best Persona Games | 7. Persona 4: Dancing All Night
Rhythm spin-off Persona 4: Dancing All Night can’t compete with some of today’s most popular music-themed franchises. The gameplay layout is messy and it’s difficult to keep track of notes while moving images in the center of the screen also vie for your attention. Despite this major woe, Dancing All Night does a good job remixing some of Persona 4‘s best melodies. Its narrative is compelling and surprisingly personal too, as the spotlight is placed firmly on a new character called Kanami Mashita.
Best Persona Games | 6. Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night/Persona 5: Dancing Star Night
Both Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight make notes easier to read thanks to straightforward layout designs. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the fact that each was developed simultaneously, each game lacks as many tracks as Dancing All Night. This is a notable offense for rhythm titles, seeing as how there’s not much to do outside of their main campaigns. Speaking of the each game’s narrative components, their stories strike a noticeably silly tone. This may turn off fans expecting moments as thought-provoking as those found in Dancing All Night.
Best Persona Games | 5. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Atlus managed to craft a worthwhile 3DS entry in the franchise with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. The ambitious crossover has the cast of Persona 3 and 4 battle alongside one another through an unique gameplay system reminiscent of Etrian Odyssey. Figuring out how to arrange one’s party and what Personas to use at any given moment is a lot of fun towards later sections of the title. While fans may find themselves backtracking often, discovering solutions to puzzles is almost always satisfying. Witnessing these characters joke around with one another is also a treat, especially for series veterans.
Best Persona Games | 4. Persona 2: Innocent Sin/Eternal Punishment
Persona 2: Innocent Sin and its direct sequel, Eternal Punishment, double down on the dark themes found in the original game. Each member of this teenage cast is a victim of a traumatic incident that stills haunts them today. The antagonist, Joker, seeks to punish each person for his or her past and lies at the center of a fascinating story that includes such controversial elements as infanticide, religion, and Nazis. While cycling through dungeons can get monotonous and battles can seem slow, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment‘s narratives are captivating enough to keep RPG fans invested.
Best Persona Games | 3. Persona 3
Persona 3 laid the groundwork for every mainline entry since its release. It’s the first game to implement a social link system, allowing players to develop relationships with each cast member. Some of the dark, brooding themes found in the first two titles carry over here, but players are incentivized to explore each character’s personal ambitions above all else. This helps make the series feel grounded and personal, though the teenage awkwardness is a bit unappealing at times. Grinding could also take away from one’s willingness to pursue certain character arcs.
Best Persona Games | 2. Persona 5
There’s reason why many critics believe Persona 5 is one of the greatest RPGs ever created. The game retains a lot of features found in its predecessor, but gives fans more activities to take part of as a student and more characters to interact with outside of the classroom. This ties perfectly into the gameplay, as there are a ton of interesting combat abilities, and Personas to unlock (killing machine Yoshitsune is definitely a highlight). While the game doesn’t take too many risks and its characters aren’t as interesting as those in Persona 3 or 4, there’s no denying that it evokes more style than most other games.
Best Persona Games | 1. Persona 4
It’s hard to ignore the impact that Persona 4 has had on the RPG genre. The game commits itself to the social link system, unabashedly introducing a certain lightheartedness that other titles in the franchise fail to match. Its gameplay is much more fluid than in prior entries and players may find themselves grinding a lot less here than they have in the past. The murder-mystery plot is engaging without heavily relying on controversial themes, and it’s satisfying to see each distinct character come together for a common cause. It’s not hyperbole to state Persona 4 is the exact reason why the series is so popular today.
Now is a great time for fans to revisit some of the best games in the franchise while they patiently wait to witness the Phantom Thieves of Hearts join forces with the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad and the Investigation Team. If crossovers aren’t their cup of tea, they also have Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 Scramble to look forward to next year. Unfortunately, it may be a while before fans learn about the next main iteration in the franchise. Thankfully, playing each entry a second or third time may last them until then.