I don’t normally do game reviews, I’ve never been much of a player, but I decided that I have some thoughts I want to share, even though this game is 5 years old.
Persona 4 has been looming around in my knowledge for years. The way I became familiar with it is with the music that I heard from places like the Autarch of Flame’s channel. I wanted to play Persona 3 multiple times because of the great things I heard about it. It turns out that my PS3 was not backwards compatible, so that was not an option. I lost interest in playing Persona 3 when I heard some quirks about its gameplay (not being able to control your allies in battle, the game is hard as balls, you are on a very tight schedule if you want to finish a lot of the social links, some Social Links you have to say the things to them that would not help them but only make them feel better at that moment, etc.) that I don’t think I would’ve been able to stand, plus there was the very anime-angsty nature of its plot.
Eventually, I saw Persona 4: The Animation (which I may write a review of) while I was bored during Winter Break. I was impressed with it, so I decided to give the game it was based on a spin pretty recently.
So, finally, onto the game. Persona 4 is a JRPG / Life Simulation game created by Atlus. It follows the story of a boy in Japan who has recently landed in a new town to live with his relatives. In this new world, you encounter a new life, many classmates, and a mysterious world in the television. The world is filled with embodiments of repressed human emotions, called Shadows. The heroes discover abilities inside themselves that manifest in the form of magical mental Pokemon, called Personas. All your party members except the Protagonist obtain their persona by beating their Shadow selves, which represent a part of themselves they’ve locked away. Additionally, the main plot also revolves around you and your friends solving a murder mystery.
The RPG gameplay is excellent, if a little difficult (I hope you like bosses that take 20+ minutes to beat). The Battle System features every combatant going once (some opponents go twice) in a round. I mentioned this was like Pokemon because the 4 elements involved play a very large role in the battle. Every character, based on their persona, has elemental strengths and weaknesses. Hitting these weaknesses or getting a critical can knock down an opponent, which allows a follow up move. Knocking down someone twice leads to them getting stunned by dizziness. If all monsters are down/dizzy, you can perform a highly cartoonish assault, where everyone attacks at once.
Dungeons can be explored as long as you have the SP (your energy bar) to sustain yourself, and you can resume wherever you left off if you leave a dungeon and come back. The battle system in this game is fun and heavy on element moves, which might be appealing to some. I guess if there’s anything to complain about, it’s that a lot of the monsters don’t have easily identifiable elemental weaknesses. When you run into certain palette swaps, you expect it to be weak to the same thing as the same modeled monster from before, but this is rarely the case, so just start testing out your elements…. There’s an obvious favor towards Yukiko as a party member, cause she’s quite possibly the strongest offensive and supportive caster and has the largest mana pool, and there is a heavy disinterest in Kanji because he has a small mana pool and is the slowest team member. I felt bad for him, so I used him in my playthrough, and I really liked him.
There is also the Velvet Room, where your hero can fuse personas into stronger personas. This is really cool, but was a little confusing for me to use, so I often had to consult guides online to know what I needed to fuse if I got too reckless.
The Life Sim gameplay is also good. You have many options of things to do (especially since in the story, you’re in the middle of nowhere). You can work a job, spend time with people, kill shadows, fish, the list goes on. You actually have a decently long time to do many things. There’s a ton of dialogue options, but 95% of them don’t really mean anything. Still, it’s nice to add that sense of roleplaying. The Social Links are the heart and soul of game and in this game, they are mostly solid (except the ones that level up automatically and the Moon Arcana [hint: She sucks]). They all offer strong character development (except maybe Teddie and his damn Bear puns) and quite often get emotional and touching, as well as offer battle boosts (you gain extra EXP for high leveled social links, and party member social links allow them to die for you).
Then there’s the sound. The voice acting is great. My favorites in this game include Troy Baker as Kanji, one of his star making roles whose humane gruffness was perfect. There’s also J.B. Blanc as Ryotaro Dojima, one of characters with more emotional range in the story, and his voice acting was exceptional as well. Some I’m not fond of, like Johnny Yong Bosch as Detective Adachi, who sounds a bit too much like the Protagonist (same voice actor, I know), or Tracey Rooney as Chie, who sounds like she’s 25 (this was fixed in Golden by recasting to Erin Fitzgerald). Since the game is low budget, there are a lot of absent voice acting clips in Social Link events too…
The soundtrack is just full of win. It’s very different that any videogame music I’ve heard. However, there’s not that much variety (low budget game after all) in the soundtrack, as the ost adds up to only about 2 hours, which is quite low for an RPG. They got ~4 tracks for chilling around during the day, and ~7 battle tracks total, and most bosses share the same theme (better than Xenosaga I, which has two). If I had to pick my favorite theme off the top of my head, it’s this one:
As for the story, it’s good. Since this is an RPG and not an action game, story matters. The main event of maxing social links is great, as it leaves a lot of room for character development. It’s mostly lighthearted and almost always packed with a good sense of fun. There is plenty of replay value too, thanks to character attributes and personas carrying over from playthroughs. You grow to like most of the characters, and it really gets intense near the end.The mystery element is a welcome addition. Even though it was release after PS2 games were out of fashion, I highly recommend every person who enjoys RPGs give this game a play.