Persona 3 4 5 the 25th anniversary promo artwork
Image: Atlus

It took a while, but the Persona series has finally made the jump to Switch. After stealing our hearts in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (and a spin-off 'sequel' and spin-off remaster found their way onto the console), the main series finally made its way to Nintendo's hybrid console in late 2022 with Persona 5 Royal.

Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden are following this up on 19th January 2023, and ahead of their joint release, we wanted to ask the ultimate question — what is Persona? Well, not really, but with lots of names, Goldens, Royals, and FES' being thrown around, just what on earth are the differences? What versions can we play on Switch? And, if you've only played the spin-offs or Persona 5 Royal, what should you play next?

So, for anyone who is either a total newbie to the series — or if you simply lost your way and need a hand sorting through all the franchise branches — let's reach out to the truth and dive into the Persona series on Switch.

Persona Series On Switch FAQ

What is Persona?

Persona is a turn-based RPG series that debuted on the PlayStation back in 1996 with Revelations: Persona. All of the main games take place in modern-day Japan and every game focuses on a group of high school students (with one exception), with the lead being a silent protagonist.

The key aspect of Persona is the ability to summon a Persona — a physical manifestation of that person's psyche (get your high school psychology textbooks out!). The main character is often the only character who can swap between their starting Persona and any number of demons that you can recruit, obtain, or fuse in the Velvet Room.

Persona series cast
Every single Persona protagonist — Image: Atlus

Other recurring elements in the series involve the Arcana — tarot cards that represent skills, Persona, and characters — Social Links (as of Persona 3, called Confidants in Persona 5), dungeon crawling, and the Velvet Room — a place where you can fuse and summon new Persona, which is managed by a man named Igor.

Persona started life as a spin-off of the Megami Tensei franchise (of which the Shin Megami Tensei games are part of) inspired by the success of 1994's Shin Megami Tensei If..., which was set in a school.

You don't need to play any of the Shin Megami Tensei games to get into Persona. Some If... characters appear in the very early Persona games, but not since Persona 3. The demons in SMT are often enemies and Personas in the Persona series, but there are hardly any connections outside of that and the two series are turn-based RPGs.

Both Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster and Shin Megami Tensei V are available on Switch, however, if you want an RPG series that's a bit more challenging.

Shin Megami Tensei V Jack Frost
Hee-ho! Jack Frost is a popular demon in both SMT and Persona and is Atlus' mascot — Image: Atlus

All Persona games on the Switch

These are all of the games you can currently get on Switch in the Persona series in release date order — the ones in bold are part of the mainline series:

  • Persona 5 Strikers
  • Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
  • Persona 5 Royal
  • Personal 4 Golden (19th January)
  • Persona 3 Portable (19th January)

For this guide, we'll mostly be exploring the three mainline games.

Do I need to play the series in order?

Nope! While every game in the series takes place in the same world, you don't have to play the first to understand the other games in the series. In terms of the Switch-only games, that means you can start with P3, P4, or P5 — it doesn't matter!

There are sometimes little nods and references to past games and characters — Rise from Persona 4 can be spotted on posters in Persona 5, for example — but you'll lose nothing of consequence by playing the games in any order. This is good when some entries are still missing on the Switch...

Persona 5 Royal

What is Persona 5 Royal?

Persona 5 Royal was the first mainline game in the series to make its way onto the Switch — and, in the series, it's probably the most well-known entry, particularly for its snappy combat and super slick visuals. Seriously, have you seen the menus in this game? *chef's kiss*

Originally released for the PS4 in 2019 in Japan and 2020 for the rest of the world, Royal made its way to Switch (after fans had been begging for the game to release on the console since, well, Joker's appearance in Smash) in October 2022 to rave reviews — including from us.

Set in modern-day Tokyo, you play a young high school student — codenamed Joker — who has recently moved to the city after being expelled from another school. Eventually, you become the leader of the Phantom Thieves, a group of 'vigilantes' who have the power to summon Personas who can explore the Metaverse and dive into people's Palaces to change their hearts.

