When I went back home for Christmas this past year, I decided to bring my old PS2 back home with me to Chicago. One of the first things I did was order off eBay a game that I’d been wanting to play for the past several years: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. Time has flown by since its arrival, and over the past month or so, I’ve spent 101 hours role playing as Yu Narukami in the fictional Japanese town of Inaba, spending time with my high school friends while defending the town from a shadowy threat. It was an unforgettable time, and I found myself moved to tears when the end credits rolled to Shoji Meguro’s “Never More.”
Why did this game matter to me in ways that few others have? After taking a few days to digest the storyline, I realized that the plot—a murder mystery with some twists and turns—was pretty good at best and average at worst; clearly this wasn’t the reason. Instead, what really drew me into the game was the characters, friendships, and camaraderie that I, the protagonist, developed through the 260 days that the game takes place over. Between April 2011 and March 2012 (with some unplayable days in between), I spent every day differently, developing friendships, celebrating holidays, defeating shadows, taking exams, and much more along the way. At the end, even the lyrics of “Never More” are more about my friendships than the actual adventures we had together.
Throughout this time, my seven friends in our “Investigation Team” were the people who impacted me the most. Yosuke, Chie, and Yukiko were my fellow second year (equivalent of American juniors) classmates at Yasogami High School who welcomed me to their social circle on the first day of school. Later, I met Kanji, Rise, and Naoto, who were first years (American sophomores) at the same school. Lastly, Teddie was a “bear” creature later-turned suave-looking guy that I met in the TV world of Inaba.
Over the rest of this post, I will present profiles of each of these seven main characters of Persona 4 as well as their story arc over their social links. Note that this was originally a two-part post, so forgive the lengthiness. As always, please visit https://pastimezone.wordpress.com/ if you enjoy my posts and want to see more!
[This remainder of this post contains some light SPOILERS for Persona 4 as I go through each of the characters of the story.]
- Weapon: Wrenches, knives, kunai
- Date of birth: 6/22/94 (Age 16-17)
- Height: 5’9″
- Weight: 128 lbs
- Persona: Jiraiya, Susano-o
At the beginning of the story, I met Yosuke Hanamura as a comic relief character. He was constantly crashing into things on his bike and was usually at the butt end of jokes from Chie and Yukiko. However, as the story progressed and I learned more about him through his social link arc, I quickly realized that one word can pretty much summarize Yosuke’s personality: he’s a bro.
Brosuke was a typical guy friend who fell into many common tropes for teenage boys. He was constantly fawning over girls who never considered him seriously, going as far as signing up all of his female friends for the school’s beauty pageant just so he could watch them. Yosuke wasn’t as perverted as some other anime characters I’ve seen, but he certainly had his moments, like when he secretly bought swimsuits for Chie and Yukiko on the school trip knowing that he would ask them to go swimming.
In addition, like a typical bro, Yosuke often said things without thinking, and sometimes unintentionally insulted people. For example, several times in the story, Yosuke made homophobic remarks toward Kanji when the latter was in the process of struggling with his own sexuality, going as far as asking if it was “safe” for him to sleep in the same tent as Kanji. I think his intentions were usually good though, albeit a little selfish.
However, like with many of the characters in the story, Yosuke did have a deeper emotional side and this showed through my social link with him. He immediately felt connected to me due to both of us being from the city and living in this boring small town, but his situation was different since his family owned the local franchise of the chain supermarket, Junes, that was unfortunately putting many smaller Inaba stores out of the business. This put him in an awkward spot, known by everyone in the city as the Junes kid, for better or worse, and not really able to make friends with anyone.
Yosuke was also deeply affected to the point of depression by his senpai, Saki, whom he had feelings for while she was working for his father’s store. After her death, he found out from her shadow that she actually despised him and while this was hurtful to him, it did not stop him from wanting to avenge her death and defend her from her gossipy coworkers. In his last conversation with me, Yosuke admitted his jealousy for my knack for leadership and other protagonist-given attributes, and asked me to hit me to test our friendship. We brawled it out like true bros and he gave me a bandage to remind us of our bond.
- Weapon: Greaves
- Date of birth: 7/30/94 (Age 16-17)
- Height: 5’2″
- Favorite food: Meat
- Persona: Tomoe, Suzuka Gongen
Chie Satonaka was kind to me from the first day of school, asking me to sit next to her in the classroom. She is an energetic and outgoing extrovert who is assertive in what she wants, sometimes to the point of recklessness. It was easy at first to consider her a regular tomboy, but her friendship with Yukiko as well as her inner struggles grew her into a complex character throughout our time together.
