So this is going to be a bit of a different post from the usual kinds! I wouldn’t really call this a review or a discussion exactly as I mainly want to talk about the Persona series, particularly Persona 4, and it’s impact on me. With Persona 3, 4, and 5 finally branching out from being PlayStation exclusives, now seemed like the perfect time to talk about the series and hopefully inspire some people to give it a chance!
My journey with the Persona series starts way back when in 2013 when I was experiencing a lot of change in my life. The biggest thing was the fact that I was no longer going to public school and was instead taking my high school classes online at home. Rather then spending so much time at school, my schedule changed to me doing what I could on my own in the morning and then waiting for my mom to come home at night to help me with the rest. And what I could do on my own wasn’t too much so I ended up having a lot of time to myself as a result. And for any kid that hates school, this was a dream come true! Or I thought it was going to be anyways. That was until I realized that while I no longer went to school my friends still did. So hopping on to Xbox and joining a party chat was still something I’d have to wait until the afternoon to do. And that was the main kind of gaming I did back then! Playing games like Halo while chatting with my friends was always the go to. But now I had to look for an alternative while I waited. So I decided to look into some more single player games to play, which is when I finally gave some traditional JRPGs a try!
It’s pretty funny looking back on it actually. JRPGs are some of my favorite games to play now but for the early part of my life I didn’t even want to give them a try. As a kid I didn’t really understand the concept of turn based battles. I would seriously get annoyed that I wasn’t able to dodge an attack because my characters would just stand there and take the hit when it wasn’t my turn. This is the thought I had about JRPGs until my teens when I finally got around to playing one for real. I started by playing Final Fantasy VIII actually. Final Fantasy seemed like the perfect place to start as I knew about the games from playing Kingdom Hearts so I figured I’d at least recognize some of the characters. Even though VIII wasn’t the best one to start with in this regard as the only character from that game to appear in Kingdom Hearts is Squall, who confusingly goes by Leon in Kingdom Hearts leading to so much confusion on my part when I started playing. Despite all that however, I played the game all the way from start to finish and enjoyed every second of it! Which is why I will always defend Final Fantasy VIII whenever anyone starts complaining about it, but let’s save that for another time. The important thing about FFVIII for this story is that it’s what sparked my love of JRPGs and inspired me to do some more digging on which one I should tackle next.
After finishing FFVIII, I wanted to find something a bit more modern to play instead. I ended up searching online for lists of some of the best JRPGs out there, and when I did one game in particular stood out to me. Persona 4. Or more specifically Persona 4 Golden, the updated and expanded version of the game for the PlayStation Vita. On just about every list I checked, P4G was high on them and everyone seemed to only have praise for the title. So I did some more digging to find out what exactly the game was about it. Most of what I found described the game as a JRPG mixed with a life simulator. Not only did you have to save the world from a crazy threat like most JRPGs, you also had to balance this with your school and social life. Between dungeon crawling and fighting monsters you had to attend class, and I mean really attend them like there are quizzes and everything, and hang out with friends making bonds with them and getting to know them better. And all of this was on a soft time limit as you only had a certain number of days and you can only do so much with each day.
So after doing all this research on the game, I concluded that Persona 4 sounded terrible and not fun in the slightest… Like, are you kidding me? I have to deal with that life stuff in my actual life already! And on top of all that I have to make time to save the world too? That sounds unbelievably stressful! To make things even worse, the game was on the PlayStation Vita, a handheld system I did not own or wanted to own. I had no interest in any of the games on it either after looking into it. So I wrote the game off just like that. Or I tried to anyways. Despite coming to that conclusion I couldn’t get the game out of my head… Everyone seemed to describe the game the same way I just did but they made it sound like all that stress inducing stuff was the most fun parts! People liked, no loved, having to juggle all these different aspects of life. It didn’t make any sense to me, but it did make me want to try the game that much more. So I did something I never do… I bought a console for a single game. And it was a game I was pretty sure I’d hate!
I honestly have no idea what possessed me to go this far for Persona 4. Even when going to GameStop to trade in my PSP to get a used Vita I was pretty sure the game wasn’t for me. And after I got home, set up my Vita, and finally started playing, I realized just how wrong I was about it…
Persona 4 is a game where you have to juggle saving the world, being a good student, and being a good friend all at once within a limited amount of time. And it is amazing! Despite everything I read about the game being completely right I was hooked from the moment I started playing. I’m not sure what it was but everything about the game just clicked when I actually got a chance to play it myself. And luckily I was completely wrong about the game being super stressful. It does a very good job easing you into your daily routine of school, hanging out with friends, and going through dungeons. And while this does make the start of a second playthrough a bit of a slog, it’s great for helping new players not feel overwhelmed. After all, on paper, I should have hated Persona 4. I hate school and I hate time limits and those are two big factors of the game. Yet I ended up loving those parts as well! I understood that they really need to be a part of the game to make it what it is. However, I would say that the thing that really draws people in and gets them hooked on the series as a whole, not just Persona 4, is the characters.
