Why Persona 4 is better than Persona 5

By Joe Delaney

Imagine that you are an interdimensional warrior, going to battle with demons in other worlds to protect your own. Not only that, but you’re also a high school student with lots of friends, some of whom are girls who want to date you. I know those both seem like wild, unattainable fantasies, but that’s exactly the life you live when you play the Persona games.

Starting out as a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series, the Persona games developed a cult following over the last two decades. In recent years though, this dungeon crawling RPG / teenage life sim has gained more mainstream success, mainly due to the popularity of the most recent entry, Persona 5. 

2020 might be the biggest year of all for the series, with not only the release of Persona 5: Royal, the definitive edition of the game, but also the Steam release of Persona 4: Golden. The latter is an especially big deal, because before now, P4G was a PS Vita exclusive, which means that approximately 47 people got to play it. It’s great to see this cult classic reach a wider audience, because in my opinion, it’s an even better game than its sequel. 

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Before you get all worked up, the title of this article is not “Why Persona 4 is good, and Persona 5 is bad.” Just because I like P4 more, that doesn’t mean I think P5 is worthless. It’s a good game, and in some respects, it’s better than its predecessor. Obviously, it’s a better-looking game, and on most days, I’d say that P5 has the better soundtrack of the two. I also like that you can date your hot teacher, who also works as a maid prostitute. Any game that lets you do that is OK in my book. 

Beyond that though, Persona 4 is superior to Persona 5 in every way. And I brought the evidence to prove it. (Quick disclosure, I have not played Persona 3. I’m sure it’s good, but this article isn’t about Persona 3. When I’ve played it, then I’ll talk about it.)

Both games share the same basic structure: spend half your time hanging out with friends, building your social links, and the other half exploring dungeons and fighting monsters. For years, the dungeons in the series were all procedurally generated, which were nothing special, but they got the job done. That changed when it was announced that P5 would have dungeons that were designed by human beings, and not an algorithm. I was thrilled when I heard this news. “Yes,” I said, “Real dungeons in a Persona game! Designed levels are always better than procedurally generated levels.” 

I have never been more wrong.

Just like most aspects of Persona 5, the dungeons seem really cool at first, but they really overstay their welcome. They are all visually stunning, but their style is masking a severe lack of substance. Zelda dungeons, these are not. The puzzles require little to no mental effort, serving as nothing more than time-wasters. Worst of all, unlike the dungeons in Persona 4, almost all of them have roadblocks that make you stop playing for the (in-game) day. In P4, if you came in prepared, you could finish the dungeons in a single go, giving you more time to dedicate to your six girlfriends.

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What also made P4’s dungeons special was how each one of them correlated with one of your party members, or someone else close to your main character. They may not have been as pretty to look at as P5’s dungeons, but each dungeon revealed something about your party members, giving them an extra layer of depth. For example, Kanji’s bathhouse dungeon conveyed his insecurities regarding his sexuality. P5’s dungeons are all connected to minor villain characters in the game, and they don’t really tell us anything we don’t already know. We already know these guys are douchebags. 

“Okay, the dungeons aren’t that great,” you, a Persona 5 fan, may be saying right now. “But people don’t play these games for that! They play it for the story and the characters!” 

You’re right, that’s true. And the story and characters in P5 are inferior to P4, too.

P5’s premise is genuinely compelling: you and your friends are vigilantes who are trying to expose some terrible people for their crimes. It’s like Cancel Culture: The Game, but instead of finding a bunch of old homophobic tweets to ruin their careers, you’re breaking into the villains’ “mind palaces,” where you can change their hearts to make them better people. 

For the first 60 hours of the game, this story really held my attention. However, by the SECOND 60 hours of the game, it was really starting to test my patience. This game is just too long, and it does not earn its absurd runtime, which for me was 120 hours. P4’s relatively concise 70-hour campaign may have had some filler included, but P5 just had so much unnecessary bloat. 

It’s not just from the overlong dungeons either. The cutscenes were in some serious need of a good editor. Whenever the main party was discussing its latest plan, the game made sure that every single character had to throw in their two cents about the situation at hand. 

“We need to stop the bad guy!” Makoto would say. “This guy is bad, we need to stop him!” Ryuji would shout. You know when you get a work email about a coworker who got promoted, and it starts an infinite chain of “congratulations!” emails because your asshole coworkers keep hitting reply all? That’s the dialogue in Persona 5. 

P5’s dialogue is not just long, but boring, too. The writers seemed to think that players were too dumb to understand the story, so it’s full of repetitive exposition explaining what’s going at every turn. During each dungeon, the characters would all stop to talk some bullshit about how some monster was a manifestation of the bad guy’s cognition, or some shit. By the time the game was over, I’d heard the word “cognition” so many times, I was ready to grab a gun and blow my cognition out. 

The sad thing is that these exposition dumps are really the only group interactions your party has. A huge part of P4’s appeal was the dynamic between your party, how they really seemed like a group of close friends. The characters had chemistry with each other. Some of the best scenes of that game are just days at the beach, or at a hot spring, completely unrelated to the story. 

P5’s party just don’t seem like friends. I couldn’t tell you how Ann and Makoto feel about each other, while I could vividly describe the dynamic between Chie and Yukiko. You only get to really know the characters as they relate to your player character. The only interaction I can really remember between my party members was Morgana being creepy toward Ann. Speaking of Morgana…

Morgana is the worst character in Persona 5. Worse than obvious villain detective kid. Worse than the girl who gets added to your party 75% through the game and whose name I don’t remember. Most of the game’s repetitive dialogue comes from Morgana’s stupid cat mouth, and he spends the rest of his screen time bossing you around, telling you to go to bed. He is such a step down from Teddie, who’s one of the best characters in P4, if not the best. Sure, he was a bit of a creep sometimes, too, but he was a loveable creep. Plus he was dealing with some existential dread because he was a living bear costume, so he was going through some shit. Morgana doesn’t have the same excuse. He’s my least favorite part of the game, and I wish I could change his heart to make him less of a shitty character.

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That’s enough complaining about Persona 5 for one day. As I stated earlier, I really don’t hate this game. Aside from the graphics and music, I think the individual social links you develop in the game are great. Along with banging your teacher/sex maid, you also get to bang a goth doctor and an alcoholic reporter. I’d also say that Sojiro, P5’s guardian character, is more likeable and interesting than Dojima, his P4 counterpart. Beyond these points though, there’s still no doubt in my mind that P4 is the better game.

I’m clearly in the minority on this one. Persona 5 has become the fan favorite in the years since its release, and Persona 5: Royal has solidified that. To be fair, I’ve based my opinion on the original version of the game, but I highly doubt that “Persona 5: But Even Longer This Time” will change my heart. I’m pretty certain I’ll always prefer the creepy murder mystery and genuine friendships of Persona 4 over the vigilante antics of some kids who don’t even seem to like each other. 

One day, when I have a whole week of free time, I’ll give Persona 5 another shot. I’ll just be sure to skip through all Morgana’s dialogue. Maybe that will cut a dozen hours or so from the runtime.

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Readers Comments (17)

  1. I agree with a lot of your points. P4 did have a better dynamic between party members and P5 certainly featured a lot of overlong exposition. Overall though I think P5’s superior gameplay and style just about edges it but I love both games.

  2. I totally agree. In fact it was funny that as soon as i clicked on this to read it, i had told myself my reasons as to why i thought P4 was better, and it involved character interaction and story. So when i read that i was like, “Ha! Someone else agrees!”

  3. I got about 40 hours into P5 and I just couldn’t continue because it was boring my brains out. I agree with everything you said and am amused that you failed to mention mementos, which is in my opinion the worst part of the game.

  4. I had been playing Persona 4 and I have started Persona 5, and I agree with a lot of your points! I would argue that Persona 4’s soundtrack is also better, but that’s a matter of taste, and I just love Pursuing My True Self that much. I thought Persona 5 would be that much better. I guess I’ll just return the borrowed copy and play Persona 4 on my pc! Let’s gooooo!

  5. I strongly disagree with this, after playing both games I strongly prefer persona 5. Better gameplay, better music, in my opinion just as good a cast, and a way bigger map. The dungeons are beautiful and complex, unlike some of the bleak dungeons of persona 4. Either way I still love them both, and they are both in my top 5 favorite games!

  6. As someone who’s played persona since 2009, starting with p3, this article is insane. Persona 4 is great – no question. But its not better than persona 5. P4’s dungeons were /annoying/ – same with p3. To counteract the fact you “can’t hang out with your 6 girlfriends”, p5 gives you the ‘massage’ option to go out after level grinding. Madarame, Kaneshiro – those were palaces/dungeons based on a team member??

    Lmfaoooo this is weak tbh

  7. “P5’s party just don’t seem like friends.”
    yes, because they more then just “friends”
    P5 characters is a strangers with huge problems (and MC too) so their bonds revealing more slowly and they have more deep and intimate relations in the end
    Morgana is better and funnier and cuter then Teddie
    PS and P4 dungeons is like Tartarus cut to different colored zones

    • Do agree with you on a lot in this , nice to see my opinion put so concisely !

      I don’t hate Persona 5 and I can see why some prefer it (better aesthetics, easier to manage time, imo better SL in general outside of party).

      But the characters and story make the game for me. I’ll take a simple story with themes of over sensationalism weaved in every aspect rather than a clumsily paced vigilante story which peaks at first dungeon. With party characters I don’t care about.

      In particular, there’s been a surge in popularity for Adachi after P5R and I can’t see why. Could not stand the pretentious little arsehole trying to crack jokes haha! You could argue P4s DP is too but she had interesting reasons for doing do beyond being an edgelord.

      There was nobody as interesting as Naoto or Kanji or Rise or even Ai, for that matter, in P5. What a shame.

      And in P5R it’s just more uninteresting bloat. How people say P4 / P4G has unbearable filler baffles me. Any filler is made much more enjoyable in P4 as you actually care about the characters.

      Oof, rant over ! Despite my clear preference in P4/P4g, no hard feelings for those who prefer p5/p5r. If you’ve got more out of the story / characters than I did, good for you.

  8. 100% agree, P4 social links/friendship interaction feels so natural compared to P5,its been years after my last p4 playthrough but i still remember some memorable moment. On the other hand, P5 theme about political corruption and power abuse for me is so depressing since we dealt with it also in real life, i prefer P4 eerie serial murder in a small town theme which also make me wonder whose the culprit until the end part of the game. P4 music s for me are better since it capture the spirit of the MC and his friends carefree teenagers vibes so good and are easy to listen/memorize

  9. I strongly disagree. We could have at least discussed it, if the comparison had been between 3 Fes and 5 Royal. As for me 4 Golden is just an average game, not a bad one but far below its predecessor and the one that followed it. You can’t say that P5 dungeons have no substance and put P4 dungeons as an example of something with more substance; those are just repetitive and all the same mazes that all come together in the same repetitive way, with a “not me !!!”. All except for Mitsuo Kubo’s that is a freaking masterpiece. At least in P3 you had some truly explorable environments and the story doesn’t die for a month without anything happening like in P4.

  10. P4G: Story building + Friendship building. The dungeons were bland, but comparing it to a game like P5 that was delayed for 3 years to polish it more doesn’t make any sense.

    P5R: Gameplay. The story was good, but it felt very accelerated and the friendships felt the same.

    Both: The music.

  11. So I bought Persona 4 based on this review. I was massively disappointed. It pales in every conceivable way to Persona 5. Thanks to this review, I came in with high expectations. Revisiting it now, the author’s comments are legitimately laughable.

    Persona 4’s ‘superior’ plot is essentially a half-baked whodunnit that any gamer with half a brain cell has figured out by the second dungeon. The villain is so obvious that the rest of the story becomes a tedious grind of bait and switches just to get to the over-drawn, inevitable conclusion.

    There are one or two great and memorable characters. However, the core foursome are so bland that I literally can’t remember their storylines after entering the second half of the game. There’s Yukiko, who’s exciting journey is centered around her learning to cook (for some reason?). Chie, who’s entire personality seems to be ‘I have short hair’. And then the headphones guy. Yup. I literally can’t even remember his name – he’s just that memorable.

    The dungeons in this game are essentially a single corridor with irritating music that you have to run down. They wouldn’t be too awful except that the numbers are completely broken, meaning you have to grind every dungeon three times or so in the first half of the game. In the first dungeon I killed every shadow I came across until I reached the boss at level 7. He proceeded to systematically one-hit KO each of my characters. Frustrated, I turned to the internet only to find that the boss was MORE THAN DOUBLE my level and I’d have to go back through the dungeon two more times in order to beat him. Each dungeon plays out like this for the first half of the game until you get one or two specific persona skills, which then make the second half of the game utterly trivial. For one boss in Naoto’s dungeon I literally just hit the rush button and walked away, coming back 10 minutes later to a victory screen. Whoever was in charge of balancing for Persona 4 was clearly fired before Persona 5 development began.

    And worst of all Persona 4 makes the most egregious sin any RPG can make. It’s worse than the bland characters, worse than the tedious grinding, worse, even, than the boatload of distasteful queerbashing that seems to plague every scene in Persona 4. It makes the sin of forcing the player to finish the OBNOXIOUS FUCKING FISHING MINIGAME in order to progress. We get it, Japan, you love fishing. But for god’s sake don’t lock a social link behind this joyless chore riddled with RNG. It’s just not cool.

    I completed Persona 4: Fishing Simulator and I had some happy moments with it. As a Persona 5 fan, I’m glad I played it. But I’ll never, ever play it again.

  12. You all are arguing about two great games that excel in their own ways.
    Literally mad about coffee and tea,
    They are literally different beverages, you can argue as much as possible, yet these things are so far different.

    Hey, P4G’s amazing in a way where you have to identify the true killer and build friendships along the way, with fighting mechanics *Similar*, not “the same as”, with Persona 3. With Persona 5 that has a story about total strangers meeting together, banding over a common string of abuse and pain, and stopping the end of the world, with advanced fighting mechanics and a new mechanic introduced as capturing personas.

    Both respectfully are good J-RPG games, both have an amazing story, and both have its own niche and differences. You can’t say something is bad just because it’s “different”. Mate, Spec Ops: The Line was different yet i loved it due to its amazing Story telling

    TL;DR : Stop arguing about which fruit is better, one is sour yet tantalizing, and the other is sweet and approachable.

    Y’all arguing about dungeons and whatnot, they’re fillers for the game, a J-RPG is more about storytelling, snap out of it ya dumb dumbs

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