One of Chie’s favorite hobbies is martial arts. She is self taught in Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid philosophy of martial arts heavily influenced by the philosophy and experiences of Bruce Lee. Probably stemming from that, Chie has an intense sense of justice and a strong desire to protect others. She often defended her friends in various situations and absolutely despises bullies. Unfortunately, this sometimes led to impetuous actions where Chie put herself in dangerous situations and had to be bailed out by others like me.
Yukiko is Chie’s best friend, and while they care for each other very much, both of them often found themselves jealous of various traits of the other. For Chie, it was Yukiko’s femininity, beauty, intelligence, and all of the male attention that comes from these attributes. However, Chie was unaware that she actually had a lot of secret admirers (like my jock friend, Kou Ichijo) who were afraid to approach her romantically due to her brash personality.
Throughout Chie’s social link arc, I learned more about her struggles with her femininity. We spent a lot of time training our fighting and kicking skills by the riverbank and often talked after each training session. During these sessions, we often ran into one of Chie’s old “friends”, Takeshi, who would tease Chie about always wanting to be the protector of justice while at the same time indicating his romantic interest in the more feminine Yukiko. This clearly bothered Chie and exacerbated her inner struggle between being a strong protective figure and an attractive girl.
Later, the two of us caught some bullies in the act of mugging Takeshi and Chie recklessly rushed in to stop them. Fortunately, there ended up being no conflict but later, Takeshi still badmouthed Chie despite her saving him (what a jerk!). A few days later, the bullies were at it again, and this time when Chie stepped in, they tried to blackmail her by threatening Yukiko, but she was able to scare them away. After this stressful event, I asked Chie to be my girlfriend and she gave me a matching wristband to remind me of our relationship. Meanwhile, Chie continued to struggle with understanding what her “good” qualities were, but now with me by her side.
- Weapon: Fan
- Date of birth: 12/8/94 (Age 16-17)
- Height: 5’5″
- Favorite joke: Making her friends wear her fake glasses
- Persona: Konohana Sakuya, Amaterasu
Before really getting to know her, Yukiko seems like a perfect young woman. She’s wealthy, elegant, polite, smart, and beautiful. Unsurprisingly, this has attracted many men in the city of Inaba to her, but she is often uncomfortable and clueless when these men show their interest. While she wasn’t a part of the original Investigation Team, after we rescued her, Yukiko’s gratitude helped our friendship grow.
Yukiko’s shy personality led her to feel at times dependent on her friends, but at the same time she wanted to be stronger so that she could protect and support them as they do for her. However, despite having this timid disposition, Yukiko does have an interesting habit of going into uncontrollable laughing fits even from the smallest jokes. According to Chie, she only shows this side of her to people she feels close to, so it meant a lot to the rest of us when she felt comfortable enough to be herself around us.
Because Yukiko’s family owns the Amagi Inn, the main tourist attraction of Inaba, she often has to work there to support her family while being expected to take over the business at some point. This caused her to feel chained down by her family and career and eventaully developed into her desire to run away, causing her to be kidnapped into the TV world.
At first, Yukiko’s social link with me was a little awkward due to her lack of experience in talking to boys her age. She juxtaposed this with Chie’s personality, saying that Chie has no problem being friends with boys, demonstrating the aforementioned two-sided jealousy the two still struggle with despite being best friends. After we got to know each other a little better, she shared with me about her career aspirations of leaving Inaba and freeing herself from the shackles of Amagi Inn. One of the things Yukiko realized that she had to do to be self-sustaining was learn how to cook, so I unfortunately had to be her taste tester as she cooked her horrendous food for me.
During Yukiko’s preparation for a job license to leave Inaba, she encountered some shady journalists who wanted to do a segment on the Amagi Inn in a “news of the weird” show. In defending the inn from these reporters, she realized that maybe staying and working there wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Yukiko understood that her dislike of inheriting the Amagi Inn came from her feeling trapped into the decision, rather than an actual dislike of the vocation. With my help, she realized that ultimately, the decision was up to her and was at peace with it. At this point, we started a romantic relationship, and she gave me a shrine charm to protect me after I left Inaba.
- Weapon: Claws
- Date of birth: Bearly known
- Height: 4’3″ (bear), 5’3″ – 5’7″ (human)
- Weight: 121 lbs (human)
- Persona: Kintoki-Douji, Kamui
Unlike Yosuke, Teddie actually is the comic relief character of Persona 4. We met this strange creature when we first entered the TV world. At first, he was literally a hollow shell of a bear, but he quickly developed a relationship with the Investigation Team and eventually a human body somehow. His character progression is also by far the most drastic, as he changes from a cowardly support character with no sense of self to a full-fledged battle bear who understands his purpose in the world by the end of the story.
