Image via Atlus

Preview: Metaphor: ReFantazio Evolves the Atlus JRPG Formula

At Anime Expo 2024, I had the chance to preview about 20 minutes with Atlus’ next major JRPG, Metaphor: ReFantazio. I came away the most impressed I have been in quite some time for a demo build of a game. This title feels like the next evolution of the Atlus JRPG formula and so much more than just a medieval spin Persona 5.

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Image via Atlus

The start of the demo allowed me to pick between three difficulty settings, which I don’t normally see for previews. I opted for the standard difficulty and the gameplay felt breezy enough but with just enough depth and challenge to tease what’s to come. From the one dungeon I played, it seems like the gameplay will be somewhere around the challenge of Persona 5 but not quite on the level of the Shin Megami Tensei series.

This early dungeon featured three party members, including the protagonist and two additional characters; Strohl and Hulkenberg. We were on a mission to track down a necromancer a gorgeous dungeon and defeat them. Without a doubt, the basis of Persona 5’s systems and stylization is present here, but Metaphor: ReFantazio iterates on almost every single one of those aspects.

For one, the dungeon felt absolutely massive and layered with so many different floors. The neat verticality mixed well with the occasional large-scale chambers to explore. This dungeon format felt less linear than some of the offerings for past Atlus titles, which made it more intriguing to explore. It helped, too, that there was a fair bit to see and do in the location.

Besides running around and battling monsters, there were even two side quests and objectives I ran across in the midst of the dungeon. These optional quests broke up the usual progression and provided solid reasons to explore every inch. The first came right at the start, as a side character tasked me with finding someone for her.

Image via Atlus

Then partway through the dungeon, I came across a group of people kidnapped by the villainous necromancer and locked in a room. I could find the key and free them if I wanted, which is what I did. This resulted in some optional fights and a surprising payoff to freeing the people. Without spoiling too much, it turned out the locked up people had to do with the other side quest I had to find the girl.

This intertwining nature of the side quests only made them more worth completion. Better yet, I appreciated the reward I got for these quests, which felt far more impactful than money or XP. While I won’t give away everything, this reward included an entirely new bond with a side character.

Unfortunately because I spent so much time on the side content, I didn’t have enough time to finish the dungeon. That said, I still had the chance to really dive into the fascinating hybrid-style combat. It reminds me of the recent The Legend of Heroes: Trails through Daybreak. You have the usual turn-based Atlus style plus some action combat as well.

With weaker foes, you can slice and dice them to death with the X button (PS5) without ever transitioning screens. However, with stronger enemies, you can hack-and-slash them to weaken or stun them. From there, you can transition to the usual Press Turn battles but with less work to do. Here, it works like you expect from Atlus in taking advantage of elemental weaknesses to earn more turns. There are some fun changes like team skills and the Archetype system.

Metaphor ReFantazio Anime Expo 2024 Preview
Image via Atlus

Instead of collecting Personas, players switch between JRPG jobs known as Archetypes. These include stuff like Warrior, Brawler, Knight, and more. They each come with their own elemental skills. In this way, Metaphor: ReFantazio feels like a solid mix of traditional Final Fantasy-style JRPGs and Atlus games.

But Metaphor: ReFantazio stands out even among its inspirations due to its stunning visual style. It continues the Persona 5 way of heavily stylizing every aspect. This includes everything from the characters to special effects to even the UI. However, I will go ahead and say it right now: this title already looks somehow significantly better than even Persona 5 Royal did. The smooth transitions in battles to the unique fonts to the richly detailed character art in the menus is extraordinary.

From my time with the sadly brief Metaphor: ReFantazio preview at Anime Expo 2024, this game simultaneously feels familiar but distinct. It carries its Persona 5 inspiration well while also carving out its own path. The hybrid combat, worthy side content, and unmatched art style makes it so much more than medieval Persona. Metaphor: ReFantazio excites me with what seems to be the next evolution of the Atlus JRPG formula.

Metaphor: ReFantazio will release for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on October 11, 2024.

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Cody Perez
Cody is a writer who has been sharing his love for video games and anime since his high school days in 2012. When he isn’t writing about the latest JRPGs and anime series, he can be found in Final Fantasy XIV, occasionally playing some Call of Duty, or lurking on Twitter @SoulcapCody.