Though I label this an “Anime Review,” I’ve honestly been spending much of the last couple weeks enjoying both the vanilla PS2 game and the anime, Persona 4 the Animation. I’m not going to beat around the bush; I am a huge Persona fan. As much as I love the characters, story, and lore though, I have to admit to something. I absolutely loathe the original source content, the game.
Before I get started though, one of my favorite parts of the Persona franchise is its music, so here’s a little something for you to enjoy.
Persona Q is an upcoming crossover game for the two Persona games. It has an awesome soundtrack and luckily, has a theme for each protagonist of Persona 3 and Persona 4. Take your pick and rock out alongside me. Persona 4 on the left. Persona 3 on the right. Link will open in a new tab/window.
== Personal History ==
Before the review, let me share how I fell in love with Persona series.
Believe it or not, but I did not get into the Persona franchise by any of the main games. Most people get into the modern Persona via Persona 3 or Persona 4. I, on the other hand, was first introduced to Persona by one of the spin-off games: Persona 4 Arena.
I was visiting Anime Expo 2013 when the main screen of the Gaming Hall started broadcasting a match of P4A. I distinctly remember it was a Chie vs. Teddie match.
I had always enjoyed watching fighting games, but the main game of the time, Street Fighter, had an art style that just did not appeal to me. Suddenly, there was a flashy, anime style fighting game that was actually somewhat easy to pick up.
The character designs grabbed my attention and I grew curious about the series. However, my curiosity never grew beyond watching short scenes from the Persona 4 animation or gamplay clips of P4G.
Fast forward a couple months and Persona 3 the Movie: Spring of Rebirth is released, or in other words, subbed and uploaded on a streaming site, and introduces me to my favorite protagonist, Makoto Yuki (or Arisato if you read the manga. Whatever floats your boat. I saw the movie first.)
Persona 4 never really grabbed my attention because its atmosphere was too bright to my liking. I knew the premise of the story, of the murders, and of Mayonaka TV. But the color scheme of Persona 4 clashed with my idea of what a murder mystery should be, so I stayed away from the actual story.
Persona 3, on the other hand, had a creepy, supernatural art style that caught my interest. Shadows coming and killing people? Persona being powers to fight this darkness? Everything in that world was dark, thanks to the “Dark Hour,” and the heroes were the only source of “light,” in contrast to Persona 4 where the world was light except for the evil (hell, the final antagonist is the only one I consider truly evil. The shadows are anything but evil. More misunderstood than bad).
After watching and loving the first movie, I was finally intrigued enough to play the Persona games. Luckily, a friend of mine got a PS Vita and gave me his old PSP. Add to that one Persona 3 Portable game and I was quite the happy camper.
Due to the second movie not available in English and the third not even released in Japan yet, I’ve stopped playing P3P for the time being, to keep my game on the same pace as the animations. To continue my Persona obsession, however, I picked up Persona 4 on an emulator and played that.
I was sorely disappointed.
== I Suck at RPGs, Persona 4 ==
If Persona 4 has taught me anything about myself, it’s that I despise RPG games. Coming from having played Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 was extremely frustrating to play. In hindsight, choosing the hardest difficulty was a mistake that I extremely regret, but as I played P3P with no problems on the hardest difficulty, I had no reason to believe Persona 4 was any different.
Persona 4 had every aspect of RPGs that I despised. For one, character levels played a huge part in the gameplay. If your level was lower than the enemy, you not only did less damage but took more. The same was true vice versa. At all points, the game is a question of “did you grind out enough levels?” While this was true in Persona 3 Portable as well, it was much easier to grind levels because of the EXP bonus shuffle time card. At the end of a battle, you are given a mini-game to play where you have to choose a card from a shuffled pack. With enough mental dexterity, you can pretty much guarantee which card you will get. Persona 3 had different rewards ranging from EXP boosts to extra money and most importantly, different Persona (think Pokemon for you non-Persona fans). Persona 4’s shuffle time only had Persona available as rewards. I believe this issue is addressed in Persona 4 Golden, but it was still a major turn-off nonetheless.
The Social Links, on the other hand, were a hit-or-miss for me in both games. A Social Link in both games is the development of a relationship between the main character and one, sometimes two, other character. What it came down to was if I actually cared about the Social Link character or not. Social Links with other main characters, such as Yosuke Hanamura or Yukari Takeba, were far more interesting to me than other characters specifically created for these Social Links that have no impact on the main story, such as Ai Ebihara or Kenji Tomochika (don’t know who they are? I don’t either!).
