What is Persona? What is Shin Megami Tensei? Perhaps a better question is, what is a Persona?

Shin Megami Tensei, first of all, defines a universe of demons and humans that began in 1992. It’s basically a franchise descriptor that began its life as a Wizardry-like first-person RPG that has since expanded into multiple series with timelines and stories that do not necessarily intersect or even take place in the same world. At this point, Shin Megami Tensei defines more a style of game, rather than a specific universe. The series is dark, gothic, and it always involves demons in some capacity.

Originally the name Shin Megami Tensei was an attempt by Atlus to create a franchise brand that could encompass many games. The Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series didn’t add the Shin Megami Tensei prefix until Persona 3. The first Persona title released for PlayStation with the title Revelation Series: Persona. There was one other Revelations Series game released for Game Boy Color, but it was not part of the Persona series.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment released in 2000, and by the time Persona 3 released in 2007, the Shin Megami Tensei prefix started to have clout in the United States after popular releases like Digital Devil Saga and Nocturne. That naming convention only lasted for two games, though. Persona 4 Arena is dropping the Shin Megami Tensei prefix, and it’s unknown if future entries in the Persona series (if there are future entries) will follow suit.

To circle everything back around now, what exactly is Persona, and why is it the namesake for, arguably, Shin Megami Tensei’s most popular sub-series?

The Persona series follows assorted groups of teenagers – a new clique in every game – as they fight the demon forces of darkness by literally summoning their own personal demons. The games do share connections, with infrequent appearances from characters from the previous Persona games, but for the most part, each game is standalone, sharing themes instead of direct plot continuation. The protagonists are usually high school students; they spend time in the real world and alternate dimension demon worlds, and typically the conflict is a result of rumor mongering. Each of the games also features the ability to summon a Persona (sometime multiple Personas) for the purpose of combat.

A Persona is the manifestation of your internal psyche, usually in the form of an imposing monster, and it is used to beat up demons. Each of the games has a different mechanic for summoning the Personas for combat.

In the original Persona and its sequel, the students summon their Personas through a ritual that they somewhat accidentally stumble upon while playing a game called Persona. Persona 3 has the most memorable Persona-summoning mechanic, with the teenagers shooting themselves in the head in order to make the Personas appear. Technically they’re not shooting real guns into their own heads, but instead gun-like devices called Evokers. It’s a little dark. Persona 4 scaled back the teenage suicide angle significantly, having the students summon their Personas using tarot cards.

For the upcoming Persona 4 Arena, the main cast of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 will reunite to battle, but you will also see characters from Persona 3 who have aged appropriately in the years that passed between the third game and the fourth game. You will be able to fight as both your character and your Personas simultaneously.

Now, after reading this brief summary of what Persona is, you are somewhat prepared to play the Persona fighting game without the confusion that would have been alleviated by playing four full-length Japanese RPGs.