Persona Gameplay Explained

The Persona games are among some of the most beloved and best Japanese roleplaying games (JRPGs) to ever release on consoles and PC, necessitating an extensive Persona gameplay explained guide for newcomers.

With a more than 25-year history up until this point and six mainline games, there is a lot of demon-collecting to enjoy these days. In addition, there are a lot of changes, both mechanically and visually, over time.

What Is the Persona Series?

The Persona series began with Revelations: Persona, or Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, as it would be known in its PSP remake. As stated in the remake name, the series began as a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, also developed by Atlus.

What began as a simple spin-off with a slightly different take on demons and high school students blossomed into its own franchise that has overtaken the SMT series in terms of both popularity and success.

The Persona series includes multiple mainline entries across various platforms, spanning several generations of consoles, mostly as a PlayStation-exclusive. There are also plenty of spin-off titles of this already spun-off series, including different genres and experiences offered.

How Many Games in the Franchise?

At this time, there are six mainline entries in the Persona series, though the actual number for the titles only go up to 5. The full list of all main entries in the games are as follows, in order from the oldest to the newest title:

Those are the core years that the games were released in Japan, excluding all of the different versions of the games that were released. In addition to the main games, there are numerous remakes, ports, and extended versions of the titles that have come out.

Revelations: Persona received a remake as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona in 2009 for the PSP, while both Persona 2 games similarly received PSP remakes, though Eternal Punishment’s version was never released outside of Japan.

Persona 3 received the superior FES version a year after its release in 2007, including extra content and episodes to check out. Persona 3 Portable followed in 2009, bringing the renowned title to PSP, changing the exploration gameplay, and being the only game in the series to feature a choice between a male and female protagonist. Unfortunately, it did not include the FES content.

Persona 4 Golden was released for the PlayStation Vita in 2012, making the game portable for the first time while also acting as an expansion of the original with new content. Last but not least, Persona 5 Royal was released in 2019 in Japan and worldwide in 2020, introducing a new party member for certain sections of the game, an entirely new third semester of the school year, and other expanded content.

Persona Gameplay Explained


When it comes to the main six games in the Persona series, the gameplay focuses on turn-based battles across all of them. Like other JRPGs in this genre, this means that players engage in battles that can be as slow or fast as they want them to be. The player will select the attacks, abilities, items, and more that they wish to use for that turn, and the game will then generally switch to the enemies to allow them to do the same.

There is no rush with this gameplay system, allowing players to take their time and plan out the moves that they would like to use for the next turn. However, there are still some distinct differences between each of the games that ensure that no two are alike.

For instance, the original Revelations: Persona features a first-person dungeon-crawling perspective while exploring most of the game’s areas. In battles, though, it switches to an isometric perspective where the turn-based battles take place across a grid.

Some of the attacks will deal damage in a horizontal line across the battlefield, while others might only attack the enemies in a particular row or section.

This adds some tactical RPG elements to it, which is missing from the latter games in Persona 3, 4, and 5. Starting with Persona 3, the games started using a more basic turn-based battle system where the player simply chooses which enemy to attack and uses that particular skill, attack, etc, against them, rather than dealing with the grid system.

Related read: Comprehensive Persona Skills Guide.

Turn-Based Battles Explained

When it comes to the turn-based battles themselves, there are a lot of different features that players can use to win. For the most part, battles take place against the various Personas that you can encounter in the dungeons that each game has. Each turn, you have several options to choose from, including the basic attack, which can differ from game to game. Some games only include melee attacks, using weapons like swords, daggers, axes, and so on, while others include guns, like some of the Shin Megami Tensei games do.

These basic attacks are supplemented by the skills that a player can use, with the assistance of their own Personas. These skills can be both defensive or offensive, benefiting the team or weakening the opponent. Some of the skills that you can use will buff the team, raising the stats of the player or group, while others might heal the damage that has been lost due to attacks from the enemy.

Then there are the offensive skills, allowing the player to deal damage in an assortment of ways. There are special physical attacks as well as elemental ones. The elemental skills in the Persona series take their names directly from the Shin Megami Tensei counterparts, such as Zio for thunder-based skills and Agi for fire elemental spells.

In addition, you are able to debuff your enemies, lowering their stats in the process, while they are able to do the same to you. Beyond that, there are items that you can use in battle to heal, recover from status ailments, and so on. In some games, you can switch between party members and even the Persona that you are currently using, even in the middle of battle. Switching Personas will allow you to use different abilities, depending on which one it is.

