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The original Persona title from Atlus is a game that many players out there have to thank for what we have now. In this Persona overview, you will find out more about the first game in the franchise that spun off of another series from developer Atlus.
Through the Persona overview, you will learn more about the characters, Personas, setting, story, and gameplay of this fundamental part of JRPG history. Even if you have never touched a Persona game before, this is the best place to start as we will break down this series and the first game in it for newcomers and veterans alike.
Bottom Line Up Front
Persona is the very first game in the Persona sub-series that broke off of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Featuring strategic turn-based battles on a grid system, players collect and use Personas, or the manifestation of other self, to fight. This is all based around a dark and serious storyline about high school students attempting to save their school and town from evil forces seeking to destroy it.
What is Persona 1?
Persona, or Revelations: Persona as it would be called here in the West, is the first game created by Atlus in the sub-series of Shin Megami Tensei. The Shin Megami Tensei franchise came just a few years earlier with its start in 1992 on the SNES, with a few sequels that came out in the years following, leading up to the release of Persona 1.
Persona 1 was an attempt at the spin-off of the SMT series and offered something very similar but also different at the same time. It began its development cycle at Atlus in 1994 following the release of Shin Megami Tensei If, which was the progenitor to the Persona series.
SMT If is a Persona title in everything but name. Instead of having an in-depth storyline about saving the world, this one switched up the setting by focusing solely on a high school student and the terrible events that were happening around them.
Furthermore, it introduced the party member system where human companions would fight alongside the hero instead of just the protagonist and their demons like in previous SMT games. The success of this game would lead to the Persona franchise, with development beginning on Persona 1 right after If’s release.
The purpose of this sub-series was to take the high school, and more emotional focus of SMT If and turn it into an entire game built around that idea. From this, the Personas were created as a representation of this basis, and the studio went through different high school settings before settling on the final story script.
In total, it took around a year to write the story of Persona, and, eventually, the majority of Atlus was working on this game together. This even caused development on the next installment of the Shin Megami Tensei series, which would be SMT III: Nocturne, to be put on hold.
Then on September 20, 1996, the first Persona game launched as a debut title for the team on the original PlayStation console. What was great was that Atlus was taking an English release seriously and made sure that localization on the game was ongoing during development.
This allowed for the game to come here in North America as Revelations: Persona just a couple of months later, on December 14, 1996. Persona 1 is a turn-based JRPG that features demons known as Personas that the player collects to then use in strategic battles on a grid.
Focusing on a story revolving around high school students and the mysterious events that are happening in their school and town, players encounter a deep character and story-driven experience that would set the stage for later games.
Persona was surprisingly pretty successful in both Japan and North America, quickly leading to the creation of a new series and a sequel thereafter also for the PS1.
Personas and Shadows Explained
One of the major parts of the Persona series and the first game, in particular, is the titular Personas themselves. Derived from real-world psychology, the Personas are the manifestations of the other-self. They are the representation of a person’s secret, inner self, or subconscious.
In practice, what this means for Persona 1 is that the high school students that make up the party and main cast of characters are capable of summoning their inner selves, known as Personas, after certain events awaken them. This allows them to use special elemental abilities and skills.
This is important since the Personas are necessary for taking on the shadows and other Personas that are plaguing the town of Mikage-Cho, where the game takes place. Players are even able to collect more Personas as the game goes on, which will allow them to use different abilities and skills in battle.
As for the design of the Personas, they are based on a variety of characters, gods, spirits, and lore from the real world. Different religions, ideologies, mythologies, legends, folklore, and more from the real world contributed to the creation of the various Personas that the player used in the first game.
When it comes to the gameplay that is featured in the first Persona, it was quite different from the later games and the Shin Megami Tensei series that came before it. It stands as a pretty unique focal point in the series that was certainly a product of its time.
What Persona did take from the SMT games before it was the idea of turn-based battles. These battles allow for strategy and player choice, but everything other than that was pretty much new to this game. For example, there is the grid-based system that battles would take place on.