The main characters are easily the most important part of every Persona game. Now that I think about it, they are kind of the main focus of each game as well. Both in the story and with the game play. An aspect of each of the games is forming bonds called Social Links, or Confidants in the case of Persona 5. They are basically a way to track your growth with each of the characters you get close with. And these extend to just more than your main group of friends that will be helping you to save the world! Characters that seemed to be mostly just background characters soon start to make themselves a little more known and you’ll end up forming a bond with them as well. Even if you normally have to go out of your way a bit more than when it comes to the main cast. While you could argue that the bonds of the main cast are the most important, as they generally will gain some ability used in the dungeons and they obviously have a bigger role in the story, it quickly becomes about more than just what benefit you get out of the bonds. For example, leveling up your bonds with any character will give you an increase when it comes to fusing and creating certain Personas, Personas being the monsters you recruit to help you in battles. However, the main cast will also get some special abilities you can use in the dungeons as well. This does change a bit in Persona 5 though as even the side characters can give you abilities that are useful in and out of dungeons, not just the main cast. But even then, the bonds become way more than just a way to unlock those abilities. One of the series’ greatest strengths is getting you to really care about these characters. All of the characters, not just the ones in your main group, have surprisingly deep and heartfelt stories to tell. And while not all of them can be amazing none of them were bad and I never hated continuing anyone’s story. Exploring dungeons, battling bosses, and fusing Personas are all super fun aspects of the series but I really feel like it’s the characters and their stories that are the driving force behind why people love these games so much. It’s why I love them so much after all! It’s also what sets Persona apart from other Shin Megami Tensei games.
I think one of the things that people really love about the characters and their stories is that they aren’t afraid to get very personal and sometimes rather dark. They also tend to tie in to the main theme of each game. The Persona games generally have a message they like to try and convey through the characters and the story. For example, I’d say the message of Persona 4 is to be yourself and to not try and be something you aren’t. A message I’m sure we have all heard over a hundred times to the point that it has lost all meaning, at least that’s how it was for me. But it was the way that Persona 4 conveyed this message that it finally got across to me. It never actually says, “Just be yourself” and it never paints that as something that is easy to do like every other thing that tells you to be yourself. Instead, you get to experience how the other characters deal with that struggle to be themselves. And how it’s more than just being yourself, it’s also about accepting all of yourself, the good and the bad.
Now this may have just been because I was very much a young impressionable teenager at the time when I first played Persona 4, I was actually very close to the ages of the actual characters in the game, but the message really resonated with me! It impacted me much more than I was expecting. Persona 4 managed to teach me a lesson that people and school PSAs had been trying to teach me for years. Watching the characters and helping them through their struggles with not only being accepted but accepting themselves was extremely powerful and helped me grow so attached to them and truly understand the message that they were trying to convey. While I wouldn’t say I’ve ever really tried to be something that I’m not just for the sake of being accepted, the message of needing to accept all of yourself, the good and bad, is what made me realize what being yourself is all about. And having the characters actually struggle with this and showing every bit of it is really what made that message hit hard. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that I wouldn’t be the way I am now if it wasn’t for Persona 4. The game and it’s characters had an impact on me that I was not expecting when I first picked it up just wanting to find a new JRPG to play. The experience of it all is something that I will never forget. And while I certainly can’t say you will also have a life changing experience when you play it yourself I can promise you’ll have a good time at the very least! And who knows? Maybe you will end up learning something about yourself that you wouldn’t have figured out otherwise. Only one way to find out, right?
Now before I wrap this post up, I thought it might be good to offer some advice if you’re wondering where to get started with the Persona series! And I guess I’ll start off by saying there really isn’t a bad place to start. Persona 3, 4, and 5 are all good options for your first Persona game. Ironically, I would not say that Persona 1 and 2 are though. Persona 1 and 2 are both great games as well, but they are very different from the rest of the series. Persona 3 marked a very big turning point that would influence the rest of the games that followed. Which is probably why they are only bringing Persona 3, 4, and 5 to other platforms. However, despite all three games being good places to start, I would give a slight edge to Persona 5 in particular. Persona 5 goes much more in depth when it comes to how a lot of the games mechanics work. Not only that but with the game being the most recent entry into the series, it’s obviously the best looking as well. And while I don’t really mind how good or bad graphics in a game can be I do know some people do mind that! I’d also probably argue that Persona 5 is the best in the series honestly but that is it’s own debate that would probably be better saved for another time. That being said though if you want to start with Persona 3 or 4, go for it! I’m confident you’ll still have a good time. I personally just feel that Persona 5 is the best starting point for anyone new to the series.
Looking back on it, it’s really crazy how a game I thought I would hate ended up being one of my all time favorites and introduced me to a series I hold so dearly. It also introduced me to the PlayStation Vita! A system I ended up loving and I feel really deserves more love than it got. But I would have never experienced any of it if I didn’t try and take a chance. So I guess I’ll end this post by saying that if you’re on the fence about Persona, just give it a chance! I think you’ll be surprised with what you end up finding.
But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? What are some games that have left a big impact on you? Are you going to be giving the Persona series a try now that it’s more available to play? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!
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