Frequently focusing on high schoolers on Earth rather than knights in fantasy worlds, the series is known for button-pushing dark themes and stories that delve into the metaphysical and the philosophical. Throw in monster raising and some light dating sim elements, and you've got the Persona franchise.
Here we're going to cover all the games from best to worst to let you know which titles are worth your time and which can be played later after getting to the good stuff first. "Worst" may be a bit of a misnomer however, as there really aren't any actively bad Persona games, even if some are clearly better than others.
We're trying to be as complete as possible in this list, but a few spin offs are getting left out, like the defunct browser game or several Japanese-only mobile titles. Although they are closely connected, we're covering exclusively Persona branded games here and not any of the Shin Megami Tensei or Devil Summoner titles.
If you go all the way back to the series beginning in the late '80s on the Famicom, there are just way, way, way too many to cover, and many of them never got English translations. For those who ever played them though, please feel free to comment with your favorites!
The latest (and many are saying greatest) entry in the series was bestowed on Western fans a full half year after the Japanese market got ahold of it. It's been a tense six months for those of us longing for more Persona, but now that it's here, the wait was worth it.
We've covered the game extensively, and for good reason: Persona 5 takes everything that made the earlier games memorable and fun to play and cranked that all up to the next level.
This entry is incredibly stylized, and every single element of the game - from conversation to crafting to battles -- just constantly keeps that style front and center, with the themes of the story constantly woven into absolutely everything the protagonist does.
Part 5 is also easily the best instance of the time management aspect of the series, where you are trying to both be a successful student with interpersonal relationships, jobs, study time, etc. and a Phantom Thief hero battling Shadows at night. Blessedly, the game also doesn't take 40 hours to give you a story like Persona 3.
This entry is when the North American audiences really started to take notice of the series, which had a cult following prior but really wasn't on the same level as anything like Final Fantasy.
Persona 3 is where the series hit its stride with managing relationships to increase rankings in various abilities and in splitting your time between monster raising, battling enemies, and being a high school student in the day. While more accessible than the earlier PS1 entries, Persona 3 is also notable for being quite difficult if you were trying to do everything.
Some of those requests from Elizabeth were incredibly hard, and there were a few boss fights that could easily wipe you out if you weren't holding a guidebook in your hands letting you know which specific Persona to be fusing ahead of time.
What always strikes me most about this entry is the incredibly memorable music that bucked the trend of what you'd hear in a typical JPRG. From the "baby, baby, baby, baby" of the combat music to the operatic take on the Velvet Room, you won't ever forget these tunes. Even the high school hallway theme had an electronic beat you can't get out of your head.
It wasn't all sunshine and gumdrops when Persona 3 was first released however, as the title caused some controversy. Characters point a gun at their foreheads and pull the trigger in a representation of the death of self to release a secondary inner persona. Needless to say, parents weren't stoked about imagery of teenagers repeatedly shooting themselves.
The position this game takes is really a matter of personal preference, and I suspect may have something to do with which game you played first and where you started in the series.
Some fans will fight to the death over their preference of Persona 4 to Persona 3 -- and vice versa. I'm more in that second camp that prefers the earlier game. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with this entry (note its high ranking in this list), but the characters, music, and style of 3 just edge this one out.
This one had a bit of a different tone than the previous games, being more of a murder mystery. It's also notable for taking the social link system from the previous game and expanding it even further.
While Persona 4 originally came out for the PS2 all the way back in '08, a remake titled Persona 4 Golden was released on the PS Vita in 2012, bringing the series back to the forefront in the long, long wait for Persona 5.
This forgotten classic of the series was released at the very tail end of the PS1's life cycle as the PS2 was coming to dominance, so Eternal Punishment didn't make as big an impact as it could have were it released earlier in prime PS1 RPG time.
Eternal Punishment was still figuring out its various systems and hadn't perfected them yet, but was a big jump up from the original game. Its also interesting to note that it wasn't actually the second Persona game -- it was the third.
