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Metaphor: Refantazio Already Feels Primed to Be Another Atlus Cult Classic

They’ve done it again.

Metaphor: Refantazio
Sega

The release of Persona 5 in 2016 was a pivotal moment for Atlus, catapulting a niche RPG series about high schoolers into the mainstream. Persona has become a veritable phenomenon, and at the same time, Atlus has become a household name. I know comparing things to Persona 5 can be a tired practice at this point, but its influence on Metaphor: Refantazio is clear to see, from the striking art style to the combat. Even with that Persona foundation, Metaphor feels like something fresh and new, Atlus using its expertise to create an expansive new world begging to be explored. This has the potential to be a cult classic, just waiting to be unleashed.

At Summer Game Fest, we were able to play through a three-part demo of Metaphor: part story, part battles, and the final one a mix of social elements and a boss battle. It’s practically impossible to get a read on a 100-hour RPG story with just a little snippet, but Metaphor’s setup is undoubtedly compelling. The game’s fantasy world is supposed to be a “mirror” of the contemporary world, one wracked by strife and tension between the eight different races. After the current king is assassinated, something called the Royal Magic is activated, meaning anyone can become the next king by gaining enough support from the people. You’re one of those hopeful candidates.

Meataphor will feature a fully-voiced protagonist.

Sega

That’s inherently a strong setup, but it’s bolstered by some stellar voice acting and absolutely jaw-dropping visual design. At this point, Atlus’ calling card is visuals, but Metaphor, somehow, manages to feel like a step up from what the studio has done before, an indulgent feast for your eyes.

Every single menu and interface element is weaved into the game’s toon-shaded art style, which manages to simultaneously evoke a medieval gothic feel and that of a colorful fantasy anime. These clash of tones give Metaphor a unique identity that manages to sidestep feeling generic in any way, especially when you finish a battle and a dazzling splash screen pops up, or you enter the menu and visual elements weave in and out. I consistently found myself thinking that the game’s menus, fully interactive, looked like incredible pieces of concept art.

But apart from the visuals, our main experience was with the game’s turn-based combat system, which is equally stellar. The battle system is surprisingly fast, with your party and the enemy taking turns. During your turn, you have a specific number of action points, which can be used to issue orders to your party members. On the surface, things are exceedingly similar to Persona, with basic attack, skill, item, and guard commands. Where the twist comes in is with Metaphor’s job system, which is called archetype.

While we didn’t have the opportunity to really dig into the job system, it seems like the Archetypes will let you highly customize your party members. This makes each character feel like they have a specific role to fill. In our playthrough, a party member named Strohl was a knight, which meant he was great at soaking up damage and unleashing heavy physical attacks. It’s easy to see how the Archetypes will let you mix and match things, and come up with varying strategies for each character.

Metaphor’s menus look so good they could practically be paintings.

Sega

What felt like the biggest change, though, were Synthesis Attacks, a feature that lets two party members team up, using an extra turn and extra MP, to unleash a massive attack. These synthesis versions often integrally change how a character’s skill works, like making a buff apply to the whole party, or a single strike hit every enemy in a battle. These synthesis attacks open up a wealth of new strategies, but you need to be careful using them as you can easily overextend yourself and not have any turns left for healing or defense.

While I didn’t have time to acclimate to all of the combat system’s complexities, by and large, I feel like Metaphor is going to have quite a bit more depth than Persona in that regard. The options available already feel expansive, and that became even more true when I played the boss battle that gave me four party members instead of three. The fight also almost wiped me out.

The boss is a horrific octopus creature with a human face, and four individual limbs that attack. Taking down the limbs stops the extra damage and momentarily stun the boss, but the enemy can also inflict a variety of status effects on the party, including one that prevents them from using synthesis attacks and getting healed. What a doozy.

Metaphor’s combat feels quick and snappy, feeling familiar but new all at once.

Sega

Without a selection of healing items, I never would have overcome this boss, but I wonder how much my approach could have changed if I was able to test out different jobs and party compositions. The other big change to combat is the addition of light action elements. Essentially with weaker enemies, you can use action attacks to defeat them immediately, without having to go into a turn-based battle. Use action attacks on larger enemies to get an advantage when you go into battle, and instantly reduce enemy health bars. Of course, the same can be done to you.

Before the boss battle, I had a chance to briefly walk around your home base vehicle, the Gauntlet Runner. On this vehicle, you may try social activities that move time along, like cooking dishes with beneficial effects, reading a book, or spending time with allies to deepen your relationship.

After spending a tea break with Metaphor, it feels almost like an evolution of the Persona formula, an attempt to use those systems that players love so much in something that can be narratively and mechanically different. Persona’s style and gameplay have inspired so many other games, and now it feels like it’s all looping back around to inspire Atlus itself again. The tantalizing taste I had was more than enough to feel like Atlus has a three-course meal to offer RPG fans later this year.

Metaphor: Refantazio launches on October 11 for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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