That said, it did exploration mostly from the SMT series with the user playing from a first-person perspective when going through dungeons in the game and even exploring areas of the town like the mall. This gives the game a first-person dungeon-crawling RPG feel to it that is very different from the later Persona titles.
There is a lot of story content that is featured in Persona 1, making it almost visual novel in a way when it comes to the cutscenes where the player and his party members are conversing with 2D anime-style character portraits representing them.
During the story beats and inside certain rooms and shops, the characters are shown from a top-down isometric perspective to where you can see the entire person. Meanwhile, exploring outside on the main town map and not in a dungeon will feature the player as a cursor that they move around, similar to the SMT games.
Outside of story and exploration, the two main parts of the Persona gameplay are the turn-based battles and collecting different Personas to add to your collection for fights.
Turn-Based Strategic Battles
Persona’s turn-based combat system is radically different from everything that came before it from its Shin Megami Tensei predecessors and everything that would come after it in the rest of the Persona series. While the dungeon exploration was from the first-person perspective, it did not keep this viewpoint for battles, unlike the previous SMT games.
Instead, it featured the top-down isometric perspective in combat similar to that of the story beats. To make it more unique, the battles are on a grid-based system. Some enemies might be on a line at the front while another enemy could be in the final line in the back and so on.
This added some unique strategy into the game that made it more similar to strategy RPGs in a way. Players have to always think about their location on the grid in respective to enemies as attacks are entirely based around this positioning system. As such, players had the chance to change their party’s position at will in battle.
As for the party itself, it is composed of the main character and various party members that the player has chosen to fight alongside. Each person has a single Persona that they can fight with in each battle, with the ability to switch between Personas available as well.
Each Persona has different elemental strengths, weaknesses, and abilities that they allow the player to use in battle. These abilities will play out on the grid in different ways. For example, one skill might allow the player to pick a target on a single square on the grid while another may attack an entire row of enemies and so on.
Battles are mostly based on random encounters, meaning that players will just run into enemies during dungeons and other areas, triggering a fight scene that will transition the gameplay to the grid location. There are also boss fights and story battles that players are unable to run from.
Since the entire combat system is based around using the Persona to activate various skills in battle, collecting them is equally important. When it comes to gaining new Personas in combat, the first Persona game takes some cues from the Shin Megami Tensei series in this regard.
While in the middle of battle, one of the options that the player can pick is to talk with the enemy shadows. During these conversations, the player will have the option to select different responses to drum up emotions in the enemy. Doing this multiple times will either anger, scare, interest, or make a demon happy.
Depending on which result the player gets, the demon shadow could attack the player, give an item, or even a tarot card. The Velvet Room is an important recurring location in the series that debuted in this title, where the tarot cards come into play.
There in the Velvet Room, players can summon new Personas to use in combat, give skills from old Personas to new ones, and even fuse Persona cards into entirely new allies for use in battle. It is a deep system and one that would pave the way for later games that would similarly allow for the fusion of new Personas.
Revelations: Persona takes place in the town of Mikage-cho in Japan or named Lunarvale in the original localization for the PS1 version. In this town in the year 1996, the main characters of the game are attending St. Hermelin High School, which is one of the main settings for the title.
The town itself is at the center of the game and its routes, with the characters visiting many different locations in it throughout the story. Players can visit the local shopping mall district to buy items from the stores there, explore the town’s wards, and visit other locations.
Being that this is a dungeon-crawling game, there are plenty of dungeons to explore, but they are typically a bit different than the usual dungeons that a player might be used to. The game is built on a modern-day premise, and, as such, many of the places that the player explores and fights at are similarly standard locations in town.
The first location that players can visit is the high school where the game starts, and players can explore for a lengthy period of time. You can go through the various classrooms that are offered there, talk to other students at the school, explore the outdoor sections of campus, gym, and so much more.
However, that is only a single major location that players visit in Persona 1. Another place that players are quickly taken to in the story for the game is the local hospital in town. This is a place where some of the earliest story beats happen, and the players are introduced to certain important characters.