Also in some games is the ability to control your party members directly in the battle for the best strategy possible. While some titles have party members who are controlled by AI, others will allow you to choose their moves yourself. Then, beginning with Persona 3, there are even some special moves, such as the All-Out Attack, that can be done under certain conditions with the entire party or just a couple of members joining in for massive damage against an enemy.

What Is a Persona?

What Is a Persona

With so much mention of Personas in this Persona gameplay explained guide, you might be wondering what exactly they are. A Persona is the crux of the name of the series, and for good reason. They are defined in the series as the “other self” or the physical manifestation of the subconscious of a person. For most characters in the series, this usually just means that they have one Persona that they can use that represents them, though that representation can change.

Most of the party members start out with a single Persona in most games, and in some of the later titles, they can have their other-selves evolve into a new Persona due to various events in the story. Some of these are even optional and require the player to do certain objectives. However, the players themselves usually take the role of the “wildcard,” or someone who is able to manifest countless different Persona. This Persona themselves typically take their appearances, names, and abilities from various religions, folklore, and mythologies in the real world.

Personas are also shared with the demons that are featured in the main Shin Megami Tensei series from Atlus. Over the course of the series, there are multiple ways that players are able to gain access to new Personas. For some games, including the original, the Persona 2 titles, and the most recent Persona 5, players are able to negotiate with enemies to win them over to your side. This is taken directly from the SMT series, but is not featured in 3 or 4.

Also in most games, players are able to fuse using the series staple Velvet Room. There, players are able to interact with recurring NPCs to acquire new Personas to use in battle.

How to Collect and Fuse Personas

Speaking of collecting Personas, there are other ways to acquire new ones outside of just gaining them in battle. While in the Velvet Room area, users are able to fuse Personas, a staple in the series that carries over from the SMT franchise that it is based on. Fusing Personas is a deep and engaging system that allows the user to fill out their Compendium or the collection of Personas that are available in each game.

Some titles include literally hundreds of Personas, such as nearly 200 in Persona 5 alone. Many of the Personas are used throughout the series, with each new entry typically adding a few new ones to the mix or changing up the visual designs of old ones. Fusing Personas requires the player to have two or more existing Personas in their possession. The player is then able to take those two and fuse them into a single new creation that is typically more powerful and of a higher level.

The fusion system can get even deeper than that, with some games including higher tier fuses, such as using three, four, or even five Personas to create a new creature to use in battle. There are special fuses as well that can include bosses encountered in the story or DLC that require specific Personas to be owned in order to summon them.

Players are limited in the number of Persona that they can carry around with them at all times, but this can be alleviated by using the Compendium to summon previously owned Personas for easy fusion use.

Character Relationships


Fusion has a lot to do with the character relationships that a player has in the series, due to the Arcana system. Most Personas are divided into different Arcana, derived from Tarot cards, and each Arcana is associated with a particular character. Starting in Persona 3, the Social Links system was introduced where each character could build bonds with the protagonist throughout the game. This includes both the party members and other side characters that you can optionally meet in the world.

Beginning with 3, players could interact with their party members and these other optional characters in their free time when they are not in the middle of a dungeon.

The player has a finite amount of time in a day, so spending time with a certain person will use up that period of time. That said, the reward in exchange is usually learning more about that character and expanding upon their own personal storyline. Through the use of dialogue options and bonding with one another, the player is able to raise their Social Link with that person across 10 different levels of relationship.

Some Social Link levels have the ability to grant extra bonuses, like boosting fusions of their particular associated Arcana and various features in battle. While not available for everyone in the Social Links feature, the player is able to even build a romantic relationship with certain predetermined characters, both within the party and outside of it.

Persona 5 expanded upon the Social Links with the Confidant system, with numerous characters to meet and engage with, and each one containing some optional but highly recommended gameplay boosts for leveling up with.

School Life

Outside of the core gameplay that Persona games have, every main game from 3 onwards introduced the school life aspects of the experience. This is a major part of the modern Persona games and a huge reason why some players really enjoy these games over other JRPGs.Since you are generally playing as a high school student in the Persona games, this means that they have to go to school, even if they are in the middle of investigating a string of murders or stealing people’s hearts.

