The best Persona games stand alone. After all, the first game, released way back in '96 for the PSOne, does not look anything like what we've since come to expect from the stylish JRPG series. It established most of the core features we now enjoy – not least its horror elements, social links with teammates, and intuitive combat systems – but the best Persona games today are the ones that throw caution to the wind with vibrant colour schemes and the funkiest of funky music. On this list are the best Persona games ranked from worst to best. Tell us how right and/or wrong we are by screaming "SEES!" as loud as you can during the Dark Hour.
Best Persona games
6. Revelations: Persona
The first Persona game, released in 1996 for PS1, doesn’t have any of the features we associate with the series now – the music isn’t quite funky enough, there are no bright colours, and the social links with your teammates don’t exist yet. Instead, Revelations sticks with the horror theme of the original Shin Megami Tensei series, expanding on the high school setting of Shin Megami Tensei If…
By now this instalment of the series looks a bit drab, and the battle system, while it established some of the elements that by now make Persona combat so refreshing, like negotiating with enemies to various effects, reached its limit fairly quickly. Add to that the fairly uninspired level design, and it’s fair to say that by now there are plenty of better Persona games available to play.
5. Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Persona 2: Innocent Sin is easy to overlook because it didn’t make it to the West until the PSP remake finally got localized in 2011. Before that, the story was deemed too dependent on an understanding of Japanese culture and contained too much potentially offensive content to work for Western audiences. While this part of the series introduced the ability to summon Persona, it gave up on negotiations, which is, of course, a shame in hindsight.
The story is pretty convoluted, featuring Nazis, Mayan cultists, and prophecies of the end of the world. Even though it’s just as confusing as other JRPGs that were released in that era of games, P2 always took a more adult approach to a JRPG story than its competitors, which may be exactly what you’re looking for.
4. Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
There are no huge differences between Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, as the idea to this sequel was born during the development of the main game and uses many of its assets. Eternal Punishment is set in an alternate timeline to Innocent Sin, and Maya, a team member from the previous entry, becomes the protagonist here. Together with her friends, she hunts the mysterious “Joker”, who murders on request and has the power to make people act on their worst desires, which is similar to the later Persona games’ interpretation of the Collective Unconscious.
Eternal Punishment improves over its predecessor by finally giving you both summons and negotiations in battle, and it uses an interesting rumor system. Unfortunately, battles become unbalanced due to a challenging levelling and spell cost system for Personas, but it’s an overall better game both in plot and mechanics and should be recognized as such.
3. Persona 4
It can be argued that the individual placements of Persona 3, Persona 4, and Persona 5 on any ranking of the franchise come down more to personal preference than gameplay elements: in all three of them you fight monsters called Shadows in a world parallel to our own, you capture Persona and create and manage them in the Velvet Room. Social Links tell you more about your friends and allow you to influence the level of your caught monsters. In short, the basic building blocks are much the same.
From Persona 4 onwards, players can control each party member individually if they want to, which allows for better strategizing, but if you enjoy the combination of regular JRPG turn-based combat with using your Personas and exploiting the weaknesses of your foes, you’ll find that in all three titles, albeit with varying levels of grinding involved.
What makes Persona 4 very different from the other installments is its overall presentation. It’s immensely bright, both in its design as well as its plot. To those remembering Persona as a spin-off from a series with strong horror elements, the bubbly comedy of P4 is a big departure from the series. Overall more of a supernatural whodunnit with the philosophical elements loosely mixed in, this is a great game for anyone who enjoys anime tropes more than explorations of the dark depths of the human psyche.
2. Persona 5
The probably biggest criticism you can level against Persona 5 in comparison with the other Persona games is that it massively overstays its welcome. At a playtime between 80 and 120 hours depending on your style, it even segues into an ending before going whoops, wait, there’s more.
Persona 5 gets the most out of the gameplay series of the system, making sure that no encounter gets too long if you exploit your enemies’ weaknesses properly, but unfortunately this also makes it pretty easy on normal difficulty. The plot is the same mix of sweet and sour, light-hearted but more serious than Persona 4, with plenty of thought put into its Jungian roots. This game has arguably the best social links out of the series, and it’s fun to meet your team members one after another and hang with them in a plethora of well-known locations around Tokyo. On top of all that, P5 is just incredibly stylish, right down to a typeface that’s so iconic people have previously cosplayed it.
1. Persona 3
As the first part of the series to use social links, we owe Persona 3 the social and dating elements that added a lot of flavor to the series. It also overhauled the battle system, in order to function more like a round-based title such as Final Fantasy, even though you can only control the player character.
When it comes to the overall experience, Persona 3 comes closest to the somber tone of the Shin Megami Tensei series without being too gloomy. Overall Persona 3 asks more difficult questions, without delving into silly or problematic territory as often as Persona 4 and Persona 5 do. Additionally, it boasts a great cast and it’s aged well – if you like Persona, don’t sleep on this one.