When Atlus released Persona 3, it hit upon a formula that resonated with people. Players were doing the typical “save the world” thing, but in a modern environment that required them to also interact with other people and maintain something of a normal life when they weren’t involved in dungeon-crawling and life-or-death battles. In the years since, we’ve seen multiple games that attempt to capture the magic of the Persona series.
Atlus has done its best to offer various takes on the series. Following the success of Persona 3, Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the company released the strategic Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor on the Nintendo DS. While it wasn’t an exact duplication of the formula, it sampled many of the elements that made Persona great. It is set in modern-day Japan. Many of the protagonists are high schoolers. Creatures are being summoned to fight their battles. Most importantly, there’s a strong personal connection between characters, with players encouraged to pursue relationships between people. There’s a sense of connection as you fight to save the world. It did so well, it inspired a sequel and Nintendo 3DS ports of both entries in this offshoot series.
It wasn’t the only time Atlus borrowed from its own formula. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, on the Wii U, is another such situation. Our heroes and heroines are again young people in present-day Tokyo. Each one has a Mirage, a character inspired by Fire Emblem, to support them in battle and allow them access to special skills. They go through gimmicky dungeons and participate in turn-based battles. Most importantly, there are side-stories that allow the player character, Itsuki, to connect with and help all of the members of Fortuna Entertainment in the same way the Persona protagonists aid the important people in their lives.
But it isn’t just Atlus copying its own formula to varying degrees of success. Other companies are doing the same. Acquire and ZeroDiv created Mind Zero for the PlayStation Vita and PC. This JRPG didn’t exactly cover the day-to-day living of the Persona series, but borrowed many other elements. Its dungeons were traversed in the first person, like the first three entries in the series. It involved a modern world, where high schoolers became “MIND” users and could head into those otherworldly dimensions to fight supernatural creatures in the outer realm. They each connected with their own “MINDS,” which were representative of their inner selves and helped them use skills and fight battles. Except here, we don’t get the same sense of connection and have a story that leaves off on a cliffhanger.
The Caligula Effect is one a recent releases inspired by Persona. Here, we have a group of what seems to be high school students trapped in a virtual world. A select few awaken to new powers there, ones that grant them great power and the ability to perhaps break free of this world. We’re exploring environments that seem modern. There are plenty of turn-based battles to fight. The way in which it connects most to Persona is its socialization system. Party members each have side stories that can be pursued as you follow their storylines and learn about them. However, that same socialization is also where it deviates from Persona. It falls flat by offering far too many ordinary NPCs to connect with and no unique dialogue or experiences to make any of them matter.
Now, most recently, we have Tokyo Xanadu. This is Nihon Falcom’s take on the concept for the PlayStation Vita, with PlayStation 4 and PC versions soon to follow. The battle system is entirely different, as it is an active system where you are constantly attacking roaming enemies with an AI-controlled partner in third-person perspective dungeons. However, everything else is similar. There are an array of major and minor relationships you can develop in your free time in town. You’ll sometimes be attending classes and improving three different parameters as you make decisions throughout the storyline and aid people around you. You also end up connecting with some sort of special force to become a Wielder capable of using weapons to fight monsters and protect the people in Morimiya City. It offers that same experience of a high school student doing the best he can to get by and connect with people during the day, then fighting monsters at night.
These are only the games we know about. Given the success of Persona 5, there are bound to be other developers paying attention. Already, people have seen that the formula is something people not only want, but want to see more. And in the case of games like Tokyo Xanadu, we see that it is not just Atlus capable of pulling such a concept off and doing a solid job of it. When it comes to Persona-likes, we never know what the future may hold.