Point of Contention: Persona 3 vs. Persona 4, The Showdown

Ohhhh boy. Do I have some words to throw out on this topic. I really love the concept behind Persona 3 and 4. The blending of relationship social link simulation and JRPG combat is incredibly compelling to me, and stellar writing plus deep character exploration only go to heighten the experience. If you haven’t been exposed to the games, ignore this post and play them now. For those who have played the two later PS2 games (the two I will be discussing today as P1 and P2 are much different and perhaps worthy of later discussion, but not today), you probably already now which you prefer. And that’s fine. I know hordes of people on both sides of the fence. Some adore the dark themes of P3 and ridicule the somewhat silly adventurism engulfed in P4. Others share the opposite view, viewing the P3 themes as needlessly angsty and emo, all the while appreciative of the more fun, stylish attitude of P4. I’m not going to lie to you, I much prefer the latter to the former. But I think it’s important to get the reasons out in the open to facilitate healthy debate. Or inspire unholy mudslinging. Whichever works for you. So without further ado, here are a couple reasons why I prefer Persona 4 to Persona 3. Feel free to disagree to your heart’s content.

First off, I should clarify that I did play the latter game first. It’s possible that I’m biased towards it because P4 was my first exposure to the series, and much of what I saw in P3 was a downgrade from the standard that had already been established for me. P4 does technically have more content and more evolved mechanics. You can control your party members in combat and there’s generally more to do and greater variety in what you see.

But I would be remiss to ignore the obvious. Besides the somewhat insignificant content quantity and mechanical differences, the two games drastically contrast thematically. Let me paint you two pictures. One consists of sullen, melodramatic teens, most of whom are orphans, who shoot themselves in the head and love DeviantArt and Linkin Park. The other is of a friendly group of pals in a regular Japanese High School that follows a protagonist not constantly slouching.

“I hate parents and happiness and life is so boring and god I just hate everything”

I think most of my gripes with Persona 3 come from its handling of character. Persona 4’s cast seem like a legitimate group of friends, struggling with regular teen emotions, sexual confusion, and jealousy. Persona 3 seems to have a group that wouldn’t hang out outside of their in-game circumstances. They don’t really seem to like each other, and they aren’t really that likable to begin with. With the exception of Junpei, most of the characters carry too much baggage and seem too dedicated to their respective missions and dark, secret pasts to act young and relatable.

And don’t try to claim that this robs Persona 4 of its own dark and tense moments. It is not, as the very cliched argument goes, on an intellectual level of Scooby Doo. It most certainly is a tale of struggle and, in many ways, angst. But this angst is grounded more in realistic emotion instead of some impending doom. It’s more an exploration of Personas, as every dungeon is constructed of each of the character’s innermost thoughts, desires, and trepidations.

P3 got a little too lost in its obsession with arcana. Every boss was meant to represent a different card of taroh, and while the arcana theme still plays a very central role on P4, it shares its stage with the aforementioned element of character personality. Just look at the differences between Akihito and Kanji, the two games’ resident badasses. Kanji, from P4, is enveloped in a whirlwind of confusion about his sexual alignment. He fears ridicule and rejection and hides his homosexuality behind a curtain of rebellious, macho tendencies. Akihiko, from P3, on the other hand, fights simply because that’s what he decided he would do one day. There’s a significant character depth juxtaposition between the two, andKanji is no less a badass just because we get a deeper understanding of him as a character.

And who can deny the awesomeness of Take-Mikazuchi? Damn.

I could go on and on, nitpicking little elements from the two games to further my argument. Like how Nanako elevates the struggle from universal to deeply personal, or how the symbolic dungeons of the TV world are far more varied and engaging as a concept than the dreadfully repetitive Tartarus of P3. I will give P3 this, I loved its side character social links. Personal favorite have to be Mutatsu, Tanaka, and Maya, mostly because I considered those characters enjoyable to watch develop (and I loved how well Tanaka fit the Devil Arcana; he learned literally nothing). In general, I would say that most of the social links did a better job connecting to their respective arcana. There were too many social links in Persona 4 that had regrettably minimal development, with a few exceptions of course (*cough *cough Naoto Shirogane).