Time spent with Yosuke, Rise, or others of the Investigation team was fun. Going to the shrine to listen to the stupid fox or the hospital to get hit on by that nurse was a chore.
My biggest gripe about Persona 4 is how SP is so difficult to regenerate in the game. Yes, you can pay the fox a fortune to get it back, but like I said before, the fox can die in fiery hole of fire. When I prefer using Agi (level 1 fire spell) over Agilao (level 2 fire spell), because it’s lower SP and still a fire ability I can use to exploit an enemy’s weakness, you know something’s wrong. Higher level spells should feel more powerful, more rewarding. They’re higher level for a reason.
I do have to say the option to friend-zone girls in Persona 4 is an option I wish Persona 3 Portable has as well. The idea that if you’re close to a person of the opposite sex, you must be in a romantic relationship is quite absurd; especially when maxing Social Links in Persona 3 Portable means you end up having to date multiple girls. I personally chose one and said “screw it” to the other female Social Links, at the sacrifice of battle prowess. Kept my man-card though.
== Animu for Lifu ==
When the frustrations of the game is swept aside and the core plot, characters, and setting is left, Persona 4 the Animation is what remains. After struggling past the third boss in Persona 4 (Shadow Kanji), I ultimately gave up on treating Persona 4 as an RPG and hacked the game on my emulator so I did not have to deal with the battles. Instead, I treated the game as an interactive story book (or visual novel for you Japanese aficionados). My enjoyment of the game increased immensely afterwards.
Persona 4 the Animation is exactly what I wanted for Persona 4 and more. The Social Links with unimportant characters were condensed, the main Social Links, while shorter, were kept, and the main plot points were faithfully told. Having played the game beforehand, though, let me appreciate the subtle references the anime made to the game, such as a scene with an “all-out attack.”
The most important thing Persona 4 the Animation did, in my opinion at least, is give the main protagonist, previously silent and nameless, a voice and name. In other words, Yu Narukami became a character himself. It was far more entertaining to see Yu solve the mystery and struggle than to go through it myself. Yu was no longer just an avatar; he was a character that I could relate to. I smiled when his choices coincided with mine and was intrigued when his choices differed. But because they were his choices, not mine, they felt natural, rather than staged, and fit the story far better.
The battle scenes were also quite refreshing to watch. In the game, an attack is a slash or a fireball or lightning bolt or whatever every time. But the anime’s battles were both a combination of cool attacks and battles of the mind. The characters’ fights with their alter selves, their Shadows, were less about if Yu can reduce its HP to zero but rather if the person can beat their inner, darkest thoughts. That is until Beelzebub came out. Then Yu just blasts all the shadows out of the water.
Battles against lesser shadows were short and clean. The team slices through an enemy and it dies. Done deal. Move on. Should these fights have been longer? Absolutely not. A couple scenes of killing mobs is fun to watch, but stretching it over the episodes is tedious and boring. It fits a game, but not an anime. Considering I hated killing the mobs in the game, having the anime gloss over them was a relief.
== Final Verdict ==
There’s a cross-dressing scene and it’s hilarious. Kanji (left) is not usually that pretty.
Persona 4’s greatest points are its characters and story. It has a great balance of hilarious moments and thought-provoking emotional conflicts.
First, the story hooks you from the get-go by being a murder mystery. Who killed these people? How were they killed? This hook then draws you into the TV world where the characters’ powers are revealed and true adventure happens.
Add to that varied and interesting characters, each with major development and awesome design and you have a wonderful series I just can’t get enough of.
I absolutely hate RPGs and Persona 4 was an absolute pain to play. But even after all that, I love the series and it holds a firm spot on my favorites list.
While Persona is my favorite franchise, the length of time needed to fully appreciate the series makes it harder for me to give it a higher score. The game is easily 50+ hours, but playing it is worth it as the numerous Social Links really flesh out every character.
The anime itself is only 25 episodes. However, there are many corners cut to pack the game into a single season.
If you are curious about the series, but reluctant to fully invest in Persona 4, check out Persona 4 the Animation and the upcoming Persona 4 the Golden Animation (which is less the main plot and more a slice of life with the cast). If you want more afterwards, play the game. But if that’s not your cup of tea, don’t think you’re missing out too much.