These day-to-day school life moments are, therefore, a huge part of the gameplay that you will experience in Persona 3, 4, and 5. In fact, you can go several hours of playtime in some parts, depending on what you are doing with your time, without engaging in any turn-based battles at all. The main part of this section is going to school, meeting up with your friends for various story beats, and actually doing the classes themselves. This involves certain days where the player is quizzed by the teacher or taking final exams.

You will have certain questions that you will literally need to answer yourself and, while there is no penalty for getting a question wrong, getting it correct will boost your character’s social status. These social stats become crucial for unlocking the next Social Link or Confidant level for some characters or even unlocking new part-time jobs to work.

Those items and Personas are not going to pay for themselves, so this is where the part-time jobs come into play. Players are able to be a convenient store workers, work at a bar, arrange flowers, and so on. Some of these involve gameplay mechanics like choosing the right option in order to earn more money and stat boosts. So, players will go through the daily routine of school during the day, and in the afternoon and at night, they can earn cash or spend time with friends.

Since there is so much to do outside of dungeons, players can tackle minigames, participate in burger contests, and engage in plenty of other optional gameplay content, if they so choose.

Dungeons Explained

Dungeons Explained

Of course, the crux of the main story will involve players taking on the various dungeons that are available in all six main games. They differ from game to game, with some calling them Palaces and Persona 3 simply having Tartarus as the single main location you interact with.

Regardless of the setup, though, the general idea is the same: players need to reach a certain point at the end of the dungeon, take on a boss or two, and proceed with the main story. When it comes to the latter games, there is even a time limit on this part of the experience. Since you are going through each day of a school year, you will typically have a time limit to complete each section by a certain point or you will receive a game over.

Fortunately, most dungeons can be almost entirely completed in one or two tries, depending on the story checkpoints that may appear along the way and how prepared you are. In these dungeons, you will encounter Personas, many of which you can possibly recruit.

Persona 5 introduced some extra mechanics to its dungeons to make it feel more action-packed, like sneaking around, the cover system, and alerts for truly remaining the stealthy Phantom Thief that you are supposed to be. There are also optional dungeons or areas in some games, like Mementos in Persona 5, for grinding levels or new Personas in your free time.

Persona Spin-Off Gameplay

For players who are not satisfied with just the core six games in the Persona series, Atlus has also released several spin-off titles, many of which have honed in on the past three games.

Persona 3, 4, and 5 have each received spin-off titles of their own, utilizing the casts of characters in new and interesting ways. Some are direct sequels to their respective storylines, showing what the characters are doing following the events of their games.As spin-off titles, these games generally feature completely different gameplay from the core titles, using different genres entirely for their experiences.



The first spin-off title in the series was Persona 4 Arena for the arcades, PS3, and Xbox 360 in 2011. Though it is named after Persona 4, it includes both the core Investigation Team from that game as well as some of the main characters from Persona 3. Instead of being a roleplaying game, Persona 4 Arena featured a fighting game-based system where players battle it out using combos, Personas, and attacks on a 2D plane akin to other Japanese fighting games like Dragon Ball FighterZ.

The story is a direct sequel to Persona 4, taking place two months following that particular game and also a few years after the events of Persona 3 as the two casts of characters investigate a mysterious P-1 Grand Prix tournament inside of the Midnight Channel. While the core gameplay features the fighting gameplay, there is also a lengthy story mode that features visual novel-like story moments in between the bouts of fighting in the tournament. It introduced some new characters to the series, like Labrys and more.

Persona 4 Arena would be followed up by a direct sequel to it, known as Persona 4 Arena Ultimax in 2013 for arcades and 2014 for consoles, with a remake planned in 2022 for the current generation of systems. The new tournament this time around is the P-1 Climax and, once again, brings back characters from both Persona 3 and 4. It also expanded upon the fighting mechanics in the first title, featuring the Shadow versions of characters as well as multiple new game modes.

Persona Q

The second spin-off series to release for the Persona games was Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth in 2014 for the Nintendo 3DS. Despite the main series not being available on Nintendo consoles, this spin-off exclusively released on 3DS.

In Persona Q, the cast of Persona 3 and 4 meet up once more but now to restore the memories of new characters Rei and Zen in an alternate world. It remains an RPG experience. However, the difference this time around is that it features a first-person dungeon-crawling experience that is more akin to that of the Etrian Odyssey series as well as harkening back to the original Persona’s exploration perspective.

This spin-off received its own sequel in 2018 known as Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth for the Nintendo 3DS, featuring a movie-themed storyline. The hook here is the inclusion of the Persona 5 cast and the female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable for the first time, while still including the other members of both 3 and 4, too.

