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 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.
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.
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.