Review by TheRetroPlayer
"Looks like this game was not for me."
The only Altus game I really cared about was Maken X along with its PS2 remake, Maken Shao, but I also looked into other Altus games such as the Shin Megami Tensei series, and I figured the Persona games will be a good start, even though it should have been Nocturne, but I ended up selling it before I got a chance to open the case which was pretty much sealed. Anyway, Persona 4 was more than I expected, and I was more into the Story than the actual gameplay to the point were I speed up leveling with an exp mod (codebreaker) to rush through the rest of the dungeons just to progress with the story, but near the end of the game's year, things start to become dark and unsettling, which started to bother me somewhat. I might not bother with other games in this franchise after this if many claim that this is nothing comparing to other Shin Megami Tensei games.
I really like the art style for this game. At first when I was watching videos of the gameplay, it looked bizarre, but its not bad once you actually play it. It looks like a visual novel come to life for the most part, or more so an anime actually. What I really like about the games graphics is it really pulls you into the world of Persona 4. These are one of those games were it really feels like you are having a real Japanese experience, and it sucks you right in to it. The TV World Dungeons have some well designed visuals along, and the fog that covers the world that changes color depending on the dungeon which really is a nice change throughout the game. The characters as always look alright as sprites, but there portraits look very good along with the attractive looking Yukiko. Shadow creatures you fight in dungeon's are abstract manifestations of the human mind (like Intolerant Officer for example), or representatives of tarot card aliments and are designed pretty well also.
The soundtrack has some good tracks, along with the battle theme were its popular to mishear the lyrics to (Reach out to the Truth) which never gets old to listen too, along with other lyrical themes that are sung by a woman that has pretty strange English which is the reason why the overall context of the songs don't really make sense at all, though its still fun to listen too. The non lyrical stuff can be really be a bit of something like the sad themes in the game along with the theme that plays when something sinister is going to happen or has happened which I call the creepy piano song which I grew to dislike because it was in my mind for the whole night at one point and I could not sleep (when I was at the end of the game). Yes, you will be hearing it quite a bit through the game. It didn't help that I had to get up early the next morning though I was oddly refreshed after getting almost no sleep that night, but anyway, the music in the game overall is good enough for me to be happy about there being a free soundtrack for it. Problem is that the soundtrack that comes with the case is only a sample of some of the music from the game. Anyway, my favorite themes are: "Reach out of the Truth", "Heaven", The Almighty", Secret Base, "Aria Of Soul, and Long Way". If you haven't played the game you might not want to look up were these themes play since that would involve mild to major spoilers.
Everything works out well for the most part. There is not much interaction outside the TV world, so for the most part you pick were to go on a map. Inside the TV the controls are very responsive, and the command system is easy to get use to and learn. There is not much to say about the control this time since its not about the controls its more about the gameplay in this case that makes easy controls the least of your worries. Oh no, just wait until I get to tell you about the combat system later which is nothing comparing to easy to learn controls.
I gave it a 7 because I didn't realize how dark this game was going to be overall despite the fact they tried to add in humor and happy moments from time to time outside the main storyline. It would have been higher if it wasn't for the downside like a 9. If I knew, I would have never gotten this, but anyway, it all starts out with the main character who goes by the name Yu (which you can change) who visits a small Japanese rural town, Inaba, to stay with his Uncle and his daughter. Here he goes to the local school and there makes friends with some of the characters who end up getting involved with a huge mess that awaits them. From here, things start to change from just a simple visit which is about a year long to a number of bizarre deaths along with a mysterious fog that follows, which leads to a murder mystery that goes beyond what you would expect. The mysterious and creepy midnight channel which is a nightmare version of Carl Jung's Shadow Psychology brought to life, and this channel is linked to the deaths of those that were inside the place. The TV world concept in itself is pretty unsettling, along with what appears to be how they end up on TV as a black silhouette as a warning, then on TV live at midnight a few days around the same time the next full rainy day comes along expressing their shadow personality at first until you realize its nothing supernatural about how they are appearing in that world since the victims recall suddenly being there with no memories of how it happened.
That at first made it even more bothersome because it made it look like some unknown dark force was transporting them into that world.
In the meantime, while you are going through dungeons grinding yourself to death only to have just a decent chance at the bosses (since overleveling is close to near impossible), you have a thing called Social Links that helps you become closer to individual members of your team along with social links with others who are not involved in the investigation in some cases. Even if you are the type of person that does not care much about your own party, maxing their links to level 10 would still help a lot in battles in the game. You also have to deal with increasing your attributes that will help you in your relationships with people, and improve your scores during exams so this means you will have to have your hands full when you are outside the dungeons, and keep in mind that you will be spending more time doing these things along with special events than dungeon grinding, but there is a catch to that balance that I will state very soon. Other than that, the story is much better than the gameplay itself and you will start to think, oh man, I have to level up 10 more times again just to fight a boss that takes 10-20 minutes to get through if you are not a master of these type of RPGs like myself.
