Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Persona 4 - Meet the Cast

It's been (checks list of posts) MONTHS since I've written about Persona, so now seems like a good time to get back into it!  Time to break down the cast of characters of Persona 4! 

I've mentioned over and over in this blog that I'm Persona-obsessed, but that obsession didn't begin until 2012 when I played Persona 3, a game I received as a birthday gift.  If you want to read about my personal Persona past (hated Persona 1 in early 2000s, loved every other Persona game) go and check out posts on this blog with the "Persona" tag.  Speaking of blog tags, I've written a few other "Meet the Cast" posts in the past four years, ranking, discussing, and rating the characters of specific games.  Click on the "Meet the Cast" tag at the end of this post for my ramblings on the characters in Final Fantasy VI and Persona 3. 

Persona 4 is my favorite game made in the past 15 years and on my short list of favorite games of all time.  I adore the cast of Persona 4 - I'd rank it among the all-time greats in RPGs - and the characters are a large part of why I love the game.  So naturally I'm inclined to rating and ranking them in a list.  First, I'll rate each character's personality and story role using my old four-point rating system (shown below) and then I'll rank them by their in-game power and utility in a second list.  Both of those lists are naturally subjective and entirely my own opinion.  And I should mention, I fucking love Persona 4 and it's gameplay balance is excellent; there aren't really any bad ratings in the list, and even the "worst" characters in the second list are perfectly usable.  So with that said, let me start rambling about Persona 4's awesome cast. 

STAR = Great character. Truly memorable. One of the game's highlights.
ASSET = Good character. Welcome addition to the cast. Maybe not a favorite.
BENCH = Average character. One-note or not very interesting.
CUT = Bad character. So lame that you wish he/she wasn't there.

IMPORTANT NOTE - This article contains spoilers for Persona 4.  Not endgame spoilers or whodunit spoilers, though.  I will spoil what characters join your team (of course) and several important plot details about them.  You've been warned.

The Playable Cast of Persona 4

The MC

The main character of Persona 4 is a second-year transfer student at Yasogami High School; his parents began working overseas prior to the start of Persona 4, so our hero moves in with his uncle Ryotaro Dojima and cousin Nanako for a year, so he'll have a place to stay while his parents are gone.  That year is the story of Persona 4, and it's full of murder, intrigue, friendship, and discovering the secrets of the Midnight Channel. 

In Persona 4 (and its predecessor Persona 3) most characters have one or two Personae that they are limited to using for the entirety of the game.  The MC (and the MC of Persona 3) are exceptions to this rule and can summon a multitude of Personae and obtain new ones by defeating Shadows and fusing Personae.  Basically, the MC can play any role in battle and is typically the best at playing that role.  In battle, the MC wields katanas and other two-handed swords with style.

I love the design of the Persona 4 MC.  The P3 MC had an air of aloofness to him and the P4 MC feels like a warmer, more friendly person.  Sure, he has the incredible animal magnetism to form life-changing friendships with anyone the player chooses and he has all the narrative strengths and weaknesses of a silent protagonist, but it's hard not to like the Persona 4 MC. Being a passenger to his interactions in Inaba and his adventures in the Midnight Channel is a real treat.  ASSET

Yosuke Hanamura

Yosuke is one of the MC's second-year classmates at Yasogami High, but he's definitely not one of the popular kids.  Yosuke works at department store JUNES, where his father is the head manager.  Yosuke's family moved to Inaba to work at the newly-built JUNES store, and several of the locals blame Yosuke and his family for JUNES's driving business away from market district shops.  Yosuke is the first friend the MC makes in Inaba, and he explores the Midnight Channel's strange hotel room with the MC and Chie a few days after the MC's arrival in town. 

In battle, Yosuke dual-wields knives and other short weapons (like wrenches).  He has balanced stats and a varied moveset, including wind spells, physical attacks, and even some healing and support spells.  Yosuke's damage output will rarely match that of the rest of the cast, but he's great backup that can perform just about any combat role.  

