REVIEWS -- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 -- PS2
Persona 4 is worth the slow buildup and heavy dialog
by Robert Hastings
Fun factor: Average
Worth to: Buy
Despite a few repetitive features and a slow beginning, itís one of the best role-playing games of this generationís platforms
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 seems to go out of its way to make a bad first impression. The initial few hours of the game are essentially devoid of gameplay, instead forcing you to endure a series of long-winded cutscenes that play out as the setup to what eventually turns out to be a fairly interesting narrative. It takes quite a while for the game portion of the whole experience to emerge, but once it does, be prepared to give up a whopping sixty hours of your life.
The game really is just an undeniably flawed concept that happens to have turned out in a way that is extremely enjoyable and addictive. In addition, it also stands as the best role-playing game that Iíve played over the span of the current generation -- ironic considering the game comes to us on a platform thatís been with us for nearly nine years.
Brisk battles befitting a Persona game
Persona 4 features you as the generic mute protagonist that has just moved to the small town of Inaba to live with your uncle Dojima and his young daughter Nanako. Coincidentally enough, serial murders begin happening in the region soon after your arrival, and you quickly become involved in a sort of paranormal quest to find the killer. This involves a healthy dose of dungeon crawling while balancing your social life.
The basic concept is sound enough. In essence, the gameplay in Persona 4, like in previous installments, is split into two halves: a dating simulation and a dungeon crawler. Though these two facets of the game are very different from one another, theyíre both quite simple and easy to get a handle on, and participating in one of them is just as vital to the overall experience as the other.
The dungeon crawling portion of the game is basically what moves the game forward. As should be assumed, youíll spend most of your time fighting monsters and collecting treasure while proceeding to an eventual climactic encounter. It all sounds pretty standard until you get to the gameís battle system. While admittedly basic in their own right, the battle encounters in Persona 4 are extremely fast-paced relative to most other turn-based titles in the genre. The goal is generally to exploit the weaknesses of each creature on the battlefield, knocking them to the ground and following up with an all-out-attack that -- nine times out of ten -- ends the encounter. Itís extremely simple in practice, and though it does become repetitive over time, these sequences being fluid and quick to handle are more than welcome in a genre well known for hosting drawn-out conflicts.
Each of the allies youíll acquire over the course of the adventure come equipped with their own Persona to aid them in battle. Personas determine the strengths and weakness of each individual character, along with the skill set that they have access to. As in Persona 3, these characters are all bound to their Personas, forced to live with their flaws and limited in battle by what they can do, but the protagonist of this story is not. You are able to procure and alternate Personas at will, changing all of the things about your character that make the other characters individually unique. This naturally makes him the most powerful and dynamic of your team.
A Pokemon for mature players
Your characterís Personas are obtained in one of two distinct ways: through a card-choosing event occurring randomly at the end of each battle, or through fusion of Personas in a ďvelvet roomĒ The creation of new, more powerful Personas is key to combat, as keeping a particular Persona for too long can dramatically hinder your progress. Personas collected as cards simply arenít nearly as tough as the ones created through fusion, generally making them worthless. This process is initially neat, adding a sort of Pokemon-esque element to the game, but it can quickly become more of a chore than an enjoyable aspect of the game.
The other and almost unarguably more time-consuming portion of the game revolves around socializing and building relationships with key characters in the game world. These can be your party members as well as a wide supporting cast. Improving your standing with these people also improves the quality of the Personas you create that are of the same corresponding category. In addition, attaining a maximum social link with your allies will grant them new powers and an evolved Persona. All of these things add a compelling drive and hold up the part of the experience that really could have been game-breaking if not for the generally interesting and pleasant cutscenes.
The only issue I can really pick at with any real criticism is that while Social Links are an enjoyable part of the quest, they really donít amount to anything other than quick combat bonuses in the end. Making best friends with Daisuke or dating Rise isnít going to impact the overall story in the slightest, which is really a shame, especially during the few times that the narrative contradicts what youíve achieved during those events.
Another thing to point out quickly is that Persona 4 does a pretty nice job and force-feeding you the same three or four audio tracks over and over again. Over and over and over. Seriously, youíre going to be hearing this stuff a lot. Surprisingly enough, this isnít something that Iím going to complain about, as Persona 4 has a fantastic soundtrack that really stuck with me and that I just never really got sick of. This could just be me, but I have to offer kudos to Atlus on this one, because Iím not sure if a developerís pulled off implementing repetitious audio into a game since the 8-bit era.
Persona 4 is a very solid game that definitely isnít for everyone. If youíre looking for a lengthy, text-heavy Japanese RPG however, look no further. All of the battles, characters, and situations have a certain charm to them, and even the PlayStation 2ís limitations donít hold this game back.
Publisher: Atlus USA
Release Date: December 9, 2008
Review Date: 29-04-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Though running on last-generation hardware, the visuals are exceptionally competent, fitting both the whimsical and gritty themes of the game extraordinarily well.
The fast-paced combat and the dramatic social aspects of the game are both involving and addictive, but the former can become tiresome after excessive amounts of play.
The narrative is whimsical, dramatic, gritty and emotional. The varied cast of characters is easy to care about and is stunningly portrayed by the localized voice actors.
The soundtrack plays repetitiously, but remains unceasingly catchy, upbeat and energetic throughout. Great voice work and sound effects litter the battlefield.
The unlockable New Game+ mode allows the carrying over of social attributes and acquired Personas and adds limited replayability to this behemoth 60-hour-plus RPG.