The Everlasting Appeal of Persona 4

If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about the RPG genre for the past decade, it’s that Persona 4 has always had a presence. Even before I knew what the series was, I’d heard of Persona 4 from at least some people. Though you might say what you wish about the game, it seems it has always had a place in people’s hearts, both classic fans and new. With the release of Persona 4 Golden on Steam, this point has once again been revived. What was once exclusive to a handheld console has become far more accessible. With this comes the increase in a player base. From what I heard, it sounds like the PC release of Persona 4 Golden was quite successful, even to the point where Atlus and Sega are considering PC releases of their other games.

That’s a point for another day though. The main point is that Persona 4, even nowadays, is still beloved by many. Even a friend of mine who normally does not like turn-based RPGs enjoys the game quite a lot. I’ve been thinking about why it’s still so popular even after all these years, since even I consider it my favorite game in the series. (I have played all six main games in the series, so I have given every game a fair chance as well.) The main reason I consider it my favorite game in the series can be put simply. In terms of the things I look for in a game, it hits all the marks perfectly. The writing is great, the music is incredible, the gameplay is simple but fun, the story is fascinating, and most importantly, the dynamic between the main characters is written wonderfully.

None of these are objective facts, since people’s opinions on writing and music are vastly different, but there’s a certain charm to Persona 4, its characters and setting in particular, that always stood out to me. After talking to my aforementioned friend about the game, I tried figuring out why this game is so beloved. It could be for a number of reasons. The story, the gameplay, the dating sim elements (gotta love the waifus and the husbandos you wish the game would let you date [just let me date Kanji, dammit]), the music, the list goes on.

Thinking about it, I broke it down to a rather simple idea. I think the reason why people love it so much is because the game treats the idea that less is more. The story and the setting are both rather simplistic when you really break it down. As a result, the game is able to focus much more on the actual characters themselves. It has a much heavier focus on hanging out with your friends and getting to know them, and it makes the game feel more personal in that way. You also get to see how the characters interact with each other as friends and it really makes the player feel like they’re part of this entertaining group of close friends living out in the countryside.

Persona 4 is like a comfort game in that way. During a time where we all feel uncertain and tired from the state of everything right now, Atlus re-released this game at the perfect time. If you enjoy RPGs and need a new comfort game, I would definitely recommend this game. It’s not for everyone, which can be said for pretty much every game in existence, but I can personally say that it has served as a perfect comfort game during these times of heavy stress and facing potential unemployment.

Why I Like RPGs

The turn-based RPG genre certainly has dedicated fans, but I know a few people who don’t fully understand the appeal. Honestly, I don’t blame them either. We as human beings have incredibly varying tastes. It’s only natural for one person to absolutely love something and another to completely dislike it. Granted, the people I know don’t completely dislike the genre, but they aren’t big fans of it. I’m sure there are many people who dislike or even completely hate it as well, which I understand. It’s not for everyone. But today, I decided I would like to break down what it is exactly about this genre of game that I really enjoy, and why I love diving deep into these typically long adventures fraught with danger, story, and stats.

When growing up, I didn’t even really know what RPGs were until I was 12 years old. The only games I knew were Mario, Zelda, Mortal Kombat, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, since they were the games my parents played. My dad told me a little bit about the Final Fantasy series as a kid, though all I knew about the series was that it had great music. When I was 12 years old, however, I got my first RPG: Final Fantasy IV on the GBA.

The moment I played it, I fell in love. I’ve never been what one might consider “good” at video games, so the idea of a game where you choose the actions for your character to do rather than having to fight with your own skill was practically a godsend as a kid. Finally, a game I actually had a chance at beating. On top of the combat, I enjoyed the character-driven narrative. Before then, the only story I’d ever known in a video game was that the world was in danger and you had to save it. But with Final Fantasy IV, it dove deeper into the personal affairs and struggles of the game’s cast, showing the more human side of the characters you’re playing as. At that point, the game was more than a game: it became a story.