Yosuke's key underlying character trait is his feelings of resentment. Deep down, he doesn't love living in the backwater town of Inaba and misses the city, and also hates that he and his family are blamed for some of Inaba's economic issues.  He's even a little jealous of the MC's popularity and status as the team's leader.  Yosuke awakens to his Persona after acknowledging some of his failings and also finding the strength to accept his current situation and make the best of it.  More importantly, however, Yosuke's your best bud.  Sure, he's a goofball who isn't the smartest or even the nicest guy, but his friendship with the MC feels like one of the most genuine male friendships I've ever seen in a video game.  Yosuke's a brilliantly-written character. STAR

Chie Satonaka

Chie is another student of class 2-2 like the MC and Yosuke.  She's a spunky young woman who loves martial arts movies and eats lots of meat.  Chie and Yukiko have been best friends since their elementary school days. Chie's a tomboy, but has a few admirers among the male students at Yasogami High.   Chie explores the Midnight Channel with the MC and Yosuke after the MC demonstrates the ability to enter television sets, but is absent when the boys explore the Twisted Shopping District.  She joins the team permanently during the mission to rescue Yukiko. 

Chie's attacks are devastating kicks, and her weapons are shoes, boots, and greaves.  Chie is a hard-hitting physical attacker, learning a few ice and support spells early on but eventually forgoing advanced magic for some top-tier physical moves.  Chie has high agility, high strength, and the ability to perform counter-attacks and boost her critical hit rate.  She's an ass-kicking lass, that Chie. 

Chie outward confidence and toughness masks insecurity about her own femininity; she has trouble believing that she could ever find romance.  Chie is somewhat jealous of Yukiko's looks and popularity, and deep down she gains satisfaction in being Yukiko's protector and moral support; it allows Chie to believe that Yukiko needs her.  Chie awakens to her Persona after acknowledging her jealousy, while reiterating that she loves Yukiko as her best friend.  Chie's great.  Her faults are believable, and she's consistently one of the most charming and funny characters in Persona 4.  STAR

Yukiko Amagi

Yukiko is a second-year at Yasogami High and a classmate of the MC, Yosuke, and Chie.  Yukiko and Chie have been inseparable best friends since childhood.  Yukiko's pretty and intelligent, and has rejected quite a few male suitors (including Yosuke).  Yukiko lives and works at the Amagi Inn, a traditional Japanese hotel with a hot spring baths, and most of Yukiko's family and co-workers expect Yukiko to take over managing the hotel when she's older.  Yukiko is rescued by Chie, Yosuke, and the MC from a fairy tale castle in the Midnight Channel during the month of April. 

Yukiko fights by tossing ornate fans at enemies, but her real strength comes from her magic skills.  Yukiko learns all of the best healing spells in the game, as well as powerful fire spells.  What Yukiko lacks in skill diversity she makes up for in power, providing big fire damage and huge heals through all of Persona 4.   

Yukiko appears to be a reserved, somewhat standoffish young woman at the start of Persona 4, but that's just social awkwardness.  Yukiko feels burdened by the expectation of managing her family's hotel someday, when really she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life.  Yukiko harbors a fantasy that a "handsome prince" might spirit her away out of Inaba - that's why her dungeon is a castle and her Shadow takes the form of a caged bird.  When Yukiko acknowledges her desire to be in control of her own future, she gains her Persona.  Once Yukiko becomes part of the team, her true nature is revealed: that of a kindhearted-but-spacey young woman who laughs at terrible puns.  Yukiko is a well-written character whose friendship with Chie and character turn are both cool, but she's maybe not one of my favorites. ASSET

Kanji Tatsumi

Don't let the scale of these images fool you - Kanji towers over the rest of the Persona 4 cast, even though he's the youngest of group. Kanji is a juvenile delinquent first-year at Yasogami High, who doesn't have many friends due to his delinquent reputation.  Kanji's mother owns a textile shop in downtown Inaba; perhaps not coincidentally, Kanji is quite handy at crafting and enjoys making clothes and dolls (which clashes somewhat with the badass delinquent front Kanji puts up).  Kanji is rescued by the Investigation Team from a steamy bathhouse in the Midnight Channel in early June. 

