The Persona series is chock full of exciting ideas and references to other forms of content and even real-world history. In fact, it begins with the Personas themselves. They are not unique creatures but ones taken directly from literature, religion, lore, and more. But this is far from the only reference in the series, as you’ll see in this Persona historical references guide.
During my time playing all six mainline Persona games at this point in time, I was genuinely surprised at times by what the game managed to do in terms of referencing older ideas and pop culture. This is very much a series that is rooted in lore and references other events, even including its previous games.
This is one of my favorite parts about the series, as learning more about its inspiration usually enhances the experience. Find out more about these impactful events in this Persona historical references guide.
Bottom Line Up Front
There are many different historical references in the Persona series, and they can be boiled down to a few categories: characters, Personas, story events, classroom questions, and pop culture. Many of the characters, especially in Persona 5, are based on real-world figures or fictional characters.
All of the Personas are based on something else, like religion or culture. There are story events that reference back to events that happened in the past. The locations that you visit are similar to real places. Classroom questions are full of nothing but references to historical events, while pop culture references are everywhere from lines in the game to movies you can watch.
Persona Historical References Overview
One of the most unique parts of the Persona series that I adore is how realistic (stick with me) and grounded it is. Unlike series like the Final Fantasy games or Mass Effect, Persona shows the beauty of finding love and wonder in the current world we live in.
Set in the present-day world, the Persona series shows that there is room for magic and surprises even in mundane life. But this unique position of being set in modern-day Japan also allows for it to be much more self-referential than a game that is set far into the future or another world entirely might be.
After all, the series has the same history as we do with significant events that happened around the world like World War II occurring in these games from Atlus as well. They also contain much of the same literature, religions, and folklore that is featured throughout the society we have today.
As such, Atlus takes full advantage of this, thankfully so, and references nonstop in these games. It doesn’t matter what you are doing in the game; you’re going to be referencing something at the time. Whether you know it or not, there is a reference around every corner of the game. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Types of Historical References
Before we dive deeper into some of the specific references I love that you should know about, it’s worth mentioning all of the different ways that Atlus uses the Persona games to reflect our world in one way or another. They are fascinating aspects and, as you’ll see, everything is likely to be a reference in this series.
It begins with the characters you play as and meets along the way in the Persona series. From the characters in the very first Persona game to the most recent Persona 5 Strikers, Atlus uses the characters that are in the playable party, the villains, and some of the side characters to portray elements of the real world.
Some of these characters might be referencing real-world figures that appeared in history, they could reference literature, fictional characters from the past, or even have twists regarding them that mirror real life. This is fairly common, and then there is the fact that each set of characters is reflective of that point in Japan’s cultural history as it spans decades.
The single largest reference category is the Personas you’ll collect throughout the six mainline games. The entire point of the Persona series is to gather together and fuse these Personas, representations of the other self and the world beyond your own.
Every single Persona in the series comes from the real world in some way or another. This isn’t like Pokemon, where they might reference an animal or something, and that’s it; each Persona is based on an existing person, character, religious figure, mythological being, and so on.
There is rich lore involved with every Persona in the series that you can dive deeper into if you’d like. Just name a Persona, look up its origins via our website, and the various creatures we’ve already covered, and you’ll find a plethora of information about the inspiration behind that creature. Name a few, and you’ll have a nice trip down a historical lane.
Interested in what’s the deal with Arsene, Joker’s partner Persona in Persona 5? There are a lot of stories to tell here about who he’s based on. Want to find out the inspiration behind Hua Po, one of the more consistent Personas in the series? There is a surprisingly dark tale that her inclusion references. There are hundreds more of these references for you to dive deep into if you want to.
As mentioned, the Persona series takes place in the real world, so there are countless locations that you visit that are based around real-life locations. Each of the main cities in the Persona series from start to finish, is seemingly based on a real city in Japan, even if the name is changed to something new.
