Release Date: July 10, 2008
Platform Played On: PS2
2018 Placement: #29 (-15)
What It Is:
The fourth entry in the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff series Persona, and the one that could be argued that really put the game into the mainstream. If you’re not aware, the Persona games are JRPGs that fuse dungeon crawling with daily life sim/time management, where by day you’re a high schooler just trying to make it through the school year while at night you face weird demon shit and eventually kill God. You up your power by hanging out with your friends (boosting Social Links) or eating/exercising/studying (boosting your stats) and making sure you fit everything you want in is one of the main challenges of the game.
Persona 4 adds a level of mystery to the plot – the overall story involves a serial killer using something called the Midnight Channel to murder people. The “Investigation Team” aka the main characters led by your mute protagonist investigate at night by jumping into a television and exploring this weird foggy demon world where the victims get trapped. Each victim gets a personalized dungeon that is randomly generated every time you enter, adding layers to the strategy of exploration. The mystery investigation vibe really adds to the overall feel of the game and makes it a very solid plot from start to finish.
Why It’s Important To Me:
This game made me rediscover my love for JRPGs. I’d been a huge fan of the JRPG genre in my high school and early college years, from SNES to PS1. But in the PS2 era I sort of fell off of them if they didn’t include Final Fantasy in the title. I tried Persona 3 FES and while I enjoyed it when I played it, I thought it was just “fine” and not really memorable. Then at the end of the PS2 era Persona 4 came storming onto the scene and I absolutely fell in love.
When I completed this game I was living, breathing, and eating Persona 4 for a long while. Persona 4’s cast of characters are much more memorable (in my opinion) and the overall mystery plot is much more up my alley. While there are a lot of very questionable decisions regarding LGBTQ+ themes (specifically Kanji and Naoto) that date the game very quickly and make me wish it had taken a firmer stance, the overall game itself and the interactions between all the Investigation Team members make it well worth the 80-hour playthrough.
My Strongest Memory:
There’s a lot. Of course I’m going to talk about the music first. All of the dungeon themes are fire. When I first set foot into Yukiko’s Castle and this bop started playing I knew I would instantly love this game. Rise’s dungeon theme is also one of my favorites and has a very electronica feel to it. And then of course the boss music is legendary. And it’s not just the dungeon theme – all of the background music in Persona 4 sets the mood and tone of whatever is happening on your screen.
But then of course there’s the twists to the story that I can’t go into here. There’s several “OH SHIT” moments in the game that kept me absolutely riveted to my screen as every time I thought I had it all figured out, something else suddenly came to light. I’m not too proud to say that I knew there was a “true” ending before I got to the point of no return so I made sure I didn’t get a “bad” end, but man the mystery plot was probably one of the best framings of a JRPG plot, especially since it allowed most of the focus of the story to be on this one small town in the middle of nowhere.
Why It’s #44:
This used to be my go-to Persona recommendation and really high up there as a good “starter” RPG because it brought a lot to the table. I went back and finally played the Golden version for the first time when it was released on Steam last year, but unfortunately there are a lot of quality-of-life improvements from Persona 4 to Persona 5 that actually detract from the experience once you’ve played the latter. It’s still a great game, don’t get me wrong, and it deserves to be played. But some of the gameplay now is a little more frustrating than it was when it was fresh a decade ago. But it’s still absolutely worth your time if you’ve never played it.