In battle, Kanji is a physical powerhouse who wields broad, blunt instruments in battle, usually shields or pieces of furniture.  I'm not joking - Kanji's starting weapon is a metal folding chair.  He also learns a host of lightning spells and some attack-boosting support magic.  Due to his lack of multi-target attacks (and thanks to his support spells), Kanji is a little better against bosses than in the field.  

Kanji's character arc is perhaps my favorite in all of Persona 4.  Deep down, Kanji questions his sexuality.  He always got along with men more easily than with women, because girls used to badmouth him for his feminine hobbies and men could resolve differences with fists.  Kanji's hyper-masculine attitude compensates for his conflicted feelings.  It didn't help that Kanji was instantly attracted to Naoto and initially thought Naoto was a boy.  Kanji probably isn't gay (he's still into Naoto, after all), but the way Persona 4 explores the sexuality and masculinity of one of its characters is fascinating.  Kanji is an entertaining character on the surface, but his recruitment and Social Link dialog showcase a hell of a character arc.  STAR

Rise Kujikawa

Again with poor image scaling on my part - Rise is the shortest of the cast but here she's bigger than Kanji (who's a foot taller than she is).  I blame the image quality of the pics I'm using.  Rise is a popular idol singer with the stage name Risette.  To the surprise of her many fans, "Risette" abruptly quits her showbiz career during the events of Persona 4 and moves to Inaba where her grandmother owns a tofu shop; she subsequently enrolls at Yasogami High as a first year.  Rise is rescued by the Investigation Team from a strip club in the Midnight Channel in early July. 

Rise is Persona 4's support character, sometimes called an operator or navigator, just like Fuuka in Persona 3.  She doesn't fight on the front lines like the other seven characters mentioned here, but can map out areas in the Midnight Channel, detect enemy weak points, and even provided limited health and stamina restoration outside of combat.  Rise's a huge asset once she joins, and makes lengthy dungeon runs much easier for the remainder of the game. 

Rise is in love with the MC, and makes no secret of it (Chie and Yukiko immediately view her as a threat, amusingly).  Rise quit her idol career in part because she was feeling exhausted and burnt-out, and also because she internally worried that her fans only liked "Risette" and would never accept Rise herself.  Eventually, Rise admits that Risette is part of her personality and that she didn't hate being an idol; she loved singing and performing.  Accepting that side of herself grants Rise her Persona.  Rise's personality is more forward and assertive than that of Chie or Yukiko, but she's a fun character that never gets annoying.  Not always the case for idol girls in RPGs.  ASSET

Naoto Shirogane

A renowned 16-year-old detective from a long line of crimefighters, Naoto begins investigating the Inaba murders and kidnappings shortly before Kanji's disappearance, enrolling in Yasogami High as a first year.  Naoto's deductions regarding the case are remarkably sound, despite not knowing how the Midnight Channel works.  Naoto competes with the Investigation Team to solve the murders and kidnappings (even suspecting them at one point), up until the capture of copycat killer Mitsuo Kubo.  Convinced that the true killer is still at large, Naoto deliberately baits the kidnapper and becomes the next victim.  Naoto is rescued by the Investigation Team from a secret laboratory in the Midnight Channel in early October.   

Naoto's weapons are pistols, but her real strength is in her magic skills.  Naoto learns powerful Hama and Mudo spells that cause instant death, as well as strong non-elemental damage magic and a few physical attacks.  In the Vita version of Persona 4 (Persona 4 Golden), Naoto can learn limited fire, ice, wind, and/or lightning magic if the player chooses.  Since all bosses are immune to instant death spells, Naoto is more useful in dungeons than in boss fights.   

