Review by SgtCashmere

"Dirty Nurses, Pop Stars, and Bath Houses - Oh My!"

'Persona 4' follows the story of a Japanese transfer student to the small town of Inaba. Once there, he discovers a world inside the TV, filled with dangerous monsters known as 'Shadows'. Along with his friends, he investigates the numerous disappearances and murders connected to this TV world. The game is an RPG, and draws on both traditional RPG elements, as well as some rather charismatic, unique qualities found in any of the 'Persona' titles. My review comes from the point of view of a player that's new to the 'Persona' series -- I will not be comparing 'Persona 4' to previous 'Persona' titles.

GRAPHICS
The anime cut scenes are BEAUTIFUL!! Just absolutely incredibly well animated. It makes me wish that the game could be translated into a televised series. However, the graphics in other areas of the game are somewhat poorly done. The dungeons are monotonous, and you feel as though you are exploring the inside of a rubix cube -- everything is very flat, and nothing seems to stand out. In battle, the graphics are so-so, but probably boarder more on the side of 'Impressive' than 'Poor'. I enjoy the Team Strike attacks, for example. Their cartoonish, comic book style effect is rather fun to watch. Character animations are also pretty well done, if not a bit bland -- each character's avatar only has three or four expressions, and it can get pretty outlandish when you are having a conversation with somebody that has the same face for, 'I'm mad!' as, 'What's the answer to this English test question?' So, for 'GRAPHICS', I award the game a 7/10.

SOUND
WOW. That's all I can say. The voice acting was great! Yosuke Hanamura was especially a treat -- tons of emotion, without over-doing it. I also enjoyed Yukiko Amagi, whose voice actress's laughter actually made ME laugh, too. Rarely does voice acting engross you in the storyline more than usual, but this game did the trick (at least for me). The music was also really great. There are some songs I had stuck in my head all day. Some songs even had hip-hop elements -- a very rare thing in an RPG game. I liked how creative the songs were, and the dialogue was just wonderful. I give 'SOUND' a 9/10 -- it only loses one point due to the fact that the final boss battle was largely silent, and gave players only a hint of massive, instrumental, epic sound. ATLUS could have used a much more exciting song for the most important fight of the game!

GAME PLAY - REAL WORLD
The game play that takes place in the Real World consists of your main character developing, and building upon, bonds known as 'Social Links'. Social Links affect your powers in different ways, and are highly valuable to you in the process of leveling up, fusing Personas, etc. Social Links are also really fun to develop! Each tertiary character actually had an interesting storyline to work though. There was a promiscuous nurse whose loneliness can be unbearable, a widow that can't let go of her deceased husband's memory, a high school basketball star that struggles in his adoptive family, etc. Best of all, you get to pick exactly how your character will be spending his day -- almost like in real life! After school, you can go to basketball practice, work part-time, hang out with a friend, or go into the TV World... etc. It's so unique, and a really refreshing spin on RPG storylines. I greatly enjoyed the game play, in this respect.

GAME PLAY - BATTLES
Hmm... Part of me really enjoyed the process of creating and developing 'Personas', which are the monster-like spirits you can use in battle. Each one is unique -- well, at least a little bit -- and there are certain tricks you can exploit to create super powerful Personas. It adds a dynamic, complex side to battling when you must choose your Persona carefully. However, there's just so many possibilities, that fusing and developing your Personas can sometimes feel overwhelming. It doesn't help that many of the Personas are bland to look at, and don't offer much in the way of battle strategy. Some of the Personas are truly interesting, but others just seem like fodder to stretch out the number of fusion possibilities... Anyways. Battle itself is fairly straight forward, and overall, it's just a nice, clean turn based battle system, similar to other RPG games. It's not innovative, but it's great for players like myself, that enjoy classic, turn based action.

OVERALL GAMEPLAY - 8/10. Nothing particularly new or exciting, but good enough to keep you interested in exploring those long, monotonous dungeons.

STORYLINE
Yes!! This is the kind of game I have always been waiting for!! I kid you not. The characters are believable (except for Naoto Shirogane, perhaps), likeable, and add a lot to the storyline. The murder mystery itself is filled with twists and turns that nobody would really expect. The payout is great, whenever the main characters finally figure out one of the many great mysteries that line their journey. There are even multiple endings -- two are obviously let downs, and pretty much beg of you to play the game over again in order to see a more satisfying plot resolution. However, the 'True Ending' was unexpected, at least in my opinon. I like games that keep you on your toes with their storyline! One gripe I had with the main character, however, was that he tends to suffer from a lack of personality. Obviously, since you can pick his dialogue, it's easy to put your own personal touch on his character development. But still, I didn't feel like the guy had life goals, or was particularly motivated throughout the journey. Oh, well -- I won't let this affect the STORYLINE grade, because players know exactly what they are getting into when they choose to play an RPG with a silent protagonist! Regardless, the characters around you are so goofy, so sweet, so difficult, etc. that the game never stops being interesting. I give Storyline a 9/10!

EXTRA
Hmm... It's a difficult game, because the monsters can be pretty tough to defeat. I suggest picking 'Easy' mode the first time, especially since it has ZERO effect on the outcome of the storyline, or the extra bonuses, or anything like that. However, 'Normal' mode isn't too bad, once you get the hang of battle. Also, it's pretty near impossible to max out all your Social Links without the help of a guide. Maxing them all out is not necessary, but it's a nice accomplishment, and makes the fusion process a lot easier! Finally, one of my favorite parts of the game (as creepy as it sounds) is the option to pair up the main character with a girlfriend. I went with Yukiko Amagi, since she was my favorite female character! It's not important to the storyline, but it's a cute little addition that makes the game feel more like real high school, adolescent life.

OVERALL
The game is just great, and offers players a storyline that they can really sink their teeth into. I would strongly recommend it to anybody -- especially to players around my age, that have grown up playing epic, masterpiece games like the 'Final Fantasy' series, but have been secretly longing for something new, fresh, and a little unorthodox. It's a great storyline, with a lot of likeable elements, and a killer voice cast. My final grade for 'Persona 4' -- 8/10.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/29/09

Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/08/08)


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