Persona 5 Royal Phantom Thieves
The Phantom Thieves, ready to steal your heart — Image: Atlus

Persona 5 Royal really sets the bar high for modern turn-based JRPGs with its dungeons. The game's Palaces are all uniquely styled dungeons ranging from a Castle to a Casino, and each has puzzles and a unique layout that you need to make your way through. Mementos, another dungeon, is part of the Metaverse and consists of randomised layouts and paths, so it's closer to the dungeons of Persona 3 and 4.

Persona 5 Royal's Phantom Thieves all use Personas based on outlaws, thieves, and rebels from literature or legend — loosely. Arséne, Joker's Persona, is based on the gentleman thief Arséne Lupin from Maurice Leblanc's novels, while Johanna, Makoto's Persona, is based on Pope Joan, a female pope who apparently disguised herself as a man and rose through the church's hierarchy.

Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 - What are the differences?

Persona 5 Royal is essentially an expanded version of 2016/17's Persona 5, which is exclusive to PS3 and PS4. There's a new party member, new side characters, a new school semester, and tons of other additions to the story.

Dungeons have had some of their bosses tweaked and new enemies added, and all of them have been expanded thanks to Joker's grappling hook. New attacks such as the Showtime mechanic that let characters team up for a special joint attack, ammo now restores after every fight, and plenty of other quality-of-life features mean that Persona 5 Royal is the definitive version of one of the best RPGs.

This is only a handful of changes, but you're not missing out on anything by playing Royal and not grabbing a PS4 to play the 'vanilla' version of the game.

What about Persona 5 Strikers?

This is where things get confusing for the Persona 5 universe. Persona 5 Strikers is a sequel of sorts, but only to Persona 5 and not to Persona 5 Royal.

Why? Persona 5 Royal has two brand new endings, and Persona 5 Strikers only follows on from the events of Persona 5. It doesn't mention or reference any of the characters added in Royal or reference any of the events that happen in the final semester.'

Even though it's not connected to Royal, it's still worth playing. Persona 5 Strikers is an action RPG much closer to the Musou/Warriors series in terms of gameplay, but it retains many elements such as summoning Personas. It's also just as stylish as the main game. We rather liked it in our 8/10 review.

Persona 4 Golden

What is Persona 4 Golden?

While Persona 5 might be the most well-known game in the series, Persona 4 Golden is arguably the game that put Persona really on the map.

Released for the PS Vita in 2012, Persona 4 Golden took what critics loved about Persona 3 — the Social Links, school setting, and Persona-summoning — and wrapped it up in a cosy murder mystery package with the best uncle and his adorable daughter.

You move to Inaba in the Japanese countryside to stay with your uncle while your parents work abroad for the year. After quickly making friends, a student at the local high school discovered the dead body of a murdered TV reporter. Rumours of the 'Midnight Channel' cause the protagonist and his friends to investigate the murder and enter a world that can only be accessed through a television set.

Persona 4 Golden Summer
See Nanako on the left? Nanako is the best. Don't hurt Nanako — Image: Atlus

Known as the Investigation Team, this group of Persona-wielding teenagers all use Personas based on Japanese mythological beings or people of legend, such as the Japanese creation deity Izanagi, the daughter Ouyamatsumi the mountain god Konohana Sakuya, and the adult version of folk hero Kintaro, Kintoki-Douji.

Persona 4 Golden and Persona 4 - What are the differences?

Similarly to Persona 5 Royal, Persona 4 Golden is an improved version of the 'vanilla' version of Persona 4, the 2009 PS2 RPG.

Golden adds two new Social Links, rebalances gameplay aspects from the original PS2 version, adds a new month with some extra story, new animated cutscenes and events, new weather, and a new epilogue. Like Royal, it's often regarded as the preferred version, and you're not missing out on anything by playing Golden on Switch over the original PS2 game.

Will I like Persona 4 Golden if I like Royal?

Probably, yes! While it's not as visually flashy or stylish as Persona 5 Royal, Persona 4 Golden is the most similar game in the series to Persona 5.

