by Jeff Elliott
If the 2008 Tokyo Game Show proved anything, it’s that Japanese developers are struggling to stay at the forefront of innovation. Nowhere has that been more evident than in the Japanese RPG genre. In a time when every attempt at innovation has seemingly failed, it is great to see Atlus stick to its traditional roots and deliver Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, the best JRPG of the year.
At first the graphics in Persona 4 don’t seem to stand out, but for a PS2 game it is quite exceptional. The character designs fit perfectly with the world they inhabit, at no time is it more evident than in the anime-style cut scenes. Equally as impressive are the monster designs. Many of the models are recycled from Persona 3, but thankfully each new monster is well thought out and fits the game’s style quite well.
Whereas in most JRPG’s the voice acting can easily get on the players’ nerves, Persona 4 sets a new standard, not only in quality, but in quantity as well. Nearly all of the story related conversations are voiced. The Persona series has never been known for copious amounts of music, and Persona 4 is no different. It does have more music than Persona 3, but in the end that isn’t much of a complement. For the most point, the J-Pop filled soundtrack manages to toe the line between cheerful and annoying, but after 70 hours, the one battle theme can become agitating.
Set in the foggy little town of Inaba, Persona 4 revolves around a murder mystery that somehow has a connection to the odd weather patterns affecting the village. Instead of one giant dungeon, like in Persona 3, there are multiple different dungeons molded around the psyche of the characters in the game. The relentless push through the dungeons to save the victims adds a certain sense of nervousness. Once a dungeon is completed you are given free reign for a few days, allowing you to work on your Social Links without feeling as if you should be doing something else.
Of all of the great things about Persona 4, it is the characters, and your relationships with those characters, that stick out the most. Each character feels as real as any game I have ever played. Despite the fact that they battle demons and murderers, they still have the same problems that any 16 year old would have, and they react accordingly. The stories told by their Social Links are incredibly deep and really flesh each character out. Each Social Link plays a much larger role here, than in Persona 3, especially when it comes to the Links created with your teammates. Links created with teammates will not only eventually garner the greatest Personas, but will allow for other advantages during battle, like the ability to withstand a fatal blow.
Anyone who has played Persona 3 will tell you that, while it is very fun, there were a lot of problems with the battle system. Thankfully, nearly every problem has been fixed. Now, you have the option to control every party member, whereas in Persona 3 you had to withstand the party AI. As in the previous installment, the combat in Persona 4 is very tactical, requiring you to attack the weakness of the enemies to gain the upper hand. This time around, it takes two attacks to a weakness to stun you or your enemy. Make no mistake; your enemies will attack your weakness, a lot. No matter how strong you are, every enemy has a chance to beat you.
As for the personas, they haven’t changed much from Persona 3.There are a few new attacks and spells, but the fundamentals remain exactly the same as they have been. As a result, the combat can become tedious if you’ve played Persona 3 for any length of time.
One thing you must be aware of is that Persona 4 is incredibly Japanese. Everything from the Japanese honorifics (-san, -kun) to all of the odd holidays and traditions makes this game quite confusing to the casual player. On the other hand I really enjoyed learning so much about the Japanese culture.
At only $40 and over 70 hours of game play, Persona 4 is a great deal. Everything from the Japanese influence to the dungeon crawling may turn away a casual gamer, but any fan of JRPGs who has the time should definitely give it a shot, I can almost guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
Persona 4 is rated M for Mature for Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence.
Married Gamers Report Card: A