I should start by saying that I absolutely loved my 110 hours with Persona 4 Golden. Mechanically, it built upon everything Persona 3 put forward, improving it in almost every conceivable way. The character arcs were compelling and the overall story more than held my attention from beginning to end. With that said, there were a few big problems I noticed with P4G, particularly in regard to your party members, that I want to talk about; especially with Persona 5 coming sometime later this year.
Main Party Character Archetypes Too Similar Across Games
One of my biggest complaints in playing Persona 4 so closely after playing Persona 3 is that the majority of my classmates (or party members) felt like the same people with slightly different character models. Take Yosuke and Junpei for example. They are nearly carbon copies of each other. They’re your “best friend” and take on the archetype of slightly stupid, funny guy within the party. Heck, they both are even constantly trying and failing to get with the various girls in the party. Sadly, it doesn’t end there.
Yukari and Chie are both set up as your main love interest and often seem annoyed with Yosuke/Junpei. Fuuka and Rise are support characters who just want to “help everyone”. Kanji and Shinjiro are the teams’ “tough guy” who demonstrate skill in a traditionally feminine skill. Yukkiko and Mitsuro both “have it all” and must learn how to deal with it. And the list goes.
I will say that Persona 4 did a decent job of taking the archetypes from Persona 3 and tweaking them just enough to make them feel like their own. However, it would be much more interesting if your party members felt different from game-to-game. We’ve seen these archetypes twice; do we really need them again?
Fortunately, from the early Persona 5 trailers we can see the four known party members seemingly living on their own in a decrepit building. Obviously, this doesn’t give us much insight into their personality, but it does tell us that these teenagers may be very different from the schoolmates in Persona 3 and 4.
Of course, even with varied character archetypes in your party characters, there are still a few more changes that I think would really make Persona 5 the game that truly brings this series to the masses.
Relationships That Last
A noticeable problem that both Persona 3 and 4 have is that, once you finish a character’s social link, they largely go away from your personal story. So, say you finish Yosuke’s Magician social link in the first month or so. Well, then you won’t be seeing much of Yosuke for the next eight or nine months, even if he’s a main party member.
It gets even worse if you don’t use Yosuke in battle, because then you really don’t ever see him and it feels weird when he’s made out to be a main character in cut scenes. You almost feel like Yosuke got a bad case of pneumonia and had to stay home for weeks at a time.
This is a hard problem to fix because choice is a big part of social link development. If Atlus decided to gate your progress, then that choice goes out the window and your game starts to become very similar to mine. However, I think there’s definitely some room for some of your main party character’s links to be gated just a little throughout the course of the game. It wouldn’t need to be too much; just enough to keep key party members involved in everyone’s game so they don’t feel like afterthoughts once the game is over.
Those two changes largely solve my problems with the interactions between your protagonist character and your party members; however, there is one other change I’d like to see that deals with how the characters interact with each other.
Let Your Friends Have Some Romance
When people detract from Persona, you usually hear them call it a “dating sim”. That slight has some credibility, but anyone who has played Persona, knows that it’s largely a false assumption. Sure, you can enter a romantic relationship with various social link characters, but it’s far from the main focus of the game.
That said, those romantic relationships do represent a major choice for you as a role-player. Who you decide to court can decide what takes place in quite a few cutscenes and shapes your relationships with almost everyone in the game. However, those characters you don’t choose kind of get the shaft.
This was very apparent in Persona 4 Golden when Kanji obviously had the hots for Naoto, but nothing was really done with it. And it’s not like I was trying to date Naoto (Rise was my choice, at least in my initial playthrough). In fact, I was actively rooting for Kanji and Naoto to somehow get together in the end. Unfortunately, it seems like the protagonist is the only who’s allowed to find love in the Persona universe.
That’s unfortunate because I think the Persona developers are missing an important element toward making the narrative feel more like real life. Think about your party members’ interactions in games like Dragon Age. Characters who aren’t romantically engaged with your character actually develop relationships between themselves, making the whole thing feel like a story unfolding around you.
When you see Iron Bull and Dorian engage in a relationship with each other, you realize that this story is bigger than just you. These characters are living and breathing humans (or Quanari, as the case may be) and have lives outside of you. That’s an important step for a role-playing game to take and one Persona 5 should really consider.
Persona 3 and 4 are great games and represent some of the best experiences can have on the Vita (or any platform, for that matter). I have complete confidence that Atlus will continue to build on those two games and make an excellent fifth entry to the series later this year. Persona 5 is set up to be a legitimate contender for 2015 Game of the Year. However, I would love to see them take the next step in making your social link and party characters feel like living and breathing teenagers. It would take some work, but I really believe it would be completely worth it.
That said, Persona 5 can’t get here soon enough.