Feature Article

Persona 4 10 Years Later; A Celebration Of An All-Time Great RPG And Its Legacy

Pursuing your true self.

It may not have been known at the time, but Japan (in July 2008) and North America (in December 2008) received what would be remembered as one of the greatest role-playing games ever made. Over the course of a decade, Persona 4 has become more than just an incredibly fun RPG with a refined battle system and quirky characters, though. A story about Japanese high school students confronting their worst fears, fighting for what's right, and becoming the best of friends spawned a lasting legacy that has empowered the people who played it and continually inspired new games. Our love for Persona 4 has kept it alive for so long with several fighting games, two anime adaptations, an adorable (and difficult) spin-off RPG, and even a rhythm game. And after 10 years, we're still seeing our good friends from Inaba in a new light.

For the uninitiated, Persona 4's foundation closely resembles that of its predecessor, Persona 3. You're a transfer student new to a school surrounded by unusual circumstances; supernatural phenomena that endanger your new hometown is the crux to the overarching mystery. On a typical day, you go to class, do extracurricular activities, and try to grow closer to those around town and at school. Better yourself through hobbies or take on a part-time job, it's up to you how to pass the time. In particular, Persona 4 takes you to a fictional rural town of Inaba where the biggest thing to happen before your arrival was the opening of a Junes department store (think Super Walmart, but with an infectious jingle). Even your little cousin Nanako is utterly convinced that every day's great at your Junes, and begs you and her dad to take her there like it's the greatest place on earth.

Sure sounds like all fun and games until you and your new friends become the centerpiece for a dark murder mystery and an absolutely perplexing world that lives behind TV screens. At first, it's not quite clear why outlandish versions of certain townsfolk inexplicably pop up on TV sets and go missing on rainy midnights. The one way to get to the bottom of this is to actually jump into a TV screen to enter the shadow world where you and your friends of the Investigation Team fight evil with makeshift weapons and the ability to summon powerful magical incarnations of your inner selves.

Aha! Is this our chance? It's time for an All-Out Attack!
Aha! Is this our chance? It's time for an All-Out Attack!
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While dungeon crawling and sneaking up on shadows through randomly generated floors make up the exploration, an intricate turn-based combat system is where you'll find excellence in gameplay. Most enemies have elemental weaknesses which factor into how you construct your party and devise a tactical approach. Sounds par for the course in an RPG, but the unique press-turn system that Shin Megami Tensei is known for shines brighter than it had previously by giving you full control to pull off flashy, effective attacks. Receiving a bonus attack after targeting a weakness before enemies get a turn is endlessly satisfying, especially as dungeons become inhabited by trickier, stronger shadows.

A story about Japanese high school students confronting their worst fears, fighting for what's right, and becoming the best of friends spawned a lasting legacy that has empowered the people who played it and continually inspired new games.

However, nothing in battle matches the joy of seeing your crew team up for the most adorable, yet devastating All-Out Attacks, a franchise staple. Everyone in the party piles on heavy damage that usually puts an end to the fight, and you sense their ferocity in character portraits that pop up just before everyone jumps in. A cloud of dust erupts as they whale on enemies, sometimes popping out of the chaos only to jump back in for another hit, and all you need to do is watch as they take care of business. If you're lucky, someone will offer a follow-up attack turn-free; and it should be taken as fact that nothing is as absurdly cute as Chie's galactic punt where she literally kicks an enemy into outer space (her kung fu DVDs really paid off). Even in battle, everyone's distinct personality isn't lost or put off to the side, which highlights Persona 4’s greatest accomplishment: its commitment to a relentless charm embodied by this cast of misfits.

So effortlessly does Persona 4 merge the two pillars of a social simulation and traditional RPG; nothing feels disconnected, and how days are spent matters. These two realities feed into each other, and Igor--the series-long, omniscient owner of the ethereal Velvet Room--alludes to this up front: true strength is born from the bonds you form. The power of friendship is a prevalent trope in similar stories, but to have that power manifest as a tangible benefit in combat gives us further reason to invest in relationships. I call back to how Rise came in clutch to buff the party or cast healing during tough boss fights, or when Yukiko dealt the final blow casting Agidyne using her final-form persona with the last bit of SP: moments like these solidify the feeling that my companions really do have my back in times of need.