Nowadays, you can find these deep story-driven games in any genre. The Last of Us games are probably the biggest example of this, given their major cinematic approach to storytelling. However, I think the reason I enjoy them so much more in RPGs is because with the games being simpler mechanically, it allows more room for character growth and actual plot. That’s generally why RPGs are known as long games. They don’t always have to be, of course; you can still have a great story-driven RPG but have it only be a couple hours long. But as a kid with nothing much to do, my childhood self loved long games and knowing that it would take me a while to reach the end of the journey.

This has mostly been a rant on how I feel about the story-driven elements of these games, so I’ll get back on track before I digress more.

Despite my rants, the reason why I love RPGs is rather simple: because I think they’re fun. I understand that not everyone finds them fun because they would rather use their own skill and not depend on luck and numbers in combat, which is completely fine. I agree that things based on RNG can be annoying (like status ailments in Persona 1 ruining everything), but at the same time, there’s more to it in my mind.

When you’re playing an RPG, you become part of the world in the game. You get to see the lives of the characters and you join them on their journey. Much like real life, things happen that you simply can’t avoid. Even so, the game is meant for you to keep pushing forward. It’s especially compelling once you get attached to the characters. That’s why I’m continuing Persona 1 despite my previous protests to doing so. I’ve gotten too attached to the characters to just stop playing after getting one ending.

The other factor here is the mechanics. Most RPGs generally have simple mechanics in terms of combat that are easy to understand, and some have more complex mechanics. However, they generally follow the same formula. You fight enemies, you input commands, you gain experience in some way (either the traditional way or you gain points to allocate to different stats), and you get some form of treasure. Rinse and repeat. For many people, I’m sure this formula is quite boring. It can certainly be repetitive, yes, but there’s something I find comforting about it. Or perhaps cathartic.

I find enjoyment in the process of progressing the strength of the characters via this system. Xenoblade Chronicles is an example of what I personally think is the ideal character-building system. On top of gaining tradition level ups through EXP, you learn Arts and can level them up accordingly, you have skill trees which level up with SP, and you have the Gem system, where you can alter each character’s stats and abilities in combat and on the field. It is an incredible system of customization. It does require plenty of patience to go through so many menu screens to get the character build you want, but for someone like me, I think it’s perfect. It feels productive, and it feels fun.

Again, despite the ramblings of this nerd, the reason I enjoy RPGs is simple. I enjoy their narratives, I love the mechanics, I absolutely adore getting absorbed through the storytelling and the music especially, and I just like seeing the characters get stronger through numbers as well. I totally get why people would dislike it, and I would never dissuade people because of their opinions. This is merely the opinion of a tired nerd, even if it doesn’t fully make sense. Also, RPGs are a big reason why I’m an author now, so I have that bias going for me as well.

The Struggle Begins Anew

Well, as stated in my previous article, I am giving Persona 1 another try! As annoying as the game can be, I am excited to be back at it. Not only so I can experience this game again to its fullest, but because this series is getting me back into the video production process. On top of the skit I posted previously, I get to edit the videos in this series and have fun with it, providing more info than I can in the actual commentary with edits and the like. I think that once I start getting into the combat elements of this playthrough, I will even go so far as to provide the stats for every single demon, their strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps some information on the lore behind them! If it gets to be much, I can even make separate videos talking about them, since I want to go all-out with them.

The first episode of this playthrough is live on YouTube as of today! Feel free to check it below and let me know if you have any feedback!

Why I Can’t Leave Persona 1 Alone

For those who don’t know, I started a YouTube/Twitch playthrough for Shin Megami Tensei: Persona last year, specifically, the PSP version with a patch that includes the original PS1 soundtrack. After over a year of hardship with the game, I finally got to the end and technically beat it, though the recording containing the ending was lost. It didn’t matter anyway, since it was the bad ending of the SEBEC chapter. I didn’t even get to see the full game. Once that was over with, I was also “done” with the game. As much as I enjoyed the characters, the atmosphere, and the story, some of the RNG was just so annoying to deal with that I couldn’t play it any longer.

Or so I thought.

It’s been about a month now since I got the bad ending and attempted to go back for the first time, and I’ve been thinking about the game. I’ve been listening to the music, thinking about the characters, and figuring out why I can’t just leave it be. It got to me bad enough to completely rid me of any motivation I originally had to play it. Why am I still thinking about it?