As for the murder mystery which is the main storyline, I find it just a bit slightly annoying that they could have maybe saved a certain person from being on the midnight channel if the main character and his group requested that a certain someone should be protected at the time and alert unlike the others who found themselves in TV Land. I even figured out who was behind the mysterious deaths close to mid game and that person is not even as mysterious or scary as you think which added to the unsettling mood of the game at first. It was the person's behavior at times which is a give away, along with something else I can't say here due to spoilers. It honestly interesting to know who was behind it all before the game suggest who it was when its time even through some of the twists in the case, but the team could have been a little better at avoiding certain things that didn't have to happen like the scenario above.
The combat system in itself is not the problem, its the rules that are the problem. Just let me explain. Four people come to fight out of eight people who will be in your your party, and one of those eight are unplayable but will help you out with analysis later on in the game. Every member of your party will have a persona (or avatar) which is their awakened shadow self that helps out in battle with magic and other SP consuming techniques, and the main character has the ability to use more than one persona at a time during battle, along with fusing and finding random personas in dungeons after a battle ends during a shuffle that appears from time to time. The fusion aspects of the game is something I don't fully understand, but fusing is something you will need to do to keep your yourself up with the high difficulty level of this game.
Now the big problem I would like to talk about is the fact that monsters have HP levels that are too high for the most part, and they are good at making your best attacks look wimpy at first until you seriously had leveled up about 10 or so times per dungeon before it finally takes about two to three attacks to get rid of them. Physical attacks outside your persona in this game is pretty much useless so buying weapons are a waste of time and serious money (thanks to the high cost of everything in this game). Anyway, what I really don't like is that battles end up coming down to exploiting weaknesses just to do any form of damage that is redeeming enough to say that this is not so bad at times along with the team being able to bum rush shadow monsters that are knocked down, but too bad that this is impossible to do against major bosses, and against minor bosses, its only a minor gash to their HP bar. Sadly its the only way to win battles quickly and in this game since normal attacks are pretty much pathetic when it comes to damage done. The boss fights are annoying because they have such high HP and Defense along with one a bit into the game that has 5000HP early on will make you feel pretty bad about yourself when your best attack is hardly making that HP bar go down per turn along with some bosses being able to heal themselves, and you can't forget two of them having helpers who also take five minute at a time to kill, and don't get me started with the first real serious boss who has a helper who ends up coming back if you mange to kill it, which is based on the hardest optional boss in the game which you will see later when you come back to the dungeon (if you want to)! Oh and I forgot to mention, having attack and defense boost are near mandatory during each battle if you expect to not struggle as much which means less time focusing on attacking, though near the end of the game, it does get a bit better because of the stat boost stuff you do learn, but that depends on how well you can utilize damage modding.
The is one of those old school dungeon grinds that offers little reward for grinding besides being able to collect persona to fuse, but even those are tied to your max level for personas so fusing is limited, and they are much harder to level up than yourself. Its funny because it reminds me of the more standard RPGs that makes you feel good about grinding because you get to the point were you can kill things easily, even in places you were struggling along in, plus normally having a fair currency system to buy weapons and such that will make you even more stronger, but here, the game has ways of constantly keeping you in check with low exp payouts unless you are lucky enough to stumble across a upright moon tarot that will double your exp to a more reasonable amount for a short amount of time, along with enemies that can exploit your own weaknesses granting them an extra turn just like you when you exploit theirs, and we can't forget high HP again, especially for the bosses. The dungeons are only long because of this, and it can get tedious and annoying to the point were you will want to cheat to balance out the game a bit. Just like Dark Cloud 1, I would have have to bypass game rules and mechanics that I find unfair or no fun to deal with. Shameless me, nor I care. Funny because they are not bad games, just flawed. One random thing I want to say about the gameplay is how I like how your team members encourage you to keep going and praising you after exploiting an monster's weakness and getting an extra turn for it.
Its not a bad game, but its one of those situations were I played the wrong game to begin with. If I knew this was going to be something that caters to the hardcore RPG crowd along with were the story goes, then I would have not bothered. The storyline is good for the most part, but near the last two months within the game, it really gets dark and disturbing along with an easy to get bad ending at that point in the game. The gameplay is my biggest problem though.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 04/18/12, Updated 01/04/13
Game Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/09/08)
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