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Persona 4's video game origins

Saturday 16th March 2013

Matt Kamen on the video-game origins of Persona 4

Persona 4Persona 4 was originally released in 2008 on the PlayStation 2 and is currently available in brilliantly enhanced form as Persona 4 Golden on the PlayStation Vita. While the tale of the nameless hero (Yu Narukami in the anime) and his friends in the small but macabre town of Inaba became arguably the most popular entry in the Persona series of role-playing games, it was far from the first.

MegatenThe Persona franchise itself is spun off from developer Atlus’ much longer-running Shin Megami Tensei, which dates back to 1987 and the original NES console. The first entry, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, was loosely adapted from a trilogy of novels by Aya Nishitani, an early attempt at combining elements of Japanese mythology with the then-dawning age of popular computing. The story followed computer adept Akemi Nakajima, who unwittingly contacts the demon world through his computer, drawing its denizens into the real world. Along with his friend Yumiko, who had an unknown connection to divinity herself – not a huge twist given the series’ name translates to ‘Reincarnation of the Goddess’ – the pair must undo the damage caused. The protagonists were carried over to the game, with players controlling Yukiko’s magic and Nakajima’s ability to summon and control demons. It was a modest success, at least enough of one to warrant a sequel in 1990.

Like the Final Fantasy games, most Megami Tensei titles have no direct connections between entries, instead sharing thematic elements. Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II was the first example of this, abandoning any connection to Nishitani’s books, instead focusing on a post-apocalyptic world where demons ran amok. However, gameplay elements such as summoning and fusing demons remained, becoming a hallmark of the series. Progressing to the Super Nintendo in 1992 with Shin Megami Tensei, the franchise grew in popularity and Atlus began experimenting with spin-offs.

Of note was Devil Summoner for the Sega Saturn, set in the present day and blending a murder mystery subplot into the more familiar RPG mechanics. This would see its own chain of sequels over the years, including two Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha entries for PS2 which saw release in the UK. Another sub-series, Devil Children, tried to tone down the horror elements for a kids’ audience, while the Last Bible and Majin Tensei games introduced tactical strategy gameplay to the universe.

Persona 4It was 1996’s Revelations: Persona that proved a breakthrough though, bringing the series westward for the first time. Released on the original PlayStation, it abandoned the concept of summoning demons and instead turned to the realms of the human mind for inspiration. Its teen cast called upon persona, aspects of their own subconscious as proposed by psychotherapist Carl Jung. As the protagonists had gotten more cerebral, so too did the monsters they fought, each a representation of some form of psychosis. Sadly, Persona 2 fared less well – released in two parts in 1999, only the second, subtitled Eternal Punishment, saw western release. Both games were heavily edited for American audiences – including changing ethnicities of characters – though subsequent re-releases have restored the censored content.

2007’s Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 was the first title to see an untouched western release, as well as being the first of the Persona series to make it to the UK. For many players, it would be the first time they had experienced such a mix of role playing and dating sim-style relationship management between controllable characters. Coupled with a continuing exploration of Jungian psychology, the unique approach turned the game into a cult hit, paving the way for Persona 4’s breakout success less than two years later. While that most recent game is undoubtedly a sterling release itself, it owes its all to decades of groundwork from some of the oddest, darkest games Japan has produced.

Persona 4, part two, is out April 1st on UK DVD through Manga Entertainment.

Buy it now


Persona 4 The Animation Box 2

was £24.99
When Yu Narukami moves to the country town of Inaba to stay with his uncle and cousin, he's expecting a lot more peace and quiet than he's used to in the big city. What he isn't expecting is for his uncle's job as a police detective to spill over into his own life, or for the murders that are occurring across town to be somehow linked to Yu's own strange experiences, odd local weather patterns, and a mysterious TV show world that seems to be attempting to get Yu to enter it!
Now, together with a new group of friends, Yu must plunge into a bizarre alternate reality where he gains unique abilities that will either help him solve the riddle of the mystery killer... or lead him to his doom.



Persona 4: The Animation

Helen McCarthy tries to avoid getting sucked into the screen
There's nothing new under the sun. The idea of people caught inside a TV screen isn't new, even in anime: Video Girl Ai did the same thing back in the days of cassette tape. The idea that in another reality, you have special powers and a vital purpose, has been exploited by shows from Sailor Moon to Vision of Escaflowne. The displaced teen hero is found in myriad places, from Princess Mononoke's early Japan to Fullmetal Alchemist's Nazi Europe. The sentai concept, the teen-led team with its mix of strengths and mutual respect goes all the way back to the 60s, with Osamu Tezuka's puppet adventure Galaxy Boy Troop predating 1966 anime Rainbow Sentai Robin.

Unboxed: Persona 4

Jeremy Graves checks out the set
Jeremy Graves checks out the set.

Unboxed: Persona 4 the Animation 2

Jeremy Graves gets to grips with the new DVD
Jeremy Graves gets to grips with the new DVD

The end of Persona 4: The Animation

Andrew Osmond on the final part of Persona 4: The Animation
The third and last volume of Persona 4 The Animation – released like its predecessors as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack – shows the full spectrum of the series. The first volume was adventure-heavy, as hero Yu and his growing circle of friends sought the serial killer dispatching victims in the country town of Inaba; a mystery linked to a foggy fantasy world behind the TV screen. The second volume tied up – well, seemed to tie up – that arc early on, then told lighter-hearted stories tying into the show’s theme of friendship. However, Volume 2 ended with another action-heavy story confirming that the serial-killer mystery wasn’t solved, and recruiting the last warrior in Yu’s band of heroes – the cross-dressing “boy” detective Naoto, voiced by Japanese actress Romi Park (Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood).


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Andrei Borisov’s epic film By the Will of Genghis Khan presents the historical figure Temujin not as the terrifying bogeyman of European lore, but as he is remembered across much of the East, as a just ruler, a lawgiver, and a man of honour.

Who's Who in Dragon Ball 1

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Kim Tae-gyun's walking undead in Higanjima
Higanjima eagerly mixes the locked-room combat of Battle Royale with the viral horror of Resident Evil, with just a dash of the old-time religion of The Wicker Man, and presents that most tantalising of locations for the role-playing gamer – a private island of adventure, close to home and yet inhabiting a world of myth and magic.

Cosplay: Pokemon

Paul Jacques has gotta catch'em all at the London Super Comic Con
Lisa Moffatt and Natasha Fountain spread their wings as Moltres and Articuno from the unstoppable Pokemon franchise, snapped by our roving photographer Paul Jacques at the London Super Comic Con back in the spring.
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Fairy Tail music: Hi-fi Camp

Tom Smith on the hi-fi hijackers
By the time Fairy Tail Part 9 hits the shops here, the J-pop band responsible for its ending theme will be fast approaching their second anniversary – of breaking up! Though, this particular writer can’t help but think Fairy Tail may have had something to do with the band’s demise…
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