I have always been a big fan of two specific types of video games: dungeon crawlers and life simulators. You can probably think of a few amazing games that fall into either of these genres yourself. But you probably can’t think of many games that are a part of both genres. A game developer would surely have to be crazy to make a game like that… right? Well crazy or not, that’s exactly what video game studio Atlus did when creating the Persona series. But the Persona video games aren’t the unnatural abominations you might think they are – they’re amazing.
The Persona Series in a Nutshell
Every Persona instalment has roughly the same structure. You play as an unnamed Japanese student, and live a normal life of school, homework, and socialising with your peers. This side of the series obviously showcases the life simulator game genre – it allows the player to act out the hectic yet mundane life of an average high school student. But hidden within this typical student existence, you’ll soon find the Persona series’ fantastic dungeon crawling elements.
While the narrative context for each game’s dungeon crawling system is different, generally it plays out the same. Early on in each game, its main characters find themselves up against an alternate dimension filled with dungeons, monsters and demons. From here on in, you can choose to explore this world and fight hordes of enemies whenever you want – and it’s awesome.
How the Persona Series Combines Game Genres
The Persona series makes the life simulator and dungeon crawler game genres work together by doing two things: giving the player total freedom, and making its differing gameplay elements complimentary to each other.
My first Persona game was Persona 4 Golden on the PS Vita. Being honest, when I first started playing it I fully intended to ignore its life simulator elements. I was more in the mood for a traditional JRPG at the time, so I decided I would spend my in-game days grinding experience points and money in dungeons. I figured my protagonist wouldn’t need to worry about socialising or exams if he was level 99! And what makes the Persona games great, is that this is a perfectly valid option for playing them. They’re structured in a way that allows you to do whatever you want, and this freedom to choose is amazing.
By engaging with the Persona games’ more “mundane” elements however, you can receive a wide variety of benefits. Take your main battle party for instance. If you hang out with them enough outside of the games’ dungeons, you can unlock power-ups for them. These often come in the form of new abilities which can really give you an edge in combat. Whatsmore, by improving your friendships with other characters in the games you also get the ability to make stronger personas – the pokémon-esque creatures your main character uses in battles. And if they get more powerful, you’d better believe that you do too.
Intrigue in Every Genre
From an outsider’s perspective, it might sound like the life simulator side of Persona is something you have to put up with to grow stronger. But in reality that’s not true at all.
The Persona series manages to make the variety of characters and subplots you can engage with outside of battle just as entertaining, if not even more so, than their dungeon crawling side. I started hanging out with the NPC’s in Persona 4 just so I could grow stronger. But I quickly became engrossed in their characters and genuinely enthusiastic about spending time with them. Plus, some of the mini-games and side activities you can do in the overworld are pretty fun! I found myself skipping the in-game days I had scheduled for grinding levels so that I could do things like hang out with the protagonist’s little sister, or just take some time to relax in my local bathhouse. The Persona series has a certain charm about it that will make its life simulator elements very hard to resist.
Long story short, believe me when I tell you that the Persona series probably offers one of the strangest fusions of game genres in all of entertainment. But it does it so well, it will leave you wondering why there aren’t more video games like them on the market. If anything I have said here has interested you, I have good news: recent announcements tell us that the Persona series is not only coming to Xbox consoles and its Game Pass, but also to the Switch as well! Now might just be your time to give these great games a try! Video games are an inherently creative artform, and an innovative series like Persona embodies what the medium is all about. I will be forever grateful for being exposed to the series, and I look forward to sinking countless hours of my time into whatever Persona game Atlus makes next.