Metaphor ReFantazio plays like Persona and Shin Megami Tensei’s greatest hits – and that’s a good thing when it’s a compilation of absolute bangers

Back in 2002, Iron Maiden released one of their now numerous ‘greatest hits’ albums, Edward the Great. Kicking off with Run to the Hills and ending with the iconic Rock in Rio version of Fear of the Dark, the album was my first taste of Maiden’s extensive back catalogue. It was hypnotic to me, delicious, heady, over-the-top, camp. Believe it or not, I got the exact same feeling from Atlus’ upcoming RPG, Metaphor ReFantazio, when I played it at Gamescom Latam this week. Let me explain.

If you’re not familiar with Atlus’ recent output, the Japanese developer excels at making proper RPGs, and I feel it helps to liken them to music genres. The most recent release, Shin Megami Tensei 5 Vengeance, is like metalcore – edgy and angry and loud – and feels like a proper hardcore PS2 game (complimentary). The Pesona games – with a remake of its moody, emo third entry hitting shelves earlier this year – are a bit poppier than their parent series. The pop punk to MegaTen’s metal edge.

So what does that make Metaphor ReFantazio, the peculiar new IP from Atlus and Sega due to launch later this year? Probably prog rock, to be honest. But hey, hear me out – prog is good now! The way it samples all the best bits of the other genres, groovy bass lines and chugging riffs and clean and harsh vocals melding together to bring you something that sounds kinda familiar… but is wholly its own beast.

That’s Metaphor ReFantazio. If you’ve got even so much as a passing familiarity with Atlus other games, you’re going to recognise a lot of the constituent parts here. That oh-so-moreish Press Turn battle system that feels wholly copped from SMT3. A really bold and unique music direction from Shoji Meguro that, honestly, sounds more like the oft-overlooked Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey than anything more mainstream. Character designs that look like Persona fell into the washing machine with a JRR Tolkein book.

Battle screen in Metaphor Refantazio that looks a bit like a renaissance painting
Is it just me, or does this look like something by Hieronymus Bosch? | Image credit: Atlus

You see why I’m saying it feels like a heavy metal Greatest Hits album? None of these elements feel particularly new – it plays, sounds, and looks a bit like stuff I’ve played before – but that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, I love it. It’s cherry-picked all the best bits of previous projects to serve up a tight, fun curio of a game that’s all killer, no filler. Back-to-back chart-topping ideas, with none of the guff to hold it down.

You know how a lot of bands will slap a bonus track at the end of their Greatest Hits to encourage more sales or get you to re-buy a load of music you already own? Well, ReFantazio sort-of does that with a mechanic. Enter ‘archetypes’, or – to nick a bit of Final Fantasy jargon – ’jobs’. Different specialisations your main cast of characters can equip and progress (via Persona-like social links, basically). Confirmed types are as follows, with a quick bio on what they do:

Seeker – a versatile, adaptable, your ‘starting class’

Mage – target weaknesses with magic, get more Press Turns

Thief – steal, mug, and use multi-hits

Brawler – get up close and clobber your foes

Warrior – more aggressive and DPS-focused

Knight – just don’t call it a tank

Healer – your bog-standard white mage by any other name

Commander – provides buffs and can help move party members about

Gunner – sits in the back row and peppers enemies from afar

Merchant – remember the move ‘Nab Gil’? That, but a whole class

Faker – feint and style it out

Party select screen in Metaphor Refantazio, featuring a little rabbit fella.
Even the party screen looks absolutely stunning – killer UI is a staple in Atlus games, now. | Image credit: Atlus

Being able to slot into these reminds me most of, oddly, Final Fantasy X-2. Seeing the cast in Metaphor stylishly morph and twist into their different archetypes really reminded me of watching Yuna and her end-of-the-world idol group dance into different jobs as you beat up the remnants of definitely-not-the-Catholic Church in Spira 2.0. That’s one of my favourite FF battle systems, as it happens, so it feels like Atlus is even cribbing a few samples from other artists, at this point.

Not that I’m complaining. I only got to do a few mobs and a boss in my time with the game, but already you can see how the rhythm works. You can even opt for real-time combat to batter mobs of enemies, cutting through the low-level chaff that can make grinding through Atlus dungeons a real chore (looking at you, Tartarus). If you’re buff enough, just mash the action button a few times and dispatch mobs in a moment, instead of transitioning to a squad battle.

And here, there’s a new level of tactical catnip we’ve not seen in an Atlus title before: front and rear positions in the party. Got a gunner? They’re useless up front, pop ‘em in the back and get a knight to guard them. Have a merchant toss coins from the back whilst a soldier pokes with a sword. Form a defensive ring around your Commander whilst they bestow ludicrous buffs all around them. The potential for tactical foreplay is heady. The implementation is butter-smooth. The way Atlus is going to make ‘boss encounter puzzles’ with it has me drooling.

A big, angry moon bears down on the party - a screen in Metaphor Refantazio
That wizard looks like a moon. | Image credit: Atlus

Playing this game on a busy show floor is not enough. I need it yesterday. Atlus, I have long attested, is one of the best to ever do it, and its current reign of supremacy looks to be entering its experimental phase with Metaphor: ReFantazio. But this isn’t going to be like Fleetwood Mac going from Dreams to Tusk, it’s like Muse going from Showbiz to Origin of Symmetry; Atlus has perfected its instruments, and now it’s really time to jam.

Metaphor: ReFantazio launches October 11, 2024 for Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4/5 and Steam.

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