Ahh, Persona. To be clear, I’m only going to be discussing Persona 3 and Persona 4 in this article (I haven’t had the chance to play the first or second entry in the series). I would, without a doubt, count these two games as two of the most important and impactful games I have ever played. Part of this is due to the fact that I played them both when I was in high-school, and a lot of my most memorable gaming moments came from this time. Persona, however, was an experience quite unlike any other.
To start, Persona offers up a wonderful variety in gameplay and pacing. Being both a dating-sim (of sorts) and a turn-based JRPG, you can often choose when to do what. To stand a reasonable chance of finishing each game, you’ll have to find a balance between exploring the games’ dungeons, and forming relationships with each game’s many characters. On top of that, Persona has you collecting personas, adding to its repertoire monster-collection and fusion. There’s plenty to keep you busy, and the marriage between the relationship-building and the dungeon-crawling is a happy one.
I’ve often heard Persona dismissed out-of-hand because of the “dating-sim” aspect of the games. While it’s true that you can choose to date one of the characters of the opposite sex, the relationship-building is truly a lot of fun. The relationships can range from shallow and funny, to surprisingly deep. The best part about them is that the majority are well-written, and feel surprisingly genuine. Strong writing is something that many modern JRPGs are severely lacking, and Persona has it in spades. The characters, both major and secondary, feel real (for the most part), and many avoid the “tropey-ness” that runs rampant in other JRPGs and animes. Both Persona 3 and Persona 4 have a very dark story, though Persona 4 does a lot more to liven up the experience than Persona 3 does. The atmosphere of both games drives home the sense that they were aimed at a more mature audience, and they hold up even now, as I’m about to enter my second 4-year round of post-secondary education.
The part of the game you’ll be devoting at least an equal amount of time to is the battling and dungeon-crawling. My one gripe with both Persona 3 and 4 is that the dungeons themselves are pretty bland, aesthetically-speaking, and the layout is rather straightforward. The battling, on the other hand, is anything but. A perfect mix of challenging and rewarding, the turn-based battles in Persona 3 and 4 make excellent use of the monster-collection system, and exploiting weaknesses. You’ll be rewarded handsomely for playing strategically, and maintaining a roster of strong, varied personas. You can also be utterly destroyed by random enemies if you’re not prepared, so careful attention to detail and some hard work is absolutely necessary. The challenge made acquiring new, powerful personas all the more exciting, and with my progress came a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.
Now, a great amount of my praise for these games goes to Shoji Meguro, the games’ composer. Persona 3 and 4 would lose an enormous amount of value if they did not have the soundtracks they do. Never in my life had I played a game that had me humming its music after I had put it down for the day, and never has a game done so since Persona. Aside from just being catchy, it is also atmospherically and thematically brilliant, and complementary to every moment of these games. The emotion that the final battle in Persona 4 (but not the true final battle) drew from me was a very strong, complex one, and it was due mostly to the truly amazing song that goes with it. Many of the songs include lyrics, which is rather unorthodox for video game music, but as mentioned before, the unique score does not detract in any way. I’ve always thought that a major reason for Shoji Meguro’s different approach to scoring Persona is thanks to his being a guitarist. Guitar is heavily featured in a lot of tracks, and this immediately sets it apart from other more traditionally scored JRPGs, often helmed by composers that are trained pianists (not to say that this makes them any lesser). Even if you haven’t played Persona, do yourself a favor and have a listen to some of its music.
Persona is an emotionally engaging experience, and the games scratch my JRPG itch in the best way I could hope for. The music is astounding, the gameplay is solid, and the characters are loveable. I will forever look back at my first playthroughs of Persona 3 and 4 with fondness and jealousy. I recommend them to anyone I ever get a chance to, and I’ve never met a fellow JRPG fan who didn’t like them if they gave them a chance. I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on Persona 5 in February of next year, and I expect it to keep me just as engaged as its predecessors.