There's been a lot of news in the world of Persona
in the past little while. A brand new fighting game from the makers of BlazBlue
sounds interesting, but the real meat of the announcements was Persona 4 The Golden,
a PS Vita, portable version of the original PS2 game. Unlike Persona 3 Portable
for the PSP, this version seems to be a direct gameplay port of the original game, which means free-roaming environments as opposed to the graphic novel-style gameplay of the former. Although P3:P was fine, a lot of the charm was lost in that translation (despite containing some of the gameplay improvements from P4), so I'm extremely happy that the portable version of P4 is going in the direction that it is.
As excited as I am about the P4 remake, it's gotten me to reminisce about my time playing both Persona 3: FES
and Persona 4,
and I've been meaning to write up an actual comparison of the two for a long time. After playing both games more than once, P3 eventually becoming my all-time favorite JRPG, I've come to the conclusion that I'm in somewhat of a minority group: I truly believe that the original PS2 version of P3:FES is better than P4, and always will be.
Keep in mind that I understand different people have different opinions, and people seem to forget that sometimes. These are my opinions. Also, there will be spoilers from this point forward, especially when talking about the plot. You've been warned!
Those who have played the Persona
games may be a bit confused about what I mean by "character customization," since you don't customize your character in the traditional RPG sense of the term. You don't get to decide what he/she looks like, and you don't distribute individual stats when leveling up, at least, not in the more recent Persona
games. The customization comes in the form of weapon choice.
There's a really old RPG cliche that I'm personally getting sick of: Give the main character a giant-ass sword and call it good. Why does every single RPG character need a huge sword? It's old, it's been done, and frankly, it's boring. P3 changed that, allowing the main character to use any type of weapon available. You want almost perfect accuracy, but don't mind losing a bit of oomph in your swing? Slap a pair of boxing gloves on. Don't mind missing once in a while, but like to surprise enemies in the field from a distance? The bow and arrow is perfect for you. Each weapon type also had unique animations for the main character to show off, and it was just awesome to be able to mix it up once in a while. You could play however you wanted to, and there were no limits.
Then P4 came along, and we went back to the giant-ass sword thing. There's even a point in the beginning of the game where another character outright asks you if you like swords or daggers better, but it doesn't matter -- Whatever you choose, you're getting a sword, and you sure as hell had better like it. It's by no means a game-breaker or anything, but I just don't see why they did something so unique in P3 and then tore that awesome feature away from players in P4.
The thing that really got me is when I started play P3:P on the PSP, and I discovered that this change actually carried over into the Persona 3
remake. In the portable version of the game, you're stuck to only one weapon type yet again. This is especially interesting if you picked up the European collector's edition, where the art book is a literal copy and paste of the original PS2 version's art book, depicting the main character utilizing every weapon type. It's a beautiful kick in the face, and a reminder of what was done in the past and then taken away. The original game did something that not a whole lot of RPGs had done up to that point, and that feature was actually removed in the following games in the series. Like I said before, it's not a deal breaker or anything, but I do find it disappointing.
Social Links are a huge part of the recent Persona
games, and another area that I truly believe was better in P3 than P4. Not so much the quality of the conversations or the characters you interacted with -- Those aspects are really up to the player to pass judgment on. The thing that got me was that in P4, almost no thought needed to be put into actually advancing the Social Links.
In Persona 3,
if you didn't actually read the conversations and pick logical answers based on who you were trying to talk to, the Links wouldn't advance. In extreme cases, if you were REALLY a jerk to the person you were talking to, the Links could actually reverse, causing damage to the relationship. If this happened, you had to starting making nice with that person until they forgave you, lest the Link actually start to go DOWN in level. You really had to get to know the characters in the game, and you had to answer their questions based on their individual personalities.
dumbed down the Social Link system. The entire time I played that game, I could just respond however I wanted to any question, and the Link always, ALWAYS advanced. I could even take my character and blatantly cheat on one of the female characters, dating a bunch of them at a time, and no one said anything (try doing that in real life and let me know how it goes). Hell, I even actively TRIED to reverse a couple of my Social Links and it never worked. The Social Link system in P4 was altered so you could choose the first option almost literally every time the opportunity arose, and you would never have receive negative or even neutral outcomes. The entire point of Social Links was to get to know other, lesser characters throughout the game, and P4 chose to make almost every NPC seem insignificant.