Naoto's inner conflict is a topic that is rarely addressed in RPGs: gender identity.  Naoto is a girl who idolized great detectives, both real and fictional, but who were overwhelmingly male.  Naoto masqueraded as a boy believing that it would make police take her more seriously, but was ridiculed and ignored by other detectives for her youth alone.  Whether Naoto is transgender is up for debate.  Part of her wishes she was born male, but in certain dialog sequences she ends up embracing her femininity.  Regardless, Naoto is cool as ice and a great character, and it's stunning that Persona 4 addresses gender identity of a major, non-comedic character in a sensitive manner.  STAR


Teddie ("Kuma" in the Japanese version of Persona 4) is a denizen of the Midnight Channel, who meets the MC, Yosuke, and Chie during their first visit a few days after the story of Persona 4 begins.  Resembling a bear with blue fur, Teddie has the ability to smell presences in the Midnight Channel and (eventually) can assume a humanoid form by unzipping his head.   After the Investigation Team rescues Rise, Teddie leaves the Midnight Channel and joins the team permanently, moving in with Yosuke and working as a mascot for JUNES.

Teddie uses his claws as weapons, but his real power lies in his powerful magic.  Teddie learns more support spells than any other character and also wields powerful ice spells.  Not bad for a blue bear with an unclear center of gravity. 

Teddie's cartoonishly silly and perverted, and frequently engages in comedic hi-jinks with the MC, Yosuke, and Kanji.  But behind his mascot ridiculousness is an identity crisis: Teddie isn't sure who or WHAT he even is, because he certainly isn't human, he's unlike any Shadow found in the Midnight Channel, and he has limited memories of his past; Teddie even encounters a Shadow version of himself!  Teddie's identity questions are eventually answered near the end of Persona 4's story, but he earns his Persona after gaining the determination to restore the Midnight Channel to what it was before the serial killer's influence.  Teddie is probably the most irritating character in Persona 4, but has a pretty cool character arc and enough appealing moments to make him a positive presence in the cast.  ASSET

 Persona 4 Character Rankings

Now here's the part of this post where I throw away my feelings regarding the Persona 4 story and dialog and only examine cold, hard combat.  Here I rank the six supporting party members in this section by how useful and powerful they are in battle.  The more effective the character is against scores of random battles and lengthy boss fights, the higher I rate them.  Team-building is one of my favorite things to do in an RPG, so I typically have many (too many) thoughts to write down for these lists. 

And just like my Persona 3 Meet the Cast post, the MC is not part of these rankings because he's too powerful.  He's the best at everything you can do, because he can equip up to twelve different Personae for any role you please.  This list is for his companions, not the MC himself.  Rise is also unranked because she's involved in every battle as your navigator and, while definitely part of the team, isn't a combatant.  Also: none of these characters are bad!  In my last playthrough I used the characters I have ranked #5 and #6 in the final run of battles!  So here we go, my personal opinion on the best characters in Persona 4, based on their effectiveness in battle:

6. Kanji

I feel bad ranking my favorite character in the game last, but Kanji has fewer advantages than the other characters and has some dissonance in his kit: good Zio magic skills with a bad magic stat, and no Power Charge or multi-target physical skills to match his awesome strength stat.  That latter bit is only true for vanilla Persona 4 and not Persona 4 Golden, in which you can learn Power Charge via leveling up Kanji's Social Link.  Kanji also has the lowest agility in the game, but does boast a multi-targeting follow-up attack.  Kanji's better in boss fights than in random battles, because he deals good single-target physical damage and can cast Matarukaja (a near-essential skill against bosses); physical skills are also better in Persona 4 than they were in Persona 3.  But that's not good enough for the top five, bro. 

5. Yosuke

Yosuke's versatile, serving as solid Garu magic damage, a backup healer than can cast Diarama, a pretty good source of single-target physical damage, and a few good support skills in Masukukaja and Dekaja.  That's all great, and backed up with balanced stats overall - Yosuke's only low stat is luck.  All of that is useful in both random battles and boss fights, since Yosuke's your only source of Garu spells unless you build Naoto a certain way (and that's only in Persona 4 Golden) and Dekaja and Masukukaja are welcome skills for setting up the buffs/debuffs pendulum swing in your favor during boss fights.  Yosuke ranks this low only because the next four characters have unique advantages that Yosuke, Persona 4's jack of all trades and master of none, lacks. 