Also, one of the significant places in town is the SEBEC facility, which stands for the Saeki Electronics and Biological and Energy Corporation, or SEBEC for short. This place is a major company building that is at the very heart of the story, and players will visit it in the main story for Persona 1.
Given that there is an overworld map of the city that players can explore in the game, this also means that you get to see a wide variety of other locations at your leisure in the town of Mikage-cho. Some locations are also tied to the route that you choose to embark so you may not see every place in your first playthrough of the game.
The main characters of Persona are mostly the high school students at St. Hermelin High School, who make up the main party members of the group.
This starts with the lead protagonist that you play, who has no official canon name in the series at this time. He is simply known as the “boy with an earring” in the community.
This silent protagonist is a second-year student at the high school, and you are free to name him whatever you like. Given that he is a hero that is meant to just represent you inside of the game, there is not much to his character as you, the player, will define his personality and choices.
He is joined by other characters, including Maki, who I consider to be the most intriguing and complex character in the bunch. Maki Sonomura is a young high school girl with a difficult personality because she is currently bedridden in the local hospital that players will visit.
Given that she has dealt with illness for much of her life, she is bitter and someone hard to deal with at times. That said, she is one of the main characters of the story and a party member for the group in the main route of the game.
Yukino or Yuki, depending on which version of the game you are playing, is one character whose looks do not necessarily match her personality. On the outside, she looks like quite the troublemaker, but, in reality, she is someone who cares about the group and is one of the few mature leaders in it. She is also one of the few recurring characters in the Persona series.
Kei is another member of the high school group and the heir to the Nanjo family’s fortune. As such, he is a bit uptight and not the most fun person to be around with an initially annoying personality. That said, he is also someone who shows up in a major role in later Persona games.
Hidehiko is one of the comic relief characters in Persona. He is one of the most memorable people in this title, going by the nickname Brown or Brad, depending on which game version you are playing. He is a flirty guy who has no problem cracking jokes even at the worst times.
Yuka is another difficult high school student, but her problem comes from being quite immature and frustrating at times. She is a bit hard to like at first because she only wants to do what she wants and does not seem to care about everyone else. However, there is likely more to her personality underneath if you can get past the obnoxious nature of her.
Masao is the most recognizable character in the first Persona, much of this being because he is quite infamous. He goes by the nickname Mark and is a class clown who likes to put up graffiti around town. What is notable about him is that he was somewhat controversially made African American in the PS1 localization, despite being Japanese in the original with even a total skin color change. This was fixed in the PSP remake.
Eriko is the school’s most fashionable student with a strange and concerning interest in the occult. She is one of the characters at the beginning of the game, which introduces the main cast to the legend of the “Persona game,” which sets the characters on the path to awakening their other selves.
Finally, there is Reiji or Chris, depending on which game you are playing. Known for the X-shaped scar on his head, he is someone whose life is tied directly to the main story. Well, that is if you pick a certain route of the game. Otherwise, he is an optional party member that you could miss out on when you play.
PSP Remake Explained: Should You Play It?
When it comes to Persona, there are two main versions of the game that you should know about. There is the original release for the title on the PlayStation 1 as well as the remake for the PSP. They are quite a bit different, so it is important to know which version of the game is best for you.
In the end, the answer to the question of which version to play is pretty simple: play the PSP remake. Known as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, this remake is the definitive version of the game, especially when compared to the rather poor and controversial localization of the PS1 title.
It fixes many of the issues with the PS1 version, like changing Mark’s skin color and ethnicity to that of the Japanese version of the game while keeping the Japanese names for characters intact. The translation is much better and more faithful to the original, representing the best way to experience the story and characters.
It helps, too, that the visuals for this PSP remake are sharpened up nicely to look better and slightly more modern while the music is definitely at its finest in this game. There is a much higher level of polish that is noticeable in the PSP version, despite being on a portable system.
But, above all else, Persona on the PSP is the only complete, official English version of the game to date. When the game was first localized on the PS1, it was a massive undertaking that required some cuts to meet release, which meant that an entire route of the game was removed.
