Note: Originally posted on Manic Expression on November 21, 2012.
When Persona 4 came out on the Playstation 2 back in December 2008, I had not played the previous game in the series, Persona 3, in any form. In fact, by the time I did, I had already beaten Persona 4. I mainly got Persona 4 after all the praise it got from critics. This is a decision I will never regret as Persona 4 is one of my favorite games of all time. It was just such a memorable experience from both a story and gameplay standpoint. The gameâ€™s characters are, in my opinion, among the best, if not the best, ensemble in any video game. I wish I could just end it there but I really need to delve why I thought Persona 4 was such an amazing experience.
The story takes place in a small Japanese rural town of Inaba. The silent protagonist moves there to live with his uncle due to his parents working overseas. As he starts high school in Inaba, he meets new friends and gets to know his uncle and younger cousin much better. However, not everything is as peaceful as it looks as murders start to occur that leave victims hanging on television antennas and their cause of death left unknown. Meanwhile, there is a rumor among the townspeople that watching a TV while it is turned off on rainy midnights will reveal that personâ€™s soul mates. This leads to the main character and a couple of his classmates, Yosuke and Chie, to discover a fog shrouded world that is infested by monsters called Shadows. The characters also have shadow selves which represent their surprised personalities. Confronting these shadow selves allows to gain the ability to summon beings known as Persona. Using their Persona abilities, they try to solve the mystery of who or what is causing the murders.
The story is very engaging and compelling with its themes being very well explored. The characters learn that there is no shame in being their selves. There is always a sense of intrigue that is necessary to make a murder mystery story work as well as it does here. The fact that it is also an urban fantasy story adds to the setting of the game as Inaba is practically a character on to its self. The characters are very memorable and feel very human and believable which is not all that common in other JRPGs. They are developed really well and you really see them grow over the course of the game.
The gameplay is very distinct in many ways from other games in the genre. The gameplay alternates between a tradition RPG and a simulation game. The protagonist attends school and is able to interact with other students and characters. They can also spend time at part-time jobs and other activities. They may also enter the TV World, an alternate dimension where the traditional RPG elements come into play.
The more traditional RPG part of the game will have you dungeon crawling into various randomly generated dungeons. These dungeons are designed based on a specific theme depending on the victim. They are divided into floors, each one containing Shadows, the enemies that the protagonist and his friends fight throughout the game, and treasure chests, which contain items and equipment.
As you traverse these dungeons towards the final floor, where the victim will be found, you will frequently enter battle with the Shadows. The combat system in the game is turned based like other JRPGs but with a few twists. One is the fact that Shadows are weak to certain attacks. If you take those Shadows with that weakness, the attacking character will get an extra turn. However, vice versa is also true as well. This adds an extra level of strategy to the combat which makes it all the more engaging If all the enemies on the screen are knocked down, you are able to initiate an All Out Attack, a powerful attack where the party rushes towards the enemies and finishes the weaker ones while damaging the stronger ones. When battle is over, you are given experience points, items, and a possible chance to gain a new persona to use in battle.
Each party member has their own Persona with specific abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. However, the protagonist has the unique ability to use more than one Persona. These Persona will level and gain new abilities as they participate in battle. The Persona of the other party members will evolve into different forms at predetermined points in the story. The protagonist can switch between his multiple Personas during battle. You can also fuse Personas to create new ones. When you create a new Persona, they will get an experience bonus based on the rank of an existing Social Link with more experience bonuses coming with a higher Social Link rank.
While it might sound like these elements are just being smashed together, thatÂ couldn’tÂ be farther from the truth. The way Social Links and the dungeon crawling segments of the game intersect and affect each other is very well done. Your party members will also have a Social Link of their own. Increasing your rank in these Social Links will allow your other party members to gain abilities in battle such as the ability to take a fatal blow from the protagonist that could have been fatal.
The Social Links themselves are also very interesting as you learn about other characters than would have been pushed to the sidelines in other JRPGs. You get to see their stories play out as you get to know them better and they brilliantly tie together with the theme of the story.
The combat is also very entertaining with plenty of strategy to be had. You also can choose between having the other party members be controlled by A.I. or to have full control of the party. Understandably, most people will opt for having full control. The use of the extra turn system also encourages you to think about your decisions. The battle system itself is smooth and fast paced enough to never be boring.
While Persona 4 is no where near as impressive graphically as games on the current generation of consoles, it still benefits from having a very appealing aesthetic that is very easy on the eyes. The character models and texturing are simple and basic but are still serviceable. While the randomly generating dungeons can get repetitive, the unique theme to each one is still a nice touch.
The soundtrack by Shoji Meguro is fantastic with a very unique J-pop sound that features many memorable tunes of both the vocal and non-vocal variety. The soundtrack is used to great effect numerous times during the game. The voice acting is very solid with the VAs doing a great job giving even more life to already very well written characters. While there is the occasional over the top reading, it does fit the tone of the game.
As of this writing, an enhanced port of the game, called Persona 4 Golden, has just been released for the PlayStation Vita so this review is pretty much obsolete. However, I felt the need to get my immense love of this game out there. With a great story, fantastic cast of characters, enjoyable battle system, unique and well executed simulation elements, and a long, meaty play time(it took me 75 hours to beat), Persona 4 proves to very an incredibly unforgettable experience that shouldnâ€™t be missed. While I canâ€™t promise you that you will love it as much as I do, it is still an experience that at least needs to be taken a chance.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 10/10