Shin Megami Tensei vs Persona is the showdown that raged in my mind for weeks when deciding which of these series I might enjoy more. With so many games competing for our time these days, one has to make informed choices. I experienced both, in the end, and can perhaps guide you if you are anything like me – very precious about which games you spend your time with.
Megami Tensei is a long-running JRPG series, with its first title releasing in 1987 – Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei. The release history of games in this series is convoluted, to say the least. Persona came around as a result of the popularity of 1994’s Shin Megami Tensei If.. reportedly due to the high-school setting.
Is Persona more popular than SMT? The short answer – yes. Essentially, Persona started its life as a spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei. It has, especially with modern releases, eclipsed its ancestor in both popularity and commercial success. The most recent instalment, Persona 5, sold more copies in its first 3 months as Shin Megami Tensei V has nearly 6 months after release. SMT V still recently managed to rack up over 1 million sales, which is nothing to sneeze at.
The Same, But Different
Perhaps the best way to decide whether you should play Shin Megami Tensei or Persona, its best to start by discussing their similarities. Both of these series, particularly the latest entries, are great RPGs that ooze style, and have in general been critically acclaimed.
On to what makes them different. To oversimplify, Shin Megami Tensei can be likened to Pokemon or Digimon, where the monsters are used in battle while Persona has the monsters function more like the Stands from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, granting the user special abilities. Persona is also equal parts visual novel and RPG, perhaps more VN, so this comparison works quite nicely. There are some differences in the monsters you’ll find in each as well, but you will recognise more than a few if you have played either game.
One of the major things that sets Persona apart from Shin Megami Tensei is its use of characters as the main drivers of the story and of the game itself. Persona’s focus is on the human character and interaction, whereby spending time with people and deepening bonds grants you certain perks, depending on who you hang out with. For example, hang around with your teacher after hours enough and she will turn a blind eye to you slacking off in class – so long as you keep your grades up, of course.
In stark contrast to the lively social atmosphere in Persona, you spend most of your time in Shin Megami Tensei alone exploring the world and working towards your objective. The world tends to be post-apocalyptic in some form or another in Shin, compared to Persona’s real world setting. As such, the human cast tends to be much smaller.
At first blush, you might think that both games have more or less the same battle system. There are definitely similarities, some of the spell names and abilities carry between each series. This is a lot like how you might find the spell Gravity or Blizzaga in a number of Final Fantasy games. There are other, more subtle differences that give each their own unique flavour.
Shin Megami Tensei leans more towards the traditional, hardcore style of JRPG battle system with its Press Turn system. This is a fairly straightforward turn-based system, where striking a weakness will grant your team an extra action, while an attack that is resisted, blocked or reflected will have the opposite effect. Particularly boss battles can be protracted affairs, requiring diligent and efficient use of abilities, and more often than not a trial-and-error process to figure out its vulnerabilities.
Persona has a very similar system, but instead hitting a weakness or landing a critical hit will grant the active character another turn, or “1 More” rather than adding an action and moving on to the next character like in SMT. There are also other features like All Out Attacks that are not present in the series proper, and generally speaking a much flashier and stylish set of animations.
Overall, I found Shin Megami Tensei’s battle system to be a little more technical than that of Persona. That said, both games offer enjoyable combat with satisfying mechanics, visually appealing animations and an appropriate depth of strategy to engage players, although I would lean more towards SMT if you’re looking for something more challenging and combat driven.
Don’t Take It Persona-lly
Shin Megami Tensei vs Persona – this showdown is far from over. Sadly, neither Persona or Shin Megami Tensei are consistently available across platforms. You will either find one or the other, sometimes both, and sometimes none, all depending on what platform you use to play video games. Ultimately, and regrettably, this will be the determining factor in which of these great titles you pick up.
If you are hoping to play any of the Shin Megami Tensei games, Nintendo Switch will have the latest – Shin Megami Tensei V. There are indications that this title will be ported to PS4 and PC, however there is no official word or known developments in this regard at time of writing. If it ever does happen, here are some tips that might come in handy.
If you’re hoping to pick up SMT IV, you’re going to need a 3DS. The game is still available on the eShop for direct download, but let this serve as a reminder that you will not be able to purchase this game off the 3DS eShop after March 2023, if you were planning to snap up some of the classics you may have missed.
Many players will have to settle for the HD Remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne which is available on PS4, Switch and Windows. You could also pick up one of the classics on iOS or Android, if you want to get a feel for the series. Sadly, Xbox gamers are out of luck.
Atlus-t This Makes Things Easier
You’re going to have similar problems if you want to play Persona 5. You will need either a PS3 or a PS4 if you want to play the base game, or if you want to play Royal with the extra content you’ll need a PS4. While it might be a feasible Switch port, there has been no word of this ever happening – although, a few years ago you probably would have laughed off the idea of Persona 4 Ultimate coming to PC.
Debates around platform exclusivity aside, it can be disheartening when you can’t play a series you are interested in purely because of your choice of hardware. Ultimately, we still have to consider these things when making choices about what we play, but luckily there is some Megami Tensei on just about every platform. It might not be the one you want, but there is hope.
While there are no big Atlus games available on Xbox right now, it appears that Soul Hackers 2 will be landing on the platform on 25 August 2022. This is yet another spinoff, but rather than a school or post-apocalyptic setting, switching things up with a more techy urban setting. Sadly, if you were hoping to snag a physical copy, this is a download only title. That’s too bad, but let’s not complain too loudly when Xbox is finally getting some love from Atlus.
Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong with either Persona or Shin Megami Tensei. They are both worthy of the respect they are afforded, and are immensely enjoyable RPGs each with unique and flavorful styles. They are all great in their own way and even if the one you were hoping to play is not available to you, I would encourage you to give whatever you can get your hands on a shot. Even if that means waiting for Soul Hackers 2 – check out the trailer for this exciting new title below.