In the first half of the story, Teddie acted as a tactical support for the rest of us during battles, all the while cracking unbearable jokes with bear puns galore. Since he is unaware of human customs, he doesn’t understand things like “manwhore” or “scoring a hot stud”, and as a result Teddie didn’t have many social boundaries and often openly flirted with Yukiko and Chie. He had a strong relationship with me and called me “sensei” after seeing my abilities with Personas. He also cared a lot about my cousin, Nanako (he calls her “Nana-chan”), and was devastated when she initially died.
Teddie’s most prominent inner struggle was his sense of identity, since for the majority of our time together, he had no idea what he was or where he came from. This caused him to fear that he actually had no “true self” and it was this fear that created his shadow after he helped us defeat Rise’s shadow in an heroic act of bravery. After we defeated his shadow, I got to know Teddie through his social link arc.
As the rest of the story progressed, Teddie and I talked about how he made progress in finding out more about himself. First, he trained to be stronger physically and was able to join us in battle. Then, he “grew” a human body somehow and spent time with us outside of the TV world as a suave blonde boy staying with Yosuke. However, despite our support, Teddie constantly struggled with whether he deserved to stay in our world, especially as we made more progress on the case, since he felt that his usefulness was coming to an end.
Teddie then began to figure out what he really was. A trip to the doctor showed that he clearly was not a normal human since the X-ray showed nothing inside him. Then, after Nanako died (before being revived in the good/true ending), Teddie found himself lost in his memories as he realized that he was actually a special shadow who grew human emotions and wanted to be accepted by others. He grieved this fact and was afraid that we wouldn’t accept him since shadows had been our enemies this entire time. Fortunately, following Nanako’s recovery, Teddie came to accept his true self and realized his potential for change in the future was limitless; this helped him embrace his decision to stay in the real world while vowing to protect the TV world.
- Weapon: Blunt objects (chairs, boards, plates, etc.)
- Date of birth: 1/19/1996 (Age 15-16)
- Height: 6’0″
- Weight: 143 lbs
- Persona: Take-Mikazuchi, Rokuten Maou
When Kanji Tatsumi was presented to the original four members of the Investigation Team, we were confused about exactly who he was. On the outside, he seemed like a tough gang member, but his shadow in the TV world showed a flamboyant representation of homosexuality that made Brosuke super uncomfortable. It turned out he wasn’t actually a part of a gang but just beat one up because their noise was disturbing his mother’s sleep. We never were really sure about his sexuality, although his relationship with Naoto seemed to give us some hints that Kanji is probably not gay. (Note: Kanji’s sexuality is a hotly debated topic, but I have never seen a better analysis of it than Matt Bodega’s article on Giant Bomb over 8 years ago. I highly recommend reading it for its unique take on gender and sexuality in Persona 4.)
Kanji definitely has some interesting quirks that set him apart from most “manly” men in society. On one hand, he enjoys sewing, arts, and crafts, and his creative side helps his family’s textile shop flourish, despite his outward appearance. This outward appearance is crass and violent, but always in a way that is protective and showing the best of intentions for those close to him. This inner conflict likely arose due to his feminine interests versus the judgments of his classmates who think said interests are unnatural, both of which are in the context of his late father’s words telling him that he has to be “strong” to be a man.
In my social link with Kanji, we first talked about his struggles with everyone always assuming that he’s a criminal or troublemaker due to his outward appearance, including the Inaba police officers who are constantly suspicious of him. He came off as very defensive at first because he was so used to everyone judging him without actually getting to know him. Kanji also opened up to me about how he deeply cares for his mother, but is terrible at showing his love for her due to his belligerent personality.
Later, we met a young boy who lost a bunny doll that he had borrowed from a girl at school. The boy was teased for his interest in the doll and another boy told him to throw it away if he was a “man.” Kanji really resonated with the boy since it’s this type of gender stereotyping that had hurt him throughout his life. He vowed to be supportive of the boy and ended up making the boy another bunny from scratch. The boy, in his thankfulness, continued to ask Kanji to make more dolls for his friends, and this eventually led Kanji to accept his “feminine” side as his true self. In the end, Kanji realized that being a “strong man” meant that he shouldn’t be scared of others’ views and came up with two rules to live his life by: 1. Be himself and 2. Get people to understand him. He thanked me for helping him realize this with a cute strap that he knitted for me.