The answer’s simple: I actually enjoy the game despite what I keep telling myself. The RNG might be brutal, but it is by no means a bad game. It could absolutely benefit from a remaster that, at the very least, elaborates on the characters more and fixes some of the balancing issues in combat, but it’s still amazing as is.

With that being said, I ended up making and releasing an announcement video on my YouTube channel for the playthrough in which I go back to this game and play it all the way through, including both the SEBEC and Ice Queen chapters. I will be playing on the Beginner difficulty for both playthroughs in hopes that the RNG is a little nicer to me, because I’m just in this for the story, really. The game is about 55% combat anyway, so I’d rather get through battles quickly so I can see more of the story and how things develop over time.

If you’d like to see the announcement video I made (people seem to like it), feel free to check it out below! The hope is that I will be releasing Persona 1 videos every Tuesday and Thursday starting tomorrow. I hope to see you there!

A Song That Inspires Courage

I might not have been in this life for particularly long, but I’ve definitely experienced the fear of regular things in life that not only happen all the time, but are things I feel like we shouldn’t even be afraid of. I experienced this same feeling of dread and even despair just this morning, so it’s not exactly the greatest way to start the day. I panicked because after getting paid, I realized I wouldn’t have enough money to pay my phone bill (or anything else) after paying my rent, which was definitely priority number one.

I feel like the reason it hit so hard was because it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. For many of us, 2020 has been a rough year. Things always seem to get worse and worse. It’s been incredibly easy even for me to succumb to the despair of feeling like things can’t get better, and I’ve always been known to be a rather optimistic person. (A little nihilistic as well, but I feel like a small dose of that helps with the optimism.) Just this year alone, I admit that I’ve thought numerous times that it’d be much easier to just die than put up with all of this. The thought of pushing through all the troubles that I just know are ahead almost brings me tears because I know how difficult and painful it will be.

But this morning, after that feeling of panic and dread started, a simple yet beloved song of mine came to mind, and I had to listen to it.

(Here’s to hoping the video isn’t taken down.)

There’s something special about this particular theme, both this version and the original version from the GameBoy. It starts off with the familiar Legend of Zelda main theme, but then breaks off into a new section that I personally feel is even better than the original Zelda theme. Anyone who’s played a Zelda game gets the basic idea of the concept. You play as the young protagonist Link, travel a dangerous world, crawl through dark dungeons, take on huge enemies, solve puzzles, and you save the world. You endure much hardship in these games, but at the end, you never see Link give up. (So long as you play through the whole game, that is.) You see him find a way to keep moving, because he knows as well as you do that it will be worth it in the end to have fought through it all.

Listening to this theme again warmed my heart, reminded me to take a deep breath, and to remember that life is more than the trouble we endure. We have people we care about, we have things we enjoy doing. That’s what life is about, and in the famous words of Talesin Jaffe, life needs things to live. As silly a quote as this was in context, it rings true. We all need each other. And even though we’re in a time of separation right now, we’re still connected even if we don’t know each other.

This theme has reminded me to keep my own courage up. I acknowledge my feelings and concerns, but then I must cast them aside, because if I don’t, how am I supposed to move forward? It’s like my childhood experience with Zelda games. It’d take me years to beat one because I was so afraid of failure that I’d put off taking on the next boss for long amounts of time. I’d still do it, though, because I wanted to see more of the game. I wanted to experience the rest of the game’s world, meet the people who populate it, and see Link come out on top. This same wish applies to my real life. I want to surpass my trials now so I can keep moving forward, to one day see the rest of the incredible world we live in, to meet the wonderful people who live in it, and to eventually see that I might be able to make a career from my writing.

At the end of the day, we are not the same as our problems nor our thoughts. We are ourselves, and we are each strong enough to overcome these struggles. I have faith in myself, and I have faith in you, as you should. Keep going. Fight. Show the same courage our boy in green always has, and I hope you can be proud of yourself for doing so.

(Here’s the GameBoy version if you feel like listening to it.)