Despite being a part of the same series, Persona 3 and Persona 4 are two very distinct games with two very distinct identities. Where one falter, the other thrives. Persona 4 corrects issues with Persona 3, whereas Persona 3 has certain charms that Persona 4 simply lacks. Which is better ultimately depends on what one values in their RPGs.
10 Persona 3: Better Story
Persona 4 has an entertaining story, but it’s by far the worst of the six mainline Persona games. “Truth” as a theme is fairly undercooked and Persona 4 is generally at its best during its slice of life moments, not when advancing the plot. Persona 3, on the other hand, really excels when it comes to its storyline.
Only Persona 2: Innocent Sin gives it a run for its money. There’s a few downtime round midway via, however life and death as topics are integrated excellently into the plot and the script is, if not anything else, the best localized of the Persona scripts. Persona four has a a laugh story, but Persona three has gravitas.
9 Persona 4: Better Social Links
While Persona 3 may be the better written game overall, it really fumbles when it comes to Social Links. They get the job done and some still hold out as series standouts, but most of them are incredibly short, simple, and don’t have much in the way of character depth. Which is fine for members of SEES since they develop as part of the story, but not so much for everyone else.
Persona 4 not only has better Social Link variety, but they’re far more engaging and require doing more than just kissing up when answering questions. The Social Link of specific characters end up being the best ones in Persona 4, having an opportunity to grow in a dynamic way that most of Persona 3’s Social Links lacked.
8 Persona 3: Better First Act
Persona 4’s opening hours are painfully slow. So much time is unnecessarily spent establishing Inaba and other characters through cutscenes, when gameplay would have done the trick just fine, if not better. Persona 5 would correct this with a comparatively brisker (or at least more meaningful) introduction, but what’s jarring is that Persona 3 didn’t have this problem.
Persona 3 takes its time setting the foundation for the game, but it also understands that audiences need a taste of the game early. It’s not long before players are controlling the main character and not much longer until they’re dungeon crawling and fighting Shadows on the daily.
7 Persona 4: Better Second Act
On the flip-side, Persona 3 dedicates most of its second act to, well, not that much. The plot takes a back seat to move characters into place for the last act. It’s necessary, but it’s admittedly uneventful and this portion of the game is really meant to be a gameplay dive. Persona 4 manages to balance its second act much better.
Not best is the story arguably reaching its first tipping point through this factor, however Persona four normally maintains a greater lively plotline. There’s less down time and a ways more times of characters getting together outdoor of a dungeon crawling context. It maintains the tempo moving.
6 Persona 3: Better Finale
That said, Persona 4 isn’t able to keep its momentum, tripping over itself by indulging in three separate possible endpoints (four with Persona 4 Golden). It leads to a finale that’s messy, cluttered, and at odds with itself by the end of things. There are some great moments, but it’s too unfocused.
Persona 3 does a much better job in this regard, dedicating its last few months specifically to building up to the grand finale. The player is given an entire month to do whatever they please and it really sets in just how close to the end everything is with the world, the game, and the player. The build up alone is enough to give Persona 3 one of the best endings in gaming.
5 Persona 4: Better Dungeons
Tartarus gets a bad rep, but it’s not like it’s some marvel of dungeon design. It’s a decent procedurally generated dungeon with a well paced progressive. Other than that, it’s not much beyond a playground for battles. Persona 4 actually opts for real dungeon design and even tosses in some puzzles here and there.
They nevertheless aren’t perfect with the aid of any approach and procedural generation plays its function, but Persona 4 dungeons are higher targeted and better themed. Plus, dungeons are the sort of key staple of the JRPG formula (for Shin Megami Tensei and Persona, too). Tartarus finally ends up sticking out unfavorably as a end result
4 Persona 3: Better Characters
Persona 4 has a very likable cast, but they’re not well developed beyond their introduction. Almost all of their Social Links fail to expand their characters in meaningful ways and the plot doesn’t allow them to grow, keeping them stunted once they’re recruited. It’s not great considering they’re such a lively cast.
Persona 3 doesn’t have this problem at all, with every single character having their own arc that’s resolved over the course of the story. Everyone contributes meaningfully, everyone plays an important narrative role, and everyone changes. No one feels like a bit player in Persona 3 whereas only Yu, Yosuke, Naoto, and Teddie ultimately matter to P4’s plot.
3 Persona 4: Better Bosses
Persona 3 has a lot of great boss fights, but it also has a lot of filler boss fights that have no place being in the game and only exist to give players something to fight as they battle their way through Tartarus. Persona 4 opts for far more focused fights, leading to boss fights that can easily stop players in their tracks.
Maybe that’s not a good thing for everyone, but Persona 4’s bosses require more strategy on a whole than Persona 3’s. Which is kind of funny considering Persona 3’s combat system was built on giving orders to other party members. Maybe that’s why some bosses are underwhelming, though.
2 Persona 3: Better Final Boss
Although Persona 4 may have better bosses on a whole, it just can’t compare to Persona 3’s epic final boss: Nyx. A multi-phase finale that’ll likely last over half an hour, this is the final boss to end all final bosses. It’s a confrontation with a manifestation of death itself. Should the heroes lose, all life goes with them.
It’s a final battle that ties back into the game’s main theme perfectly, even ending with the main character being forced to cast an attack that uses up all its HP. It’s a long endurance match, but it’s one that’s incredibly rewarding and surprisingly well balanced. This is one of the best final bosses in gaming, period.
1 Persona 4: Better Definitive Version
As a base game, Persona 3 is perhaps the better of the two. It’s more interesting, more mature, and its flaws aren’t enough to drag down its strengths. Unfortunately, Persona 3 lacks a true definitive edition as both Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable offer very different interpretations of the same game, both with their own strengths and flaws.
Persona four simply has Persona 4 Golden, a Vita re-release that expands on Persona four considerably. There are extra months to play through, extra dungeons, greater bosses, greater cutscenes, extra Social Links, and more ending. It’s a bigger recreation on a whole and one that improves Persona four exponentially.