I am impatiently waiting for P4:Golden to finally get here. Seeing as I must wait another month before I can get my hands on that treasure, I thought I would inform those who might not know about Persona 4 and series history.
This series comes from from RPG fan's beloved Atlus, who have given us some of the more obscure titles of the past few decades. The games deal with occult material, usually concentrating on angsty youth trying to just get through the challenging drama that is High School. The series has become known for it's rather inciteful probing of the adolescent psychy and all the issues that can arise within. The games also draw inspiration from what is known as Jungian Psychology. It was is a branch of thought, started by Carl Jung, that the merging of the subconcious and conscious thought could prove to be insightful in many ways. it is thought that it could prove physically healing to the mind and body, or allow one to become enlightened.
Persona is actually a spin-off series of SMT(Shin Megami Tensei, this was only used in the West in hopes of attracting series fans). It all started with SMT:Persona on the PS1. The game garnered no critical acclaim and over all was overshadowed by the PS1's plethera of far more worthy JRPGs. Nevertheless the game was profitable due to Atlus's lenient use of the console's power yet still offered a decent package. This led to the Sequel that would be split into two games. Persona:Innocent Sin and Persona:Eternal Punishment. The first game saw decent reception in the West but nothing spectacular. The second never saw the light of day in the US due to "questionable material" at the time. The game's possible homosexual relationship with the main character and supporting party member, as well as Hitler being a possible boss, are both blamed for this.
Then finally, towards the end of PS2's life, Atlus decided to take another stab at this detoured series. Even after the series only ever developed a small devout fanbase, they seemingly poured their all into this game. We were blessed with Persona 3.
I personally had never heard of this series until this game, I imagine many could say the same. I saw the rather detailed cover art box and the art book that standardly came with it.....I was SOLD! Persona 3 introducing new and unique ideas. One of the more important ones would be the new Social Link mechanic. While previous games simply allowed standard interaction with NPCs to flesh out small doses of insight, P3 went a step farther. With this mechanic, the game gave the impression of actually forming a relationship with people and creating a budding friendship, sometimes even romances. It allowed you to ignore ones you cared less about, and concentrate more on ones of interest. Yet there was a gameplay twist that made it all the more exciting. Each possible friendship is tied to an Arcana. everytime you show a friend attention you have the chance to level up that Arcana. These Arcanas would directly tie in with summoned Persona, making them more powerful the higher the level. Some Persona were only unlockable after reaching higher levels in their Arcana. This added another layer of depth to this strange social simulation. The story of the game also breathed a dark and chilling tone. It gave the feeling of being trapped in a suspenseful horror movie. The game also incorperating a time clock, forever ticking away and forcing progression forward. This made the fear of inevitable strong foes all the more striking. You would be given a finite number of days to be prepared, when that time came it was fight or DIE! What a great gaming atmosphere these mechanics created.
Mind you, the game was not perfect. It had a few flaws worth noting, one of the main ones being you could not control other party members directly. Instead you would issue vague orders where the teammates MIGHT listen. This could prove to be quite bothersome, but not exactly game breaking. Then of course there is Tartarus, the main(and only) dungeon of Persona 3. This spiralling tower seemed never ending. Knowing that the main character would be juggling his "High School student by day, Demon Fighting Super Hero by night", they sure went out of their way to make the Super Hero part a chore. Looking at the same scheme of randomly crafted floors directly effected the fun aspect of the game, negatively.
Nevertheless, the game was well recieved for what it did right. Great story tied in with inventive gameplay made it a game to watch for. It did well enough that imediately after Atlus finished P3, they started work on...
Persona 4's Release
Persona 4 came out only a year or so after P3. At this point in the Generation, PS2 was out and PS3/360 was in. No one was truely paying any attention to what as still to come for the PS2. Yet with Persona 4, Atlus struck GOLD!
Persona 4 uses the same engine and assets of the game before it. Yet this does not make it appear half assed, quite the contrary. Persona 4 took everything that was good in P3 and made it Better. It then took everything that didn't work and FIXED IT!!! Then it went on to add it's own flavor into the winning concoction to create something totally unique. P4 detoured slightly from the strong occult feel of P3 and made it a bit more....upbeat. The game boasted bright florecent colours in contrast to it's predecessor's drab blues and blacks. It birthed it's own tone, one I can only relate to the feeling of watching a comedy horror, Scooby Doo if you will. The over all product became something new all together, yet cemented a new trend for the series.
What P4 added was the ability to finally control all party members directly. Yet it should not be stated as plainly as that. What they did was incorperate this into the strong theme of forming bonds with friends. Initially, you lack direct control of them just like in P3, yet after the kindling of friendship is ignited, only then can you access them directly. This makes it feel special, almost priveleged to be able to control them. Then there is the Social Links. While P3 allowed ties to be made with Party members, P4 made you actively want to persue it. Not only was the entire cast of P4 far more likable, but the friendship seemed to actually LEVEL UP just like the Arcana. Let me explain, as I am sure this might sound confusing. When the Arcana of the Party member reaches certain lvls, it also unlocks another passive ability that can change the tide of battle. The first of many is the ability called "Follow Up"(I am positive this is referring to the Gang phrase "You Hit'em, I'll Follow UP!" which makes it quite hilarious to me). Follow Ups occure randomly after a character successfully takes down an enemy with their weakness. One of the party members will issue the request to let them finish the job. Each of the characters has a different attack and animation attached to this. Some have become almost meme worthy. Case in point, Chie's GALACTIC PUNT!!!!
