The Persona series has exploded in popularity lately, with the most recent installment being the entry point for a lot of new fans. However, this is a pretty long-running series.
With the franchise gaining so much traction, many players are wondering where they should get started.
For a long time, most of the Persona titles weren’t all that accessible unless you kept some niche consoles laying around. Older games were also expensive to pick up, having long been out of print. That’s changed though.
I’m going to break down which game is the perfect introduction to Persona, and why other titles don’t work as well.
Where to Start
Persona 5 is arguably the best title to play first. This is the most modern and polished title in the series. To newcomers, it is definitely going to make the best impression.
If you’re already a fan of this style of game, there are different choices. However, to a general audience, the most recent is probably the best one to go for first. It features the best mix of story and simulation to RPG gameplay. The game is also a lot less dated.
Persona 5 is set in the later 2010s, it follows Ren (Or Joker if you’re already familiar with the character from Smash Bros) and the Phantom Thieves. Persona 5’s story does continue on from the others along with using similar themes and concepts. However, it isn’t an ongoing story with continuing characters.
If you play these games out of order, you don’t miss out on much other than references. Other than one of the earliest titles. This means playing a certain Persona game before another doesn’t impact the story.
In terms of gameplay, it’s the best one to play first.
Persona 5 manages to combine the story-based elements with stronger and more immersive gameplay. It’s this balance that really propelled the franchise to its current status, rather than the previous titles.
This is an area where the age of older games comes into play. Persona 5 was originally made for the PS3. However, the Royal expansion brings the few dated aspects up to date. Even in the base game, it hasn’t really aged. It’s the easiest for newcomers to jump straight into.
In terms of which game to play first, a big concern is accessibility. The older Persona games are high-quality. However, they might be a bit intimidating or off-putting to new players.
Persona 5 serves as an introduction to the style of these games. You’ll get to see how the games interweave everyday life with more epic dungeon crawling. You’ll get to know the combat, and how you need to budget your time if you want to see everything.
Persona 5 is the most polished version of the game and the least likely to put new players off. The older games, even the Golden improved version of 4, definitely feel dated.
The Persona series has had some big gaps between installments. The older and more aged style of gameplay can be a problem for new players. Especially if they start at number 1 expecting the anime cutscenes of Joker and friends.
Going with 5 helps to ease you in and see if Persona is for you. Given how these games are played, it is a big commitment on which one you go for.
Persona isn’t a series that it’s best just to jump in at the beginning and think you’ll “power through” to the more recent titles. That’s why which Persona game you play first is an important decision.
The biggest hurdle to people getting into the Persona franchise might be its intimidating size. That’s not because there’s a load of games in the series. It’s just because the titles that are here are very long compared to average games.
The newest game, Persona 5, is 103 hours long on average with 143 hours needed to see everything. Persona 4 Golden is also 140 hours to get everything it has to offer. This isn’t a minor commitment.
Compared to other series, Persona is a long commitment to play everything. Even playing a single game is longer than you’ll get in most franchises.
As a quick comparison, Zelda is around 308 hours long, counting all the mainline console and portable games. Persona has been running for half the time, releases much less frequently, and yet the main 5 games have a runtime of over 400 hours for a lot of players.
With such a long run time, you can see why which Persona game to play first is a bit of a different question to other series. Which Zelda game to play first doesn’t depend on a newcomer devoting over a hundred hours to a single story right off the bat!
You have to keep in mind that whichever game you pick first, you’re going to be playing it for a while. It might be the only Persona game you play for quite a few months. That’s why Persona 5 is such a good pick for most.
Persona 5 might be the longest individually, but you’re spending a lot less time in dungeons grinding out combat. Much more of that runtime is spent on the more dynamic areas of the game, which help to make it more engaging in the long run for new players.
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4 Golden features a captivating murder mystery storyline. Just like 5, it’s primarily set in a high school, but with mysterious happenings going on. This title is finally getting a more accessible release. Does this make it the right game to play first?
A lot of hardcore fans would say it’s a great game to start with. It has a more light-hearted tone than some. However, there are some drawbacks here that might put a general player off.
Along with Persona 3, this features more randomized dungeons. It helps the dungeons feel fresher, which is vital since you’re spending so much of your time in them. The runtime of Persona 4 is much less balanced between the various aspects than Persona 5.
This game has a great story and characters, but newcomers will have to make their through a less integrated dungeon and social split to see it all. Compared to Persona 5, there’s less gameplay in the world and more time devoted to the dungeon mechanics of the game.
