Metaphor: ReFantazio Hands-on Preview

In a nutshell:

  • We tested out the demo for Metaphor: ReFantazio during Summer Game Fest 2024, and it plays similarly to Persona with its own unique visual design.
  • The story features a alternate world where we encounter entities known as “humans” who are represented as monsters, and our heroes control “archetypes” that boost their battle prowess.
  • The demo features a rich combat system, activities to boost stats, and tactical boss fights that test your skills to deviate slightly from the familiar Persona system.

Metaphor: ReFantazio is by far one of my most anticipated games of 2024. Developed by Studio Zero, it is a curious title that many would ask a question, how is it different from Persona? The answer is, the wrapping may be different, but it doesn’t deviate much from its inspirational material. That’s not such a bad thing, to be quite honest.

We tried the title during Summer Game Fest, and despite having almost the same mechanics, it doesn’t take much to note the excellent production design and its exceptional visuals and stylish UI.

There were three modes of play available during our demo: Prologue, Exploration, and Boss Battle. While it gives us just a quick taste of what’s to come, I would say that it piqued our interest enough that it certainly demands our full attention when it eventually drops this October!

Metaphor: ReFantazio is Persona with NieR’s story

As you begin your journey in the prologue of Metaphor: ReFantazio, you control your hero, and a prince, Strohl, soon joins your party. For the most part, you learn about the world and how it defends itself from the danger known as “humans”. At this point in the game, combat is still basic where you can attack, use skills and items, and Strohl is completely AI controlled.

You explore a small dungeon and defend yourself from “humans” and collect treasure. The exploration part works similarly to Persona 3 Reload where the traversal choices remind me of exploring Tartarus. You can dash by holding down the right trigger button and you can engage enemies by striking them. The biggest difference is you can enter turn-based combat by pressing the Y button.

Metaphor: ReFantazio Combat

Just like Persona 3, if you corner an enemy unaware, you gain initiative. You can also inflict status effects on them when you gain this type of initiative. For example, if the enemy is stunned, you get a free turn to inflict more damage. We’ve noticed that the spells don’t have similar names to Persona’s Shin Megami Tensei roots, which is a good indicator that it isn’t tied to Shin Megami Tensei, giving Metaphor: ReFantazio its own identity.

Metaphor ReFantazio Squad

How about we stop here for a bit to admire just how visually striking Metaphor: ReFantazio is? The character designs are top notch, and of course, allow me to gush with the menu and typeface design. I’m a sucker for Persona’s stylish menus, but with Metaphor: ReFantazio, I’m just completely at awe with the way it implements its spacing and white space. Knowing that we’ll be spending a lot of time in these screens, it’s good to know we have access to these visually appealing menus.

The music of Metaphor: ReFantazio is also worth noting. The bombast of Persona 3 takes a backseat in favor of a more epic orchestra flair similar to Catherine’s orchestral tune. In fine Shoji Meguro fashion, it completes the trifecta of beautiful character designs by Soejima and the high energy direction of Hashino to deliver the same feel of the Persona 3 that I’ve played and loved.

As we complete the prologue with the conventional unwinnable boss fight, we finally receive our archetype after a brief cutscene teasing “the truth of the world”. The hero (or Travelling Boy), tears a hole in his chest revealing a mechanical heart. If this gives you some serious NieR vibes, you are not alone. I’m curious to see where this plot point will take us, but for now, consider my curiosity piqued.

Metaphor: ReFantazio Boss

A Promising Title From The Persona Team

The meatier side of my experience with Metaphor: ReFantazio is how we traverse through the exploration mode. You receive a mission to explore a dungeon held by a nefarious necromancer. Through some of the story details after encounter a Paripus Woman, Catherina (pink haired and obsessive… does she remind you of another character?), the necromancer has taken prisoners and are using them as fodder for his experiments.