This is the case for every game in the series, including the first game and the most recent one in Persona 5. I will admit, though, that Persona 5 is the most obvious one, as it takes place in Tokyo and doesn’t shy away from that fact. However, some of the locales you visit like Yongen-Jaya are also changed up slightly from their real-world counterparts.
But, yes, much of the imagery and settings in the Persona series are places you can visit in the real world. It’s bonkers, but you can actually visit the hideout where the Phantom Thieves would meet together before Palaces occasionally, overlooking Shibuya. You can go to the city where Persona 3 is based and see its island areas. You can even take a trip in real life to the places that inspired Junes and every part-time job you’ve ever worked in the games.
There are even certain story events that happen in the series that reference back to real-life history and culture. I won’t spoil some of the main events that occur yet right here (further down below, it’s fair game) but suffice it to say that Atlus likes to go bold and big.
There are twists and events that happen in the main story of some of the Persona games that are direct references, or subtly so in some cases, to what has happened in the past. There is honestly some genuinely wild stuff that happens in the Persona series that even some of the most diehard modern Persona fans may not know about. It’s ludicrous, but I’ll get into it in a moment.
Throughout the modern Persona games, you’ll go to class and enjoy the everyday life of being a high school student in Japan. In a way, this itself is a massive reference but more on that in a bit. On certain days, you’ll be given questions by your teachers to answer in the game.
These questions are sometimes standard math and science ones, but many historical questions are also thrown in. These will reference parts of Japan’s rich and vibrant history but also some literature and worldwide cultural questions at the same time.
These classroom questions are a treasure trove of references back to the real world, and you can even learn a thing or two about the Japanese language and history through some of these as they give fascinating nuggets of detail about stuff like the Imperial fishermen in Japan, where certain words derive from, and what happened to historical characters.
Pop Culture Inclusions
You’ll also find, especially in the most recent games in the series, pop culture references everywhere in the Persona games. Just take a look at Futaba Sakura, for instance, in Persona 5, and you’ll find someone who embodies this idea, being a talking meme and reference at times.
But then there are the movies that you’re able to watch at the theater. These are usually based on real film that came out, such as The Dark Knight. Even some of the books you read are based on real novels in the world that you can read right now.
Some of the lines that characters say in the game even reference lines that characters say in other video games, movies, and so on. Heck, with the acquisition of Atlus by Sega in the past, there are even some random Sonic and other Sega franchise references you’ll find if you gotta go fast for the pop culture references.
Some of them are hard to notice, but there is plenty of room to interpret and take a close look at the items you get in games, every after-school activity you participate in, and some of the odder characters you meet in the series.
Biggest Historical References in the Persona Series
With all of that out of the way, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favorite examples of some of the largest historical references in the Persona series. These are some of my favorites or simply the ones that surprised me the most.
I could only include a few, though. Otherwise, this article would take me months to write with all of the various references and events that happen in the series. Some of these may surprise you, too, as you can even beat all of the mainline games in the series and not notice or be aware of some of these.
Also, I should note that there is a lot of Persona 5 love here, but that is mainly because the writers seemingly had fun making this game a historical and pop culture extravaganza, and it worked so well. But I tried to show some love even to the earlier PS1 Persona games that people rarely discuss. Without further ado, let’s take a trip back to the past right now.
Phantom Thieves’ Personas
Let’s start with a massive one and one of the most famous references in recent memory: that is the Persona 5 Phantom Thieves’ Personas. Atlus tried something a little different with the signature Personas of the main characters in Persona 5, tying them all together under a single theme.
Sure, the main characters in Persona 3 and 4 had their own themes and groups, but the tight-knit nature of the Phantom Thieves is on a whole new level. They are, after all, dubious thieves who head into the Metaverse and steal the hearts of evil people to force them to change their wicked ways (more on those villains in a bit).
To match the idea of the Phantom Thieves and their goals in life, their signature Persona partners have a similar idea. Almost every single Persona for the Phantom Thieves is based on a thief, vigilante, or shady person who existed in real-world history or literature of some kind. Basically, every one of their Personas is a famous thief in a way.