Chie:"Did I do that?" Yes Chie, you did do that....
As you level up the party members more, you unlock better perks for being such a close friend. Another suck perk would be that the Party member would become willing to take a killer blow for YOU! Yes, you can become so attached with these characters that they would litterally take a hit, or even Die for you. I find this captivating how they ingrained an emotional depth INTO the actual gameplay.
Then let us go to the general story, which also incorperates your budding relationship with your group of friends. The topics that arise seem so adult. The go from general two face'dness, struggling with sexuality, fears of being alone, pressures of life obligations and the expectations that come with it, and many other deep issues. These are things we deal with in real life and Atlus has found a way to bottle up those insecurities and put them in front of a mirror for us to see.Gone are the days of tall towering monstrosities of monotony, aka Tartarus, in are the days of themed dungeons that emulate personal strife. It is super touching to watch a person have to face their "true self", let alone do it in front of people. I can honestly say, I don't think I have ever felt so....connected with a cast of characters.
Persona 4 does a few other things that enhances the experience even further than what Persona 3 accomplished, but I will not go down the laundry list.
Persona 4, in spite of the timing of release, went on to be the best selling SMT/Persona game that Atlus has ever made. According to VGC it has sold somewhere around 800,000 copies. To put things in perspective; Unless your title is Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Pokemon, not too many JRPGs are even near that successful. Persona 3 and 4 are also the highest rated in the series, 4 garnering a 9/10 average overall.
Atlus took this as a sign. Persona has all but replaced the series that spurned it,SMT, as the new head of household. In a sense, the SMT direct titles seem to be the "spin-offs" now a days.
With a new sense of invigoration for the series, Atlus has made multiple attempts to capitalize on their new gem. Persona 3:FES was released for PS2, Persona 1,2, and P3 Porotable were all released on PSP with strong sales closely replicating what they did on console.
These remasters have gone on to do pretty good sales, in comparison to others in the series. A good point to make would be also for the first time, these games are published exclusively by Atlus. The original games (except P4) were all published by bigger companies, meaning less profit for Atlus.
Also the series has spun into anime as well. There is an anime sequel for P3, P4:The Animation has had a very good run and is now being brought to the US, and there will also be a P3 movie based on the actual game story .Later on we even got Persona 4:Arena, a spin-off 2D fighter based on the game's lore.
Atlus is now constantly being badgered about when us fans will be graced with Persona 5 officially. They gave word that it is indeed in development over a year ago, and that it will be on PS3. This has only made us pine for more of the series, as we cannot have enough.
Now it comes time for a remastered version of Persona 4, the entry that put the series in the spotlight. It has been highly anticipated as a "System Seller" for Vita in Japan, and generally a great JRPG to be in the Vita's Game Catalog.
What to Expect?
Persona 4: Golden as it is called, will sport a number of new additions and features. If you are squimish of possible Spoilers, skip this section. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!
- Two new Social Links: Marie, a Persona 4 Golden exclusive character, and Adachi. Both Social Links can unlock new contents on story, such as new dungeon and additional scenes for all ending types (Bad/Good/True)
- New Difficulty levels similar to Persona 3 Portable. On New Game+, player can change and even customize the difficulty levels on config menu. The levels are:
- Safety(Very Easy in NA Version)
- Easy(Left untouched in NA Version, used to be called Beginner)
- Hard(Left Untouched in NA Version, used to be Expert)
- Risky(Very Hard in NA Version)
- Additional voice over dialog.
- Chie and Teddie have new voices in the English versions .
- New animated cutscenes.
- More Personas, including new Ultimate Personas for the Investigation Team.
- New areas, such as a beach and a ski resort. Okina City, which was only seen during certain Social Link scenes, is now accessible.
- New events, such as a Halloween event and a skiing trip.
- Player can explore Inaba on evening time, with few limitation places (similar to Persona 3)
- Yu and his friends now have motorbikes to get around various areas.
- Tag team attacks.
- A quiz show mini-game.
- Certain equipment and accessories changes your party member's appearance, much like in Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable. This equipment goes in a different slot and does not affect the party's stats.
- New Garden and Bug Catching features.
- The ability to choose which skills can be inherited by the persona you are fusing.
- The ability to call for help via Wi-Fi when your party reaches critical status.
- Clips from the Persona Music Live of 2008 and 2009 can be watched.
- An option to replay animated cutscenes.
- The addition of an in-game music player.
- New scene skipping function for those who played the PS2 version that just want to explore new features.
- If player fulfills criteria for at least good ending, daily activities are expanded to February 14th 2012, giving more time for events and social links.
- New epilogue for the True Ending.
Persona 4 sold 800k or more. Previous remakes have sold close to half of what the original sold. Persona 4:Golden has sold 63% of what the P4 did in Japan only, it would be safe to assume EU and US sales might go along the same trend. Mind you P4:G has not been out nearly as long as it took P4 to reach that sales number. This would put P4:G at about 500k+ WW when all is said and done.
Future of the Series
August 2011, Persona 5 was officially stated to be in production. In some form or fashion, it should be assumed P4:Golden in some way hints at Persona 5. Just as P3P hinted at Catherine.
Also it needs to be noted that a supposed "Fan Group" released a possible soundtrack to P5. It has yet to be confirmed or denied by Atlus. Due to the nature of the games which are usually surrounded around a rumor or urban legend, this could be Atlus trolling us with viral marketing. They are known on Youtube as AtlusxP5. Even if they are not legit, its some really good songs compiled.