Starting off as a spin off of the Shin Megami Tensei Series, the first two Persona games were largely unheard of in the west and it wasn’t until the release of Persona 3 (2006) that the series began to establish a cult following in North America and Europe. When Persona 4 (2008) was released it received a similar reaction to 3 but discussions surrounding the game were much louder and more passionate. The series which started as a spin off has surpassed the games in which it was spawned from, receiving more attention and critical acclaim.
People play video games for a lot of different reasons, mainly for fun. Persona 4 offers more than that, it offers an escape presenting itself as both real life and nothing like real life. Persona 4 puts you in the shoes of a high school student Yu Narukami who after moving to the sleepy little town of Inaba must balance school, his social life, his family, and the investigation into a series of gruesome murders. His story has you make new friends who you get to know and connect with and deals with real life issues that affects everyone, not just high school students.
Persona 4 is first and foremost a dungeon crawler RPG but the social side of the game is not something you can ignore, in order to improve your stats and performance within dungeons you have to form social links with your peers, which for me is the best part of the game. The characters you meet in Persona 4 are very appealing, and how you interact with them and the world around you feels real. You quickly grow to love each character for their own unique quirks but there isn’t enough time in the game to max out your social link with each character. So just like in real life, who you who to spend the most time with and where the relationship goes is up to you. The relationship you have with characters and how it develops also depends on Yu’s in-game personality, again, like real life. For example, if Yu wants to ask someone on a date he needs the courage to do so. If he doesn’t, he will need to upgrade that stat in other areas of the game beforehand.
When Yu arrives in Inaba, the characters that he becomes friends with are all high school students who have personal struggles and are dealing with real life issues. It is becoming close to these characters and helping deal with their issues that makes the social experience feel real. The story of Persona 4 borrows concepts from Jungian psychology with the idea that everyone is carrying a shadow, an unconscious and undesirable aspect of your personality that becomes darker the more it is ignored. These shadows in Persona 4 are the personal antagonists for each character and in order to progress, everyone must overcome their shadow by accepting themselves as a whole.
All the main characters are struggling with their own personal conflicts and hide the feelings and personalities that they deem undesirable in order to gain the acceptance that they can’t give themselves. Yosuke’s shadow represents his resentment at living in a small boring town. His shadow suggests that his friendship with Yu is selfish and is an attempt to fulfil his wish for something excitement to happen.
Chie and Yukiko’s shadows are very similar, in that they stem from each other. Chie’s shadow represents her concern of feminine ideals. She is jealous of Yukiko’s femininity and natural talents and wants to stay close to her for because of this, while Yukiko feels that she needs to be rescued from what’s expected of her. Yukiko feels weak and needs as her shadow puts it, a prince (in the form of Chie) to rescue her. Chie wants to feel needed so uses Yukiko and her need to be rescued to fulfil this.
While Kanji’s sexuality is never revealed in the game, his shadow represents his hidden feelings and confusion at gender stereotypes and possibly his sexuality. He is afraid of being rejected and ridiculed for having stereotypically female hobbies. Rise also known as Risette is a very successful singer and is taking a break from the limelight. Her shadow represents her anger at being seen only as Risette and not as herself. Naoto feels as though her gender will hold her back at so pretends to be a boy, her shadow not only reveals this, but also shows her anger at being seen as nothing more than a child.
Persona 4 is one of those games that you wish you could go back and experience all over again for the first time. These issues could very easily be struggles in real life, especially for younger people. The character’s dealing and ultimately accepting and overcoming them just adds to the real social experience that Persona 4 is presenting and shows that perfection isn’t real.