Review by Gunners2TopEPL
"Welcome to Inaba!"
A little over a year ago, Shin Megami Tensei Persona 3 wowed critics and gamers alike for adding a breath of fresh air into the JRPG genre with its innovative game features. FES soon followed and was highly commendable as well. A tough task lied ahead for its immediate sequel, due to the huge success and popularity of Persona 3. The game in question here goes by the name of Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4.
THE question everyone is asking is, how does it fare? In a word; outstanding.
-Welcome to Inaba!-
Hardly the best tagline ever to fully describe the game itself, but a good starting point to this review.
The Protagonist (MC) is a city boy, transferring to Yasogami High, a local high school in Inaba due to his parent's overseas commitments. Inaba is a quiet, rural town located on the Japanese country-side. " Sucks to be the transfer student ", murmurs a classmate at school, and you would probably feel the same as well. The MC will be in Inaba for one academic year.
As a side note, the MC in the game is a "silent" one, meaning that he does not speak, instead having dialogue options throughout the game to convey his feelings and thoughts. Personally, I liked the idea. It really gives you the sense that you are the MC himself.
Surely, the MC will not be left alone in an isolated place, needing to fend for himself? The answer comes in the shape of Ryotaro Dojima, a police detective, and his daughter Nanako, a first grader. They are family, Ryotaro being the MC's uncle, and Nanako, his cousin.
Not too long after settling in, The MC heard a rumour; that by staring into a blank TV screen on a rainy night at midnight, your soulmate will appear on the screen. This was known as the Midnight Channel. Almost immediately, a murder occurred in Inaba. Being a small town, this was big news. The murders continued, and Inaba was engulfed in a serial murder case. Is there a connection between the murders and the Midnight Channel?
The MC got involved, awakened to his powers, and banded together with his classmates to get to the bottom of the murder mystery. That basically sums up the story.
-Everyday's great at your Junes-
Junes is a popular chain store, and recently opened up a new branch at Inaba. The MC has a friend there I believe, Yosuke Hanamura. His dad is the branch manager at the store. Yosuke is one of the MC's classmates, and hails from the big city as well before moving to Inaba. He is a sensitive fellow, but sometimes oblivious to other people's feelings close to him. Always at odds with Yosuke, is fellow classmate Chie Satonaka. She is the class tomboy, loud, active and is obsessed with kung-fu movies. Her close friend is Yukiko Amagi, the heiress to the popular Amagi Inn. Yukiko seems to be really popular at school as well. These characters are the first ones to befriend the MC.
Persona 4 boasts a colourful cast of characters, each with their own distinct personality, complementing each other pretty well. These characters grow in stature throughout the game, and you will feel that you can actually relate to them, one way or another.
-You are not me-
It may sound cliche, but everyone has another side to them. The other side may not be necessarily evil or anything, it may just harbour the true intentions or thoughts of a particular individual. Recognising its existence and accepting it as part of oneself is an important aspect in Persona 4.
-Personas and Social Links-
As always, no Persona game is complete without Personas. There is a interdependent relationship between Personas and Social Links. In Persona 4, the MC will have to interact and form relationship bonds with various of the game's characters, party members and NPC's alike. The strength of your Personas depend on the progress of your Social Links. The Social Links vary, some more interesting than others, while some can be terribly mundane. The links provide depth and insights to the characters and it adds to the overall gameplay experience. Also, some links raise on their own; in progression with the story. There may also be stats requirements for engaging and advancing certain links. More on that below.
-Your Courage has increased-
Persona 4 implements a similar personal attribute system in Persona 3. However, there are five this time; courage, diligence, understanding, expression, and knowledge. There are five ranks to each attribute. The game offers many ways of maxing these attributes, from studying in the library to increase knowledge to raising expression by doing translating work. Because of Social Link requirements, it is a necessity to increase certain attribute to a certain rank. There are benefits in other aspects as well, such as potentially earning more money from part-time work due to high diligence attribute and the ability to select certain dialogue options if your courage level is high.
