Review by TheUgliestMan
"Jungian Role-Playing at its Finest"
Persona 4: Jungian Role-playing at its finest
I remember opening up a copy of Game Informer, a gaming magazine that I had received in mail one afternoon, and looking at the reviews section. There were many of the newest console games being reviewed, but one Playstation 2 game stood out among the rest, that game was Persona 3. From reading about its dark and grim storyline and its game play, I had to pick this game up. After playing and beating my brother's version that he got for his birthday, something left me unfulfilled. I actually read in another issue that a sequel came out months later, Persona 4. I dismissed this on the grounds that it was a poor reconstruction of the previous iteration in the series like Game Informer had said, but damn was I wrong for assuming that. I picked the game up at game stop one day and popped it into my PS2. After a long introduction and movie sequence, I was deeply hooked into the story. I got to name my character, who I named after a Kurt Vonnegut character from Sirens of Titan, and the mystery and surreal nature of this game hit me harder than a ton of bricks. I really wanted to continue and solve the mystery that was presented to me; I really felt like a detective in a mystery genre anime. I swear that I spent hours upon hours playing this, seeking answers and desiring to continue a gaming experience that I didn't want to end. Persona 4 to me is gaming goodness and deep storytelling at its finest.
The graphics are very good for a late PS2 game. Every character is cell-shaded and their animations are smooth and fluent. The world of Persona 4 is very colorful and vibrant and compliments the diversity of each character and the over-all personality of their world. Nothing looks prerendered like in Final Fantasy X and each environment doesn't look out of place. The dungeons in the game represent each character that your party is trying to save, and range from looking somewhat bland to very surreal and trippy at times. Battle Graphics look just like the over world graphics and attention to their detail is not lazy in the slightest. Menus look very stylish and colorful as well and make the text very easy to read. Over all the game looks very good and has a modernized and stylish feeling to it.
As one would expect, Persona 4 plays almost exactly like its predecessor. The game plays like a mix between a Japanese dating simulator and Pokemon and pulls it off well. Each of your characters uses a being known as a Persona in battle that can cast magic, buff up attributes, attack physically, etc in order to strategically take out Shadows, the monsters of the game. Your party members can only use one Persona each, but your character has the convenient ability to summon multiple Personas, meaning that you can take many roles in battle like healer, mage, tank, etc. The fighting takes place in dungeons that represent a psychological aspect of a specific character's personality. You have a limited number of days to rescue this character or else they die. Most of that form of game play involves a lot of dungeon crawling and leveling up your characters in order to fight the bosses that await you, but unlike the previous game that has you climb a giant tower, you end up traveling through the minds of the characters. The enemies in each dungeon also represent aspects of the character's psyche, and present a lot of symbolic information about their thoughts and personal information which really adds a lot of depth to them. Combat is also a lot of fun if not very challenging at times. Each of your party members is controllable and customizable despite only having one Persona in their possession. The enemies you face also have weaknesses and strengths to certain ailments and elements that you must either exploit or avoid in order to win fights. When you do exploit a weakness, that character gets another turn to act. If an enemy exploits one of your own or your party's weaknesses, then they get another turn, making strategy and switching Personas a necessity for winning battles. The only real problem with the dungeon crawling and battling is repetitive level grinding and the sometimes bland and monotonous looking level designs. Boss battles can also range from easy to unfair and require skill and patience to defeat, but other than that the entire concept stays true to the Shin Megami Tensei tradition. With sublime controls and fluent combat, this game is fun as hell play.
