Persona 4 is 10 Years Old Today. Here's What Made It Great

Persona 4 is a decade old, and it still has a lot to celebrate.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

Happy 10th anniversary to Persona 4! On this day in 2008, the fourth entry in the popular Shin Megami Tensei spin-off series hit the PlayStation 2, and fans were immediately presented with a vital question: Who is the best girl? Let me answer that one in order of best to least-best (since all the girls are lovely, in my book): Yukiko, Naoto, Chie, and Rise.

Not that Persona 4 is strictly about flirting and dating and cheering on Kanji as he knits adorable little dolls, of course. The game's events center around a series of grisly murders occurring in a sleepy little town and have to get to the bottom of things with the help of your pals. It's all very serious and important until your drunken homeroom teacher vomits into the creek you're swimming in.

He's still warmer than my grade 10 science teacher.

Though 2006's Persona 3 garnered considerable Western attention, Persona 4's lively cast and stellar localization helped the series take a large step towards our mainstream culture—a journey it completed when 2017's Persona 5 became a million-seller. Persona 4 is very much Scooby-Doo meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it leans heavily into the themes of camaraderie both series offer. The protagonists of Persona 4 are a close-knit group, and their primary concern is solving the murder mystery plaguing their town. By contrast, Persona 5—and most Shin Megami games in general—throws the player into big problems with world-encompassing consequences early on.

It's weird to call Persona 4 a "cozy" game, but when I think back on my playthrough, I remember the good times I had hanging with Persona 4's affable cast more clearly than I remember fighting the demons seething in the TV World. My friends and I went camping, we ate terrible curry, and we trod the same road in the Japanese countryside day after day on our way to and from school. Yeah, bodies occasionally wound up hanging from TV antennae and my pals were forced to confront and accept the darkest corners of their psyche, but gosh, we had a good time! All that fun romping around even encouraged fans to produce some incredible tributes, like cartoonist Gigi D.G.'s irresistibly quotable Persona 4 comic parody ("Fsteak?").

If it's not obvious, reminiscing about Persona 4 is a bit like recalling "the good old days" as a Baby Boomer. It's easy to remember all the good things about the game while hand-waving its more troubling aspects, e.g. its disappointingly juvenile methods of exploring complicated questions about gender and sexuality. Less troubling but still worth mentioning are its rather straightforward dungeons: I find Persona 5's themed dungeons far more interesting to work through. Despite those bumps, we voted Persona 4 one of our 15 Best RPG Since 2000. I also played through 2012's Persona 4 The Golden on PS Vita for the Axe of the Blood God podcast, and Kat and I spent a lot of time discussing the game scenario by scenario. You should have a listen if you're any kind of Persona 4 fan.

Speaking of Persona 4 The Golden (which was my first foray into the Persona series), I had to exclude Marie from my opening list of best girls because she was an addition to the "upgraded" version of the game. I'll just say it here: Marie is the best Persona girl, period. You might disagree, but I have a mountain of angry goth poetry that indicates otherwise.

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Comments 17

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  • Avatar for yuberus #1 yuberus 4 months ago
    Oh man, I liked Persona 4 Golden, but playing it after 5 was rough. The slice of life stuff was fun, but those dungeons (and all the shadows you fight) were just absolutely boring at best. Plus all the side cast just wasn't as interesting as 5's, and I don't know... the fact that your character is immediately treated as this godly popular dude that everyone adores made me think "this is a game for a very specific type of person, and it's not me."

    Still enjoyed it, though. And Chie is the best.
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  • Avatar for DrinkingWithSkeleton #2 DrinkingWithSkeleton 4 months ago
    I decided to give P4 a whirl on my PS TV after enjoying P5 so much, and I enjoyed it up until the camping trip. Hoo boy does this game have some issues with its handling of LGBT characters. I couldn't muster up much will to continue after that.
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  • Avatar for Number1Laing #3 Number1Laing 4 months ago
    I thought Persona 3 was better.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #4 pdubb 4 months ago
    Must... not join... in Waifu.... wars (coughChiecough)

    But really I already see people saying Persona 5 is better than 4 and I am sure there will be others that say 4 is better than 5 and that 3 is the best etc.

    It's simple rule that is similar to "which is the best Final Fantasy."

