Metaphor: ReFantazio feels like a JRPG free from restraint and sanity

Metaphor: ReFantazio has been a long time in the making. It was announced in 2017 as Project re Fantasy through a weird long video that said very little. Since then, Atlus has swapped the Project for Metaphor and scoured Google Translate to find a cool way to say ‘fantasy.’ It’s also made a giant fantasy JRPG — and after rolling through a demo at Summer Game Fest last weekend, I’m dying to play it.

ReFantazio is the first original title by Studio Zero, a relatively new Atlus division headed up by Katsura Hashino. As the director of the third, fourth and fifth Persona game, Hashino is responsible for the Persona series’ pivot towards social simulation elements. After finishing up Persona 5, Hashino left P-Studio to work on all-new titles unrelated to Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series.

Atlus and Hashino are both known more for (semi-) grounded urban fantasy than wizards and elves, and ReFantazio in that sense represents a big departure. This is an epic, sprawling story covering a whole nation, the United Kingdom of Euchronia. The Euchronian king has been assassinated, and the people of the land must elect (!?) a new one. 

Euchronia is home to eight “tribes” (fantasy races) and our hero is trying to reunite them. There’s also a cursed prince who everyone thinks is dead, a royal tournament for the throne in six months and monsters everywhere. To make matters worse, Euchronia is being invaded by hideous, Hieronymus Bosch-inspired creatures called humans, which function as the game’s bosses. Humans, huh? Wonder if it’s a… metaphor?

Given Atlus’ storytelling history, the broad strokes of ReFantazio will probably make more sense than the moment-to-moment beats. Best to just let it wash over you.

The game takes place over the course of six months, and you’ll be traveling across Euchronia in a Gauntlet Runner (a cool ship designed by the Evangelion mech guy) trying to rally support for your entry into the royal tournament. Each town in the game has a tavern where you can grab a bite and gather information, a recruitment center where you can accept quests, various shops and an inn where you can rest. Completing quests and making friends along the way will gain you supporters among the various tribes, which is key to both the overarching story and the combat.


Atlus’ Summer Game Fest demo was segmented into three 15-minute chunks. The first was a training sequence of sorts, story-heavy and light on combat. This felt mostly like a showcase for ReFantazio’s cinematics, which were gorgeous, despite the TVs in the demo area being set to interpolate frames. Atlus has a tradition of showcasing top-quality anime in its games, and the demo clips were among the best I’ve seen. What I appreciated more than the quality of the animation was how closely the character designs and vibe of the game matched the cinematics.

Also memorable is the voice acting. For the English-speaking cast, Atlus is taking the “United Kingdom” of Euchronia very seriously, as everyone I ran into had a totally over-the-top British accent. As the owner of an English accent, I found the characters beyond theatrical but nonetheless enjoyable. At one point in the demo I met a hyper-cockney cat girl that could’ve been auditioning for Oliver.


In another segment, I fought alongside an adorable floppy-eared fellow from fantasy Liverpool who sounded like he was analyzing a soccer game. If none of this excites you, the Japanese voice cast seems to be shooting for a typical fantasy vibe. Personally, I can’t imagine playing this game in anything other than English at this point.

Not everything is voiced — as in a lot of JRPGs, key lines and conversations play out in full, but many interactions will be confined to text, with the voice actors emoting a little along the way for flavor. As a speed reader, this is absolutely fine by me.


Segment two was all about dungeon-crawling combat — time for the Persona comparisons! The setup here will be familiar to fans of Atlus games: It’s a turn-based JRPG, with various types of physical and magical attacks, status effects and ailments. ReFantazio’s version of the classic JRPG class system is Archetypes — there are 14 lineages containing over 40 unique Archetypes, including some familiar roles like Mage, Thief, Knight and Healer. 

There’s also a tactical element to party composition, with a front and back row playing a part in combat, and Synthesis moves that allow you to combine your party’s Archetypes for stronger attacks. Everything has a little Persona and SMT to it — you manage Archetypes in an Akademeia (similar to a Velvet Room), they can evolve through experience, and their proficiency in battle is linked to your bond with your supporters.


A twist on the classic turn-based formula — and one I’m very pleased about — is the Fast battle system. When you come across an enemy, you’ll be able to gauge their strength before initiating combat. The Fast system lets you target a particular enemy and strike them; this can insta-kill underpowered foes, which allows you to avoid turn-based battling entirely when grinding low-level enemies. For stronger foes, you can use Fast to butter them up and start a squad battle with advantage, but if you mess up this engagement you could start the turn-based combat on your ass. Other Atlus games have a similar risk-reward system to allow players to gain an advantage, but this is more nuanced and satisfying.

The interface for all of this is a typically gorgeous menu system and UI that feels more refined than ever. Simple actions are assigned a face button on the controller, which means less time spent in menus. It’s all pretty intuitive, and towards the end of my short demo I was already speeding through the turn-based combat without wondering what button did what. Taken as a whole, the combat system feels like a natural evolution to the classic formula Atlus is known for.


The final demo section starts inside the Gauntlet Runner. It’s a claustrophobic space, more submarine than super yacht, but filled with things to do. There are people to talk to, activities to partake in, and routes to choose. Similar to Persona, the game occuring over a fixed period means you likely won’t be able to do everything you want to, and instead need to decide how best to spend your time each day. You might try to level up one of the main character’s five traits — courage, wisdom, tolerance, eloquence and imagination — or perhaps focus on fighting monsters or earning cash. I played to type and read a book, which was sadly not enough to raise my courage from “craven.”

My cozy book session led immediately into the main show: a face-off against a giant human. This began with an anime sequence, which gave way to classic four-on-one combat. The human designs in this game are buckwild. This one was called, “Sea Horror Homo Sabara” and here are the Cliff’s Notes:

Long violet beard and eyebrows.

One yellow eye, one white eye, both glowing.

12 ears arranged in two rows? Edgy piercings.

Crown of thorns. Actually, make that two crowns of thorns.

Top half of head has been scalped. There seems to be a human heart sticking out.

Also, eight giant bejeweled tentacles as weapons.

It’s not like I haven’t seen crazy bosses in a JRPG before, but this octodad was a lot of fun to fight. There was no major challenge: Take out the tentacles, wail on the body, tentacles regenerate, repeat. But he hit hard, and the demo clearly set me up for success. It’s easy to see this guy wiping your team if you don’t come properly prepared.

Of all the things Atlus squeezed into the short Summer Game Fest, the human battle was the most memorable. From the lore being drip-fed to fans, it seems like the humans are actually from our world, and are being Isekai’d into Euchronia as these messed-up monsters. Here’s hoping a lot of them made it over.


At first blush ReFantazio feels like a real auteur moment for Hashino — as if, after the worldwide success of Persona 5, he’s basically been given a blank check. Hashino’s Persona titles bend over backwards to show you how cool and edgy they are, but the only concern for ReFantazio is how loud, confident and unique it can be.

Yes, there are elements borrowed from almost every Atlus RPG you can think of, but it’s all been remixed and refined. I left my brief time with ReFantazio filled with this wonderful milieu of nostalgia and surprise, a warm familiarity from something unlike anything I’d played before.

Metaphor: ReFantazio comes to PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Xbox Series consoles on October 11.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest 2024 right here!

This article originally appeared on Engadget at 

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