Gas up your scooter 'cause we're going on a road trip!
Gas up your scooter 'cause we're going on a road trip!
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From the mother who wishes for acceptance from her stepson to your basketball teammate who finds it impossible to live up to his adopted family's legacy, these vignettes serve to tell very human stories. We help Nanako open up to her dad about his lack of presence and break through Uncle Dojima's hard-boiled temperament to reveal an empathetic father who constantly struggles with his wife's death and his job as a detective. In the end, a heartwarming father-daughter scene results in a newfound commitment to family. Other social links struck a more personal nerve.

This cast harbors the painful secrets that so many teenagers and young adults repress, and it carries the perceptions and labels society puts upon them. These are the burdens everyone bears throughout Persona 4, but burdens that no one has to bear alone.

When Yosuke overlooks Inaba, the town he once hated, and realizes that what makes him happy is the people he's surrounded by rather than big city glamour, I felt that. Even though Kanji maintains the tough guy attitude, he eventually embraces his sewing skills and love for cute plushies--as he began to handcraft toys for kids around town, I sensed a big, cathartic middle finger to societal expectations for masculinity. Naoto's strive for justice, as the genius detective, makes a firm statement against workplace gender discrimination. Life as an idol sure sounds great, until Rise decides she needs to walk away from stardom for her own sanity. As endearing as Chie's and Yukiko's friendship, their dynamic evolved and reached new heights after confronting their shadow-selves, leading to more open and honest relationship.

This cast harbors the painful secrets that so many teenagers and young adults repress, and it carries the perceptions and labels society puts upon them. These are the burdens everyone bears throughout Persona 4, but burdens that no one has to bear alone. The TV world and Midnight Channel work not just as metaphors for the fear of what you think everyone sees in you, but to illustrate the sense of imprisonment and helplessness that's born from it. And by navigating the maze-like dungeons and crushing enemies, the crew breaks through obstacles to finally support each other in overcoming their monumental insecurities. Many of the game's pieces sound silly on paper, but they all come together to inspire you before you know it.

When spread across 100+ hours of play-time, spanning an in-game calendar year, you're given room to breathe and let events, big and small, sink in. Moments of levity work alongside the more heartfelt revelations, which creates an ingenious balancing act. To its benefit, the game never takes itself too serious. Persona 4's greatness lies in its execution and presentation; story, gameplay, visual style, and its soundtrack all complement each other to elevate beyond the sum of its parts.

Persona 4 wouldn't be the same game without the masterful composition of series composer Shoji Meguro. A collection of J-pop, J-rock, and catchy instrumentals make for incredible tracks on their own, but the right song at the right time elevates the emotional impact. As soon as I hear the brass horns start up for the track that plays during social links, I can't help but smile and sense the fun being had between characters. The boss battle theme of "I'll Face Myself" instills a feeling of danger, but also the determination to defeat your worst enemies. And the emblematic battle theme "Reach Out To The Truth" is such an uplifting song that brings back all my memories of this game. Sometimes I look outside my own house and "Heartbeat, Heartbreak" pops into my head on cloudy days and "Your Affection" when the sun shines. Music isn't relegated to just the background, and it cannot be overstated how evocative its soundtrack has been throughout the years.

For all Persona 4's inspirational moments and pushes for social progressivism, we can't turn a blind eye to where it gets things wrong; to truly love something is to also recognize its flaws. By no means is it perfect when it comes to the portrayal of certain social groups and character conduct. Teddie himself exhibits unscrupulous behavior that can easily be interpreted as harassment, and it's never really confronted. Despite the personally uplifting story of Kanji, his sexual ambiguity is occasionally used as a punchline, and his shadow self can be seen as too over-the-top. Certain insensitive decisions can be made in relation to Naoto's struggle with gender identity; the interpretation of her character continues to be a point of contention to this day. And as time has gone on, the less amusing the cross-dressing pageant scene has become. To its credit, a Japanese game from 2008 was willing to explore subjects often seen as taboo; it misses the mark in critical moments, but there's value in its earnest effort. Regardless, some jokes weren't necessary to be humorous and it would've been much better without them.