Take Morgana’s Zorro, for instance. This is based on the fictional character of Zorro, the masked vigilante who helps those in need. Then there is Ryuji’s Captain Kidd, the infamous Scottish pirate who was executed for his crimes of dominating the seas.
Then there is Yusuke Kitagawa’s Goemon, the famous Japanese ninja/outlaw who would steal from the rich and give to the poor before being executed. He is like the Japanese version of Robin Hood, who just so happens to be the Persona of another Phantom Thieves member, Goro Akechi.
It just keeps going and going, involving all of the members of the Phantom Thieves. Heck, I won’t even spoil it here, but the new members in Persona 5 Strikers — well, one of them — has a Persona that isn’t too far off from the same idea of the core team. In fact, that person’s Persona fascinatingly references Les Miserables, the beautifully tragic novel and musical about thieving, downtrodden folks with a desire for revolution.
Persona 2’s Fuhrer Character
This might be a bothersome entry for some since it will reference a certain vile person who orchestrated the events of World War II, but yes, the Persona series doesn’t shy away from Nazi Germany. So, there’s your warning.
Yes, Adolf Hitler does show up in the Persona series. He is one of the final villains in Persona 2 and a boss that you literally fight against in the main story. It is bonkers and honestly wouldn’t be something you’d probably see today, but it happened in the late 90s in Atlus’ early Persona games.
The game doesn’t try to reference the man behind the horrifying Holocaust or hint at him. They outright show Hitler and make him a villain, bringing him back from the dead in this bizarre alternate-future situation. It is ridiculous and has to do with the rumor system that exists in those two Persona 2 games. It was undoubtedly the boldest historical reference in the series.
All of the Persona 5 Palace Rulers
Moving back to Persona 5 for a moment, we have one of the most disturbing and tragic historical references here. If the last one wasn’t enough to bother you, this one might make it worse. In Persona 5, there are the Palace rulers that you take on throughout the course of the story.
These enemies are the true villains in the game and the various evil characters in a society that you wish to change the hearts of. There are some heavy spoilers you’ll find here for the identities of the villains in Persona 5, but the idea is you have various figures in Japanese society.
There’s the twisted volleyball coach, famous abusive artist, Yakuza leader, corrupt corporate owner, political figures, and more. What if I told you that it seems likely that every single one of these evil people that you steal the hearts of could be based on real-life people?
It seems that this is the case as the community has noticed the similarities between the lives of some of the real-life people and the villains you take down in Persona 5. I won’t go into great detail about some of the possible inspirations as it may be considered ill to speak of some of the more recently deceased inspirations.
That said, the most notable and most triggering that I have to warn you about is Kamoshida’s inspiration. A real-life judo coach coached females in Japan and did horrifying things to them, much like Kamoshida did to everyone at Shujin Academy in the first part of Persona 5.
As mentioned, the main characters of the Phantom Thieves in Persona 5 all have references to other people and characters through their Personas. However, that isn’t just the case for some of them with their spiritual selves. In the case of Goro Akechi (and another person in a moment), it becomes more than that.
Goro Akechi himself is the genius boy detective in the game and is a version of Kogoro Akechi, the very similarly named character from the novels from Edogawa Ranpo. The Japanese mystery author is known for his works featuring the detective character, similar to that of Sherlock Holmes in a way.
Goro is based on that famous Japanese detective, but there are definitely some key twists and differences between the two that happen in Persona 5. These are likely intentional and there to play around with the source material that Akechi is based on.
But it doesn’t stop there, either. Some of the events that happen with Goro Akechi likely come not just from the attempt at a twist but from the fact that he has a second reference, too. Edogawa Ranpo adored the works of Edgar Allan Poe to the point where his author’s name is a reference to him.
