I think anytime anyone expresses a desire to return to the good old days, they’re expressing dissatisfaction with their current state. I especially notice these expressions when my friends and colleagues are playing JRPG games like Persona 4, where the main characters must balance their social life with their extracurricular heroics. It’s fine to feel this way, but try to remember this: high school sucks. Fortunately, there’s another lesson to learn from Persona 4, and that’s how to value your time.
The best feature of the Persona games is the Social Link system. Keep in mind, I still don’t have Persona 5 at the time of writing this piece, so I don’t know if or how this system has evolved. In the prequels, this system is designed to encourage the player to interact with their neighbors. This might sound boring when you’re trying to solve a murder in a small town, but to many this feature is the most engaging part.
Mechanically, the reason you should foster relationships is to gain access to the best Personas in the game. Each of these characters is aligned with different tarot cards. As you get to know citizens who belong to the corresponding tarot cards, say The Lovers or The Emperor, you can create stronger Personas. However, you have a time limit in which you must complete the game. The weather can also take a turn for the worse, forcing you to head into dungeons. Both of these elements limit how much you can interact with these characters. You also need to manage other elements of life, deciding when to go to bed early, level up via combat, or develop your other attributes like charisma, intelligence, and understanding. The attributes in particular are important, as some need to be at certain levels to continue advancing Social Links. Maxing out all of your Social Links is the key to creating an overpowered character, but on your first playthrough, you’re likely to fail.
When I first played through Persona 4, I certainly failed, but I didn’t mind because I was utterly captivated with Inaba. At first, I felt what the kids call FOMO (fear of missing out), but days passed, the weather changed, and I gradually got over it. I found myself caring about my party members, as well as the members of my basketball team or bandmates. Gradually, my fear of not obtaining the greatest Personas shifted to not being able to help my new friends overcome their struggles. The writing and characterization are that good.
Amidst the games that just pack on content, daring you to complete everything, I’m interested in playing more games that force you to choose how best your time. Persona 4 has a new game plus mode where the social attributes you developed carry over, making it easier for you to access all of the conversation branches. Persona 4 is, in a sense, a power fantasy. You can create the most popular high school character, as well as the most powerful. Turns out, you have more time than you think.
Although the side quests can still draw out the pace of the murder mystery plot, Persona 4 somehow captures the balance between linear storytelling and exploration. There’s plenty to do, but it’s up to you on how you prioritize your time. That’s a lesson I can take to heart as I get older, juggling my dreams and social life as best as the next person.