And yet, here I am, left with the impression that Persona 4 was just the more fun of the two. It struck me in more personal ways than Persona 3 could hope to with its shadows and sadness. Persona 3 just felt too obsessed with maintaining a dark, edgy, tone. Yes, Persona 4 is flamboyant and silly in comparison. It may even be a little reminiscent of Scooby Doo with its murder mystery sleuth team of rambunctious youths. But you know what? I like Scooby Doo. I don’t know when people got such big, fat sticks in their butts about Scooby Doo.

Are they implying Scooby is a hansamu crossdresser in a bear costume?

Again, feel free to disagree. All I know is that come the November 11th Vita rerelease, I’ll be gleefully sinking once again into the colorful town of Inaba to pursue my true self and reach out to that ever elusive truth.

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  1. Wow, I completely disagree. While neither game is realistic in terms of character development, P3 takes the cake. By "facing one's true self" in P4, Atlus basically admits their characters in P4 have zero depth. Shallow comments made by a shadow self that turns out to be how they actually feel? And, oh. I'm sorry. Yukiko? She really can do no wrong, can she? (*cough*Mary-Sue!*cough*) "You're not me, I would never say that stuff! —Oh, just kidding. I'm an asshole after all." That's basically what I got from P4. Seta is actually a pretty fantastic main character for P4, but he's really the only thing I like about P4, aside from one or two character quirks from maybe from Kanji. So much less is at stake for the cast of P4 that, of course, it is more light-hearted. How wouldn't it be? I don't know. Maybe it's because when I was as young as the cast in P3, they were perfectly relatable, and now that I'm older, P4 regressed in maturity? I just can't take it seriously now? I'm not sure what the deal is, here. But maybe you're right. Maybe P4 is more fun and does have the better character development. But I've clearly, clearly missed it. I see a lot of stock JRPG characters thrown into a happy-go-lucky, "LET'S GO RESCUE MURDER VICTIMS FROM TV-LAND HURR HURR!" and a lot less… "I'm struggling with the concept of life and death while still trying to maintain my identity is a teenager. I'm sorry I came with baggage, but I'm doing a fucking great job coping." Eh. To each his or her own.

    • Hey thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment! To each his own indeed. That's the beauty of opinions. I appreciate that you took the time to explain your side rather than just leave it at "I completely disagree" (like so many people on the internet seem to do). I personally prefer P4 because of its light-heartedness, although that by no means detracts from P3. They're both fantastic games. I'll ask the writer to see if he would like to respond to your comment as well. Cheers!

  2. I recently got P4G, and was about to buy P3P. Until I read this. I'm not too big a fan of emo stereotypes, and I like the seriousness balanced by Scooby-Doo-like characters that P4 has.

    But then I read CiCi's comment and I'll buy it after all. Sounds enjoyable, albeit a lot different and less cheerful.

    In summary, comparing different games makes no sense.

    • They truly are different experiences, but not beyond comparison. Made by the same developers and under the same series, there's plenty of value in examining how the series changed over time. I'm not going to dispute the merit of P3, and I'm not going to downplay the game's importance. But personally for me the game represented an almost vulgar sense of personality. yes, the characters come with baggage, but near the end it's not perfectly clear whether the story of said baggage is resolved. It's mostly misery for the sake of misery, and while tonally that may be appealing and unique, it's ultimately just fluff unless we are privy to any sign of change.

      There's a lot of entertainment out there that's just style and pizazz without complexity. A lot of anime tropes revolve around copying the seriousness of classics like Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell (both I love to no end) but without truly examining the purpose for such intense sadness to begin with. I'm not saying P3 is a copycat, but it does pull from that tonal range without establishing a reason for why.

      The solution is to establish a happier, lighter tone like in P4 and abruptly add misery in to mix later on. It's a clash of tone and makes the traumatic moments in the narrative far more effective than starting sad from the get go. It's why Zidane is a better protagonist than Cloud, and especially why Gurren Lagaan can pull off several episodes focusing on a character's misery in the face of death. It's all in contrast to the established tone, and it really shows how bad events can bring the party down (and make you actually feel something for the conflict, instead of thinking about it as just more of the same).

