Article / ICYMI · Preview

Metaphor: ReFantazio Hands-On at Summer Game Fest

A close-up of Metaphor: ReFantazio's protagonist looking serious

Even after a thorough, excellent trailer showing off a variety of things Metaphor: ReFantazio will offer us when it releases in October, I wasn’t convinced that it would do enough to justify its existence as, ostensibly, a Persona spin-off set in a (mostly) medieval world.

After getting about 45 minutes to play through three separate scenarios, Metaphor: ReFantazio is more than just Persona without indoor plumbing. Besides, the first dungeon in Persona 5 is a castle anyway. It’s proof that the team at Atlus knows how to build on what has come before, pulling in concepts not just from their flagship series, but also Shin Megami Tensei to create something that doesn’t necessarily feel wholly new, but it does feel whole.

The first thing that struck me, before even loading up the three scenarios, is that this game is just disgustingly stylish, just like the last few Persona titles, but of course, its look and sound match its new setting. Everything looks a little more muted, a little less splashy, and just a lot more grimy, but there are still amazing loading screens, a slick, beautiful menu, and a stylish presentation for button actions in combat. Combine all that with an excellent score featuring operatic vocals and swelling strings in place of the jazzy or moody pieces we’ve come to expect from this game’s forebears, and it all comes together to create its own aesthetic that is appropriate to the new setting of Metaphor, and it’s decidedly my speed.

Dungeon Design & Action Combat

The first scenario I played through was essentially a tutorial, introducing us to the first “Archetype” our protagonist will pick up. He’s interacting with his guide, a fairy named Gallica. You get a variety of options to pick while chatting with your companion, but this time, the protagonist actually gets voiced lines when he responds. I’m not sure how much impact these choices will have outside of the “social links” in this game, but it sure is a nice change of pace to hear the protagonist when he speaks, and it helps add additional flavor to the proceedings.

After the brief chat, we got thrust into a tutorial dungeon, but it’s most helpful to talk about the second portion of the demo to cover everything we saw in the dungeon. To start, the feel of the dungeon, which is a Mausoleum, is somewhere between a more typical medieval fantasy RPG and Persona 5‘s Palaces. You still explore hallways with roaming monsters and find treasure chests, but it doesn’t necessarily feel as loud as a Palace.

There are technically two types of combat in Metaphor: ReFantazio. The first is more action-based, where you can attack enemies in the field. Which attack you use is based on your class (something we didn’t get to spend much time with), so we got to whack away at them with our sword. If it’s a weaker enemy, they go down with a few slashes, but if it’s a more powerful enemy, the hits allow you to gain advantage in the turn-based system, known as “Squad” battles.

If you take the advantage, the battles begin with you dealing out massive damage to the enemies, and they will be stunned for a turn. On the other hand, if you get ambushed by an enemy, they will start with the advantage. I was ambushed once and came awfully close to dying in combat, so it’s worth noting that you want to avoid this. Overall, it’s a super slick system with an engaging loop. The action element keeps you engaged as you run through the dungeon, and the turn-based system is simply marvelous.

Turn-Based Combat in Metaphor: ReFanazio

So, let’s talk a little about that marvelous combat. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the combat really does pull in some of the best elements of both SMT and Persona, all while having its own flavor. To start, they’ve brought back Shin Megami Tensei‘s “Press Turn” system, which means you get charges for the number of attacks you can use, and hitting enemy weaknesses earns you more charges. You have a few different attack types to choose from as well, with your basic melee attack, magic, or a “Synthesis” attack where you can pair up two members of your party to unleash a more powerful attack. Party positioning also matters, so you want to be mindful of placing your party members in the front or back to bolster their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. Conveniently, you can switch positioning on the fly with a quick press of a button, allowing you to adjust your strategy as you go.

All of this, combined with the incredibly cool animations, over-the-top attack transitions between you and your enemies, and a UI clearly inspired by the last few Persona titles, makes the turn-based combat quick, flashy, and deeply satisfying, satiating not only people like me who want a more strategic combat system, but also those who are attracted to the glitz and glamour of some other Atlus titles. The absolutely fantastic music certainly helped a lot, too.

But some recognizable battle elements aren’t all that’s familiar in Metaphor. In the final scenario, we found ourselves on a ship with members of our party littered throughout. It was about time to go into a boss battle, but before that, we needed to spend some time socializing with our party. I decided to sharpen my blade with Strohl, a fellow lover of the sword. During the chat I had dialogue options, and, as you would expect, when I selected the right one, I got points for the conversation toward my social stats. While this is clearly derivative, the conversation was actually pretty brief, and as a person who can sometimes get frustrated by lengthy social links in Persona games, it was a nice change of pace.

After chatting with the party, we got thrust into the boss battle against a giant squid monster. And let me tell you, the battle was tough, though the people running the demo were cheering me on the whole time. There were four different tentacles, and even after I took each one down to prevent myself from getting overwhelmed by the attacks, they respawned. Right when I was on the cusp of victory (or defeat—it was pretty close), my time with the demo ran out, but I had a huge smile on my face the whole time. Challenges like this are absolutely what I come to these games for, and it’s good to know that it will deliver on this front.

To be frank, there’s a lot I didn’t have a chance to experiment with in my time with the demo. I stuck with the base Archetypes (job classes) throughout both the dungeons and the boss fight. I didn’t gain any levels, so I’m not sure how those stats are assigned, but needless to say, if the 45 minutes I spent in front of the TV, leaning forward, smiling at a new detail every minute is any indication, I’m going to love Metaphor: ReFantazio. If you’re even slightly interested in either the Persona series or the Shin Megami Tensei series, I’m confident you will, too.

Metaphor: ReFantazio releases on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on October 11th, 2024. Be sure to stay tuned to RPGFan for more news on the promising title as we move closer to release! Learn more about the game’s Deluxe and Collector’s Editions with links to pre-order on the official Metaphor: ReFantazio website.

We close out with some brand-new Metaphor: ReFantazio screenshots, and you can see more on our game hub.

Be part of the conversation and join us on our Discord, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Zach Wilkerson

Zach Wilkerson

After avidly following RPGFan for years, Zach joined as a Reviews Editor in 2018, and somehow finds himself helping manage the Features department now. When he's not educating the youth of America, he can often be heard loudly clamoring for Lunar 3 and Suikoden VI.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.