We are less than a month away from release of Persona 5, and if you’re like me, you can’t wait to get your hands on it. In the meantime, why not sample some of Atlus’s other amazing games? I’m abiding by a couple rules: Atlus-developed games only, and no games with the same titles.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (2016, Wii U)
You might not expect this, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the best RPG on the Wii U, and a sleeper hit of 2016. It might not be the gritty crossover fans wanted, but those who gave it a chance were rewarded with a stellar combat system and a story full of quirky characters. Developed by Atlus under Nintendo’s supervision, it takes gameplay elements from both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem and fuses them with a charming, but still dark, story about the entertainment industry in modern-day Tokyo. You play as Itsuki Aoi, a high schooler who gains the ability to become a Mirage Master. Mirages are similar to Personas, but in the context of this game the spirit of classic heroes from Fire Emblem. The story is not really that complex for Atlus’ standards, but it’s serviceable and the characters and gameplay were so on point that it outshined my gripes with the story. The gameplay is similar to Persona, as you explore certain districts of Tokyo when you aren’t in dungeons, and there’s a lot of style and wide use of colors used in these segments. Dungeons are fun to navigate, and battles play out like a combination of mainline SMT, Persona, and Fire Emblem, including mechanics like the weapon triangle and a new take on the press turn system. Your party can even use parts of monsters to expand their weapons and classes. The voice acting is all in Japanese, and the music and performances sound great, which is to be expected since a lot of the game deals with the Japanese Idol industry. Even if an Idol-centric story isn’t your bag, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is worth your time if you are looking for great mix of SMT and Fire Emblem.
Catherine (2011, PS3 & Xbox 360)
If the music and visuals of P5 are calling to you, then what you need is Catherine; it’s an absolute must-play, and it was even developed as a “test” for making Persona 5. You play as Vincent, a 32-year-old man down on his luck and unsure if he should marry his girlfriend of five years, Katherine. One day at a bar he frequents, he drunkenly goes home and sleeps with a mysterious girl name Catherine. From this point on, every night Vincent wakes up in a terrifying nightmare realm where he and other men have been turned into sheep and are forced to climb up numerous towers of blocks to survive. Worst of all, anyone who falls of the tower while climbing dies in the real world. This is where the majority of the gameplay of Catherine is, as you progress the towers by manipulating blocks to climb further and further, kind of like Qbert with more player input. It’s an interesting take on the puzzle genre that appeals to people who aren’t fans of puzzle solving. When not climbing towers at night, Vincent spends his time talking to various patrons of the bar or to his friends, and there’s a good amount of player choice that comes into play here. Despite the supernatural aspects, the game deals with many real and mature themes while still keeping the story personal. Featuring multiple endings based on alignment from the choices made, you’ll want to see all the twists Vincent’s life can take. This game also features one of the best dubs the company has ever produced, and the quality of talent on display here is splendid. Catherine is a testament to what the Atlus seal of quality means, proving their staff can handle any genre they are given to work with.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold (2015, 3DS)
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is one of the best dungeon RPGs I’ve ever played. While entries of this series lean on the harder side, the Etrian Odyssey games are perfect for any RPG fan looking for a good challenge. EO2U is a 3D remake of the second game, and features a new story mode and characters made just for this release. I recommend most people start with this title, as it exudes more personality and quality then I’ve seen from the series previously. EO2U is easily the best entry in the series as it combines the gameplay I love with more personality and quality than any other entry in the series. You play as the Fafnir Knight, who awakens to a demonic power while escorting a princess to perform a special ritual. These titles are usually gameplay-centered, but I have no problems recommending EOU2 for its charming cast of characters and interesting plot. The EO series has an interesting spin on the DRPG formula of grid based, first person exploration. You’ll have to use the bottom screen of the 3DS to draw your own maps of the dungeons, meaning you’ll live and die on your own cartography skills. In any of the plethora of dungeons available, there’s a variety of side quests to accomplish, enemies to slay, and materials to collect. Exploration and combat is in first person, but the mechanics and UI are so well presented that it never feels cheaply made. The music and voice acting is also incredibly well done- possibly the best in the series. There’s also a classic mode available for purists, which has less emphasis on story and focuses entirely on exploring dungeons. Be warned, though: these games are extremely hard and while this is better for newcomers, expect a challenge.
Radiant Historia (2011, DS)
Radiant Historia is probably one of the most underrated games developed by Atlus. What’s Radiant Historia? Imagine if Atlus took a spin on Chrono Trigger, but had their own dark charm at the forefront. Radiant Historia is a time travel-themed RPG on the DS that has you play as Stocke, a man who is given a book called the White Chronicle, letting him bend the fabric of space and time. The world Stocke is in is dying at a rather fast rate, and it’s up to him to jump between two very different timelines to figure out what’s causing this. Players are given a gigantic flowchart they can jump all around, which is rare for an JRPG to have, but Radiant Historia handles this gameplay mechanic flawlessly. There are also numerous decisions to be made, and they can split off and even lead to one of the many bad endings spread out through the timeline. Bad endings are important in their own right however, as they can provide necessary information, so seeing seeing them all is very vital. You’ll want to see and do as much as you can to try and save the world and those closest to Stocke. The story isn’t the only thing that works well, as the interesting grid-based combat system keeps players on their toes. You traverse numerous locations in the world, and when you encounter enemies on the field you hit them to engage in combat, similar to Chrono Trigger. With its flowchart and unique take on RPG traditions, I’m really sad this game isn’t talked about more. The only thing I think is bad about Radiant Historia is the fact that we still don’t have a sequel.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker (2015, 3DS)
I saved the best for last, and for good reason. Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker is a perfect blend of the hardcore gameplay that Shin Megami Tensei fans crave and the writing and characterization that makes the Persona games so appealing. Record Breaker is a complete remastering of the standalone, original DS strategy game Devil Survivor 2 but with a rewritten script, voice acting, and a new epilogue story with 30 more hours of content. An app is being spread around Tokyo called Nicaea, which is rumored to show people videos of their friends just as they are about to die. After witnessing this phenomenon, the protagonists and his friends’ world is turned upside down when demons and an alien race, known as the Septentriones, begin to invade Earth. During the invasion, the Nicaea reveals a hidden feature- A demon summoning app. He and his friends must use the tools provided to them to tame, fuse, bid for, and battle the demons all over the city of Tokyo to survive. You must budget your time wisely when not in battle, and being careless with the story events you do can have serious consequences. The choices you make here and in dialogue options can affect the fate of your cast, as they can actually die if you make reckless decisions. Missions are grid-based, similar to something like Final Fantasy Tactics, but in battle they turn into traditional first person SMT-like engagements. You’ll assign a party of up to four people two demons each and have to manage skills and attributes of your human characters and their demon servants. This is another one of those games that’s pretty challenging, but incredibly rewarding if you master its systems. Extensive New Game + and multiple branching paths provide a lot of replay value.
I hope any of these games caught your eye! Let us know below what your favorite Atlus game is below!