Chances are if you’re living in the United States and your school year hasn’t just started, it’ll be starting in the upcoming week. As schools around the country begin to go back into session, I think now is a great time to remind everyone why Shin Megami Tensei’s beloved Persona series is the ultimate back-to-school series.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Persona series, its one of the many–and arguably most popular–series in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise owned by Atlus. Shin Megami Tensei contains many series that, although usually not in the same universe, contain similar themes, enemies, combat, etc. such as demons, religion, very in-depth psychology, and they’re all either turn-based or strategy JRPGs. It’s very similar to the Final Fantasy franchise in this respect: There are multiple games and series that are under the umbrella of the same franchise by certain themes and gameplay. Like the Final Fantasy games, you don’t have to play any of the games in a specific order. Some of the more well-known series are the main Shin Megami Tensei series, Devil Survivor, Digital Devil Saga, and of course, Persona.
The first Persona game–Revelations Persona–was first released on the PS1 in the States in 1996, however the Persona series wasn’t very well-known until the release of Persona 3 on the PS2 in 2007. Persona 3 was almost an overnight success thanks to its improved combat, memorable characters, and the introduction of the social link system that would become a trademark of the Persona games. If Persona 3 is what put Persona on the gaming map, then Persona 4 is what made Persona its own country. Although the gameplay remained almost entirely unchanged from 3, thanks to the engaging story, critically acclaimed writing, and lovable characters, people couldn’t get enough of the award winning game. Atlus took notice and gave it a Vita port, two different anime series (and some movies for Persona 3), two fighting games, and even a rhythm game. Suffice to say, Persona 4 became a hit not just among JRPG fans, but gamers in general. But what about this series makes it the ultimate back-to-school series?
Is it because they’re (mostly) excellent games? No.
Is it because they just happen to have the player in their school a lot? No.
Is it because they all have a portable port of some kind that’ll allow you to enjoy them even at school? No.
Although all those things are true, the main reasons that the Persona franchise is the ultimate back-to-school series is its history and unique take on managing your school life.
In 1994, Atlus released Shin Megami Tensei If… (henceforth SMTI.) Only released in Japan, SMTI was meant to be a spin-off game for the main Shin Megami Tensei series. The main focus of the game was to focus on a smaller, more intimate environment than that of the main Shin Megami Tensei games: Therefore, unlike the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei games, it was set in a high school. Critics enjoyed the new setting, and rather than make more SMTI games, Atlus decided to instead make an entirely separate Shin Megami Tensei series that would take place in high schools: Thus, the first Persona franchise was made all because Atlus wanted to continue setting Shin Megami Tensei games in high schools.
The high school setting would be fully realized in Persona 3 when managing your time between school, friends, hobbies, jobs, fighting, etc. would become one of the most major gameplay mechanics in the entire game. The game has a calendar in its corner, and you choose how you’ll spend each day. There’s a plethora of options, but the one thing that’s not optional is going to school. After school, however, you’re free to do whatever you want–even stay at the school for things like clubs, student council, studying, and hanging out with friends. Even though time management doesn’t sound like fun, it’s one of the best parts of Persona 3 and 4.
Since it’s unavoidable and sometimes even dictates what some of your friends will want to do–or even if some of them will be available–school will be one of the biggest parts of your protagonist’s life, just like it is for regular students. Or is it? Yes, you can choose to not study, you can choose to never join a club or hang out with your friends at school or make new friends, but to do so is pretty unwise since you simply won’t be able to get the full experience of this game–not to mention the social links. Regardless of how you treat it though, school will be a big part of the protagonist’s life–a life that you, the player, are now managing. It’ll take up time, yes, but it’ll affect your friendships and social links and even get you new ones. Plus it’ll often have ways to boost your stats–particularly knowledge. It’ll often help guide the story along, as well.
Just as school is a major part of life for any student, it is in Persona. Because of the day-by-day calendar this series works off of, school will become a major part of your life in Persona. It’ll help earn and strengthen social links, up stats, and sometimes it’ll even guide the story. Because of its extreme amounts of influence in what the player does in Persona–in addition to the fact that the franchise was made for the sake of being a Shin Megami Tensei series that took place in a school–Persona is truly the ultimate back-to-school series. It treats school life in a realistic-yet-enjoyable way that no other game ever has–probably because that’s the whole idea around which the series was made. Part of the appeal of the Persona games is their immersion–immersion which the school setting helps create more than any other element in this game.
All of these games have a portable port of some kind–all on either the PSP or Vita–so they’re all very accessible and can even be brought to school with you. This critically acclaimed series is definitely not something you should miss–even if you’re not a fan of JRPGs. It’s very hard for JRPGs to pull off a modern setting with minimal sci-fi/fantasy involved, but like similar titles like Earthbound and The World Ends With You, Persona gets it right in a way that not even they do–it values time management, self-improvement, and being social much more than most other games in general. Alongside being the ultimate back-to-school series, the Persona series–particularly 3 and 4–is one of the ultimate game series in general. If all these other reasons for being the ultimate back-to-school series so far weren’t enough for you, let it be your ultimate back-to-school series because it’ll distract you from the mundane routines of back-to-school season.