You see, in Persona 1, the story revolves around two routes and the player picking which one to play when going through the game. There is the main SEBEC route that will deal with the corporation that is at the heart of the conflict that is happening in the city.
On the other hand, there is the Snow Queen route that deals with the high school and events that are happening around there. Both routes are recommended for playing, but you can only play one per playthrough of the game, requiring at least plays to see everything.
There are even different party members that you can add to your team depending on the route as well. Unfortunately, the PS1 version of the game only included the SEBEC route. If you want to see the Snow Queen route officially in English, you will have to play the PSP remake.
Once you have played the original Persona, you will be ushered into a brand new series of JRPGs. If you like what you played (or even if you did not since it is a bit outdated), there are some great alternatives for you to play next.
The most important alternatives are going to be the next few games in the Persona series. In my opinion, if you liked the story and characters of the first Persona, be sure to check out the Persona 2 duology games that include Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment.
The gameplay also shows its age in these games, but the story is great. Otherwise, be sure to check out the series starting with Persona 3 when the gameplay and visuals received a major upgrade. For the full list of the best alternatives to the first Persona, be sure to look below:
- Persona 2: Innocent Sin
- Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
- Persona 3 FES or Portable
- Persona 4 Golden
- Persona 5 Royal
- Shin Megami Tensei series
- Pokemon series
- The Legend of Heroes series
- Tales of series
- Digimon series
Question: What is the plot of Persona 1?
Answer: The general plot of Persona 1 revolves around a group of high school students from St. Hermelin High School in the town of Mikage-cho who awaken to their inner Personas. This happens at the same time as demons and shadows begin attacking their town and causing chaos.
Players play as a silent protagonist who finds himself at the center of the events going on in the town and tries to save it. However, there are two main routes that the player can go about in trying to save the world, requiring multiple playthroughs to see the full storyline about what is happening in the city and high school. That is, of course, if you have the PSP version since the localized PS1 title did not contain the second route.
Question: Is there a Persona 1 anime?
Answer: No, there is not an anime version of the first Persona game in the series. Though there are some animated cutscenes that happen in the game, it does not have an anime series or movie at this time. This is unfortunate for several reasons.
For one, there is the fact that the Persona series is known for its consistent release of anime adaptations for the last few games that have come out. Starting with Persona 3, there have been anime forms of each game’s plot that has been released, either in TV form or a movie series.
While the anime adaptations are not always the best version of each Persona game’s storyline, they are interesting and worth checking out for existing fans. With half the franchise having anime adaptations, it is unfortunate that the very first game is not one of them.
Furthermore, the Persona 1 storyline, like its later games, is focused on the characters and story of the town. The story is quite good and much better than the outdated gameplay that the game has. Without a full-on remake to make it more modern and like the later games, an anime adaptation could be a nice way to experience the original plot in the first Persona, so here’s hoping it happens someday.
Question: What are the Persona games based on?
Answer: The first Persona game, as mentioned earlier in our Persona overview, is based on the Shin Megami Tensei series, specifically, If for the SNES. It takes the turn-based battles, the idea of having demon companions in your party, and the character-based storyline from that game.
As for the actual Personas in the series, they are based around various parts of the real world. In general, the idea of the Persona or other self that represents your subconscious comes from Jungian psychology. There are real theories and themes like the Collective Unconscious that are dealt with in the Persona games.
The design and style of the Personas themselves are taken from real-world religions, theories, legends, folklore, and more. There are even gods, spirits, and demons that are featured in the series, much like what happens in its parent franchise, Shin Megami Tensei.
The first Persona is a very important title that is fundamentally responsible for creating a series that has even outpaced and become more successful than the Shin Megami Tensei series that is responsible for its existence. The gameplay, Personas, and general foundation would spawn five entire sequels, many of which are much more popular.
Now that you have found out about the very first game in the Persona series through our overview, we recommend heading over to our guide for all of the major Persona key terms that you should know about when starting this series for the first time. It will help you to find out more about the different elements, what the Arcana is, who the Phantom Thieves are, and more.