After agreeing (or not agreeing) to take this side quest, it is now time to see how much of the game has to offer. As compared to the Prologue, where you start off as a level 1 character, here you’re mostly in your Level 10s. Strohl returns to your party with the swordsman archetype, and you’re joined by Hulkenberg (my vote for strangest name of the year), an elf with a knight archetype.

For the most part, combat still largely remains the same with the exception of having stronger enemies to encounter. Same as before, you can sneak up to enemies and then enter combat mode with an advantage. However, when you encounter weaker enemies, instead of entering combat, you can quickly dispatch them by attacking.

Metaphor ReFantazio Dungeon

The game is a strange mix of action-RPG and turn-based hybrid, and it’s worth noting that while you can attempt this mechanic with stronger enemies, note that you will eventually have to enter a squad-based battle or be forced into one when you are attacked by an enemy. Just like when you receive an advantage for sneak attacking an enemy, an enemy will gain an advantage by doing the same to you.

Personally, a pet peeve of mine in Persona is needlessly entering into combat with weaker enemies. By dispatching them like this in Metaphor ReFantazio, there is an extra quality of life advantage by saving you a bit of time while not losing out on momentum. This will also keep you on your toes when exploring a higher-level dungeon as well.

About a few minutes into your exploration, you will be able to complete the side mission given to you by Catherina. You’ll encounter some of the aforementioned prisoners and complete Catherina’s quest. In doing so, you’ll be able to unlock a bond that allows your protagonist to learn the Brawler Archetype. This is akin to the Social Links in Persona with an added Metaphor: ReFantazio twist.

Metaphor ReFantazio Bonds

At this point, you’re prompted to select your Archetype screen in the menu bar, which features a detailed skill tree for your protagonist to mix and match skills with your archetype. We didn’t get a chance to fully explore this capability, but we’ll be adding it to our list of things to fully delve into when we finally play Metaphor: ReFantazio in the future.

That was just a small taste of how exploration will go in Metaphor: ReFantazio. As we have limited time left on our playtime, we were able to try out the final aspect of the demo: The Boss Battle.

The Battle For Our Pride

Metaphor ReFantazio Activity

This part of the demo allowed us to explore your headquarters, and we took advantage of this opportunity to try out new characters that we didn’t use during the prologue and exploration stage. At this point, we saw some of the many subtle differences between Persona and Metaphor: ReFantazio.

During this phase in Metaphor: ReFantazio, we can increase our stats and archetype bonds by interacting with some of the characters. You can cook with Strohl or clean the decks to increase your HP. Just like Persona, there is a day and night phase, and by ending your phase, you will take advantage of these changes. Also, as we’re not on Earth, our days are separated by the world’s calendar: Arboursday and Idlesday are some of the days we’ve witnessed, which is a curious change.

Metaphor ReFantazio Weak

We were able to challenge a fearsome sea beast when we began the night phase. Unlike the previous encounters, we now have access to all four squad slots allowing you to fully utilize your party to its fullest extent. We also start out in a much later state of the game, meaning our characters are past certain thresholds and many of our abilities are on full display.

A curious mechanic in Metaphor: ReFantazio that is similar to Persona is how we can stack attacking weak points in order to increase our extra moves. Either by taking advantage of elemental weaknesses or physical weaknesses, we can turn the tide by stacking these moves. As a veteran of Persona, we were able to make quick work of the opponent by sticking to one clear strategy.

In this phase, we were able to see the full capabilities of the archetypes in action. Our protagonist is the healer, Hulkenberg (fitting to her name) is the tank that buffs defense and takes all the aggro, Strohl is our physical damage dealer, and a magic user who can take advantage of the Sea Beast’s fire weakness.

Metaphor ReFantazio Archetype

October is still quite far, but by this time, we’re liking what we’re seeing, and Metaphor: ReFantazio is off to a promising start that further cements 2024 as the year that Atlus fans are eating good.

Metaphor: ReFantazio launches on October 11, 2024 on the PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

Our Summer Game Fest 2024 coverage is powered by Lenovo Philippines and Lenovo Legion.

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