It might feel like a little bit of a step back if you've only played the most recent game in the franchise, admittedly — Persona 4 Golden has unique dungeons like the Palaces in 5, but these dungeons are randomised now, closer to Mementos. So every time you leave the dungeon, the layout will change. Also, combat is missing a lot of the quality-of-life features that Persona 5 (and Royal) introduced.

Really, just go in thinking of this as a PS2 (and PSV) RPG, and you'll likely have an amazing time. Along with 5, it's considered the best game in the series by many.

What about Persona 4 Arena Ultimax?

While Persona 5's spin-off/sequel stays in a pretty similar genre wheelhouse, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a completely different beast — it's a beat 'em up with lots of visual novel-style cutscenes.

The fighting game, developed by Guilty Gear and Dragon Ball FighterZ maestros Arc System Works, is a direct sequel to both Persona 4 and Persona 3. Ultimax also contains the story from the first fighting game spin-off, Persona 4 Arena, so you don't need to grab a PS3 or Xbox 360 to get the whole story if you want it.

It's a pretty fun time with sharp fighting game mechanics but doesn't go in expecting mainline Persona levels of polish for its story — it's a fighting game, after all. It's not required reading, but if you like Persona 4 and you like fighting games, it's worth picking up. At least, that's the NL verdict.

Persona 3 Portable

What is Persona 3 Portable?

Persona 3 is where things get a little complicated. Persona 3 Portable is actually the third version of the original Persona 3 that launched on PS2 in 2006/07. A second version Persona 3 FES, launched on PS2 just a year later. More on that in a second.

The version Switch owners are getting next week is the first time that P3P has been rereleased since its original PSP launch in 2009/10 (and on PSN). Set in the Japanese city of Iwatodai, and you're (guess what) a transfer student who is asked to join SEES, a group of high schoolers who can summon Personas and are investigating something known as the 'Dark Hour', an additional 25th hour of the day where the protagonist's high school transforms into Tartarus, a labyrinthine tower full of evil creatures known as Shadows.

For the first (and only) time in the series, you can play as either a male or a female protagonist — and depending on who you pick, it changes your Social Links and opens up brand new story routes. The game came out after Persona 4, so lots of quality-of-life changes have been added.

Persona 3 Portable FeMC
Affectionately known as FeMC by fans — Image: Atlus

SEES' Personas this time are all based on Greek gods, deities and figures such as Orpheus, the Thracian bard, Hermes the messenger, Cerberus the guardian of the underworld, and Nemesis the goddess of divine retribution.

Persona 3 Portable and Persona 3 FES - What are the differences?

Persona 3 FES, being the second version of Persona 3, already brought several changes to Persona 3, but rather than P3P being a straight-up upgrade to FES, it's a counterpart and the pair have a few big differences. FES is also only available on the PS2 (or PS3 if you snapped it up on the PSN).

FES' big claim is that it added a brand new chapter to Persona 3 after beating the main story, called 'The Answer'. This additional story chapter was a lot harder than the main game and removed the Social Link aspect of the main game — it's essentially just a straight dungeon crawler. Plus it's around 30 hours long, on top of the main game's 60-70 hour playtime.

Persona 3 Portable Inside Tartarus
Brush up on your Hebrew and the Kabbalah for your dungeon crawling! — Image: Atlus

The Answer was missing from the PSP version of P3P, so we assume it'll also be missing from the Switch version. That being said, as mentioned above, you can now play as a female protagonist. You'll be able to choose who your silent student of SEES is right at the start of the game, and you'll get new cutscenes, events, and relationships depending on who you pick. Essentially, if you pick the male protagonist, it's like FES, but if you choose the female protagonist, you'll be getting a fair bit of new content — nothing that changes the ending though.

The biggest difference between the two, however, is a game changer. In FES, in combat, you could only control the protagonist's actions. That means that your other three party members are left to the devices of the AI, which could end in disaster (Marin Karin, anyone?). Luckily, in Persona 3 Portable, you can control all four party members — what a relief! As a result of this, many prefer Persona 3 Portable to its PS2 counterparts.

