Reflecting On Persona’s Growth And New Ventures

by Kimberley Wallace on Feb 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM

This week, Atlus USA confirmed four new Persona games are coming to our shores. From another fighting game to a dance-party rhythm title, these spin-offs are showing just how much the franchise has grown throughout the years. While Persona will always be entrenched in its RPG roots, it’s interesting to see Atlus step into other territories with it.

Two years ago, Atlus tested the waters in the fighting genre with Persona 4 Arena. The fact that the company saw enough success to bring out its sequel, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, speaks volumes about the growing audience – and it has only continued from there. These days, more people know and talk about Persona than ever before. The series has no doubt caught on for its mature tone, social links, and its captivating monster fusion. 

When I think back to the early days of Persona, it was an underground franchise and one of the RPG genre’s best-kept secrets. It was so different from other RPGs I’d experienced, as it ventured into dark places. I was used to the generic lighthearted journey to save the world, but Persona is about so much more; most of the time it’s about saving yourself from life’s harsh circumstances. The journeys also center on growing through your problems and accepting yourself, taking off your “persona.” 

Watching the series find a stronger place in the video game market throughout its 17-year run so far has been exciting. The newfound fanfare that people have is palpable and reminds me of my own experiences of finding the series for the first time. In a time where JRPGs are losing their market share, Persona continues to grip and capture a more mainstream audience. This is no doubt thanks to strong offerings in Persona 3 and 4, which immersed gamers in Japan’s culture and daily life while retaining the mature focus. Social links were such an important innovation for the series, especially since the students you’re befriending all have relatable problems and powerful journeys to overcome them.

I have to admit, if you would have asked me years ago if a Persona rhythm game even had a chance of succeeding with a U.S. audience, I would have laughed. Now I think people are so attached to these characters and world that anything new immediately piques their interest. Some would say the series is selling out on its dark premise, but creativity and risks are important to every franchise. Think about this: If Atlus had not taken a risk on a series with mature content, we might not even have Persona to this day. These spin-off titles should lend Atlus the funds to sustain the mainline series and explore new ventures – which is what I care about most. I say, let people have their fun making past Persona characters bust a move if it’s prosperous for the franchise and Atlus’ future. 

Series often go through changes to explore what works and what doesn't. Persona 4: Dancing All Night may be something that doesn’t immediately resonate with me, but I always try to go into things with an open mind. I’m especially excited to see Atlus take the mechanics that made one of its other niche series, Etrian Odyssey, popular and infuse it in the Persona world with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. Atlus is obviously trying to capitalize on Persona’s most popular cast with the majority of its newly announced games. My only concern is that the Persona 4 focus is starting to feel like overkill. The Persona 4 cast has been in the limelight for a while now – since 2008, to be exact – and after an anime, Persona 4 Golden, Persona 4 Arena, and now three more games with their involvement, I’m starting to get burnt out on them. That’s why I was thrilled by the Persona 5 announcement. The time is ripe for new faces, journeys, and innovations. The new game has a tough legacy to live up to, especially since Persona 4’s cast is so beloved, but I think new blood is exactly what Persona needs right now. 

Last year was an interesting and unfortunate time for Atlus. It ran into some trouble of even being able to survive due to some poor financial decisions of its parent company, Index. Sega Sammy has since acquired the Atlus brand, allowing it to survive. One question people often ask me is how I feel about Sega having a stake in Atlus. I’m not one to jump to conclusions, and I think it’s pretty clear that Sega has been letting let Atlus continue to do its own thing. I suspect that the four new games announced were all in the works before this acquisition even took place. As long as Persona continues to thrive and sustain the quality it’s known for, I’m fine by it. 

For now, I’d put my money on the future being bright for the Persona series. Finally having Persona 5 be a reality and not something that’s kept under wraps, is a good step forward. Time will tell if Atlus will continue to have success with Persona, but for now I’m enjoying watching the series break new ground and capture new audiences. Looking back on its first outing with Revelations: Persona, I never thought Persona would catch on in this way. What can I say?  I’m a sucker for the underground success story. 

For more on how the Persona series became an RPG powerhouse and Atlus USA’s role in its localization, check out our Perfecting Persona feature.