Review by Zero_Signal620
"Best game by Atlus, best game of 2008, and second-best game of the 2000s"
For quite awhile, I questioned the status of Japanese RPGs in the past few years. The Tales series can get it right half the time, Final Fantasy hasn't had a truly amazing game since 2001, and NIS America has indeed proven to be a one-trick pony. So leave it to Persona to ensure me that JRPGs aren't dying anytime soon. A year prior to this game's release, Persona 3 came out to a high reception from critics and gamers alike. With that being a success, Atlus went to work immediately on Persona 4, using some of the gameplay mechanics from 3 and tweaking them up a few notches. The result? While Persona 3 was simply good, P4 is a crown gem in gaming for the past decade.
Persona 4 sets you in the shoes of an unnamed protagonist whose parents are working overseas. As a result of this, he's sent to live in Inaba for a year with his uncle, a police detective named Ryotaro Dojima and his seven-year old daughter Nanako. Not even a few days after our hero arrives in Inaba, a reporter is found dead hanging from a television antenna. When a school girl named Saki Konishi reports what she saw at the scene of the crime, she is found dead the next day under the same circumstances. Both of these deaths have ties to an urban legend called "The Midnight Channel." It's been said that if someone watches the midnight channel at midnight on a rainy evening, then their soulmate will appear. One night while watching, the protagonist accidentally slips his arm into the television, leaving himself completely confused by the event. Using a large TV at the local mall, the main character and his friends discover that the TVs lead to a foggy world, where a weird bear named Teddie lives. While Teddie may seem cute and huggable, he also appears to have slight identity issues, especially so after meeting the main character and his crew. Teddie says that people have been randomly tossed into his world, and it's discovered that anyone tossed into this world will die shortly if they either don't come to terms with their true selves (their Persona, so to speak) or if someone doesn't save them in time (which trust me, you'd better get used to this).
Speaking of crew, also interested in the recent murders are a group of people you become friends with shortly after moving to Inaba. There's Yosuke Hanamura, the dumb-founded and clumsy individual of the group; Yosuke's comic-humor easily makes him one of the best characters in the game, regardless of whether or not you use him later on. Chie Satonaka is a short-tempered, yet friendly girl who loves martial arts films and steak; her attitude when angry may turn a few people off to her character, but that might just be me talking. Yukiko Amagi is a pretty girl whose parents run the Amagi Inn; while she seems shy/quiet at times, there are moments where she'll randomly bust out into laughter. Next is Kanji Tatsumi, another great character in the game; Kanji is a delinquent who looks and talks like a badass, but also hides a secret that isn't worth spoiling here. Rise Kujikawa is a famous pop star who settles down in Inaba to attend high school, despite the fans who may ogle over her. Naoto Shirogane is "The Detective Prince" and is brought to Inaba to investigate on the murders while attending the high school, but also harbors a huge secret as well. All six of these characters prove to be vital in some way, shape, or form, depending on how you use them. They each have their own elements and abilities, but only 3 of them can join you in battle.
The true backbone of Persona 4 is the gameplay involved. It plays with the same day-by-day basis that Persona 3 had, but instead of moons, each day is determined by the weather. You go to school every day of the week except Sunday (unless a holiday occurs), in which you get chances to sometimes increase your knowledge in class and your relationships with either your teammates, or your friends who you just simply know from school and nothing more. Eventually you get to choose between playing soccer or basketball, and choosing between joining band or drama, each with their own set of unique characters. Outside of class, you get the opportunity to take up jobs that you can do at home, whether it's folding origami cranes, translating, or a few others, all which help you increase your diligence or understanding; other stat-builders include books (courage/understanding) or studying (knowledge). Other jobs include babysitting, tutoring, or working as a janitor at a hospital.
So why do we need all these jobs/hobbies in an RPG like this? The answer to that is because of social links. Social links are the bond that you have with specific characters in the game; you'll have them with all of your teammates, your uncle and niece, a hot and promiscuous nurse at the hospital, an old lady by the riverbank, a couple of other kids at school, among several others, including even a fox at one point. Each social link represents a different arcana when it comes to acquiring Personas in the game (while your teammates will always have the same Persona and moveset until game's end, your character can hold multiple Personas and even fuse some together to make a more powerful one sometimes). The more you hang out with specific characters, the more your social rank goes up, until it maxes out at level 10. If you max out a teammate's social link, their Persona will evolve. Also, if you progress through a social link with particular females, you can choose to have a romantic relationship with them. Point is, you need to take great part in the game's use of social links, as they will immediately add experience points to any Personas upon creation.
The second part of the gameplay is the battle system/dungeon crawling. Most dungeon crawlers can be pretty tedious (I'm looking at you Nightmare of Druaga), but Persona 4 gets it right, though it was just slightly improving from Persona 3. In Persona 3, you made your way through one giant tower, with some parts being blocked off until you progressed in the game. P4 scraps the tower in favor of different worlds, depending on who is tossed into the Midnight Channel. These include a castle, a sauna, and even a video-game world at one point, each place is roughly 8-10 floors of exploring and battling enemies. It's highly recommended to take at least a day or two to level grind in some parts, just as long as you don't lose focus on the mission at hand.
While Igor's Velvet Room theme returns from Persona 3, a good portion of P4's music is catchy J-Pop, such as the regular battle theme, "Your Affection" which plays throughout town/school after class ends most of the time, or the simple theme that plays when you settle down at your uncle's house for the evening. The music chosen for each world is done well (especially "Heaven", you'll see what I mean when you get there), and the boss themes are great too.
Putting this together in one section, because there's isn't much to say here. There are a few anime cut scenes in the game, which are pretty nice, but the in-game graphics are just a slight touch better than those in 3 (they almost do look alike); even then, I still never consider graphics to be a make-or-break point in a game unless they're downright horrible. The controls are what you'd expect in an RPG today as well, one button to make almost all the decisions, and moving around with the analog stick.
The replay value on this is as high as possible. Upon finishing the game, you get New Game+, a mode that gives you the chance to fight rare bosses, acquire the strongest weapons, and acquire what could potentially be the most powerful Persona in the game. On a second playthrough, you can choose the clubs that you didn't take the first time, or date someone you didn't date the first time; the choices are almost endless.
This is not even up for debate. The game is getting slightly harder to find since its release in 2008, and it may very well be the best exclusive title for the PlayStation 2, so I highly suggest buying this gem.
Playing through Persona 4 helped me realize that there are still good Japanese RPGs out there today, even if they're few and far between. One of the best games released in the 2000s, and one of my ten favorite games ever made. With a great mystery-novel-like story, solid gameplay, and characters that you can relate to, all that can be said is that if you love RPGs, then you owe it to yourself to play this game.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 04/22/11
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/09/08)
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