    The best Persona game is a mix between the one you played first or the one you played as a teenager.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #5 Godots17thCup 4 months ago
    I really adored the central cast in Persona 4; thanks in large part to their social links, I felt like I really knew, and was invested in, all of these endearingly dorky kids (plus the Dojima family) by the end of the adventure. One of my very favorite RPG parties ever.

    Hmm, I think I'll give the P4 soundtrack another listen to celebrate the occasion.Edited July 2018 by Godots17thCup
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #6 MetManMas 4 months ago
    @pdubb Personally I'm more into Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, but that's mainly 'cuz I'm not really into the anime high school stuff (which is a bigger focus in later games) and its playable cast was (mostly) made up of adults.

    That said, though? Out of the school sim games, Persona 4 is probably the New Wave Persona I'm most interested in playing, and it has everything to do with the lighter tone compared to 3 and 5. If only Atlus would remaster Persona 4: Golden for modern platforms (Shame it's Vita only), or rerelease the original via PS2 on PS4.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #7 Vonlenska 4 months ago
    I appreciate the game's rough spots getting some mentions here. It's one of those games that I mostly liked but didn't think was the absolute best and most perfect game ever made ever omg like...pretty much anyone else willing to talk about it. More than any other game, conversations I've had or watched about Persona 4 have escalated into actual fights that could get really ugly. I hope we're out of the honeymoon phase and into the sweet spot where discussions about the game can admit where it's flawed but still acknowledge its strengths without falling into just trashing it. 3-4-5 are a lot more fun to play, with 4 maybe having my favorite cast despite their many issues, but I've liked 2 best so far in terms of story and mood. I want another genuinely weird and downbeat one.

    Anyway, the title still makes me feel old.
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  • Avatar for KeroseneBlast #8 KeroseneBlast 4 months ago
    If Persona 6 is Persona 5's dungeons with Persona 4's characters, I will buy that game today.
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  • Avatar for boxofficepoison #9 boxofficepoison 4 months ago
    @pdubb I think I am the exception to that rule. I played the first persona in my teen years and hated it. Hated it so much that I wouldnt even touch Persona 4 for a while no matter how much people told me it was amazing. Finally tried it out and it became top ten favorite games immediately. 5 was nice but did not have as good a cast.

    Oh and Yukiko wins all waifu battlles
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  • Avatar for johnalexanderthacker #10 johnalexanderthacker 4 months ago
    its disappointingly juvenile methods of exploring complicated questions about gender and sexuality.

    Although considering that the protagonists are juvenile (unlike the more "adults who happen to be teenagers" of Persona 3), it's not that surprising. All the Shadows are over the top exaggerations of juvenile and adolescent fears, which do sometimes include complicated questions about gender and sexuality.

    While it can be over explored, and other lessons are useful as well, the message that "not only are gender and sexuality not necessarily the same, having interests outside your gender role can be independent of sexuality as well as the gender you identify, enjoying knitting doesn't necessarily make you gay or trans, you can do that while identifying as a heterosexual cis male" is not inherently terrible, nor is the message "you can be a detective and identify as female, even though it's coded as a male job." It was even considered progressive twenty and thirty years ago (and Japan's attitude towards gender, gender roles, and sexuality ten years ago was a bit behind the USA.)

    The problem is that it is quite difficult to have over the top exaggerations of fears that Shadows are, plus manage to simultaneously present all the messages of "liking things outside your gender role doesn't necessarily mean to have to completely subvert your gender role, and can be independent of your sexuality and gender identity, not that there's anything wrong with those other choices, and not to suggest that all people with trans gender identity or queer sexual identity are necessarily exaggerated portrayals of opposite gender roles, because that's offensive, though not to suggest that people who do have exaggerated portrayals of opposite gender roles are inherently offensive, because some people are that way too." But we're also talking about a game where the only way to express Yukiko wanting to occasionally express her own feelings and interests rather than have her life planned out was to portray her as a dominatrix. Subtle Shadows aren't. Kanji's Shadow is his, yes, juvenile misunderstanding of gender and sexuality.Edited 2 times. Last edited July 2018 by johnalexanderthacker
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  • Avatar for DemiurgicSoul #11 DemiurgicSoul 4 months ago
    @pdubb I played Persona 3 first and Persona 4 is by far my favorite in the series. Tartarus in 3 was just such a slog to get through. Soooo grindy! I loved the story and relationship building parts, but every time I had to go back to Tartarus I had to force myself to do it.