This isn’t necessarily a negative. If you’re looking for the dungeon gameplay along with the story, it’s a good pick for first. However, for the more general audience, Persona 5 is a better fit. Persona 4 Golden is great for a second game to play in the series. It’s a title where it’s definitely best to go for the improved version too.
Golden makes numerous improvements on the base 4. It will be available on all platforms soon, which will make it a lot easier to play golden.
Persona 3 is the third main installment in the series. You play as a high school student who is also part of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. That’s a team that Is investigating something called the Dark Hour.
The plot of this game has you investigating this mystery along with fighting off creatures called shadows with your Persona. This game has you split your time between everyday life and the more mystical events.
There are some decent elements of simulation in this game. You get to progress through the ordinary school year and make more friends to power up your extracurricular activities. This game introduces social links with really brings the social aspect of the game to the forefront.
Persona 3 has two more editions. The first is an expanded edition called FES. This adds an extra area with an epilogue. This one is fine to play instead of 3 as you don’t lose too much.
There’s also Persona 3 Portable, this is a different port that reworks some of the gameplay. This one has some fun easter eggs for fans of Atlas’ other games. This one is going to be pretty widely available soon. Its gameplay is altered to be closer to the newer games.
While Persona 3 Portable isn’t the best pick for which Persona game to play first, it is probably going to be the best version for most players to try the game out eventually. This and 4 are both great for playing second.
The Worst Place to Start
The second Persona game in the series generally refers to both Innocent Sin and Eternal. These are two separate games that continue one story.
Like the later installments, this game focuses on high-school students. They also investigate supernatural goings-on and fight battles with their personas.
One cool feature in this game is the Rumour system. This lets you utilize the spread of information to impact events in the story.
These are two installments that have a very specific order for which Persona game to play first. Eternal Punishment is a direct sequel to Innocent Sin. While neither of these is a great pick to play first, you should play Innocent Sin Before Eternal Punishment.
These games are quite dated for modern fans. They’re not great choices to play first in the franchise.
Should You Start From the Beginning?
The first Persona game kickstarted the series. In some titles, the first game is the natural starting point. The original is far from the best choice though to play first though.
This is a PlayStation 1 game from 1996, so it is aged quite a bit more than the rest of the series. A retitled version of the game was released for the PSP, which is likely the version that most players should go for the first time around.
This game deals with high school students investigating a being that’s made up of the world’s subconscious. It’s an interesting if bizarre story but one that’s worth getting through as you play the entire Persona series.
Like others, 1 received a PSP port that made quite a few modernizing changes. This is going to be the easiest way to get into the game for new fans.
The first game is definitely not the right pick for which Persona game to play first. It’s aged a lot and doesn’t really excel where the rest of the series does. It’s going to be worth visiting either the original or the PSP version
if you fall in love with the franchise though, it’s worth checking it out. Given the quality across this series, that’s not an unlikely turn of events once you get started.
Shin Megami Tensei
The Persona series has achieved huge popularity recently. However, this series is a spin-off of the older series Shin Megami Tensei. This naturally raises the question of if you can play Persona without the original franchise.
You’re free to play Persona having never touched a Shin Megami Tensei game. The game shares some aspects, but nothing from the plot is lost from not playing the original games.
Shin Megami Tensei is less focused on the social aspects than Persona. However, if you enjoy the style of gameplay in Persona it might be worth checking those games out too.
If you’re looking for which Persona game to play first though, you can easily start at Persona 5 and skip Shin Megami Tensei entirely.
The most recent Persona games in the series aren’t the mainline Persona 5 Royal game, but one of the spin-off titles Persona Strikers. Persona also has other spin-offs including a popular series of music games.
These games definitely aren’t the right pick to play first though. The rhythm-based games gave been released following a main installment pretty regularly. They are a lot of fun and include interactions between Persona characters. However, they aren’t good picks to start off.
Persona Strikers is best played after 5. You won’t know the context of the characters if it’s played first. Once you’ve gotten to know that game though, Strikers can be a real treat.
These games rely on you already knowing the characters and the story from previous Persona releases. Playing these without getting context first would probably spoil things for you. Most players are unlikely to enjoy it all that much if they’re unfamiliar with the characters.
Looking at which Persona games to try first, these spin-offs are great later additions but they’re not perfect for starting out. They’re best enjoyed once you’ve gotten to know the word of Persona.