Despite all its absurdity, Persona 4 is grounded with thoughts and feelings that so accurately resemble our own; it's a human experience, one that many games aim for, but rarely come close to capturing.

The sheer number of games that spawned afterward speaks to the love we've shared for this game. A PS Vita exclusive remaster, Persona 4 Golden, launched in 2012 as the definitive version; it refines core mechanics and includes a slew of meaningful additions. Along with new songs that perfectly fit the original soundtrack, Chie's new voice actress (Erin Fitzgerald) brought a whole new life into an already-beloved character and truly captured the spirit of Persona 4's best girl. A whole extra dungeon, an important new character, additional social link events, and new tag-team attacks round out Golden as the best version of an already-amazing game.

An anime adaptation premiered in 2011, and another based on the remastered game released in 2014. Although it's difficult to capture an RPG in a condensed format, the anime offered a new way to experience the journey. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth brought along our buddies from Persona 3 into the mix in a wonderfully executed dungeon crawler RPG on 3DS--it bursts with charm as chibi versions of these two beloved casts band together to fight evil and have a good time. I'd also say Q features the best introductory theme and video in all the franchise. If the fan service wasn't already good enough, Persona 4: Dancing All Night leveraged the beautiful soundtrack for a delightful (and admittedly ridiculous) rhythm game--hearing my favorite songs remastered and remixed is a real treat. If all that wasn't enough, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth recently launched in Japan, a 3DS follow-up to the RPG spin-off that unites the Phantom Thieves of Persona 5 with everyone else; there's currently no word on a North American release, however.

BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle brings back our friends at Yasogami High to meet the casts of BlazBlue, Under Night, and RWBY.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle brings back our friends at Yasogami High to meet the casts of BlazBlue, Under Night, and RWBY.
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Persona lends itself so well to fighting games that Arc System Works took up creating a 2D fighter in Persona 4 Arena, which remained true to both the developer's fighting game philosophy and the spirit of the source material. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax built on that foundation even further. And just this year, ArcSys circled back on Persona 4 by crossing worlds with BlazBlue, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. Each of these fighters introduced new characters and storylines, and were included in the fighting game community's biggest stages. Rarely, if ever, does a single entry in a larger franchise spin off in so many different directions, but thankfully, it's helped keep our Persona 4 love alive all these years later.

After becoming personally invested in their journey that started it all and pouring so much time into seeing them grow, it was genuinely hard to say goodbye as the credits rolled and the ending theme "Never More" began to play. In the decade since the original game, we were fortunate to see the charming crew of knuckleheads time and time again in so many different games. It's almost silly to think that fictional Japanese high school students could empower us to be better, but Persona 4 has given me, and countless others, boundless joy and also an opportunity for self-reflection. Yes, I played an incredible RPG, but what I saw was a group of best friends pulling for each other to become stronger people and make the world a better place. Despite all its absurdity, Persona 4 is grounded with thoughts and feelings that so accurately resemble our own; it's a human experience, one that many games aim for, but rarely come close to capturing.

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highammichael

Michael Higham

Associate Editor at GameSpot. Southeast San Diego to the Bay. Salamat sa iyong suporta!
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

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Avatar image for sippio
sippio

GREAT ARTICLE..

Gem are few & far between in a sea of mediocre Fortnite articles UGH!!

~i actually skipped Persona4 because i was at a party stage..

BUT,,i decided about a few months ago that i wanna get a Original Xbox & PS2.

The PS2 that plays PS1 games....

**Games like Persona4 are what spawned this idea.

that and about a year ago when i saw a picture in Game Informer Magazine

of a video Game collector who converted a room or basement with actual

"Isles" of games in his converted basement or man cave..

I made the master bedroom my Cave or to be PC= Our Den ;D

*and i want to display the game son a shelf like i did with PS3/Xbox360.

Seeing the 130 game son each system neatly on shelves always made me happy & helped when

deciding what backlog game to play next...

*I actually have a PSvita and even though Persona4 Gold exist & has better grphics by far over PS2,

i still cant/wont do it..

Even pokemon has been a struggle on lil screen..

esp when @ home next to larger screens..

**I assume every major city/town has a old school video game store.

And they usually have buy 1 get 2 free on the older systems...

