Metaphor: ReFantazio hands-on preview — Never played Persona, but I'm interested in this

Metaphor: ReFantazio promotional screenshot
I love the medieval fantasy-meets-modern sci-fi vibes of Metaphor: ReFantazio. (Image credit: SEGA)

I make a point of playing video games across a wide range of genres and from a vast variety of developers, publishers, and parts of the world. However, one franchise that has so far completely failed to elicit my interest is Persona. In fact, I've never been terribly drawn to any of the legendary JRPGs by SEGA subsidiary Atlus, also known for the Shin Megami Tensei series.

Despite Atlus massively improving its relationship with Xbox and bringing plenty of its games to Xbox Game Pass, I still haven't pulled the trigger. However, I recently got a chance to go hands-on with the upcoming debut of Atlus' all-new fantasy universe as a part of Summer Game Fest 2024, and it seems my lifelong Atlus drought is about to end. Metaphor: ReFantazio is coming to Xbox, Windows PC, PlayStation, and Xbox Game Pass later this year, and I'm actually kind of excited now.

What is Metaphor: ReFantazio?

Metaphor: ReFantazio — AWAKEN | Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC - YouTube Metaphor: ReFantazio — AWAKEN | Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC - YouTube
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Metaphor: ReFantazio is an all-new franchise from legendary JRPG publisher Atlus, and the debut title from the publisher's new developer Studio Zero, helmed by Persona director Katsura Hashino, character designer Shigenori Soejima, and composer Shoji Meguro. Metaphor: ReFantazio is particularly notable because it's the first all-original, pure fantasy universe from Atlus, which will undoubtedly attract new players (like me) that previously weren't drawn to Persona or Shin Megami Tensei.

Like other Atlus games, Metaphor: ReFantazio will be characterized by unique, strategy-based turn-based combat, third-person exploration, and the passage of time that will limit what you're able to accomplish during your playthrough and dynamically drive the game forward. The headlining feature of Metaphor: ReFantazio is the Archetypes, the meeting of spiritual, magical, and mechanical that grants the user unique powers and abilities that match their personality and world outlook.

In a first for Atlus, Metaphor: ReFantazio will actually launch day and date into Xbox and PC Game Pass, signifying Microsoft's efforts to improve relations with Japanese developers and publishers. Combined with being a brand-new IP, and it's clear why Metaphor: ReFantazio is an important, significant release for SEGA, Atlus, and Studio Zero. Metaphor: ReFantazio officially releases on Oct. 11, 2024 for Xbox, Windows PC, and PlayStation.

No history with Persona or Atlus

There are still a lot of unknowns about this story. (Image credit: Atlus)

I've not entirely neglected the massive, diverse, and decades-old JRPG genre of video games, as I greatly enjoyed titles like Chained Echoes and Scarlet Nexus. However, Persona simply hasn't landed on my radar as a series I'd be interested in, and nothing I've seen or heard has really convinced me otherwise. On top of that, only a limited number of the Windows Central team had the privilege of heading to Los Angeles for Summer Game Fest 2024, and none of us held any excitement for Metaphor: ReFantazio.

So, when an offer came in to go hands-on with the upcoming Atlus project, I agreed to go only because my schedule was the most accommodating for the preview. I went in not expecting much, similar to my Dune: Awakening preview. Also, similar to that preview, I left my Metaphor: ReFantazio hands-on far more intrigued by the game than when I first went in. Now, I'm keeping my eye on Metaphor: ReFantazio and its late-2024 release thanks to an hour of hands-on time that introduced me to the game's world, exploration, and combat.

I still have some lingering questions, like if the combat will be able to stay fresh over the entirety of the game's length, if the ever-marching time will introduce frustrations over missed content, and if the still-vague story will actually win a place in my heart. On another note, one of the biggest deterrents that has prevented me from considering Persona is the infamous length of that series' titles; how long will Metaphor: ReFantazio end up being, and will I be able to stay interested long enough to finish it?

Still, I'm feeling far more positive about the game now that I've spent an hour playing it.

Drawing me in and making me want more

I genuinely had a great time learning the ropes of this combat system. (Image credit: SEGA)

My hour-long hands-on demo was split into three parts: a story-focused prologue, an exploration-and-combat heavy dungeon, and a late-game boss fight. I didn't quite have time to fully explore the final section, but I learned something new from each part. For one, I was given the opportunity to begin learning about this gorgeous, detailed fantastical world.

The death of a king has thrown the world into turmoil, with the release of a mysterious magic setting into motion a bloody tournament that will determine the fate of everyone. What interests me most, however, is the premise that only you can unlock the latent powers hidden inside the companions and allies you make during your journey, increasing your strength as you take on hidden foes along your quest to save the world from chaos.

You play as a character that discovers the secrets of Archetypes, and is capable of drawing out this incredibly powerful magic from the people around you. I can't say that the overarching story of Metaphor: ReFantazio particularly excites me, but this focus on social features directly playing influencing your success does. During your time in Metaphor, you'll need to converse and steadily become closer with your companions in order to become more powerful — and you'll need that power to lift a terrible curse and hopefully survive the tournament embroiling the United Kingdom of Euchronia.

Your success in Metaphor will hinge on the bonds you build with your allies. (Image credit: Atlus)

Combat-wise, Metaphor: ReFantazio seems to be an evolution of what came before in Persona and other turn-based JRPGs. You'll have to carefully manage party members, abilities, and items as you exploit enemy weaknesses and defend your own, but there are some interesting elements here. For one, progressing through the game means unlocking and increasing the strength of your Archetypes, giving you access to powerful and unique abilities. On top of that, you have to manage your party's turns each round of combat, and can sacrifice those turns to pull off combined team moves known as "Synergies" that can turn the tide of battle if used carefully.

I wasn't completely sold on the value of exploration in the limited dungeon I had access to, and am still curious what secrets the world of Metaphor may hold, but the combat was at least a blast. Cleverly, you can dispatch weaker enemies you've leveled beyond with simple in-world attacks, only needing to go into the more in-depth turn-based battles to take on stronger foes. In battle, your options are diverse, and your opponents feel challenging but fair. The boss I took on at the end of my preview slew my entire party, but I felt that — if I had been given time for a second attempt — I could've prevailed with the new knowledge I gained.

At the end of my demo, I found that I still wanted to play. I'm a sucker for a great art style, and Metaphor: ReFantazio looked and felt like the best I've seen from Atlus, with beautiful 3D character models and great combat animations. The combat piqued my interest and held it for the entire demo, and I can see how the vast number of Archetypes will help keep Metaphor riveting and engrossing for dozens of hours. The possibilities contained within developing your relationships with your companions, the careful management of the limited time you have available to you, and the secrets of an all-new world are all exciting, too.

I'm not going to be rushing to preorder the Metaphor: ReFantazio Collector's Edition for $149.99 at Best Buy, but I'm definitely now keeping an eye on this compelling upcoming Xbox release. That's a lot more than I could say before Summer Game Fest 2024. I'll probably be playing it through Xbox Game Pass, but those who are even more interested than I am can preorder Metaphor: ReFantazio now across Xbox, Windows PC, and PlayStation.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.