Preparing for Persona 5: Persona 3 vs. Persona 4 – Which Should You Play First?

I’ve played a lot of Persona in my time, which means I’m beyond stoked for when Persona 5 finally comes out in the West. However, Persona 5 is the fifth entry in Atlus’s long running JRPG-high school dating simulator, which means there are several titles you can check out before Persona 5 actually comes out! In typical Atlus fashion, the previous titles range from pretty good to great. The previous two, Persona 3 and Persona 4, are some of the best JRPGs to be released in the last 10 years. As a major fan of both, and with Persona 5 shaping up to take inspirations from all five entries in the series, particularly Persona 3 and 4, which one should you play first to get you pumped?

Well, it depends.

A large portion of this question can be more properly answered after Persona 5 comes out. For example, if you’re wondering where X mechanic came from, check out previous entry X. This is the case with many franchises with subsequent titles over the years, such as Bioshock, Zelda, and even Pokemon.

From the trailer, it looks like Atlus is focusing on a city similar to that of the one in Persona 3. The characters in Persona 3 were not all outcasts as the ones in Persona 4. Junpei was the goofball, Mitsuru was an overachiever, and Akihiko was the all-around successful pretty boy. A game with a more urban environment allows for such diversity in its cast of characters, and Persona 5 looks to take advantage of that opportunity. They all still look to be banded together due to their similar circumstances, as is the case in Persona 4, but not all of them look to be outsiders.

However, if there’s one thing the trailers have done a great job at, it’s convincing me, a big Persona fan, that this game is the product of Persona 3 and 4. The dark tone and art style of the environment, such as the looming castle and blood-red night sky, gives hints at the apocalyptic doom that was present in Persona 3 when S.E.E.S. attempted to save the world. Thankfully there are also tongue in cheek jokes and comedic beats, such as characters bumbling around in dungeons and the enemy Persona themselves looking just plain weird, and these are seemingly inspired from Persona 4, which did a great job of creating a big, scary monster and making it purposefully goofy.

We won’t know which game will have an influence on the main narrative or social links until after the game is released. From the looks of the trailer, the narrative surrounds a world trapped in a state of monotony or apathy, and our protagonists are trying to break free from this world. This is definitely different from S.E.E.S. hunting down the truth of the midnight hour, or finding out why people are being captured and chucked into televisions. Persona 3 featured an all-around dark, foreboding story, while Persona 4 told a tale that seemed cautionary most of the time. It’s unclear whether Persona 5’s main narrative will have such real world parallels as the previous two games, but I definitely hope that’s the case.

In terms of going back and playing different Persona games, I recommend going back to Persona 3 first. Persona 4 is newer only by two years, but the bright color aesthetic and eerily cheery tone of Inaba holds up a little bit better over time than Persona 3’s dark, troubled Iwatodai. I recommend going back to Persona 3 first, since it won’t hold up as well in a number of years.

When playing Persona 3, look at the tone and gravitas of the main narrative. It’s about a bunch of high school students from different walks of life coming together to overcome a mysterious evil that brings about the Dark Hour, which transmogrifies most of the city. Persona 5 looks to have a similar narrative hook, as the director of the game, Katsura Hashino, has stated on several occasions that you, the protagonist, are fighting back against an evil that has dulled your being and enslaved you to the lethargy of society. The Dark Hour bends this reality as well, stopping time and creating a whole extra hour in the day.

Persona 4 focuses on a group of individuals as outcasts in a rural town of Inaba. They’re all in a similar situation, unable to really connect with their classmates and peers, so they decide to band together to find out why people are being thrown in televisions into the Midnight Channel. You could also think of the main protagonists, at least what we know so far, as outcasts themselves, people who are looking to steal back their lives from the world they currently live in. If you do go back to Persona 4, look at how the different social links from the main members of the investigation squad pan out. These aren’t kids who are as readily accepted by their peers, and the social links present an opportunity for self-introspection that is hopefully reminiscent in future installments.

It’s great to play through these older games, if you can find a way, but remember: It’s just as important to move forward as it is to look backward. Here’s hoping Persona 5 will make these two previous installments look like a glitch game of Pong.

Liam Crossey is the Executive Editor of Features for The Game Bolt. Follow him on Twitter  for too many retweets.

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