Review by _NotoriousIynx_
Interactions between characters makes the somewhat bland combat system worth it
I could never really understood why I love the Persona series so much. I do love anime a lot and Persona 4 does remind me heavily of the first season of Bleach. Now, Bleach as a whole is pretty bad. It suffers from having an obnoxious amount of plot lines and characters. However, the first season of Bleach is awesome. They haven't introduced the soul society yet, which I absolutely hated. All the first season was about was Ichigo trying to juggle being a replacement soul reaper and an everyday high school teenager. Of course I wanted to know more about the soul society as time went on, but I wanted them to retain the same formula that made the first twenty or episodes so enjoyable. Instead, the anime threw all this information at you at once. Persona 4 doesn't do this, it keeps a nice steady pace of going into the TV world and studying for exams.
I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. The game starts with you arriving in a small rural town to live with your uncle. Within your first week, a hear about a new urban legend about the midnight channel. On a rainy night, if you can stare in the TV, you'll see who you are destined to be with. It turns out this midnight channel is linked to a string of murders somehow. A new power which allows you to enter the TV has been awakened and its up to you and your other ordinary high school teenager friends to stop the murderer. The game takes place within one school year and you have to spend your time wisely to get new friends and improve your skills.
The TV world is made up of dungeons which manifest from character's repressed thoughts. While the idea is great, the dungeons aren't that dynamic or interesting. They're just corridors with an occasional puzzle. I'm not a fan of how the dungeons are created and think it would make more sense to use a similar setup to Final Fantasy 13 or designed the dungeons with fixed camera angles and fascinating backgrounds as in Final Fantasy 8. The way the dungeons are setup feels like it was inspired by roguelike games, like Dark Cloud. The way dungeons are currently done feel very lazy. They could really make some interesting backgrounds with the Atlus team. The imagery and construction of some of these shadows and Personas are so crazy, yet meaningful.
The battle system is a very standard elemental rock-paper-scissor setup. The lack of uniqueness between Personas stands out greatly. The magic is your standard JRPG gibberish words, which really just mean "fire, wind, electricity, and ice" combined with words which mean "light, medium, heavy". If Personas had traits and skills only they had themselves, I think fusing and collecting would be much more worth the effort. I don't find paying attention to the element system to be that much of a deal, unless you are fighting a boss, in which case the flow of combat becomes much more tactical and this is when the combat really shines. As someone who is really into mythology, my team usually consists of demons and deities who I am fond of -- Pazuzu, Jinn, Sarasvati. I think its really cool just how many mythologies Persona (and well, Megami Tensei in general) uses. Even some characters from literature can be summoned, like Alice from Alice's Adventure in Wonderland. The rest of the games in the SMT series usually gives more background on the demons, but Persona 4 disregards this, and I feel like a lot of these demons become so throwaway because of it.
The aspect of the game that sets it apart from everything else is of course how the game combines Japanese roleplaying games with elements from dating simulators. You go around forming friendships by joining clubs or exploring and this will grant you bonuses to fusing Personas. Its a great system, but doesn't seem to do a whole lot and the dialogue options are rather bland. You usually get three options which have fairly obvious outcomes when talking with someone. They will either like what you have to say, hate it or "...". Besides that, the social links are really awesome and the events that are shown feel very real. There are a few which I honestly hated and dragged on and on, like Sayoko Uehara, who basically just flirts with you all the time.
Unfortunately, the game can end up with the main character becoming a "Mary Sue" -- an idealized and 'perfect' character which tends to represent the author, but in this case, the player. Characters will be blowing you left to right, saying "YOU'RE SO GREAT, SENPAI!" It comes off very pathetic sometimes, as if the game was made with the intention of targeting asocial losers who skipped out on relationships in high school. You can max out all of your attributes fairly easily and you can have about four girlfriends by the end of the game. I really hope Persona 5 makes you feel like just another character in the next group of Persona-users and not some god they all look up to.
Compared to Persona 3, I like Persona 4 much better. I feel like the characters actually have a reason on going into the TV world. The main character is the only one who can open the portal to the TV world. We find through Yusuke's shadow, he is bored of life as just another civilian and wants to use the murders as an excuse for being a hero. The rest of the team is usually out for revenge as the murderer targeted them before. In Persona 3, it felt like the SEES basically went up to you and were like "hey, want to join the SEES and fight monsters?" The characters also feel way more fleshed out than the cast of P3. Yukari had almost no personality other than arguing with Junpei.
The interactions between characters, from how people act like during school events, or when you are watching someone confront their shadow -- a manifestation of repressed thoughts -- makes playing the somewhat bland combat system worth it. 8/10
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (US, 12/09/08)
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