Even if you decided to ignore my friendly advice from last time and play the fourth entry in the series straight after Persona 5, I’d forgive you to be honest, because Persona 4 is still a pretty great game. I think what draws a lot of people to Persona 4 compared to Persona 3 and the Shin Megami Tensei games is its truly accessible bubbly atmosphere compared to the grimmer and darker Shin Megami Tensei titles. Shoji Meguro’s soundtrack is a lot more upbeat and cheerful for the most part and tones down the heavier rock influences for a poppier sound, though boss fights still bring the noise when things get more serious. Instead of the bright yet somewhat eerie blue of Persona 3 and the more ominous red of Persona 5, Persona 4 has a yellow color scheme that reflects the more summery easygoing tone that oozes from the game. Instead of taking place in the city, Persona 4 is set in the fictional countryside town of Inaba. And most importantly of all, Persona 4 takes the series’ Jungian influences and focuses a lot more on identity compared to 3 or 5, resonating with a lot more people. All of the characters in the game face a side of themselves that they’ve tried to suppress due to their anxieties and insecurities, and have to come to terms with what they’ve been subconsciously ignoring all this time.
That last part about identity that I mentioned really speaks to the game’s ability to juggle both a brighter atmosphere with some darker Megami Tensei undertones. The Persona series as a whole is supposed to be more accessible and cheerful than its grimmer Megami Tensei brethren, but Persona 4 is in a league of its own. The story revolves around people being murdered in the town of Inaba, and the appearance of the Midnight Channel, an otherworldly broadcast appearing only when it rains at midnight, seemingly foreshadowing the death of the murder victims. You try to solve the mystery with your high school friends while doing fun stuff like daily hangouts or school trips or, in the case of Persona 4: Golden, ski and beach trips, dates in the city, and putting together concerts. Sounds super jarring, yes, but somehow the developers really make it all mesh together.
Gameplay is more or less the same as Persona 3, though without a procedurally generated mega-dungeon like Tartarus or Mementos; this adds more variety in the locations that you see compared to Persona 3. Persona 4 is the first game in the series that allows you to have Social Links with all of your party members, so advancing these Social Links also grants them with abilities to help you in battle, like taking a mortal blow for you or having some sort of special passive abilities like Confidant abilities in Persona 5. I would say that Persona 4 is probably one of the easiest Megami Tensei games as well, so Persona 4’s got that going for it as a great entry point to the Persona and Megami Tensei games. Better to get that out of the way so you can enjoy it for what it is before getting into the grittier stuff.
There’s a lot of ways to play Persona 4 since it’s easily the most popular title in the series. You can pick up Persona 4 on the PlayStation 2, or download it on the PlayStation 3 as a PlayStation Network title, or you can get the expanded port Persona 4: Golden on the PlayStation Vita or the PlayStation TV.
As much as I’d love to recommend the original Persona or the Persona 2 duology for newcomers, those games aren’t really as accessible, both in terms of design and availability, so I can’t recommend starting with either of those after playing 5. More power to you though if you go for a more chronological approach!
At this point, I’d much rather recommend checking out some Shin Megami Tensei titles if you’ve already played Persona 3 or 4, so we’ll talk about SMT next time.
Ming Dao Lui is a writer who wrote one too many "video games as art" think pieces in his college days and enjoys watching films when he isn't raiding.