- Nickname: Risette (“Risechi” in the Japanese version)
- Date of birth: 6/1/1995 (Age 15-16)
- Height: 5’1″
- Weight: 90 lbs
- Persona: Himiko, Kanzeon
It’s pretty amazing that someone as famous as Rise Kujikawa a.k.a. Risette ended up in our Investigation Team in the small town of Inaba. Before she moved back home to Inaba, Risette was a rising idol known by all of Japan as an up-and-coming star in many forms of media. When rumors circulated that she would be taking a break from her professional career and moving to Inaba, the town was abuzz with gossip and anticipation at Rise’s return. There were constantly crowds in front of her grandmother’s restaurant, and Rise was at the center of everyone’s attention at Yasogami High School once she enrolled there.
The first time we met Rise was when we went to Marukyu Tofu shop to warn her since she had just appeared on TV and was likely to be kidnapped. At that point, she was a young woman overwhelmed with stress and seemed to have a lot of inner thoughts/feelings she hadn’t shared with many people. We learned more about Rise as we rescued her from the TV world, that she was someone who struggled with not knowing whether people actually knew/liked the real Rise vs. the idol Risette. She feared that she had no true self due to her career forcing her to put up so many fake faces in front of the public.
After we rescued Rise, her personality did a 180 and she became a cheerful, outspoken, and obviously flirtatious (toward me) girl who added a lot of excitement to the Investigation Team. Rise also showed a strong competitive side, as we saw when she participated in a cook-off with Yukiko and Chie, leading Chie to call her a “dangerous girl.”
Rise and I started our social link because she needed someone to show her around town, since she was new to Inaba. In retrospect, it would have made more sense for her to ask anyone else–since I was also new to the town, but she probably chose me due to a not-so-discreet romantic interest. For a while, she enjoyed living this “normal life” as we went on our dates, even though she was constantly being pestered by fanboys who were shocked to see Risette in public.
One day, Rise’s old manager followed us just to try to convince Rise to come back to the business. While at first sincere, the manager quickly dismissed her and chose instead to manage one of Rise’s competitors, an emerging young star named Kanami. This as well as a fan letter from a young girl led Rise to wonder if she should go back to showbiz, despite her initial reservations. At this point, we began going out and Rise opened up to me about how she realized that all those “fake” sides of her were all a part of her true self, and it’s that realization that helped her make her decision to return to her work. She gave me a signed photo to remind myself of her, and she made sure to cherish what time we had before I left Inaba.
- Weapon: Handgun
- Date of birth: 4/27/1995 (Age 15-16)
- Height: 5’0″
- Sex: Female
- Persona: Sukuna-Hikona, Yamato-Takeru
We first met Naoto when we saw “him” hanging out with Kanji before the latter was kidnapped. Later, we found out that Naoto was actually a detective sent by Dojima’s superiors to assist with the serial murder case in Inaba. Since she looked so young and boyish, the media dubbed him the “Detective Prince”, while the Inaba police department were annoyed that they had to work with a barely five-foot tall kid.
After Mitsuo Kubo was arrested and the case was seemingly solved, Naoto remained suspicious and tested out his theory that all who appeared on TV would be kidnapped, essentially using herself as bait to catch the real killer. The bait worked, and while we unfortunately did not catch the killer at that point, the Investigation Team did have to rescue Naoto from the TV world, and it was at this point that we learned that Naoto was actually a girl. Throughout Naoto’s shadow world, we learned about her struggles with being disrespected as both a small child and as a girl (especially in her male dominated occupation), despite her genius-level intellect when it came to analysis and deduction. Her shadow preyed on these insecurities and threatened to give Naoto a permanent sex change, which we fortunately saved her from.
Given Naoto’s high level of intellect, I couldn’t even begin talking to her in our social link until I had maximized my own knowledge potential. Our initial conversations revolved around a mysterious Phantom Thief’s puzzles and riddles that led Naoto to discovering many “detective tools” from her childhood. These items reminded her that a lot of her interests were misaligned with society’s views of her gender (similar to Kanji), and how she thought that if she were just born male, her life would have been much easier.
One of these items was a knife, and since I didn’t know it was a toy, there was a tense situation during which I protected her from the assailant, which led us to draw closer together. At this point, I confessed my feelings for Naoto, which initially scared her off. Later, we found the last item from Naoto’s childhood, the “Detective’s Pocketbook”, and Naoto figured out that it was her grandfather who had schemed this entire mystery to remind her of her childhood. She confessed her love for me as well during this time, and also realized that she does not always need to change who she is to suit the world. At the end of our time together, Naoto gave me a detective badge since I helped her find a reason to be herself, rather than an adult or a man or a detective.
I hope you enjoyed reading all seven of these character profiles! After I finished the game and watched both animations and the movie, I realized that the Persona 4 world is a unique setting where the writers were unafraid to present complex and thought-provoking characters, despite its seemingly lighthearted posture. These deep friendships I made throughout the game are precisely what makes it one of the best games I’ve ever played.