Persona 4: The Animation
When someone asks me to name my top X favorite games, be it of all time or within a particular genre, it is difficult. There are always a handful of mainstays that will trade rankings on my lists, and never drop out of the top ten. One such game is the Persona 4 for the PlayStation 2. I was introduced to this game by a friend, who recommended the story based my personality, and what I experienced was an amazingly well told story about the adventures of starting over in a new place.
A mixture elements made this game great, such as a great story that had at its core a murder mystery, alternate reality, and the life of a high school student who is spending the year in a new small town with a relative; it also had a bright colorful art style, and an amazing soundtrack, but there were also various game mechanics that worked together to push the game to its popularity. Each character uses a mythological figure as a summons, known as Personas. The main character Yu is able to change his Persona at will gave the game a collection element, similar to the Pokemon games. The random nature of the dungeon layouts is an element that has been popular among fans of roguelike RPGs, classic RPGs, and was a welcome addition to the JRPG scene which many claimed had become stale. Because the story is primarily set in modern day Japan the characters must deal with going to school, and managing various social relationships, in a way that allowed players to play through a gamified version of Japanese school life. This life management portion of the game is what allows Yu to unlock new Personas, abilities, and become a better fighter. Finally, the way that the story was integrated into the battles, as each dungeon and boss is a reflection of a particular character’s self-doubt and insecurities.
Each of these elements alone can make for an interesting game, but all of the elements together made Persona ground breaking. Even though it was the 4th game in the series the majority of the characters are new and the story is very different, similar to another popular RPG series, Final Fantasy. When an anime based on Persona 4 was announced, many were excited but skeptical. Often when another medium attempts to interpret a game, even from a tonal standpoint, it fails. There are few times where elements that made a video game great are able to come across in film, animation, television shows, or even comics. Thankfully, Persona 4: The Animation did not disappoint and was able to show another audience, who may have missed out on the game, the great story it tells.
Because the viewer is now a passive participant in this version of Persona 4, more weight is given to the storyline portions of the game. Examples of this are, longer scenes and more conversational dialogue between characters, an attention to body language on the part of the animators, and the extra emphasis added on word from the voice actors, both Japanese and English. Instead of guiding Yu through the life of high school student in a new small town, fighting Shadows in another reality, and attempting to solve a recent string of murders; the viewer now watches as Yu experiences these things. While the story, and some dialogue from the game, remains unchanged, the anime is a different experience and is a joy to watch over and over again. It is great for those who do not have the time to play a game that requires many hours, but want to experience the story of Persona 4.
As of this writing the Persona 4: The Golden Animation, has started showing as a simulcast on Crunchyroll. This new series seems to be adding in the new pieces of story that the Persona 4: Golden game for the PSVita did, but whereas the game had all of the original content plus the new content this animation is just the new stuff. The animation seems to be updated a bit as the colors are brighter and more vibrant than before, and much of the actual animation seems to be smoother than the previous anime. What hasn’t changed is the music style that was popular in the game and previous anime. This is great news, as many of the songs from the soundtrack could easily stand on their own separate from the franchise.
While this may be a bit much for younger audiences, this anime, and the game it’s based on, is perfect for older teenagers and up. Everyone that I have spoken to about Persona 4 has slightly different interpretations on parts of the story, which makes this series just as fun to discuss as it is to watch. Be sure to give the original series a watch, and if you have already seen it or played the original game, check out the new Golden Animation to see some extra added content. As Teddy/Kuma would say, “It’s beary amazing!”