The other form of game play revolves around social links, little story arcs about your character's relationship to other people that you meet during the course of the game. You essentially get to see how events unravel and your choices ultimately affect your relationship status. Each time you progress in the relationship, your social link level, represented by the major arcana of the Tarot, increases. The higher your level is, the more powerful the Persona is that you can create from the game's fusion system. Fusing is another thing that greatly helps you in battle, and combining your Personas into one can result in some very powerful abilities and attributes that are passed over to the resulting character. This is actually a great way to keep you from just fighting all the time, because the plots in these little mini arcs really help to develop the characters, including your own party members, as well as benefit your abilities to succeed in battle. Some skits range from helping an idol discover that she is not a fake personality on television to spending time with your best bud and helping him with relationship issues. As a bonus, you even get to establish relationships with your party members, and the more their social links level up, the better they do in combat as well. This system is a joy to get into, and each time you talk to your friends, the deeper their development gets and the closer you are to helping them resolve their issues and accept themselves for who they are. You are essentially rewarded for getting involved with characters that you can identify with. This was innovative even for Persona 3, but Persona 4 has greatly improved this system to the point of near perfection.
Music and Sound:
The music was composed by Shoji Meguro, who is also famous for most of the Shin Megami Tensei series including Nocturne, Persona 3, and the newest iteration known as Strange Journey. His music is simply wonderful, and his work in Persona 4 is no exception. The music is very lighthearted at times and very much resembles J-pop (Japanese Pop). The battle music is also very memorable and really reflects the concept of facing one's self, which is a plot point that the game emphasizes upon. Boss battles are also a thrill to listen too, with great guitar and synthesizer melodies to really get you pumped. Dungeons also have accompanied musical numbers that really reflect the atmosphere of each respective location. Overall, not Shoji Meguro's best, but still pretty damn good.
Voice acting is also very good. Each character has a distinct voice and personality which gives them life. I was especially impressed with the fantastic voice cast of the main characters, whose performances were a big improvement over Persona 3's odd and somewhat bland voice-overs.
This is where the game truly shines above its predecessor, Persona 3. The plot is about a series of gruesome murders that have taken place in the tiny Japanese Countryside of Inaba. You take the role of a transfer student who has come to live with his Uncle Dojima, a police officer on currently on the case, and his cousin Nanako, Dojima's daughter. The main character ends up becoming involved in the murder investigations when he starts to have recurring supernatural-like dreams and somehow is able to enter televisions by touching them. Despite this, he is able to assume a normal life at Yasogami High School where he meets and befriends Yousuke, a clumsy teenager with an appetite for adventure, Chie, a spunky Martial Arts fanatic and lover of steak, and Yukiko, the beautiful daughter of the Amagi Inn, which is where the first murder took place. Eventually, the three of them (MC, Yosuke, and Chie) end up exploring a television in Junes, the Japanese equivalent of Wal-Mart, and meet a talking bear suit that they name Teddie. Teddie is tired of people jumping into his world because the Shadows are becoming very frightened and restless. The gang eventually finds out that murders are caused by someone who can also enter televisions. Each of murderer's victims appears on a television channel called the Midnight Channel, which depicts how they really feel about themselves. So in order for the party to save the victims from meeting their doom, they must explore dungeons and fight off shadows that represent aspects of the victim's personality. They have a limit to amount of time that they can spend not exploring, however. When it rains after a certain amount of days, the weather will become foggy, and the character will die.
The plot essentially boils down to rescuing people that will sometimes join your team and help you find the true culprit behind the murders. Each respective victim, however, must face their shadow selves, a Jungian concept that refers to the side of ourselves that we don't show to the world, which become the game's bosses. The story is rather complex and filled with many twists and turns which sucks the player in. This game has an incredibly involving plot and is a great example of storytelling done right in an RPG.
This is probably one of greatest games to come out for the PS2 in the era of seventh gen gaming. It's not revolutionary in terms of game play and graphics, but it certainly stands out amongst all of the newest releases. Persona 4 is a gripping game with stylish graphics, an appropriate musical score, a gripping and involving story, deep and developed characters, and game play that is sure to please any RPG fan. If you absolutely love or even mildly enjoy the Shin Megami Tensei series, pick this game up. If you are looking for something a little different than give Persona 4 a try; you won't be disappointed.
Final Score 9/10 A Stellar Game!
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/26/10
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/08/08)
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