In my post A Brief History of Transgender Characters in Video Games (which is now updated) a commenter named 52532 asked my thoughts on two characters from this game. I read what I could find on them but was not satisfied enough to make a proper judgment of them and so I made arrangements to play the game and started working through my first game in the Persona series.
It had been a while since my last JRPG and most of my experience with the genre has been with older games. Persona 4(2008) is a traditional turn based RPG on the Playstation 2 following a group of high school students and their attempt to solve a mystery with a strong focus on building relationships and strengthening the bonds between you and your friends.
Persona 4 does a decent job creating a enjoyable mystery. Unfortunately many of the aspects that mystery are explained a couple hours after you’ve figured it out. The dialog itself is engaging but there are a few lines that seem a bit weird. Despite that, the game even managed to get a few good laughs out of me in some comical moments.
What Persona 4 does really well is characters. I loved the characters in this game. The game managed to make a handful of heroes without making me dislike any of them which is not an easy feat. Kanji and Naoto are particularly interesting to me.
My main complaint about the story is that the characters I wanted my character to end up with weren’t romantic options but that happens to me in a lot of games. Most people won’t run into this problem. I never feel like an RPG is complete unless I get a little romance. I love a good love story in my games. I did ask Naoto out before he was outed but he turned me down. It was kind of an appropriate moment.
The game has a simple and somewhat cartoony art style. It looks about how you expect a JRPG to look. The game uses cardboard cut out style dialog. Still pictures show up with a dialog box where all the dialog is displayed. The 2d images look good and the characters’ images are very expressive. The game still looks good for a game that is an entire generation old.
You will hear songs repeat a lot in Persona 4. Luckily, the surprisingly catchy songs never got annoying. I found most of the songs to be rather enjoyable, personally, but I do see how some people might have a problem with them.
The voice acting was kind of a mixed bag. Many of the lines are delivered well but some of them sound kind of awkward. Since the game has pretty long conversations, it’s actually pretty common to have more than one awkwardly delivered line in a single scene.
Persona 4 has some really unexpected pacing. The game went on for a few hours before I got into my first fight. I was beginning to think that maybe the game had no fighting. The game waits another 2 to 3 hours before it opens up and lets you do what you want.
There are two kind of game-play that you go through. One takes place in the City and the other takes place in dungeons inside of another world.
In the city there is a focus on building relationships and strengthening the bonds between you and your friends. You have to manage your activities and plan out your schedule.
In dungeons you run around fighting monsters. There are no random battles, you see enemies on the map, when you collide with them you enter a turn based battle. The dungeons are very similar in design only changing in theme.
The battle system is very traditional with some differences from your everyday RPGs. The first thing I noticed is that the characters move around and shift whenever enemies die or new ones appear. The combat is very visually appealing. Combat seems to have a heavy focus on skills which are based on your Persona. It is like every spell in your average RPG is replaced by a summon. By default my party attacked by themselves other than the main character. They actually ended up being some really intelligent NPCs. They know when to do what moves and stop using moves if they aren’t effective the first time.
The monsters in this game have a weakness. If they are attacked by their weakness or if certain hits are critical, the enemies are knocked to the ground. A second hit by their weakness will make them dizzy causing them to potentially miss a turn. If all the enemies on the field fall down your party can gang up and attack the enemies all at once dealing large amounts of damage. This can become an important tactic later in the game when you have more abilities to choose from.
I ended up enjoying the city portions of the game more than running around dungeons fighting monsters. Making friends and strengthening relationships is surprisingly enjoyable.
If you are not interested in gender and sexuality issues skip the issues section. Additionally, spoiler warning.
I was ready to say that the game mashes gender and sexuality issues together. What I read before going into this game misled me to believe that Kanji was a crossdresser. I was interpreting some of his characteristics as if he was a closeted crossdresser. The issues aren’t really mashed together.
Kanji is an interesting character. He is tough and aggressive and he has a great style. The fact that he overcompensates for some of his feminine interests led a lot to my thought that he was a crossdresser. One of the issues I think the game handles badly is how everyone treats Kanji. “You said that to a boy?” one character asks. Everyone is shocked and outraged that Kanji likes men and seems to be uncomfortable with women (though, I believe he is bisexual).
At one point in the game Kanji and the gang are forced to crossdress in a “Miss” something pageant. As a trans woman, trying to sit through this game and seeing poorly passing male characters crossdressing as women being paraded in front of crowds that are pointing and laughing is painful. As a personal side note, I felt betrayed by everything I had read. Kanji is not a crossdresser; he’s just a bisexual man.
Naoto is a FtM (female to male) crossdresser. He is shown to be very uncomfortable with his feminine body. At one point in the game, he is outed by a shadow of himself in the “other world” and all the characters in the game and the game itself switch to using female pronouns. It is very disturbing.
At one point in the game, Naoto is forced to enter a beauty pageant. Kanji ends up begging him to do it, and if I interpreted the situation correctly, the reason Kanji wanted Naoto in the Pageant is that he feels uncomfortable being attracted to a guy and wants to see him dress like a girl. Not very cool, Kanji. And definitely not very cool, Persona 4. The whole time I waited for Naoto to come on stage I was praying to myself, “please don’t dress like a girl, please don’t dress like a girl.” Luckily, for my emotional state, he never dressed as a woman. He went on stage wearing a rather dashing outfit similar to his every day clothes but a bit dressier. He then opted out of the swimsuit section and still won the pageant because all the women in the audience liked his “androgynous” looks and none of them like girls, I suppose. That part made a very difficult few scenes just a little better.
Persona 4 is one of the best RPGs I’ve played in a while. It has reminded me why I loved RPGs. It has made me want to try out other games in the series. I read slow and left the game paused a couple times to get a snack so I don’t know how long it lasted exactly but I do know that I took over 60 hours to complete it. I don’t think everyone would love this game, but anyone who is a patient RPG fan needs to play this game. With that said, I don’t know if it was worth it for me, personally. Persona 4 is a great game that is tainted by a few moments in the game that are too difficult for me to watch. Most people won’t take issue with any of the moments I’m talking about but for me, it was hard to play through. Even though the game was hard during certain moments and the thought of playing through it again makes me cringe, I still enjoyed myself and really liked the characters. I was sad to see them go.