    4 made the dungeons less grindy (and with Golden they made other major quality of life improvements). And the cast was just so lovable. By the end of the game I felt like they were my friends too. I cried at the end of that game, which I almost never do. I just loved that cast so much. I didn't want to say goodbye. I also loved the humor in the game! You didn't just save the world with them, you participated in the silly and funny things friends do in between the important stuff. Plus each of their stories were so personal and you really got to know who each of them were so deeply.

    5 was great too, but the cast wasn't quite as interesting as in 4. But the dungeons were even better. I loved every minute of 5, but it just couldn't live up to 4 in my mind. Could be because I played 4 first.

    But it's probably because Chie is the best girl in the entire series.Edited 3 times. Last edited July 2018 by DemiurgicSoul
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  • Avatar for link6616 #12 link6616 4 months ago
    I really think each Persona is such a strong game at some of the things it does, and tends to drop the ball at others.

    It's really had to deal with the dungeons of 3/4 after 5.
    It's hard to not have the main cast of 4.
    It's rough not having the option of FemProtag of P3P.

    There is a lot to like about each of them. P4 is hard to go back in retrospect, at a the time it held high for it's depiction of LGBT themes, and it's kind of amazing to see how far we've come since then (simply dealing with the themes isn't enough you have to do it well) and how far we haven't come (how most altus games have handled LGBT since P4)

    P3 is held back by the fact there is no best version, so it always comes with drawbacks, and while I like and get taratous, I can see why it doesn't work for most. (and the speed gained by the lack of overworld in P3P hurts some atmosphere but it also cuts out about 10-15 hours of the gameplay by doing so...)

    p5... It's great, but I did not connect with that main cast enough. When I thought X had died, I was actually happy and hoped they'd never join my party again. Then just shortly after they came back! Not a good statement on the endearment of the characters.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #13 riderkicker 4 months ago
    At least the protagonist of Persona 4 had a good reason to go to bed, watching TV!
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #14 The-Challenger 4 months ago
    I prefer the rather simple plot of Person 4 over what P5 presented. While I loved taking down the megalomaniacs in P5, I still prefer the melodrama of a who-dunit murder mystery. Not to mention, P5 had some of the most tedious dungeons I've played in a long time.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #15 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    I don't think there's anything wrong with P3 or P4's dungeons... you just have to be into old school dungeon crawlers. That is what they were going for, and they do an excellent job of providing that sort of content with a really slick presentation and battle system.

    And you can't mention P4 without mentioning the music... one of the best RPG soundtracks of all time! As far as presentation goes, P4 may be absolutely unrivaled in it's music and art design, it tops even the best Final Fantasies, and any other game you can think of!
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  • Avatar for TheRebornExpert #16 TheRebornExpert 4 months ago
    @yuberus Yup you're right, Chie is the BEST!!!
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  • Avatar for Relayer71 #17 Relayer71 3 months ago
    I bought the first Persona released in the U.S. (Revelations) when it came out and liked it, even though I thought it was weird at the time. It was too hard and I sold it which I came to regret around the time Persona 4 came out and I fell completely in love with it.

    Persona 3 was fantastic, but I thought it was some fluke, thinking back to how the first Persona was interesting but nothing special. However, Atlus pulled it off again and by then I had played Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga and Raidou Kuzunoha Vs. The Soulless Army so I was already hooked on their brand of JRPG.

    Persona 4 was a refinement of P3 and the murder mystery in a small town angle was refreshing. What made it one of the best JRPGs of all time for me was the cast and writing. It dipped every once in a while into cringe-inducing anime tropes designed for teens with the dialogue, but overall the writing/localization was mature and thoughtful and the characters and felt very real and natural, something that is rare in JRPGs.

    The only other JRPGs with characters that i got really attached to, I can count on one hand: FF IX, Lunar Silver Star Story, and Skies of Arcadia.

    Of course, there is also the amazingly stylized artwork and unique soundtrack (same with P3).

    Don't own a PS4 but may need to get one soon to play P5.
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