When you think of the Persona series' defining characteristics, a few major traits come to mind. These include living the life of a high schooler, building relationships with your friends, exploring a shadow world, and controlling all sorts of monsters.
But there's another element that makes the Persona games (particularly Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5) a delight. And it's one you might not notice at first: the way the game uses everyday, mundane elements to its advantage.
What's in a Year?
Most Persona games take place over the course of approximately a year. But the system is unlike games such as Animal Crossing that run on a real-time clock. Persona's time system is also different than Stardew Valley or similar titles, which use an in-game calendar and time system with time moving at an accelerated pace.
Instead, certain events in Persona will move time forward, meaning you can only perform a limited number of activities to do per day. For instance, you can walk around town and purchase items from the shop without advancing time. But studying, hanging out with friends, or going into the other world will move time ahead.
Image Credit: Megami Tensei Wiki
While many days are open to your decisions, the game also has certain days with predetermined events. You have access to a calendar to know when tests, holidays, or other special activities will occur.
This limited system forces you to choose carefully what you'll do each day. It may sound restrictive and dull, but it helps you get in the mindset of a student with limited time. And for an RPG, making you identify more with the character is a huge positive.
Every NPC Has a Story
In most RPGs, NPCs blend into the background. Unless they give you a quest or are otherwise important, they typically utter the same line of dialogue every time you talk to them.
What's notable about Persona's NPCs is how everyday citizens change over the course of the year. If you pay attention during your playthrough, you'll find dozens of mini-stories to follow.
Chatter from people who ride the train, children in your town, and other students at your school all change as the weeks go on. You'll hear rumors about your otherworldly activities and see what people think of you.
Image Credit: Ghoststride/YouTube
But there are even tinier threads than these to notice. You'll smile when you find out the guy who had a crush asked the girl out, wonder how the mother who was running out of money fared, and cheer for the classmate who aced his entrance exams.
This level of detail in a game that already has over a dozen fleshed-out relationships is astounding.
Enjoyable Flavor Text
Flavor text, which refers to in-game text for actions and items that aren't essential, can really add a lot to a game's world. You've probably noticed this in games when, for example, you interact with a bookshelf and it says something like "It has a lot of advanced books that I probably wouldn't understand."
Persona has this in droves, particularly in Persona 5 as Morgana's (your companion) attitude shines through. Walk up to an "adults-only store" in the Red-Light District, and Morgana will tell you that "ascending the stairs to maturity" isn't worth it. Try to enter a classroom that you have no business in, and your character will wonder if they should join that club.
These bits of text provide a small, often humorous reward for players who go exploring. I particularly enjoyed how Persona 5 uses a generic name in dialog boxes of people you don't know yet. The "Broke-Ass College Student" on the train made me chuckle.
When It's Time to Go
After the climax of Persona adventures, it's soon time for your character to return home. This means leaving everyone behind that you've gotten to know over the course of an in-game year.
Again, it's amazing how the fact that you've spent a whole school year there transforms a simple end of a game into an emotional goodbye. Walking around town one last time and seeing how everyone's life has changed is powerful.
After I finished Persona 5, I spent some time thinking about what the characters in the game would do after the main character leaves and what effect the events of the game have on them. It's such a mundane concept, but the game had pulled me into the world enough to care.
When I played Persona 4 Golden, I sort of got an answer. Golden expands your playtime by roughly another month after the main plotline is resolved. And during that time, you live a pretty normal life.
Image credit: LPArchive
It was surreal, after spending 150+hours in Persona games where there's always the main plot (outside of school and relationships) to worry about, to just become a regular student. You see how people's lives go on after the threat is gone.
I'm still not sure whether I prefer this approach or not. Persona 5's goodbye was heart-wrenching, but it came so quickly that I was still attached to the world. After a few weeks of extra time in Persona 4 Golden I was ready to be done. Maybe it's a sign that you're meant to leave town once your work is done.
Persona Is All About the Details
Persona is a series that has a lot going on, so it's easy to get caught up in the story, school, relationships, and more.
But when you stop and notice the tiny details, it becomes even deeper and more engaging. The flavor text when you try to go somewhere you're not supposed to, mini-stories that expand over a year, and the unique perspective the in-game year brings manage to turn boring everyday details into something special.