The Persona series is surprisingly hot right now. Persona 4: Golden just came out on the PlayStation Vita, and Persona 4 Arena just came out for the PS3. Both have been absolute treats for Persona fans everywhere. Persona 4 Golden adds essentially an entire new game to the mix with redone artwork, sounds, and skills, while Persona 4 Arena converts one of the most beloved JRPGs of our time into an amazing fighting game built in Arc System Works' style. It's hard to imagine that a few short years ago, Persona was basically an unknown name in the American market. Let's take a short look at the history of the Persona series in order to see where it is going in the future.
Persona is actually a part of the bigger Megaten (Megami Tensei) series of games. Megaten is known for mixing up occult themes with a "monster raising" style of gameplay. It just so happens that these monsters you were raising turn out to be demons rather than cute little pocket monsters. Persona, on the other hand, was one of the first games that focused on controlling people rather than demons. These people had the ability to summon "Personas," or manifestations of their inner mind, to attack their enemies. These manifestations of your inner self also happened to mirror the demons that we saw in previous Megami Tensei games.
The first few Megami Tensei games were straightforward JRPGs, mimicking old school Megaten games more than they mimicked the Persona games we know today. In fact, it was Persona 3 that first introduced the concept of social links, multi-persona raising, and much of the current-day Persona battle system. However, it wasn't this interesting fusion of dating game and demon hunting dungeon crawler that first brought Persona 3 to our attention. Rather, it was the fact that the protagonists summoned their personas by shooting themselves in the head with a device that looked an awful lot like a gun.
This suicidal imagery caused a small scandal, and scandals are always good for driving game sales. Fortunately, when we all decided to pick up this strange game featuring high school students ritualistically committing pseudo-suicide to fight demons, there was a great story and phenomenal gameplay to back it up—so much so that Persona 4 abandoned this shocking aesthetic altogether and focused more on character development. Many people believe it is a better game for it.
Now, Persona is no longer synonymous with shooting yourself in the head, but rather its social gameplay. Persona 3 and 4 were broken up into two distinct portions. First, there was the daily life portion, which allowed you to choose how to spend your time as a normal high school student. You were tasked with going to clubs, passing your classes, and even getting a girlfriend. Building these "social links" eventually increased the powers of your personas and made you stronger in battle. The trick was that you rarely had enough time to do everything and be everywhere without following a very specific walkthrough. So how you spent your time not only fleshed out who your character was, but also what he could do in battle.