Metaphor ReFantazio Hands On Preview
Image: Push Square

Metaphor: ReFantazio is a lot. We were only allowed to spend around an hour with Atlus’ upcoming RPG at this years’ Summer Game Fest, but in that time, we ran into egg enemies wearing boots; we acted like an ass to our other party members; we made kebabs with one of or companions; we also fought squid Jesus which had a heart for a head.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Metaphor: ReFantazio is dripping in excess, then. It’s also ridiculously stylish, almost noisily, but it pulls it off with such confidence. Text boxes are fractured, and both enemies and characters get colourful transitions between turns. The game does all of this effortlessly, all while taking place in some blended Neo-Medieval world which mixes high fantasy with steampunk with skyscrapers. We can’t think of another game that’s been this confident and stylish since, well, Persona 5.

We know that’s really cliche to say, but Atlus’ first new IP in years does feel like it borrows from the developer’s Persona series the most. Importantly, it also feels like a culmination of not just Persona, but everything the company has ever developed in its 35 year history. It’s weird, loud, beautiful, and full-to-bursting with things to do. We think that it’ll appeal to not just Persona fans, but anyone into turn-based RPGs in general.

From what we saw of the world, it feels so different to anything Atlus has ever made before. Huge towering buildings – of which we only saw through flashbacks and additional trailers. A city walled off from a vast, barren landscape a la Attack on Titan. A gigantic Masoleum dungeon with crumbling brickwork and dilapidated structures within. There are also cosy hamlets with cobbled streets and brick stone buildings. After becoming so familiar and adjusted to the modern-day settings or post-apocalyptic worlds of Persona and Shin Megami Tensei, Metaphor: ReFantazio feels so fresh. We can easily say there’s nothing else like the United Kingdom of Echronia.

There are plenty of differences from Atlus’ other series that set Metaphor apart. One is the protagonist, who you get to name and select dialogue choices as you would in Persona, but this time, he’s fully voiced. And at least during the English voice track – which, by the way, is sounding fantastic – we heard multiple different accents, from American, to Irish, to Liverpudlian. It’s a real breath of fresh air and, mix that with a variety of character designs, body types, and skin tones, and this feels like a fantastic step forward character-wise.

This peppering of new ideas and systems carries through into combat. Metaphor builds off of the press-turn system that we’ve become accustomed to in so many interesting ways. Even the way you initiate combat is important. You can attack an enemy on the field to whittle down their health – if weaker, you can actually defeat them on the field, but if they’re stronger, you’ll eventually stun them, giving you an advantage in battle.

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Regardless of how you enter a fight, once you hit the ‘Squad’ button, you and your party will line up for turn-based action. This is where Archetypes, the game’s job system, come into play. We only got to play with a handful of these, but there will be over 40 in the full game. Seeker is the protagonist’s base class which focuses on wind-based combat. Warrior, the noble Strohl’s starting class, is a high-damage job that can hit multiple enemies with sword slashes. Dancer is more about supporting the party and providing buffs and resistances. And all of these Archetypes have their own ‘Lineage’ – essentially, a job tree where these classes can evolve. Seeker’s last stage is the Soul Hacker, and honestly, we’re in love with these little callbacks.

Archetype skills range from big AOE damage moves to elemental spells, buffs, and heals – everything you’d expect in an RPG. But you can also see the passive skills each Archetype provides during combat, and these give stat buffs or increased elemental resistances, for instance. Skills, at least in the demo, were all relatively low MP cost, so the game is clearly encouraging you to use these extremely useful attacks to exploit enemy weaknesses and get those free turns.

Another new wrinkle comes with Synthesis, which sees two characters team up for a more powerful attack. These attacks often consume more than one turn – inducated by the crystals in the top left of the battle screen – but they’re almost always worth it. And the Synthesis skills available to you are determined by the characters in your party, the Archetypes equipped, and even the formation of your team. Our favourite little detail in combat is the fact you can change a character’s position by pressing up or down on the d-pad, and it doesn’t consume a turn! That’s pretty exciting for any RPG nut.

We love the combat, but we also admit that, with all of the visual noise, the new skills, and everything else going on, that it’s hard to get to grips with in a short space of time. The amount of options is pretty overwhelming, but it only makes us more eager to dig into all of the nuances and things we didn’t get to experience, like job progression, class swapping, and even more party compositions.

Against the demo boss – a huge sea beast that, yes, is a big kraken wearing a thorn crown – is where Synthesis skills came in handy. The beast has four tentacles that you have to take out to weaken the head, and Heismay, who came equipped with the Mage archetype, had access to all of the elemental spells. We quickly realised the boss was weak to Electric, and using Synthesis meant Heismay could use Kande (the electric spell) to attack all the tentacles and the boss and grant a free extra turn.

After getting rid of the tentacles, we then spent a turn buffing our protagonist before using Synthesis with him and Strohl for a powerful chariot attack. Some of these Sytthesis moves fit the brief for Metaphor to a tee – excess, over the top, and sometimes hilarious. Seeing the Seeker stand proudly atop a chariot with his sword pointing outward is so ridiculous but so epic. It was also a refreshing change of pace to find that this boss wasn’t a pushover, and we barely lost due to a late-fight mechanic that gave the monster four turns in one go.

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Our time with Metaphor was spent mostly in combat or exploring the Mausoleum dungeon, but there are plenty of other new features that we spotted. Fae Sight allows you to check an enemy’s level and “power” from a distance – if they’re blue, they’re weak; yellow means they’re about your level; red means they’re stronger than you. The dungeons also feel much different from Palaces or any other dungeon Atlus has ever crafted – bigger, with more branching paths and optional sections. We even picked up a quest right at the entrance to help a girl rescue her friend.

But the biggest change was during one of the few moments of downtime on board a steampunk-esque ship. Before a boss fight, we were allowed to spend our time with one of our friends, building our own 'social' stats. We could sharpen our swords with Strohl or read books with the fairy Gallica. We chose to make kebabs, which not only gave us food to consume, but also boosted a social stat. There also seems to be an entire cooking mechanic, with multiple recipes to collect, and specific ones can only be made with certain party members.

Frankly, an hour isn’t enough time to grasp everything Metaphor: ReFantazio is trying to do. It’s brash, bold, and brilliant in many ways, but it’s also a lot to take in – overwhelmingly so. The visuals, while fantastic, can sometimes drown out some of the text during fights. And there are lots of new systems involved that it’ll definitely take a while to ease into combat. But even with all that, Metaphor is truly shaping up to be an incredibly addictive RPG. We want to know more about the story, the characters, the world, and even the bonds you’ll forge, but even from just the combat alone, this could be one of 2024’s best games.

Are you excited for Metaphor: ReFantazio? Get metaphorical with us in the comments.