Review by joan2468
"There is a hidden side to every human..."
Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei series is well-known for being thought-provoking, with decent difficulty and enjoyable gameplay. While the Persona series is not part of the main SMT series, its popularity has increased with the release of Persona 3 and drawn the attention of gamers to other related games. Persona 4, while using basically the same mechanics as its predecessor, has a few improvements and in other aspects is as different as different could be than Persona 3.
Story (8/10) : Persona 4's story, like Persona 3's, has a way of making you feel very, very attached to the characters. The main theme of Persona 4 is pursuing the true self, friendship, and having the courage to admit to your faults and insecurities and getting strength to change yourself. Also like P3, you can get rather emotional over the story as the characters and the emotions they display feel real and sincere. The story takes place in modern Japan rather than the cliche'd medieval times, and the nameless main character is silent but has some of his own personality.
You will be playing as a grey-haired teenaged boy from the city, come to live in the rural town of Inaba with your uncle Dojima and his daughter, Nanako, because your parents have gone overseas. After your arrival, the normally quiet and peaceful town is shaken by the occurence of bizarre murders. Yes, you get it - it is basically a murder mystery story, but with interesting twists and development. There is a rumor of the Midnight Channel - stare into an empty TV screen at midnight on a rainy night, and you will see your soulmate staring back at you. So the rumor goes. However, when the hero and his friends decide to try this rumor themselves, they discover that the people who show up on the Midnight Channel are not, in fact, soulmates - they are the next target of an ongoing kidnap-and-murder, and that another dimension actually exists within the TV, that the culprit may be somehow utilizing the TV dimension to commit the kidnappings and murders. You and your friends discover that they are the only ones with the means to rescue these victims and capture the true culprit. Thus, the story unfolds from there.
The beginning of the game may start out slow, but it starts to pick up as you progress. Character development is very good, and the characters are all very much likeable. In Persona 4, the male members of your party have Social Links as well, and this time it is vital to max out your party members' Social Link as it affects their ablities in battle. Other Social Links still have the same purpose like in Persona 3, the higher the rank of a Social Link, the more bonus experience fused persona of the corresponding arcana will gain. Social Links are now easier to rank up, and they are in general rather interesting as each Social Link character has their own story to tell.
Gameplay (9/10) : Persona 3 was famous for its rather...interesting method of summoning personas (gun to the head anyone?) It's not here in Persona 4, instead the method of summoning is by crushing tarot cards.Battles in Persona 4 are very entertaining, they are turn-based, and characters use their Personas to attack. You choose a command from the battle menu and your character will execute whichever command you chose. The key to winning battles is to exploit weaknesses and utilize buffs and debuffs as well as to heal yourself and your party members constantly. However, players must be careful in battles as even the slightest mistake can lead to a Game Over.
Persona 4's difficulty is admittedly not as hard as its predecessor, however the bosses in this game require somewhat more strategy than the previous game's bosses. Money is much harder to come by in P4 and unlike P3, there is no secret dungeon with powerful monsters that will net you tons of experience after each battle, grinding is done the hard way - well if you want to grind anyway. The most noticeable improvement over P3's battle system is the ability to control all party members. You can now choose to have direct control over everyone in your party, which is a big relief to those who have witnessed the kind of mistakes that the AI can do. Also, you no longer need to Knock Down all enemies to get an extra turn, if you cast a target-all spell but miss one or two of the enemies, you will still get an extra turn. Another change is that being knocked down will no longer cause you to lose your turn, if your character is not Dizzy, he/she will be able to get back up and attack again - the downside of it is that your enemies will be able to do this as well.
Another addition to the battles is the Arcana Chance. After Shuffle Time, there is a chance that an Arcana Chance card may appear, and different Arcanas have different effects, some more useful than others, but beware, if the card is reversed, the effect will be negative and it's not going to benefit you in any way.
Persona fusion is still included in this game, with the added feature of Fusion Forecast. On certain days of the year, if you go into the Velvet Room and fulfill certain conditions of fusion, some kind of bonus will be added to the fused persona, be it extra experience bonus, bonus stats or an added skill. The fusion system allows room for some skill customization and I must say there is nothing like discovering your own recipe for a good persona, or taking a persona with weak skills and re-fusing it to give it better skills and making it stronger. It takes dedication, patience and a lot of thought and research to fuse decent personas without taking someone else's recipe, but if you do manage it, there is a sort of great satisfaction you feel after it's done.
Music (9/10) : The music in this game is definitely pleasant to hear, and generally upbeat. The tracks mostly consist of Japanese-English music. I don't have much to say on this except that they fit the game perfectly.
Graphics (7/10) : They're certainly not of Square Enix quality, and are actually somewhat poor for the PS2, but they're decent, and the character and persona designs are very pleasing to the eye.
Replayability (8/10) : There is much to be done in Persona 4, and it's just not possible to do them all in one playthrough unless you want to make your first playthrough a tedious misery. From maxing out all Social Links to getting 100% completion of the persona compendium to defeating the optional boss, it all takes requires at the very least two or three playthroughs.
Final thoughts : Persona 4 is indeed an outstanding game, and is considered a more polished version of its predecessor, yet the two are rather contrasting in aspects of story, theme and characters. If you are a fan of RPGs, Persona 4 is a must-have game, very memorable and certainly enjoyable. There is a certain uniqueness in this game that you just can't get in other games, a certain something that makes it stand out.
If I were you, I would definitely play this.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/17/09
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/09/08)
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