Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 turned 10 years old recently. While I did not get the chance to play this game on its original PS2 release, this game has affected my gaming life considerably. Being a very late release in the PS2 life-cycle, I had actually already moved onto the HD-generation of gaming with the XBox 360. I don't know if it was an effect of playing a Microsoft system, or just where I was at the time with school and working, but it was in this era I had actually been moving pretty far away from the genre I had loved since the SNES days; Japanese Role-Playing Games. In the PS1 and PS2 days, I routinely brought JRPG's to the end of their clocks, often topping out at 99 hours and 59 minutes; although the true time played would be far longer. But the XBox 360 didn't have the plurality of JRPG's that Sony systems had in the past. While the system got things like Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon, those were special deals made, and were more of the exception, not the norm. For the most part I was playing things that had more of an action bent, like Assassin's Creed, or Just Cause 2. While many genres have adopted RPG conventions for use in their games, JRPG's are something unique, more than the sum of its systems. So while something may adopt things like skill-trees, or leveling up, they will not feel like a Japanese game. Really it seemed the biggest consequence to the shift in console generations was that the Japanese game industry was caught flat-footed with regard to the rise of HD TV's and the ability to generate HD assets in a timely fashion. So while Final Fantasy and Metal Gear were able to turn out game after game on previous consoles, it was developers in Western nations that really took over that generation, at least on the big screen.
While Japanese games seem to struggle with long development times on console games, they felt very much at home on handheld systems. The venerable Dragonquest series moved to the Nintendo DS, as did the good Castlevania games. While the 3DS had a slow start, it eventually became a great home for Japanesegames such as Etrian Odyssey and Monster Hunter. Sony had also had a good run of games on the PSP, and eventually came out with their new system, the Vita. Featuring a beautiful OLED screen and 2 analog-sticks, the Vita was a system that really felt more ready for console-quality games in a much smaller form-factor. I had gotten the white Vita for Christmas, that came with Assassin's Creed: Liberation. However, a big reason I wanted this handheld system was because of the press a Japanese RPG was getting at the time at places like Kotaku; Persona 4 Golden. (Here is the link to the Kotaku review Persona 4 Kotaku Review as well as the glowing Destructoid review by Dale North) It had been a while since I played a game like this, and the game looked colorful and different in a way I was not used to; given the perponderance of High-Fantasy settings in the JRPG genre. So a few days after Christmas, I went to Roosevelt Field Mall, where there was (and maybe still is) a Sony store. I went there with the express purpose of picking up this game, got it, and went home.
To put it simply; Persona 4 Golden was at the time the greatest video game I had ever played. The characters, setting, story, voice-work, and battle system were all so foreign to me at first, but after a short time I came to love everything this game had to offer. After I finished the game the first time, I did something I very rarely do; I started a New Game+ right away, no hesitiation. The ending was emotional, and heartfelt and truly felt like the end of a journey. However, I did not want that journey to end, I didn't want to leave those characters. Since then, I have done several playthroughs of the game, and have gone back to playing so many JRPG's, as well as other games in the Persona series. Persona 3 Portable was also amazing to me, as was the PSP remake of the first Persona. I also went out and found other series to fall in love with, like Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. While I may play some games that are not explicitly JRPG's like the Yakuza series, Persona 4 Golden made me fall in love with the genre all over again. Before Persona 4 Golden, I had told anyone that my favorite game ever was the phenominal Suikoden 2. But Atlus supplanted that spot, thanks to putting a pitch-perfect remake of an already stellar game on a great-feeling handheld system. It's of no doubt to me that because of Persona 4 Golden, I am going to go grab my Switch now to play Xenoblade Chronicles 2, then eventually Octopath Traveler, and maybe one day, I can tackle the veritable mountain of JRPG's that make up my backlog. God damn I own a lot of these games, thanks Obama (Persona 4).