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Metaphor: ReFantazio feels more familiar than I expected

The main character in an anime cutscene for Metaphor: ReFantazio.
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This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Heading into my demo of Metaphor: ReFantazio at Summer Game Fest Play Days, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to glean much from 45 minutes of playtime. While all of its trailers have been visually striking, I hadn’t really gotten a sense of how it played and wondered if Atlus and Studio Zero had gone too far with visual flair following the positive response to Persona 5’s user interface. Thankfully, Metaphor: ReFantazio felt more familiar than I’d expected.

Metaphor: ReFantazio feels like an unadulterated look at the kind of RPGs Atlus’ best developers would make if they weren’t restricted to the demon-collecting features ingrained into the core of Shin Megami Tensei and Persona. It has all the visual flair, as well as the in-depth RPG systems, of those games, but puts the gameplay focus more on Archetypes, which are essentially character classes, party member positioning, and Synergy abilities. It’s shaping up to be well worth the time of any Atlus RPG fan.

Metaphor: ReFantazio — AWAKEN | Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC

The first part of Metaphor: ReFantazio that I played was an early game slice that familiarized me with the basics of its story and gameplay. The wider narrative is about players competing in something called the Royal Tournament, but these early game exchanges were more thematically driven, hinting that Metaphor: ReFantazio will delve into the anxieties we all feel about our own identities and how societies that often like to portray themselves as utopias are often still filled with political corruption and prejudice against those thought of as different.

As an adventure that will likely last upward of 100 hours, I wasn’t able to glean more than that. I did get a good feel for the gameplay, though. Dungeons make their grand return here and feel a bit more expansive and interactive than what’s typical in Atlus RPGs. Players can actually attack enemies and deal some damage before even entering a fight. If the enemies are weak enough, battles can even be avoided altogether.

An archetype attacks in Metaphor: ReFantazio.

Once I entered a battle, I found flashy UI, but familiar gameplay. If you’ve ever played a turn-based RPG before, that’s the core of Metaphor: ReFantazio, with the major tweak being that the player can only do a certain number of actions every turn rather than every party member getting one attack. Going to the second part of the demo, I saw the big feature of the game: Archetypes.

Essentially, rather than have players recruit demons or create Personas, Metaphor: ReFantazio has a job system that you would find in a game like Bravely Default. These Archetypes have names like Warrior, Seeker, and Masked Dancer and come with unique passive buffs and abilities. For example, the Seeker is a very support-oriented archetype. On top of that, there are very powerful synthesis attacks that use a lot of turn actions.

Once I got my head around this system, I found that Metaphor: ReFantazio is actually a pretty familiar-feeling RPG, albeit one with a lot of visual flair inspired by anime and European architecture. It won’t do anything to win genre haters over, but the gameplay systems sang as I entered the final part of my demo, a speculator boss fight on the Gauntlet Runner that serves as players’ mobile base of operations.

A battle in Metaphor: ReFantazio.

Considering that the Gauntlet Runner will also be home to this game’s version of social links, which improve various “Virtues” of the main character, Persona fans should find a lot of familiarly here as well. It’s great to see the creators of Persona finally get their chance at a new IP. Studio Zero and Atlus take a couple of bold swings, but are still making the kind of game they are best at.

Metaphor: ReFantazio will be released for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S will be released on October 11.

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Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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