I’ve heard the Persona franchise described in quite a few different ways, though most of the discussion with fellow gamers and two revolutionaries who introduced me to the series has remained focused on Persona 3 and Persona 4. Japanese gamers are currently enjoying Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth on Nintendo 3DS, which combines the casts from those two titles, but I’d rather talk about how they’re different, how they’re the same, and how I hope Atlus and the Persona team play with the formula for the next mainline entry in the series.
I spoke with Nick about the franchise briefly over the weekend, and we both agreed that if Persona 4 is a representation of happiness, then Persona 3 is all about death. I’ve heard the two games described a different way as well. Someone said that Persona 4 is the countryside and Persona 3 is the city. I don’t think Iwatodai can compare to the massive Shibuya crossing featured in the Persona 5 trailer above, which was just recently announced for PlayStation 4.
That must mean Persona 5 is taking players into the hornet’s nest, though I’m curious as to how exactly the franchise will portray the simultaneously claustrophobic and lonely environment with its map system. I wouldn’t trade the way players navigate the game world, especially since finding new people and places to interact with becomes its own engaging activity over the course of gameplay, thanks to the calendar system.
In fact, I hope Persona 5 plays with the franchise’s singularly unique calendar system (I can’t think of another game that does it as well as Persona 4) by challenging players to navigate time more wisely than they have in the past. Additionally, Persona 3 featured a more personal look at some of your party members given that you lived together in the dorm. What would interactions with Chie and her furious kicking or Kanji’s home life have been like if Persona 4 had more instances of getting invited to someone else’s house (as opposed to the Dojima residence).
Since I’m on a roll here, I’m going to go a bit in-depth on what I hope the franchise does next because it is easily the most exciting new thing in gaming (at least to me and I've been playing for a few years now). The wait for Persona 5 will kill me. I want to get this over with now so I'm not going crazy until the game is released.
I love when role-playing games convey a proper sense of the time you actually spend in the game, especially when the main character remains a central figure to the drama, as opposed to an accessory merely watching events unfold around them and obviously getting caught up in it at the right moments. While the calendar system in the Persona series largely avoids this by adding lots of different things to do throughout the course of gameplay, I can only hope for as many different festivals, party events, and the like as in Persona 4.
I’d absolutely love to see a means of experiencing the story in reverse. What if a shadow's perspective could be portrayed in a way where the player understands two directions through the typical “year” spent in the game, with a year being largely relative given Persona 4 took about 70 hours during my first playthrough. I’d like to see an unlockable campaign, possibly with a less involved story, where players can get into a bit more dungeon-crawling, complete the Persona compendium, and possibly meet a few new characters unique to fans who dedicate the time.
What if you could start a New Game Plus after completing the shadow campaign to see how your progress there affected the main game? Persona 5’s big city might provide the kind of background to this chaotic sense of sides fighting against each other. I would be even further entertained and enthralled to discover that entire months might change drastically, even if it were an awkward moment that actually encompasses an entire month’s gameplay. If your shadow actually beats the MC during an important moment, would the next play-through reflect this with a broken leg or arm?
Each of the previous Persona games have featured special events and outings where a lot of the play time was spent in groups, given that you’re advancing the story in these moments. I hope Persona 5 actually capitalizes on the massive city by featuring travel as a means of growing social links and discovering new things to do.
It’d be really entertaining to see how a train ride across the city looks when you’re doing it with another character in the morning before school. Then, your afternoon event leans on the evening and it’s only a day-change to a brand new event that you choose by either riding different lines or meeting with others in a different district. Still, it could be difficult to implement the kind of social link promotions the series uses to capitalize on progress between different characters.
Both games feature you and your compatriots visiting school, taking classes, and generally juggling teachers, classmates, some kind of mystery, and your relationships. One of my favorite parts in Persona 3 proved to be the singular mission and goal: to clear Tartarus of the evil inside. You didn’t really have to think twice about where to go next and that makes combat a particularly driven activity in the game.
Persona 4 only slightly alters this by branching out, so I’m curious as to how players will navigate the city on their way to school and back, and into whatever locale plays host to the turn-based mayhem. School always seemed like the thing you did before you got to an activity in the previous games, and I think it could be interesting to play with the kind of encounters you might have there.
What if different scenarios pushed players to explore the school at night? While a dungeon might feature the standard battles you'd expect, perhaps players could face off with antagonists at school in shadow duels. Of course, that happens everyday for many teenagers in a school environment, though Persona’s best elements come from the psychological and paranormal themes that coat settings and character designs alike.
I can bear it.
I love the Persona team’s ability to get me to smile when times are good, and cry when they’re even better. I want more of that in the building of relationships between game characters. Persona 3’s cast does take the melodrama around it seriously, standing against Persona 4’s joyously goofy and suitably colorful team of detectives. There’s that odd corporate sense about SEES, though you come to have some of the most touching moments with unlikely and at times unseen heroes. While both games feature animals, Koromaru’s little wings really endear you to an oddity or two.
While some characters drive humor, others sometimes act in opposition, and often that’s in service of their own dramatic progress through the game. Persona’s ability to engage with players on multiple levels will balance this, though I would guess that the next game in the franchise probably leans on a more mature tone given its promotion thus far.
I’m incredibly excited to play the game, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to as soon as I’d like. The most recent teaser says it’ll be available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in 2015. A western release would likely be a year or more beyond that. If you’ve got thoughts on the future of Persona 5, let us know in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out our coverage of the bizarre and incredible livestream-event that unveiled Persona 5 and other projects in the franchise.