***FYI~ one needs a old school flat screen 200LBS tv THOUGH ugh!!!

AS PS2 looks awful on modern tv...

fortunately they are everywhere for dirt cheap. as in under $60...

anyone interested in setting up a Game-cave,

and getting these old systems wanna compare notes etc then hit me^..

Avatar image for Cikatriz_ESP
Cikatriz_ESP

So I dropped out of P5 about halfway through (I had just finished a 120-hour playthrough of P4G the day before it was released and was pretty burned out on the series). Is the anime a good way to catch back up on the story? Does it go through the different dungeons and stuff in the same order? If not, is there a better way to get up to speed?

Edit: now that I think about it I probably wasn’t halfway, but I did have at least half of the characters on my team.

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dragonsama

I'm playing Persona 4 Golden for the first time on PSV-TV right now and I love it. I'm about 70 hours in, maxed out my party, and Yukiko is my Waifu. (she's awesome and seamed the like the most natural one that Yu would wind up with)

However while I like this game a lot I feel like Persona 5 is the better game. It just seamed to dive a whole lot deeper into the character's stories with Futaba's is especially heartbreaking.

Not saying P4 is bad it's not it's absolutely great and should be played by everyone but P5 is slightly better.

Avatar image for sippio
sippio

@dragonsama: Dude,,,what is this Vita TV?

Now I remember seeing some weird yet awesome reality like commercial in japan about it where dude was going from living room with his Vita to his room etc..

Is this PSV TV?

id love to read ur personal review Man..

if youd be wiling...

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gamingdevil800

@dragonsama: Going to do the same thing myself over Xmas having only played Persona 5 I can't decide whether to play Persona 3 FES on my PS3 or Persona 4 Golden on the PSTV first.

Avatar image for lostn
lostn

@dragonsama: I didn't like the story of P5. I also preferred the music of P4.

I think it's valid to like it more than P4. Its refinements do make it better mechanically. But 9 years is a long time to wait for such a small improvement.

But I also think which is your favorite is colored by which one you played first.

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aross2004

P4 rawks! Worth buying a Vita for Golden.

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Thanatos2k

Can you please make more articles like this Gamespot? Let me take a look at the news page....

6 stories about Amazon

10 stories about Fortnite

3 stories about Pokemon

1 story about Uncharted

1 story about PS Plus

Christ. Can we get some articles about games and not your advertising partners?

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lostn

It's been the best JRPG since it released imo.

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AnnetteBomb

I hope they remaster Persona 4/&3 for this gen. Never got to play them and would love the chance after playing Persona 5 which I loved so much I purchased it’s sound track which I listen to every day. So if the others are better can’t imagine the impact they’d have, so much fun ^_^

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lostn

@annettebomb: 4 is better than 5. 3 is a matter of opinion. Some like 3 more than 4, others like 4 more than 3.

If they get remastered, there needs to be QoL improvements to 3 to make it the same as 4 Golden. A graphical update I can't see happening. They could just port 4 Golden to PS4 and run in FHD/4K 60fps. Then give P3 the same QoL treatment that Golden got and run that in FHD/4K also.

If you go backwards from 4 to 3 or 3 FES, it's rough. You can't control your party members, and you can't select which skills to pass on during fusion.

P4 is in my top 3 JRPGs of all time. It has a fabulous cast that you will love to hang out with and be sad when the year is over. It made me wish I could play for another year but alas the credits have to roll. I never imagined school life to be so fun. It made me wish I was an exchange student in Japan. They have clubs and lots of fun social things to do after school.

My suggestion is to get a used Vita or PS TV (much cheaper option) and buy 4 Golden. It will be worth every penny. I spent 185 hours on it and loved every second of it. I normally hate long games, but this is one rare long game that I actually wished was longer, not shorter.

And the soundtrack is the best in the series. Better than P5. It's got one of the best JRPG soundtracks of all time. You hear each track a lot, but never get sick of them. I thought vocals in video game music would be weird especially in english, but this series converted me.

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AnnetteBomb

@lostn: thank you for your comment. I’m heavily tempted to buy a vita just to play Persona 4 Golden. Your comment has swayed me more towards getting it. Sadly PS TV is terrible in Ireland. Will pick up a vita cheap and get the game one of these days as just have to experience it.