      But by all means play both and find which you prefer. I'm not saying it's wrong to prefer P3, just that there are reasons for my preferring P4 that go beyond it being lighter.

  3. I liked them Both but I liked P3 More~ A lot more. The P4 MC's looks really badass and there's always at least one in Prompted Conversation Options that Makes him Sound like one too, I used the word 'like' But I really Deem the guy a real Pimp Badass, I like him a lot . Like the rest of his Party, Especially Kanji, Naoto, Yosuke, Teddie and Chie. All of them are really like-able… I really enjoyed those Funny events in the game, like the one with the Camping trip.. I forgot what it's really called, and the school festival, the cross dressing contest (lol Teddie) the beauty pageant and especially Kanji's Dungeon run … now, what made me like P3 more is their interesting characters, sure it had inferior battle systems than P4 but you know I just took the "you can't control your party members" as a handicap or just an added difficulty . (I Played P3P First mind you, so I was actually used to controlling all my party members) Now, back to the characters. P3MC Tbh, doesn't really have a 'Prime character' like the Female MC of that game and P4's MC. He was anything BUT emo, the only thing that made him Emo is his hair. The only time he actually showed Emotion was when he first awakened to his persona That was a Damn Awesome Cutscene, Much more awesome than P4MC's awakening if you ask me… oh wait, I think he did showed emotions at other Cutscenes with his gentle Smile….. Now, Junpei… he's a really funny guy but he really pissed me off when he started acting like a Dick (Those were his words) and Yukari's Constant Complaining was OK in the first story but during the answer, she really got to my nerves. I pretty much sound like I'm hating on P3 right?
    well the hate I had them melted during their Character Development, Now THAT I think is what the P4 Character's are missing, Tbh I didn't see their Character Development EVEN after they Faced Their Shadows, only with the exception of Naoto, Maybe Kanji and Probably Rise. Naoto, because she wanted to become a great detective to the point that she'd actually want to go through a Sex Change and the fact that she was Cross-Dressing added to that. Now I know she still continues cross dressing but I think she's just embarrassed. Kanji because he's actually starting to talk to people and showing his 'unusual' hobbies. Rise, because she was so gloomy when she first appeared? And started being more cheery after that? I don't know if she was just having a really bad week/day/month. or if she's really gloomy when not in front of the camera. Junpei stopped being an ass After a while but then Later Felt Powerless and got taken over by his inferiority complex again where he met Chidori and slowly fell in love with the girl. The love unbroken even after Chidori pretty much Betrayed Junpei (not that she was really tricking him in the first place) Yukari Started to move forward after learning more and more about what really happened with her father and of course some comforting from the MC, Akihiko was an Orphan who wanted to Get strong because he doesn't want to feel powerless anymore but pretty much fell to that particular predicament later when Shinji died, you can't save a dying man with Sheer Power (It's funny though because You can just make Yukari heal him or somehting… Supposedly) Eventually Akihiko recovered from his Shinji's death after talking to his deathbed (I'm not sure if that was really his coffin in the School's Hall though) He realized he can't just mope around while he still has a mission that he has a do, he makes the others realize this as well. Later again, They're hit with another Tragedy. (Ikutsuki's Betrayal) I Really DID not see that coming. I think Atlus enjoys making a seemingly harmless but somewhat significant character turn out to be an Evil Mastermind since Ikutsuki had the same feel as Adachi and wouldn't you know it? XD so anyway Those Twists really reeled me in and I wanted to know what's really Going on… All in all I like how the Main Characters (by, that I mean the Whole of SEES, not the two MCs of the game) had their really nice character Development~ of course… I don't think Koromaru ever had any character Development . And How Epic the Endgame was. Okay Scratch what I said about P4 not having any character development~ I'm sure there is, It's just I didn't notice it much.

    P4 Was really Enjoyable But P3's Story is so epic it Gives me GOOSEBUMPS whenever I remember it.

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