This also showed up in Persona 5 with Goro Akechi through his Metaverse nickname, which is Crow. This is a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous The Raven novel. In Japanese, crow, and raven phonetically sound the same but have different kanji writing, which is where this supremely deep connection comes into play.
Arsene Lupin and Joker
Speaking of Persona 5 characters, there is another situation with Joker and his signature Persona, Arsene Lupin. Lupin is the star of the famous French novel series where he is a thief who steals from the nobility. He has been the focus of anime series in the past and more.
But Arsene was selected for a reason for Joker, but this is a massive spoiler for an event that happens much later in the Persona 5 story. With that warning out of the way, as you know, Joker is arrested at one point in the story and a huge event happens there.
He gets away without being murdered by faking his own death. This is a direct reference to what Arsene Lupin himself does during one of his stories in which he fakes his own death to survive imprisonment.
Basically Every Persona Series Location
Lastly, there is the biggest one: every single place you visit in the Persona series. So far, every city in the game has been based on an actual location that you can visit right now in Japan. Sure, the earlier games all feature cities with fake names, but their inspirations are real.
This honestly deserves its own full post about the inspiration, but the idea is as follows:
- Persona 1 setting: Mikage-Cho. This is the tough one, but it seems to be a small town or suburban area based near Yokohama, perhaps like Machida, Kawasaki, or Hachioji in the real world.
- Sumaru City: Persona 2 setting. This one is seemingly based on Yokohama, the second-largest city in Japan, which helps with the above location.
- Tatsumi Port Island: The setting for Persona 3. This one seems to be Kobe in the real world and the Port Island that it has there.
- Inaba: Persona 4 setting. This one seems to be not only possibly referencing the word inaka, which means countryside, but also is based on the small town of Fuefuki. Even the station in that town, Isawa Onsen Station, looks considerably like Inaba Station.
- Tokyo: Persona 5. This one is more obvious since the name doesn’t change. However, places like Buchiko’s statue in Shibuya are based on Hachiko’s statue near Shibuya Station. Yongen-Jaya, where you live in the game, is based on the real-life neighborhood of Sangen-Jaya in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. Yes, you can visit the actual street that Joker lived off of, but there is no cafe there.
Question: What was Persona 5 Inspired by?
Answer: Persona 5 was inspired by a variety of literature, characters, and real-world events. That said, if I had to think of one, I would think of Arsene Lupin, the infamous thief, as possibly the main inspiration for this game. His ties to Joker and their similarities are uncanny.
Question: What are the Movie References in Persona 5?
Answer: You can watch many different movies in Persona 5, most of which are references to real movies. Some of them include Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables, and The Avengers. But there are many more than just these. Every single movie is pretty much a reference to something.
Question: What are the Inspirations for Persona?
Answer: The Persona in the Persona series are all references to something. Many of them are based on real-world figures from history. Some are from religious texts, others are from cultural lore in the world, and still, more are famous mythological creatures. You can rest assured that every single Persona is based on some existing idea, including even the new ones that arrived in Persona 5.
Find Out More About a Possibly Real-World Persona Villain
The historical references in the Persona series are unbelievable. They are in every game from start to finish and top to bottom. Everything from the characters you meet to the Personas you encounter to the places you visit is filled to the brim with nothing but references to the real world in some way, shape, or form. It is impressive and one of the most unique factors of the Persona series.
However, without a doubt, it can be tragic and alarming, too, at the same time. This is especially when the references aren’t the goofy and fun meme kind. Such is the case with some of the references in the series, like the first main villain you face off against in Persona 5, Suguru Kamoshida. Not only is he a horrible person in the game, but it seems that he is based on a horrifying real-life villain, too.
- Persona 5 Manga Guide: Where to Find All Persona 5 Manga - April 2, 2023
- Persona Tarot Cards Guide: Where and How to Buy Persona-Themed Tarot Cards - April 2, 2023
- Ishtar Persona 5 Guide: How to Unlock Ishtar in Persona 5 - March 29, 2023