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lostn

@annettebomb: Glad I could help, but I want to warn you that there is no consensus on which version of Persona 3 (FES or P3 Portable) is the definitive version. Gameplay-wise P3P is better. However, due to the limitations of the PSP, its presentation is like a visual novel. Inside Tartarus, it plays like normal, but outside it doesn't look as animated. Anime cutscenes are missing, the in engine cutscenes have been replaced with a non-animated VN look.

It does come with a new female MC campaign though which has different social links and a modified plot.

But P3P is missing the epilogue campaign called The Answer. This was added in P3 FES. It's not a big deal though. The Answer is very grindy, and you're better off watching the cutscenes on Youtube. There is a guy who posted all of the cutscenes in sequence in HD widescreen (he used a PS2 emulator), and it's about 3 hours long.

If you only intend to play one of them, play P4G and skip P3. If you intend to play both then play P3 first. But I fear that P3 will be difficult for you to get used to and make you lose interest in playing P4G. It is difficult and frustrating going backwards if you started with P4G and then moved to P3 like I did. I played the FES version and it made me pull my hair out on many occasions. It will be a lot less frustrating in P3P but the cutscenes and social links don't have the presentation you're used to with FES and P4.

P4 is a much better game than P3 in my opinion. The story is better, you feel more involved in it, and the cast is a lot more closer knit. You feel like friends and not coworkers. I just hope you keep that in mind just in case you dislike or get frustrated by P3 and feel like giving up on the series. It will get better.

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AnnetteBomb

@lostn: will start with P3P then will move on P4G. Thank ya for the insight.

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sakaiXx

@annettebomb: Play P3Portable first before moving to P4G. You will appreciate the series growth. Btw P3Portable is a PSP port of P3. I think its available on vita and has all the enhancements of P4.

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lostn

@sakaixx: Btw P3Portable is a PSP port of P3. I think its available on vita and has all the enhancements of P4.

It has the enhancements of P4 but not P4G. It is lacking two very key features: Fusion search (a godsend when trying to fuse every persona) and the ability to select which skills to pass on during fusion (another godsend that will save you a ton of time). P4 on PS2 did not have those features either. They were a QoL improvement add in P4G.

That is why I think if they port P3 to modern platforms, they must take FES and give it the missing QoL enhancements made by P4G. This in all honestly would not take much work to do at all. And also keep the female route in.

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sakaiXx

@lostn: should I say duh. I guess I should, duh.

This why I mentions P4 enhancement.

Yeah on P3Fes remakes. I don't really care on Fusion search as I go through original P3, P3Fes, P4 and P3P just fine and even made Lucifer, Helel and Thanatos without looking at walkthrough. More important is the manual input on all character in battle. Back when the FES enhancements made round it was the most talked thing, too bad it didn't then. It should now.

Also Female route is a must. Better social links there.

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lostn

@sakaixx: P4G's enhancements are a huge step up from P4's. Imo, P4's QoL enhancements are not good enough. Which means P3P's is not good enough.

Fusion search is convenient. If you have a bunch of junk personas you don't need, you can see what you can make out of them, and at a quick glance tell what new Personas you don't have yet, that you can make with your existing junk stock. Simply combining them together isn't helpful. It could create personas you already have. Using the fusion search lets you easily find ones you don't have yet, instead of you needing to experiment until you get one.

The biggest change is skill selection. If you didn't get what you wanted to pass on, you'd have to cancel and try again, sometimes for an hour until you got exactly what you wanted. This was a total waste of time that P4G cut out.

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AnnetteBomb

@sakaixx: Thank you for the information. I’ve been convinced, didn’t know a version of Persona 3 was available to play on the PSP (have a PSP) so can definitely play it. Going to look into buying it right now. Cheers :)

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AnnetteBomb

@sakaixx @lostn Thank you both for your comments. Did you convinced me to research prices again on the Vita. Turns out I could get one for 100e so I did. Persona 3 will be the first game I play on it, then Uncharted Golden Abyss, then Persona 4 Golden. Thanks :)

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proceeder

Persona 2 & 3 were better.

So was P5 even.

