As we close the chapter on this generation, it's easy to forget one genre that fell beneath the cracks in both quality and promotion: Japanese role-playing games. Games like Final Fantasy XIII and Tales of Graces were fine in their own right, but they resembled backwards thinking, rather than re-inventing the formula of the genre. How many times have we seen a story about a group of unlikely people trying to save the world in a time of crisis? Too many of these titles fall under that regime. But if you look a bit deeper, there is one franchise that has ignored many of the norms involved, and has shown that JRPG's can be both unique and important.
I am, of course, talking about the Persona series. For anyone unaware, the Persona series revolves around a group of students in high school who go to class by day, and fight demons at night. To find these demons, you use a being from your inner self called, a Persona. Much what you do includes fusing and leveling up different Personas, but what makes the titles special is the idea of social links. Social links are relationships you make with other NPC's in the game, from school, the mall and other areas. By furthering these relationships, you help level up your stats in the demon-fighting part of the game. This ends up making the game part RPG, part life-simulator. The most acclaimed of these titles, Persona 4, also delved into gender issues. More specifically , it focused on the struggles of Kanji, who was coming to terms with his sexuality throughout the course of the game.
All these qualities made for a unique franchise that is immensely popular in Japan, literally moving units for the dead-in-the-water PlayStation Vita. According to Metacritic, the most recent release in the series, Persona 4: Golden, is also the Vita's most acclaimed title.
But what's next? Well, as all are hoping, Persona 5. While it has been confirmed to be in development, no official announcement has been given. Some expected it to show up at Tokyo Game Show 2013 but was nowhere to be seen. Luckily, the game Persona 4: Arena has extended the story-line of Persona 3 and 4, hinting that 5 may be connected to the previous titles.
So, as we look into the next generation, we can't help but look at Atlus and hope that Persona 5 will do us justice. Perhaps switching the focus to college, adding a bigger town and exploring different kinds of relationships will help? Either way, it looks like we'll find out soon. ATLUS launched a teaser site recently showing an unknown game by the Persona team. Luckily, Atlus isn't the only developer that has played a part in moving the JRPG genre forward. Released earlier this year, Level-5's Ni No Kuni combined Studio Ghibli with smart traditional gameplay that was reminiscent of Pokemon and Tales.
Not to be outdone, Square Enix came in strong this E3 with a trailer for the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts 3 and gameplay for Final Fantasy XV. But it's hard to be as excited for those titles when Square hasn't had the best reception of their last few Final Fantasy titles. Atlus may have recently been bought by Sega, but it seems they have left its development untouched, making many JRPG fans hopeful. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will be exciting launches, but my eyes are glued to Atlus and the future of their flagship franchise.