The other week we were lucky enough to receive a slew of announcements from Atlus, outlining their plan for the Persona franchise for the foreseeable future. Persona used to be a hardcore niche offshoot of the already hardcore Shin Megami Tensei series. Nowadays, thanks to the success of Persona 3 and 4, the Persona series stands as more popular than its mother-series, and worthy of the incoming spin-offs and expansions. Of the announcements, only Persona 5 might be a totally new experience. The rest of the bunch: Persona Q, Dancing All Night, and the Persona Arena sequel, all involve characters from Persona 3 and 4. I say the word ‘might’ because we don’t know much of anything about Persona 5 at this point, and there is no guarantee that it won’t have some connection to older games. What I want to discuss today is the future developments of the series, and discuss whether the series should jump blindly into the unknown or bask in the popularity of its greatest titles.
To call Persona 4 the most popular game in the series would not be a stretch. Persona 3 sparked off the modern Persona craze, but it wasn’t until the fourth instalment that the series reached the heights that it has now. Sparking off an anime, fighting game, concerts, and a handheld revamp on the Vita, Atlus has been relying on Persona 4’s success all generation as fans impatiently awaited the next in the series. While many fans of Persona 1 and 2 have lamented the new, more bubbly direction of the series, it is undeniable that Atlus struck gold in the shift between dark, gritty stories, and half dating simulator. What clinched Persona 4 was the combination of excellent combat and dungeon gameplay, both of which had their roots in SMT tradition, particularly Nocturne, and the engrossing social link system, which not only allowed for compelling collect-them-all gameplay, but also gave real emotional impact to various characters.
Persona 4’s success is why three of the announced games are spin-offs. Fans are attached to the characters from Persona 3 and 4, and would like to see more of them. There are mangas and the like, which have sprung up to explain what happens after the story, but these are akin to Mass Effect or Halo books, which is to say – unimportant. What gamers want is another chance to play as their favourite characters, and these games will deliver that. However, there is a question as to how far should Atlus rely on this. The original Persona 4 Arena’s story was a direct sequel of sorts to Persona 4. It made sense in the cannon. However, Persona Q and Persona Dance All Night both seem like they are stretching their premises thin. They are bubbly games, which look fun, but are the demeaning the brand by extending it so frivolously? Time will tell, but Persona Q especially has me worried that Atlus is playing fanservice first and a good story second.
That brings us to Persona 5. Should Atlus bring in an entirely new cast of characters, or should they continue to make use of the popularity scored by Persona 3 and 4? As usual, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Interestingly enough, there is even precedent of characters continuing from the previous game. Both parts of Persona 2 contained characters that were brought over from the original game. If they repeated this practice, a few characters from Persona 3 and 4 could make appearances in Persona 5 even as playable characters without demeaning the new characters and the new action. Characters such as Aigis, Mitsuru, Naoto, and Elizabeth make sense as characters that happen upon the situation in Persona 5. Of course, they could start entirely from scratch, which may be the best option. After all, Persona 4 wouldn’t have existed if Atlus rested on their laurels and made a direct sequel to Persona 3. At the same time, it seems like, as the series grows and becomes stronger, the creators of Persona need to think big for the series as a whole.
Of course, a new game won’t mean that Persona 4 or 3 become any less popular and we may hit a Disgaea situation where new games and protagonists are invented while old ones persist through spin-off games. This would be a waste, in my opinion, as relegating important and serious characters to frivolous side duties for too long will simply make them a joke like with the original Disgaea’s cast. If Atlus continues to use Persona 3 and 4 characters, they must eventually use them in a meaningful way. Either this will require them to be used in Persona 5, or another spin-off sequel. Persona 4 Arena brought the worlds of Persona 3 and 4 together and hinted at a future. It would be a shame to drop that entirely. On the other hand, it would be equally dignified if Atlus simply dropped Persona 3 and 4, leaving them to their games.
As for the overall question as to whether Persona should look backwards or ahead, I give a vague ‘both’. Persona could have followed the steps of Final Fantasy and had each game stand on its own. Or they could have followed the path of a game such as Mass Effect, where everything builds to one end. They have chosen something more in the middle. Everything exists in the same universe, but there is always something new to talk about. Because of this stance, it would be an injustice to rely entirely on previous casts and settings, however, it would also be unfortunate to drop what was developed before hand. With a bit of luck, Atlus will strike the correct balance between old and new, and fans will enjoy Persona 5 for what it will be.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer