I think that Atlus does a much better job with dealing with greater philosophical questions regarding humanity than it does social issues themselves, from what I’ve seen so far. I realize now that a reason that I prefer Persona 3 to 4, is that it talks about how death affects us all, how it is unavoidable and that the way we think of it, ignore it, approach it, shapes who we are. 4 talks about how we deny parts of ourselves we don’t want to think about, and maybe there’s more that I’ve missed, but it pretty much repeats this theme in not too different ways.
We get to the coating of these ideas, that’s where Persona 4 seems to kick in and get popular with others. Talking about Kanji and Naoto’s respective arcs have been done to death but they’re prime examples of what I’m thinking of. Kanji is so close to being a well done narrative of a teenage boy who questions his sexuality and understanding on himself based on outward perceptions of who he is and his “feminine” traits, but we resolve this and don’t stop harassing him for it. (Eliminating Yosuke from the game would probably mostly fix this problem, unfortunately. Yosuke’s presence amongst the other characters brings the others out, but is also a toxic presence to everyone but you.)
Naoto has a lot of gender identity issues, having a lot to do with the misogyny constantly found throughout society and the particular fields she has interest in, and the game SEEMS to treat it well enough, but then we get to a very specific part of her social link where you can tell her that you like her whatever way she chooses to be, or you can also tell her that you like her as a girl. Rather than framing your decision on what gender she should feel right as as something controlling and toxic, saying you like her as a girl gives you her romance route! That feels….weird.
Beyond the repetitive writing that Persona 4 has despite its amazing wealth of character throughout its plot and social links, I can’t stop but feel that while Persona 4 was a more well executed game, Persona 3 handled its “theme” much more directly and cohesively. There’s probably more I’ll say as I continue my second playthrough of 4 and uncover more social links, but I really feel like I want to say why it is that I feel something scratching at me when I play these games.