-Into the TV World!-
Battles in Persona 4 takes place inside the "other world"; the TV world. Battles are similar to Persona 3; turn-based with several different command inputs. The major difference is the ability to directly control your own teammates this time round. This feature can be turned off in the configurations menu, thus providing great flexibility. Once again, the onus is on you to exploit the enemy's weaknesses and to protect your own. You will find the MC invaluable in battle, seeing that he is the only one capable of using multiple Personas. Unlike Persona 3, there are multiple dungeons in the game, each one being made available after story events. The dungeons are still randomly generated though.
-Rain or shine-
Persona 4 introduces the unique weather system. There are sunny, rainy and even foggy days in the game. Without revealing too much, it is safe to say that keeping an eye on the weather is a key aspect of the game.
-I can see my reflection!-
Persona 4 is an absolute eye-candy. It may not be the best looking game on the PS2 in the graphics department, but certainly boasts one of the most artistic, stylish looks. In other words, it is simply Persona 3 with a fresh coat of paint. The graphics look sharper and the environment is detailed nicely. Even the little effects are nice and refreshing; reflections and puddles of water during rainy conditions. The game really makes you feel like you are in a rural Japanese town, so credit to that.
-Music to my ears-
Persona 4 has an excellent soundtrack. The music style is similar to Persona 3; J-pop music with english lyrics. The music fits well with the game generally, and the music is always appropriate to certain situations in the game. Pieces like "Never More", "Reach Out To The Truth", "Your Affection" , "I'll Face Myself-Another Version" are brilliant.
The English Voice Acting (VA) is generally good. There is a considerable amount of voiced events in the game, so bad VA would have ruined the game somewhat. Of course, some characters were voiced better than others, but overall nothing too serious. Persona 4 also added some neatly done sound effects to characters when they speak, like a sigh or expression of happiness for example. I think that this is a nice addition to the game.
-Would you like to retrace your steps?-
Do you like seeing "Game Over" on the screen? Of course not. So how is the difficulty in Persona 4? For starters, there are three difficulty levels for you to choose from; beginner, normal, and expert. There are no penalties for choosing "beginner", so rest assured. To answer the question, Persona 4 is not an overly difficult game. I played on normal and nothing seemed too difficult for me. Sure, a couple of bosses might make you think for a bit or so, and some enemies might pull off cheap instant kill moves on you, but other than that, it is alright. The key is to have the appropriate Personas. It is useless to have your MC at an advanced level but supported by below-par leveled Personas.
Another hurdle to overcome is the time limit. You have time limits on story missions and it is very important for you to manage your time well. Also, it is also wise to have back-up saves in case you messed up or something.
-Return to Inaba?-
How is the replay value of the game? Well, Persona 4 has multiple endings. You could get the bad ending, the normal ending, and the true ending. To be honest, you could see it all in one play-through if you saved at the various ending fork times. However, there is a New Game+ (NG+). You get the NG+ regardless of whichever ending you get. You carry over the amount of money, the personal attributes, and the Persona Compendium into NG+. There is also a secret boss only available in NG+ if you have previously gotten the true ending and maxing a certain Social Link. There are various little bonuses as well.
I would like to say this: While playing Persona 4, you are trying to solve an unfinished jigsaw puzzle from scratch. Initially, you might seem overwhelmed by the complexity of the puzzle but as you progress further and further in the game, you will find that you are discovering, and slotting in pieces of the jigsaw piece by piece, and eventually completing the jigsaw to see the whole "picture" the game wants you to see.
Persona 4 is huge, with over 65-90 hours of gameplay, depending on your pace playing the game. I myself clocked in over 90 hours and I loved every minute of it. Persona 4 is innovative, adds a breath of fresh air to an otherwise stagnant genre, has a stylish art style, with fantastic characters and music as well. The story might seem basic at first but will slowly deepen, sucking you into the plot and never letting go. Persona 4 is a thought provoking game, touching on a variety of issues and morals, that you can definitely relate to when you play the game.
I can safely say that Persona 4 is THE definitive role playing game for the PS2 and is definitely one of the best RPGs I have ever played. I would definitely recommend this game to any RPG fan or gaming fans in general. Give it a try, you might be surprised.
The experience in Inaba is truly something else and I actually felt sad when it was over to be honest. I did not think that this game would succeed Persona 3 but I am very glad that I was proven wrong completely. Persona 4 takes on Persona 3, and improved everything to the next level. That, is the recipe for its success, and deservedly so.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/20/09, Updated 07/09/09
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/08/08)
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