Persona might have started out as a Shin Megami Tensei spin-off but it has become far more popular than SMT ever was with millions of fans around the world. Developed by Atlas, Persona games are super unique with deep-rooted stories, well-developed characters with a personality of their own, and of course, a sense of challenge that keeps you on your toes.
But unlike many popular franchises, Persona wasn’t a hit right off the bat. In fact, it wasn’t until Persona 3 that the series began to gain traction, and well… the rest is history. As of today, the Persona franchise has continued to include many games in the series with some of them being spin-offs.
With so many games under the same umbrella, it does get a little confusing to find the best Persona games to play. That is why we have made a list of the top 5 mainline Persona games ranked from worst to best!
Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Persona 2 Innocent Sin is probably one of the worst games when it comes to censored content. The game consisted of several controversial stuff including Nazis, Cults, and whatnot, which might not have been a huge problem in Japan but it was a little too much for the western audience of the game.
For a very long time, the game was only available for Japanese players with the localization taking place after the PSP remake, which made things even worse. The game itself was not bad for its time at all. In fact, it was the game that introduced the feature of summoning Persona. However, it lacked a lot of other things and even added some extras.
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
Eternal Punishment came out as a sequel to Persona 2 Innocent Sin. It has many similarities as you would expect from a sequel that’s set in an alternate timeline to the original game. In this timeline, the game puts you in the shoes of Maya as the main protagonist of the game. Compared to its predecessor, this game feels much more polished with many game-changing improvements including the fan-favorite negotiation system.
The game also features the infamous Joker, who has the ability to make others act on their dark desires. You, alongside your teammates, embark on this wild adventure to take down the Joker. The gameplay feels much better than many other Persona games we have played in the past. But one of the reasons why this game is on the bottom end of the list is because the battle system feels a little unbalanced.
Next up on this list is Persona 4, a game that for many, changed how players perceived the series. Fans loved its colorful visuals and the bright world, and of course, quirky characters. Persona 4 is enjoyed by millions of fans around the world and some even believe it to be the best Persona title ever made. And it makes sense because Persona 4 is a great mix of the classic JRPG turn-based combat with unique parallel world gameplay.
In Persona 4, players live two different lives at the same time. One in the normal world, where they meet new characters, hang out with them, capture new Personas, and well… just chill, in general. The other life lives in the Shadow World where you slay monsters alongside your friends using a variety of Personas. This game has brought many players back to the JRPG genre due to its sheer fun gameplay and light-hearted storyline. You can also buy Persona 4 for a relatively cheaper price.
This game is probably the reason why Persona became so widely popular around the world. Persona 3 is responsible for shaping the game into what it is today. It introduces many fan-favorite features to the game including social links, an improved battle system, and making the game a little less gloomy compared to the more grim tone of SMT.
Persona 3 laid the foundation of the series for many popular Persona games that we love so dearly today. Of course, there are quite some features that this game lack but in comparison to other Persona titles. Nevertheless, Persona 3 is much more balanced and acts like a connecting bridge between the classic, more intense Persona games and the new, silly ones. We would highly recommend this game to anyone who is just starting to get in touch with the franchise.
Persona 5 tops the list with a high Metascore of 93 out of 100 on Metacritic with overwhelmingly positive reviews from the players. The game has overhauled the overall looks of the characters making them more visually appealing but that’s only scratching the surface. Persona 5 comes packed with over 100 hours of action-packed gameplay with a well-executed battle system and story that is much deeper than any Persona title in the past.
The game instantly draws you towards itself with its unprecedented style and confidence that makes Persona 5 stand out from its predecessor. Speaking of which, the game has improved quite a bit from Persona 3 and 4 in terms of social links, outfits, UI design, and of course, the story. However, it all comes down to personal preference when you compare Persona 5 with Persona 3.
So, there you have it, a complete breakdown of the top 5 Persona games ranked from the worst to the best. If you are just starting out as a total beginner to the series, I highly recommend you start with Persona 3 and work your way up but if you are only looking for the best experience, Persona 5 is the one to go for!
Amazing facts about the Persona series
If your knowledge of Japanese RPGs begins and ends with Final Fantasy then the name Persona may not mean a great deal to you, but it’s one of the genre’s most popular franchises with almost 7m copies sold. It’s seen multiple sequels, spin-offs (technically spin-offs of spin-offs), merchandise and even several live-action stage shows in its native Japan, and later this year will receive perhaps its biggest entry to date in the form of Persona 5 on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3. If you want to get up to speed on this unique lineage of JRPGs, you’ve come to the right place.
It’s actually a spin-off of an older series
While publisher Atlus chooses to stylise the series as just Persona, its full name is actually Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. The Megami Tensei franchise started life with 1987’s Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei on the Nintendo Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES) and continues to this day; a new entry in the series has just been confirmed for the Nintendo Switch and 3DS.