Dancing All Night

In 2015, the series entered a new realm of gameplay with Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Also set after the events of Persona 4, Dancing All Night featured a storyline based around music and, therefore, rhythm-based mechanics. Players control various characters from Persona 4, giving them costumes to wear and helping them to dance their way through the catchy soundtrack from the original RPG. The game’s release on PlayStation Vita was successful enough to warrant a re-release on PS4, plus two sequels.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight was released on the same day in 2018. These separate games expanded the rhythm-based gameplay experience to both the casts of Persona 3 and 5. However, these sequel games lacked much of the expansive visual novel single-player story that was featured in the original Persona 4: Dancing All Night, focusing more on the dancing gameplay instead.



The final spin-off game in the Persona series and also the latest game in the overall franchise is Persona 5 Strikers. Released in 2020 in Japan, it is a direct sequel to the original Persona 5, but not necessarily the expanded Royal version. While the visuals and exploration of Persona 5 Strikers look quite similar to the original JRPG, the core gameplay switches from turn-based battles to an action RPG system that is more akin to that of the Dynasty Warriors series.

Players engage with dozens of enemies at once, hacking and slashing their way through them alongside the ability to use the skills from the Personas that the player has. Though it changes the gameplay to an active system, much of Persona 5 Strikers is similar to its predecessor.

Players are able to explore cities, visit shops, and chat with party members. Though the Confidant system is largely missing, players can still switch between the different characters and use them in battle as they please.

Players are also able to fuse and acquire new Personas for battle through a more simplified system of the Velvet Room. There is leveling, bosses to fight, and even dungeons to explore. Instead of Palaces, though, the story focuses on Jails that are popping up across Japan.

New characters are introduced as well, including the new playable Phantom Thieves member known as Sophia. Persona 5 Strikers was released for PS4, plus PC and Nintendo Switch, despite the fact that neither Persona 5 nor its Royal version are currently available for PC or Switch.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do I need to play Persona in order?

Answer: The short answer is, no, you do not have to play the Persona games in order. For the most part, each game is its own standalone title with completely different characters, storylines, and locations. That said, there are some recurring elements across the series, including a few characters like Igor, for instance.

At the same time, if you want to play the Persona 2 games, it is highly recommended that you play them in order, starting with Innocent Sin and finishing with Eternal Punishment as they are the only two games that are significantly linked to one another. I would even recommend to play Revelations: Persona before both of those if you wish to go that route.

Personally, though, I started with the original Persona and beat it before moving on to play Innocent Sin some, and then playing 3, 4, and 5 in that order. I actually found that it was immensely fun this way as I got to see where the series started and where it has ended up, making me appreciate the brilliant changes in 3, 4, and 5 even more.

Question: Is Persona 5 hard for beginners?

Answer: In my opinion, not at all. Persona 5 might be the latest in the series, but it has tons of quality-of-life features like fluid gameplay and speedy turn-based battles. It also does a really good job at communicating tactics and what needs to be done to the player.

The dungeons are fairly simple to navigate and the gameplay mechanics are explained in a way that will make sense to newcomers. In my opinion, Persona 5 is actually the easiest game to jump into for beginners above all of the other games in the series since it introduces the mechanics so well.

Question: What kind of gameplay is Persona?

Answer: As previously mentioned in our Persona gameplay explained guide, the core gameplay for the Persona series are turn-based battles. No matter if it is the grid-based system in the first three games or the traditional battles in the latter three, they are still turn-based nonetheless.

Outside of the core battles, there are some dungeon-crawling elements, demon-collecting and fusing mechanics, and slice-of-life sections with school life and building relationships to shake up the gameplay cycle.

Question: How do you get good at Persona?

Answer: This will ultimately depend on what game you are playing. With a game like Persona 5, simply playing the game will help you to get good at it as the game does a great job of teaching you the mechanics through its first couple of Palaces (its version of dungeons).


For the other titles, though, you will need to have an understanding of the gameplay mechanics. The turn-based battles in 3 and 4 will require you to take your time in the dungeons, learning the different weaknesses of the various Personas there and using that to your advantage to gain extra turns in battle.

If you are having a hard time with elemental strengths and weaknesses, be sure to look up that particular Persona that you are fighting and see what it is. For the older Persona games from the PS1 era, these games can be particularly grindy and confusing, so be sure to look up walkthrough videos if you are lost in its various areas, which can be quite common.

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