4. Naoto

Far and away the best random battle character in the game, because Naoto's mastery of Hama and Mudo instant-death spells are awesomely effective in the last three dungeons (Naoto joins your party after completing the 4th-to-last dungeon).  Random battles are a breeze with Naoto wiping out multiple enemies regularly on the first turn.  If that isn't enough, Naoto is the only character that learns Magic Charge from normal levels, and in Persona 4 Golden she can create good sustained magic offense for boss fights with your choice of high-damage elemental spells to go with her non-elemental spells.  Oh, and the Detective Prince has high agility and the best SP pool in the game thanks to Invigorate and a naturally high SP stat.  She also sports a really good multi-target follow-up attack, similar to Kanji's.  Damn.  Naoto's ranked just outside the top three because she's only okay in boss battles (better in Golden than vanilla P4), and because she isn't crucial like the two healers. 

3. Chie

Chie is the best source of sustained physical damage in Persona 4.  She boasts elite single-target physical attacks, multi-target physical attacks, AND counter-attacking passives, along with the second-highest strength stat in the game (after Kanji).  She's also near the top of the pack in stamina and agility.  If that wasn't enough, in Persona 4 Golden Chie can learn a few really good support skills for boosting stats and critical hits (plus Hama spells, because why not?).  Chie's great for random battles AND bosses, because strong, safe physical damage is always useful.  Chie's elemental spells, while the weakest in the game, are still good for a knockdown or two.  Chie also has the best follow-up attack in the game in Galactic Punt, which is maybe my favorite move in all of Persona 4.

2. Teddie

It turns out the mascot has the most versatile moveset of any companion in Persona 4.  Teddie has a strong selection of healing and recovery spells, a few really useful support spells in Matarukaja and Marakukaja, and a full complement of Bufu ice spells.  Teddie's a really good spellcaster, and can fill multiple roles on a team: magic damage, healer, and support.  His only weaknesses are slightly low agility and strength stats and the fact that only having eight slots for skills and passives limits his kit.  This is complicated further with even MORE skills for Teddie to learn in Persona 4 Golden.  So why isn't he number one overall?  The top character is less versatile, but more powerful.   

1. Yukiko

Yukiko does two things better than any other teammate: heal allies and nuke enemies.  She has the highest magic stat and second-best SP in the game, learns all of the key healing spells (plus the most powerful healing spell of all, Salvation, which Teddie doesn't get) and every important Agi spell to boot.  In Persona 4 Golden, she gets even stronger, being allowed to learn a few Mudo spells and a new fire spell stronger than Maragidyne.  She can't boost stats like Teddie can, but she can heal status and max out the entire party's HP at the same time (thanks to Salvation).  Yukiko deals more damage with her Agi spells than Teddie does with Bufu spells.  This advantage is pushed further in Golden, when Yukiko learns that extra fire spell during the postgame and can optionally learn Mind Charge.  For playing the most important role in the game (healer) better than any other ally and doubling as the highest-damage spellcaster, Yukiko is the MVP of the supporting cast of Persona 4. 


That list was fun, heh.  The only challenging positions to determine were #3 and #4, which switched a few times before I finally decided to put Chie in front of Naoto.  So will I write a "Meet the Social Links" post for Persona 4 eventually?  Yes.  Will it come in a timely manner?  No.  These posts take a long time for me to write, and I wrote that Persona 3 social links post over a couple of months (interestingly, it's one of the most-viewed posts on this blog).  I'll get to some eventually, but probably not soon.  I also have another Meet the Cast post for a non-Persona title in the works.  In the meantime, I'm watching more Super Sentai and eagerly anticipating Persona 5.  See you later! 

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