"I still don't really get what bein' "strong" means, but I'm gonna start by not lying to myself. No more being scared of everyone, hiding my hobbies, staying away from people... Anytime, anyplace, I'm gonna bust right through as my own self! That's the way to deal with that "other me" in the TV world."
—Kanji Tatsumi, Persona 4
Persona 4 is a game that comes from a series with a reputation for breaking the boundaries of what is expected of video games. The series belongs to the fabled type of game that you may feel they just don’t make any more. The kind with heart and an ambition that can go beyond the technology and budget for the project, one that has a definite identity which it wears proudly.
Luckily for the people who may check the game out based on the fantastic flair and style that it flaunts with wild abandon, they are fortunate to be entering in a series that is growing so steadily in its cult audience that it is now near to entering that so coveted gaming mainstream, right alongside Final Fantasy.
This entry in the series, in particular, was a major win for its publisher, Atlus. The welcoming energy of the characters and the game’s mechanics, mixed with the dark and slightly seedy themes, create a game that could not help to appeal to a Western audience.
There was a fifth Persona game that was released earlier this year – and you can borrow it as well if you would like, here - and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, I have to say that its predecessor wore the mechanics of the game better. In general, I loved the characters from the fourth game more than I felt like I bonded to the ones in the fifth entry in the series. Not that it’s exactly fair to compare any game to one that has characters like Chie and Kanji in it.
If you still haven’t had a chance to play this game, in spite of it being the sort of thing that hits your sweet spot of character-driven gameplay with a major focus on dungeon crawling and student life simulation (and what a niche that is!), then I would be remiss if I didn’t insist on trying it. This game has so many mechanics and contains the trappings of oh so many genres – including some that don’t actually exist, but this game series, much like the Yakuza series, creates and makes work – that not only is it worthy of multiple play-throughs, it is absolutely necessary to play through this already long game more than once to experience almost everything that it has to offer. I would have to really wrack my mind to think of a better game to spend the cold months to come playing, perhaps with the exception of something such as XCOM 2 or Undertale.
So the short answer is that if you haven’t played a Persona or a Shin Megami Tensei game before, not only it is not necessary to play any of the previous games before this one (because there is no connecting story between all but the two versions of the second games, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment), but this is the best introduction to the series that I could imagine.
Beyond the mechanics of the game, which boasts dungeon crawling, a student life simulation, unforgiving boss battles, a wholly unique methodology of fusing “personas” in order to make a consistently strong source of power, and fishing - just to name the highlights - the game is renowned for its absolutely lovable and at times heart-wrenching teenaged outcasts whose darkest secrets threaten to literally devour them.
In the game, the protagonist must live with his uncle and his absolutely adorable shy cousin for a year in a backwaters town where it rains frequently. Not long after moving in, a corpse is discovered hanging from a TV antennae not far from the high school, and shortly thereafter the school becomes abuzz with the eerie local legend known as the Midnight Channel. From that point on, the protagonist’s world becomes focused on doing what he can to discover the dark secrets of the Midnight Channel.
That’s not to say that his social, school, and financial life are things that he should ignore. In spite of the need to discover what is causing the Midnight Channel, every mechanic in the game ties together, making it so that the work the protagonist puts into his daily life translates into how well he can search the dungeons created by the Midnight Channel and rescue the lost souls who have been imprisoned there.
Of course, whether the protagonist perseveres in protecting his new friends and home is entirely up to you, from the speed at which you traverse the game’s dungeons, who you choose to befriend, and what skills and potential side work or hobbies you pick up along the way, as well as if you decide to make your school life and grades an integral part of your protagonist’s life. As the appeal of the game seems to be – it’s all up to you and your choices.
What I really love about the game series is how much lore and a deep love for all sorts of interesting and nerdy philosophical, psychological, and metaphorical concepts are ever so gently touched on in a respectful way. Jungian symbolism is prevalent through much of the series, the idea of rebirth is a topic visited frequently, and of course one cannot forget the series' abiding love of the archetypes of tarot. This is one game series that proves the point that something doesn't need to be boring to be smart.
If you’re interested in trying out the Persona game series or if you’re only interested in the fourth entry in the series, the ACPL has you covered, with both the original Playstation 2 edition available as well as the superior Playstation Vita edition available to borrow. Again, the library also has copies of the sequel (for the Playstation 3 and 4), which I may make a blurb about in the future. It’s actually really good as well, it just falls short of the heights that the re-master of its predecessor rose to.
Kayla loves all things weird, wonderful, and macabre. Her soul’s in writing, and her hobbies include gaming, watching movies and television shows, and reading anything and everything. Her black cat’s TOTALLY, 100%, not evil.