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The History of Persona

A persona has many definitions, including the narrator of a story, the visage one puts on in public, a perceived emotion or personality, or, simply, a mask. In the Persona series of video games, however, a Persona is much more. It is an embodiment of a characters other beings, their other "selves." Characters throughout the Persona series must find how to unlock these other beings within them and use them to battle the often terrible foes encountered.


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Creepy old men will try anything to impress potential victims these days.
The Persona series from Atlus can best be understood as a branch of the Shin Megami Tensei series. It shares some similarities such as modern(ish) settings and presence demons. It is different, however, in that the Persona series has players summon these "demons" to help them rather than capturing them and fighting alongside them. Some Personas can indeed be captured or won in battle, but it is a slight difference that makes the Persona series unique.

The original Persona, known as Revelations: Persona in North America, came out on PlayStation in 1996: a time when most console RPGs were set in fantasy medieval realms. Characters in this first installment of the series decided to play some supposedly harmless game that ended up drawing the interest of a certain creepy old man, who summons them to a dreamworld that they don't seem to realize is connected with their sudden ability to call forth their other forms that just happen to seem demonic in nature. Their alternate forms can also be used to fight off the demons that exist in their friend Mary's world that she created in her mind so that she could be healthy somewhere, because she sure as hell isn't healthy in the real world. What a mouthful, and that's just the beginning. There's also a corporation known as SEBEC that happens to be linked to this world within Mary's head, as well as the need for the characters to try to save Mary's life in the real world.

The Token Black Guy

Revelations certainly had its faults. Its slow, turn-based battles required wading through menu-laden battle screens in order to simply attack normally, and the first person dungeon designs were often confusing in layout. It was in letting players hold conversations with their enemies in order to attempt to win them over to their side that the original Persona shone brightest. Not only that, but an innovative system that factored experience and damage heavily into how the player's party was set up let players use more strategy than other games of the day.

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We never got this one.

While Revelations was at least welcomed in North America as an off-beat RPG, there were some complaints about the liberties taken to "Americanize" the game. Some characters and locations had their names changed, and some characters even had their entire appearance changed (one character was even changed to be African American, possibly to "balance" the racial divide, yet his dialogue was so stereotypical it backfired and made it seem as though the localization team was full of bigoted racists). Fortunately, Atlus had another go at the series, and released Persona 2: Eternal Punishment on Sony's PlayStation system. Yet even with this next iteration of the series, there seems to be a question as to why the decision was made to leave the other half of the game, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, across the Ocean. Fortunately, although Innocent Sin was the first of the two halves, Eternal Punishment did a decent job summing up the events of the elder title.

Cockblocked

Persona 2: Innocent Sin was released in 1999, but stayed in Japan. Its plot takes place not too long after the events of Revelations. It introduced the Rumor system that also appears in Eternal Punishment. Essentially, players could plant rumors that could later eventually become reality. The story of the game again centered on a student, Tatsuya, and his friends as they attempt to discover the mysteries trapped within them.

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It was an RPG with modern-type settings, save for the cop helmets straight out of the hit 1970's hit show Chips

Released in 2000, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment breathed new life into the series for North American fans, and did a lot to bring new members into the Persona fold, since most gamers did not yet own a PlayStation when the first title came out. While it shared many elements with the original game, there were few localization flubs and the game was more maturely themed than the first.

Eternal Punishment has players take control of Maya, a reporter for a teen magazine. She gets assigned to investigate several murders that have been occuring, supposedly caused by some fellow who calls himself "Joker" (cue Batman theme music). While beginning to unravel the mystery behind this, Maya encounters the Joker himself, which just happens to unlock *shock* her latent abilities to awaken other parts of herself known as "Persona." *Awe*

Transition

The Persona series has made a name for itself with its modern setting, different way of using skills (such as summoning characters' Personae), and a unique art style. Persona 3 looks to continue that trend.

Persona 3, set to release July 24, 2007 on PlayStation 2, shares some attributes with its predecessors, but has updated the series since the last iteration seven years ago. For the North American release, Atlus has chosen to add the Shin Megami Tensei series name to the title, thus making its full name Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, presumably to bolster series recognition. It should be noted, however, that the Persona series is not the Shin Megami Tensei series, it is merely an offshoot, as described earlier.

This third Persona title once again features students in a high school. The main character has just tranferred to a new school. Players control him throughout the school year, as there is a day-to-day cycle throughout. The main character, after having his latent abilities discovered, is recruited to fight demons at night. That's our day job at RPG Land, so we see him clocking in as we're clocking out. He's a good kid.

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And we won't be getting this one.

Apparently not satisfied with ending Persona 3's story where it was, Atlus created Persona 3: Fes, which, in Japan, was released in April of 2007. Essentially, this is an expansion disc to the original Persona 3. It has additional story after the final boss of the previous game, as well as some other extras including new quests and new Personae. However, hopeful gamers should not be too optomistic, as Persona 3: Fes has no announced North American release, and special editions such as this don't often cross the pacific.

Finally, there is an upcoming Persona title set to release on the PlayStation Portable system. It is not known as to whether this is a new game in the series, or simply a port or remake of a previous game, but it may as well be mentioned here anyway.

The Persona series is one that may not be as long as others, but it has a history nonetheless. It's a series full of off-beat, modern-setting, demon ass-kicking RPGs, and it's one that many fans of the genre should enjoy. For more information, check out the two reviews and preview below, and look for a Persona 3 review later this month.

Essential Reading

  • Forum discussion about this feature
  • Revelations: Persona review
  • Persona 2 review
  • Persona 3 preview
  • -Joseph Wartick