However, in 1996 Atlus decided to create the spin-off Revelations: Persona on the Sony PlayStation, taking the same core theme of a battle between good and evil but positioning high school students as the protagonists. Since then 6.9m copies have been sold, accounting for a large proportion of the 14m copies sold across the entire Megami Tensei franchise.
It’s got a strong connection with a certain Swiss psychiatrist
A core theme for the Persona series is the idea of analytical psychology, which focuses on the importance of the individual psyche and includes concepts such as the id, super-ego, anima, animus, and “the self”. Often referred to as Jungian psychology due to the fact that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung originated much of these ideas, notions taken from this brand of psychology can be found in every Persona title; the connection is made even more obvious when you look for references inserted by the developers. For example, the licence plate of a car in Persona 4 is CH8700, a reference to Jung’s hometown Küsnacht; CH is the country code for Switzerland and 8700 is the postal code for the town.
Koromaru is based on a real dog
Persona’s loveable pooch Koromaru is actually based on a real dog named Hachikō, an Akita breed who died in 1935 after becoming something of a celebrity in Japan. Hachikō’s owner professor Hidesaburō Ueno would commute to work and the loyal Hachikō meet him at Shibuya Station at the end of each day. When Ueno suffered a haemorrhage during a lecture and didn’t return, Hachikō visited the station at the same time for the best part of the next decade, still expecting his beloved master to return. Hachikō died on March 8, 1935, and has been immortalised in a bronze statue at the station. Under certain conditions in Persona Q, one of the characters will exclaim that Koromaru “looks like he belongs outside a train station” – a clear reference to Hachikō’s statue.
There have been several Persona stage plays in Japan
The Japanese love live-action stage productions based on popular video games and Persona is no exception. Persona 3 has seen no fewer than three limited-run productions – Ao no Kakusei, Gunjō no Meikyū, and Sōen Kesshō – while Persona 4 was adapted into two plays in 2012, called Visualive and Visualive the Evolution. Persona 4 Arena and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax have also been blessed with productions, in 2014 and 2016 respectively, making them, surely the first fighting game spin-offs of a spin-off to ever be adapted for theatre.
It’s had its own TV show
Anime TV shows based on video games are another popular form of media in Japan, and in 2008 Persona was given the animation treatment via Persona: Trinity Soul. Set 10 years after the events of Persona 3, it revolves around a series of gruesome murders where the victims have essentially been turned “inside out”. A North American localisation of the series was released in 2010, but it’s now out of print and hard to find.
The western version of the first Persona features heavy alterations
Recent Persona titles are famed for their excellent western localisations, with very little being changed from the Japanese versions and every effort being made to ensure the translation is as faithful as possible. However, it wasn’t always this way; the first Persona game on the PlayStation featured some significant changes when it arrived in North America, including the currency switching from Yen to Dollars and the main town being renamed Lunarvale. One of the main characters – Masao Inaba – even changed ethnicity and was renamed Mark. These alterations were reportedly intended to make the game more appealing to American players.
A major plot point is inspired by a Japanese urban legend
In the first two Persona titles, characters take part in a special ritual to summon their Personas alter-egos by each standing in one of the four corners of a room and circling around until they reach their original starting position. This is based on a Japanese urban myth called Square, which relates to a group of five mountain climbers stuck in a storm. One of the team dies and is buried, and the four survivors eventually reach an old house. Without a fire to keep them warm or light the room the four individuals each stand in the corner and take turns walking counter-clockwise and tapping the next person on the shoulder. When it is discovered that each corner of the room is occupied even when the person moves to tap their neighbour, the four believe that the ghost of their dead companion is present in the room with them. Spooky!
Nintendo references are commonplace
Few Japanese developers can say they’ve never been influenced by Nintendo, and as a result there are many references to the company’s games in JRPGs – with Persona being no exception. In Persona 4 one of the characters utters the line “It’s dangerous to go alone” while another says “Our Princess is in another castle” – comments lifted from The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. respectively.
Persona 4 pokes fun at the Twilight series
Persona 4 references other video games such as Zelda and Super Mario, but it doesn’t stop there – it also tips the hat to other media, and not always in the most positive manner. In Persona 4 there’s a book named Witch Detective which is described as a “ploddingly-written romantic comedy” which involves a girl who, on her first day at school, becomes involved with vampires. The book is said to be “almost physically painful for you to read”, a clear dig at the popular Twilight series of novels.
Spin-offs include online games and a one-on-one fighter
Persona is a spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei but it’s seen its own fair share of associated titles, too. These include a free-to-play online games in the form of Persona 3: The Night Before and Persona Ain Soph, both of which are now offline. Titles have been released for Japanese mobile phones and in 2012 a fighting game called Persona 4 Arena hit arcades, later being ported to home consoles. A sequel followed in 2014, while 2015’s Persona 4: Dancing All Night placed the characters from that particular sequel in a, er, rhythm action release.