The actual Links and character stories were fine, but thinking was no longer involved -- You just had to keep hammering that X button and you were good to go.
The story in Persona 4
is the real reason I believe Persona 3
is better. In fact, I think the story in P4 is actually the game's weakest point. Why is this? Because the ending, the TRUE ending that you have to work so hard to get, is literally just a copy/paste of Persona 3's
(This is where the spoilers start, by the way.)
In Persona 3,
the main antagonist of the game isn't Strega or the Shadows, as it seems to be at first -- It's an ancient being known as Nyx. Her sole purpose is to bring about the Fall, effectively ending humanity and possibly even physically destroying the world. During the second half of the game, Nyx is mentioned quite a lot, and a lot of people start to beg for her arrival. She's the topic of choice of all your classmates, citizens around town and on TV. You now know what your true goal is: Stop the Fall from happening at any cost. Your experience fighting the Shadows becomes invaluable as you face an enemy so vile, so hated by your group that you'll stop at nothing to destroy her.
And then something very interesting is revealed to you: Nyx isn't really your enemy, nor humanity's. As it turns out, so many people had -- consciously or unconsciously -- called out for the end of everything that she simply responded to their pleas. She assumed every human being shared this same desire to end it all, and so the Fall was put into motion. In the end, your group of characters that you've come to know and love has to stand up and represent the part of humanity that doesn't desire death, and one of them makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the rest of the world.
Fast foward to Persona 4.
The story takes the form of a murder mystery, where the whole game is spent trying to figure out who's trying to kill various people around town. In the end, a character that you've known throughout the entire game is the culprit, adding a nice little twist, albeit one that's extremely easy to figure out. (Seriously, there's no way a player could even pretend to not know who the actual enemy is by the time you're supposed to make that decision.) As far as I'm concerned, this is where the storyline should have ended.
If you get the best ending, you stumble upon a discovery: The main villain isn't really the one pulling the strings! There's an ancient being known as Izanami who's behind it all, and she even disguised herself as one of the first characters you meet in the game. Because she became interested in finding out humanity's true desire, she awakens the Personas of several characters in the game and then assumes they speak for everyone else in the world. She's not really evil herself, but she was just doing what she thought people wanted. Your goal is now to stand up to her and show her that not everyone feels the same way.
Did anything you just read sound familiar to you?
Izanami in P4 is the EXACT SAME ENEMY as Nyx in P3. There's one huge difference, however: Izanami in NEVER mentioned throughout the entirety of P4. While Nyx is actually a fleshed-out character by the time you finally meet her at the end of the game, Izanami is a nobody, a character that was meant to give off a sense of overarching power, but failed miserably because of an almost complete lack of character development. My disappointment in Izanami still bubbles up every once in a while, as I'm sure you can tell, and I'd go so far as to say that she's one of the worst final bosses in a video game that I've ever played. I admit that it was cool that she was disguised in the beginning, and she obviously does have a hand in the game's events, but you still didn't really see or hear from her as soon as the game really got started. Izanami truly is the deus ex machina of antagonists.
Anyway, that's what I think of the two games. I loved Persona 4,
I really did, and if any game is going to get me to buy a first generation Vita, it'll be that one. But overall, even with the improvements it provided to gameplay, it can't hold a candle to Persona 3.
P3 is, in my opinion, one of the finest RPGs I've ever played, and while P4 is quite good, providing a superior battle system and much better voice acting, the story and character interaction was sacrificed for a few gameplay enhancements, and I honestly don't think the positives outweigh the negatives.