Will I like Persona 3 Portable if I like Royal?

This will depend on your expectations, as Persona 3 Portable is pretty different from Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal.

Where Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal let you freely explore Inaba and Shibuya, letting you walk around environments and talk to everyone, Persona 3 Portable is much closer to a visual novel when you're not inside Tartarus.

There are no animated cutscenes and no 3D models outside of the main dungeon — instead, any conversation between characters is often just portraits on the screen. You also can't walk around the various parts of the city freely. You select locations on the Iwatodai map, and then you get another static map of the area you're in with things you can interact with marked. You then have to drag a cursor point-and-click style to these to interact with them — whether they're people or objects.

Tartarus is also very different to the Midnight Channel or the Palaces. Tartarus is one big, long dungeon where floor layouts are randomised every time you enter. It's closer to Mementos than the Midnight Channel in that sense, and progression through Tartarus is mandatory, with more floors opening up as you progress the story.

Where are Persona 1 and Persona 2?

Persona 1 and Persona 2 Protagonists
Atlus: the company that only counts from 3 — Image: Nintendo Life

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Atlus has forgotten all about Persona 1 and Persona 2 Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. Outside of the odd bit of promotional anniversary material and merchandise for the games, we barely see a peep about these entries — though we do appreciate the birthday nods the official Twitter account often sends out.

Persona 1 and both games in the Persona 2 duology aren't available on any Nintendo console at all. In fact, there are very few places you can play these games. And, unlike 'modern' Persona games, Persona 1 and 2 have multiple reoccurring characters and plot elements. Persona 1 is on the original PlayStation as Revelations: Persona, though it's also been remade for the PSP as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. Persona 2 is much more complicated. Innocent Sin's PSOne version never saw an English release, and the only version officially available in English is the PSP remake. Its direct sequel, Eternal Punishment, did get an English release on PSOne (but not in Europe) and was rereleased on the PlayStation Network, but the PSP remake never got an English release. Of course.

Persona 1 and 2 are also very different from the later games in the series — Persona 3 basically revamped the entire premise while keeping nods and references to the first three games. The PSOne games lack Social Links and the gameplay is much closer to a traditional RPG or early Shin Megami Tensei games. They're also pretty slow with high random encounter rates and plenty of annoying little quirks.

Time hasn't been kind to them, and we'd love to see them get ported, but we think they'd require a lot of reworks to appeal to the modern-day Persona fan. However, the stories in them — particularly in 2 — are well regarded.

Which game should I play first on Switch?

The short answer — it doesn't matter! Start where you want. The long answer? It entirely depends. We probably wouldn't recommend starting with Persona 4 Arena Ultimax or Persona 5 Strikers now, but if you have played either of those games before P5R, P4G, or P3P's release, then it doesn't matter.

Persona 5 Royal is easily the most accessible and attractive of the three mainline titles coming to Switch. It arguably set the standard for turn-based RPGs going forward with its unique UI, stylish visuals and unique dungeon. But playing 5 Royal first might make it harder to go back to the other entries.

Persona coming to consoles
Spoilt for choice — Image: Atlus

Persona 4 Golden is the most similar to Royal and is probably our recommended starting point if you want to try out all three games on Switch. It's the most lighthearted entry and strikes a balance between the randomised dungeons of P3P to the stylised Palaces of P5R.

Persona 3 Portable, being so different from the other two, also isn't a bad place to start. But if you go back to it after 5R or 4G, then this is the game you might struggle with the most. Think of it as a visual novel with dungeon-crawling rather than a big RPG like its sequels.

So, Persona 4 Golden is our light recommendation, but as long as you know what you're in for — and don't mind a big change going back or forwards — then you can start wherever!

That's all for our Persona guide for Switch owners. We're excited to see the mainline games finally make their way to Switch, and hopefully, we'll see even more Persona on the console in the future. Persona 4 Dancing All Night next, Atlus?