Review by MarkoftheFighters
"If It Ain't Broke, Make It Better"
That's pretty much the case for Persona 4. Essentially, Persona 4 is Persona 3 with some minor improvements. It has taken all the successful elements that made Persona 3 one of the greatest RPGs ever made by incorporating a sim dating-like system to liven up the genre. It was innovative and gave new hope to RPGs.
P4 is a direct sequel to P3. About one year after the events of the previous game. There are no direct connections with each game. You play as a gray-haired protagonist, whom you can freely name. You move from the big city to the fictional Japanese countryside of Inaba to live with your uncle and niece. Once you arrive in the town, a string of murders occur during foggy days and you have the ability to walk through TV screens to enter a different realm. These paranormals are connected in a way. These are the mysteries that you and your gang need to solve.
So starting off in a new town is practically a good excuse to get started, in a manner of P3. If you've played P3, it's pretty much the same here. It's much like a rehash. P4 offers a good mystery-telling story line, great characters, and filled with great dialogue.
You have a one year game time limit and play by days. You have most of these days to do whatever you want. The game starts off linear. Once you get the gist, you'll get your freedom to do whatever you want.. You go to school, meet people, go shopping, conduct leisure activities, and unravel the mysteries. Occasionally, there are unavoidable events.
The most prominent aspect of this game and the previous is the Social Links system (S. Link). You can start a S. Link by talking to specific people. The more time you spend with them, the higher their ranks go. These S. Links go toward to the dungeon crawling aspect of the game. Since you can walk through TV screens, you go to an alternate dimension where some people are thrown into. It's your job to save them before they are murdered on a foggy day and figure out the culprit behind this. The dungeon crawling aspect has you running through repeated halls with enemies and treasure chests. The levels designs are repetitive, the same problem from P3. You can either avoid or engage enemies, the Shadows. If you do engage, it shifts to a typical turn-based RPG battle.
The battles aren't particularly "engaging" but they can be tough. Most of the Shadows have a weakness, elemental or physical attacks. Exploiting their weaknesses is the key to winning. You have the ability to analyze the enemy to remember their weakness. Analysis information is usually acquired by trial-and-error during battles. Subjecting your enemy's weaknesses will succumb them into a downed-state where you can launch an "All Out Attack" if all are down.
Unfortunately for this game, it amps up the difficulty by spiking enemy levels. Occasionally, you'll find yourself grinding on weaker Shadows to reach the appropriate level. What makes this game a lot more harder is the lack of save points in the dungeons. You need to ascend a dozen of floors to find one save point.
Personas are important to this game but they're not often focused on for the story. A Persona is a character's personality taken a form of some sort of humanoid creature. There are a whole lot of weirdly designed Personas. You can earn Personas by winning them sometimes after battles. Personas can be leveled up and fused into greater ones. As you unlock more S. Links, you can unlock more Personas. With higher ranked S. Links, come extra XP after Persona fusion.
Since your character is special, he can assume more than Persona with different powers, strengths, and weakness unlike your party members who only have one Persona. Personas are the ones that provide the characters with "Skills."
Throughout the whole game, you can spend the days however you like but the main focus is to prevents murders before foggy days. Each day has a different forcast. You must prevent the murder or it's Game Over. There are also some special events that occur during the year.
Like I mentioned before: P4 is essentially P3 with some improvements but is P4 better than P3? I just think it's the same game with a different story, characters, and setting. They're both great games but P4 could have had more or much better improvements like graphics, animation, level design, and better battle mechanics.
The character and Persona designs are weird but have an exotic appeal. The soundtrack is very nice and catchy. A free CD comes with any purchase of the game. There's J-pop, J-rock, jazz, techno... some of these BGMs don't fit but you can get used to them. The American voice overs are very nicely done but there's no option for Japanese dub.
Game Play: 9/10
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/18/08, Updated 12/23/08
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/08/08)
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