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Xristophoros

@proceeder: maybe, but 4 is certainly better than 5 as well. 5 is definitely the weakest of the modern persona trilogy... it is an 8/10 instead of a 9/10 like the others in my books due to weaker characters and writing on the whole.

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Berserk8989

I adore this game. Playing it just now on my Vita for the 2nd time.

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Valgaav_219

@Berserk8989: I wanna replay it so bad but I don't have another 150 hours to spare lol. Between Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 Golden, and Persona 5 I've easily played 5-600 hours

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Godlikan

Its high time for PC ports and re masters of 3,4 and 5.

Avatar image for Xristophoros
Xristophoros

persona 4 was better than 5 imo... much more memorable characters and storyline. that said, persona is like final fantasy in the sense, the first one you play will likely remain your favourite. persona 5 has many hardcore fans, but it seems like that game was their introduction to the series and thus made a stronger impression on them. in reality, persona 5 followed the persona 4 formula very closely and felt like a very incremental update and dare i say it, a rehash of familiar ground. they did not take enough risks with the persona series since persona 3 in all honesty. is that a bad thing? not necessarily... but i am not looking forward to a new sequel unless they dramatically shake up the formula with persona 6.

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lostn

@Xristophoros: eh, no.

When you fu(k with a winning formula, you risk making it worse. Change for the sake of change is not a good thing. You don't see people complain that Halo, Gears or Forza haven't changed. They're the same game because that's what the fans want.

You only get a Persona game once every 9 years. I don't think the same game every 9 years will make it stale. If you got one every year and it was the same formula, I'd agree it needs reinventing. But 9 years is a long time between games. Long enough that you aren't tired of it before the next one. This series is unique. There's no other game like it. So it's not like everyone is cloning it also like Dark Souls.

If you don't think P6 is going to take 9 years, remember, Atlus's P-studio is a small team that takes a long time to make games. They are not working on P6 right now. They're working on Re Fantasy 0 which we know nothing about, so that's at least 4 years away. And if they start P6 straight after that, we're looking at another 4-5 years on top.

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naomha1

The Persona series has long been wickedly enjoyable for me. Loved every one of them in their own way. P5 is, perhaps, the pinnacle of the series. Wrapping up everything learned over the course of time from the other games strengths and weaknesses. I will say that one thing that really disappointed me over time was the publisher's willingness to make P4 a fighting game in the end. We could have had so many spectacular spin-offs from the story with the same, or even different characters. However, to turn one of the most beloved jrpgs into a fighting game, while fun, seems like a shot in the foot to the fans that waited, quite seriously, years for a proper next installment on console.

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lostn

@naomha1: Atlus likes to do spin offs because they're cheaper and quicker to make than a sequel. They also raise funds for the sequel.

They're done by separate teams so they don't delay the next Persona. But they also make other games between sequels so..

You might want to look into Persona Q on 3DS if you wanted a spin off with the same characters and not a dancing or fighting game.

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sakaiXx

Persona 4 is one of my best gaming experiences. Feel blessed I got to experience the persona series on release since p3. Had to thank gamespot for this, picked up persona 3 after hearing about its little gun controversy which this site covered then.

Had played persona 2 but never was a fan, definitely is at p3 and beyond. Thanks Atlus for making a great jrpg! Now when the fuk we getting an SMT on ps4?

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lostn

@sakaixx: People who thought a fake gun being used to summon a persona is a controversy were just looking for controversy. If you look for offense you will find it. Some people make a profession out of making mountains out of molehills.

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Soliaired50

Persona fans sure are fickle like FF fans, always arguing about which Persona is better lol. Maybe when P6 comes out, people will be saying P5 is trash.

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lostn

@soliaired50: If you argue about which is the best, it means you have a strong series where every entry is very solid.

FF undoubtedly was this once upon a time. But I don't see that many people arguing that XIII or XV is the best in the series. That series went down hill long ago.

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sakaiXx

@soliaired50: p3 is the best. The end

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Valgaav_219

@sakaixx: You spelled Persona 4 Golden wrong lol

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sakaiXx

@valgaav_219: Oh sorry. Persona 3 FES is the best. The end

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adsparky

10 years, my God; I remember crearly returning home with my copy, and coincidentally it was raining and i watched the midnight channel for the first time close to midnight IRL; definitely one of my favorite games.

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