Previous game Innocent Sin didn't make it to the U.S. on the PS1 at all and in fact didn't arrive for North American audiences until 2011 on the PSP. Obviously, the story of Eternal Punishment could be confusing at times, since none of us had ever played its predecessor.
While it may have been a bit baffling at points, it was also incredibly dark (like Rule Of Rose dark) and will always remain with those who played through as kids and had no idea what they were in for. Horror fans will particularly note elements taken from the Cthulhu mythos, like a character named Nyarlathotep.
Wait a minute, this is... a fighting game? Unlike the super ill-fated D&D fighting game spin off, this one is actually worth playing for beat 'em up fans, although maybe less so for the Persona die hards who prefer a JRPG experience.
Oddly enough, this is actually the SECOND fighting game in the series, following the previous Persona 4 Arena. What sets Ultimax apart from anything else in the genre is that there's a whole lot more story going on here than you'd expect from a Street Fighter style game.
That could be good or bad depending -- good for Persona fans who want to see these characters, but probably bad for fighting game fans who don't want to read screen after screen of text.
This one's better than its predecessor, but at the end of the day anyone playing is going to have to ask themselves: just who is the target audience here?
I fully came into this list expecting to put this entry all the way at the top, having very fond memories of playing this as a kid. The totally different setting from your typical fantasy RPG set Persona drastically apart from the pack.
This was also definitely the first game I played where negotiating with demons before fighting was an option, with violence completely avoidable in many random battles.
Between the game starting with a bunch of kids messing around with summoning demons, and one character's fondness for explaining the flaws in Western religion's theology, I had to play this one on the down low when my religious parents were around -- which of course just increased its mystique.
While ranking these games I went back to the original PS1 edition and a sad realization dawned on me: this game has not aged well.
Though groundbreaking at the time, It's kind of difficult to play at this point due to the clunky controls, and some of the graphics (particularly when navigating outside or through the labyrinthine hallways of high school dungeons) are sort of spectacularly bad.
Some of those kinks are worked out with the '09 PSP port, although going that route also loses some of the charm of the original sounds and cut scenes.
Wait, what the hell, there's a dancing rhythm game spin-off as well? Eh, after the fighting game, I guess why not just go with it?
Like with Arena and Ultimax, the bizarre PS Vita entry Dancing All Night has way more story than you'd expect from something in the same category as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.
This one takes a minor character from Persona 4 and spins off in a new direction, taking the series into the world of J-Pop. Its more fun than you'd expect, but honestly I have a hard time taking this one seriously.
Persona goes chibi on this lone DS entry (for a look that I'm not crazy about) where the series managed to break away from Playstation to hit a Nintendo handheld for no apparent reason.
It also fuses characters from P3 and P4 into an alternate dimension taking place between those games, offering a new take on those familiar storylines and NPCs. How much you are going to dig this one depends on how much you like the handheld RPGs, as this is very much Etrian Odyssey meets Persona.
Personally, it felt a little too familiar for me, and I'd have rather seen a completely different game with totally new characters, but if you can't get enough of the Persona 3 / 4 crews, then this may be worth it for you.
Like the previously mentioned Ultimax, this is a fighting game spin-off, but it's not quite as polished or interesting as its sequel. It is notable for more of a heavy rock soundtrack than the other games in the series, whoever.
Frankly, other than the bigger focus on story and the presence of Persona characters, this isn't really ground breaking as a fighting game and can probably be safely skipped.
if you don't want to play a fighting game but want to know how this tale fits into the Persona universe, you can easily find all the story segments strung together at YouTube.
Across a whole lot of genres and console generations, we just can't get enough of this oddball series that loves to fuse dating sims, monster raising, real life high school simulations, and JPRG combat.
With all these titles, you could lose yourself in Persona for countless hours before even diving into the other spin-off series!
What did you think of our listing, and how would you rank your favorite Persona games from best to worst?