Persona 4

Persona 4

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Moderator Edit: Please don't reveal spoilers in this thread. It'll ruin the game for folks who haven't played it. This review is 100% spoiler-free.

If there was ever a genre open for debate it would be RPG. In every community with a dedicated forum to video games the topic pops up of 'What constitutes an RPG?', and opinions are thrown around like novelty pies. The divisions between Eastern and Western design philosophies grow and their respective fanbases argue incessantly for their favourite franchises. In recent years the Western RPG has evolved beyond the D&D formula but the East still clings to its roots in over-the-top linear RPGs filled with deicide and fan service. Wrong.

Persona 4 is often called the PS2's swan song, released in 2008 when the rest of us were absorbed with Grand Theft Auto IV and Fable II on our next generation machines. Developed by Atlus, who have recently made a stir with Catherine, Persona 4 received critical acclaim and sold well in Japan but failed to meet its expectations in America where the PS2 had retired to its new home under-the-bed. Achieving cult status, the game remains one of the great 'alternatives' of RPG culture. Though the mainstream gamer sees the JRPG as embodied by Final Fantasy, Persona 4 could be more deserving of that position, even RPGfan.com placed it at No.4 in its list of the best RPGs of the last decade.

Why the buzz though? What makes Persona 4 so special? Isn't it just an overhyped dating-sim? Not exactly, Persona 4 takes place in the fictional town of Inaba, superimposed on a realistic Japanese countryside. You play as a nameless protagonist who has been sent here from the city to attend school for a year while living with your uncle Dojima and his young daughter Nanako. You spend your days in class, gossiping with friends and loitering around the shopping mall like all teenagers. Until the murders start.

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To say Persona 4 is dark is an understatement. Although Persona 3 was explicitly dark with the overarching theme of death, Persona 4 creates a more mature atmosphere with the themes of paranoia, and fear. These coalesce to create a repressive social structure where the main characters are unable to face themselves and suffer from various dilemmas from a lack of agency to male dominance. Urban legends contribute to this atmosphere with the mysterious "Midnight Channel" perpetuating the gruesome murders which haunt this idyllic little town.

Battle in Persona 4 is a vast improvement from Persona 3 and a twist on the traditional turn based system. Persona 4 is a dungeon crawler, battles take place in the various dungeons throughout the game. These tend to be quite linear and repetitive though they are all quite different and colourful, each representing a different theme. Each character in your party has a different role but the main character is able to summon different Personas (demons), allowing him to adapt to any situation. New personas can be obtained by winning battles, fusing current personas and leveling up. The combat is often fast and there is no requirement to grind which is refreshing given that JRPGs are so notorious for it.

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Persona 4 often draws criticism for its pacing, however this is unwarranted as the pacing is actually quite good. A weather forecast system is used to structure your days and main events occur when the town of Inaba is enveloped in a thick shroud of Silent Hill-esque fog. Reviewers often say that in between the main events of searching for the killer and saving victims, there's nothing to do, but in truth this time is crucial as it is needed to build social links. Social links are the individual relationships you build with different characters; each social link is a different side story and allows you to obtain benefits in battle, such as unlocking the strongest Personas. The problem is the game doesn't tell you this; if you don't get the most out of those free days then the game offers no sympathy.

Persona is a game which knows its weaknesses and plays to its strengths. You won't find yourself spending too much time dungeons because in a game with so many rich characters and such an addictive story, they're largely filler. However, if you do find yourself craving some battles, the game won't stop you, throwing in extra bosses and more personas. The voice acting has been praised many times and the soundtrack is one of few video game soundtracks you won't mind going back to after listening to it on repeat for the 70 or so hours you'll get out of the game. The anime stylings are timeless too so you won't notice the game is already 3 years old.

There are a few emotionally charged moments too: the dialogue is strong throughout the game and the writers understand their characters so well that they don't feel fake. They're teenagers, and they play as teenagers, they're not out to save the world, more to survive in it. The murder mystery plot is well-written and full of surprises and twists, but the game splits into three endings: good, bad and true, and unless you get true you won't be satisfied.

It's ironic to consider Persona to be the 'alternative' when Persona is very much pop. It emulates Japanese lifestyle, it throws in J-pop culture references, and makes every attempt to be modern and different from the crowd. At its foundation, it's still a JRPG, but Persona is not the JRPG you know, it just can't be compared to Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, or even Western RPGs. Here is proof that the East isn't falling behind when it comes to RPGs, it's reinventing itself.

Bottom line: A near-perfect RPG that sets out to be different, and achieves its goals.

Recommendation: For those who have a lot of time on their hands and want something to blow their minds, or have never played a JRPG before, start here.

Score: Five clickable Red Buttons out of Five.
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If you do play it, be ready to sink 80+ hours into it. But if you actually work at it, leveling up, talking to people and NPC's then it's REALLY rewarding. And there's the New Game+ and about a million side quests that ensure replay value. I bought this in 2008 without knowing a thing about ATLUS or the other Persona games. I just thought the box art looked cool. It was one of the BEST buys of my gaming life and I'm still playing it 3 years later. I STRONGLY suggest anyone with a PS2 pick this up. I've shown this game to people who HATE JRPG's and they come away loving Persona 4. That's the power of ATLUS. They know how to tell a story and they know how to make likeable characters. Those are my two main reasons for coming back to this game every time.

I don't know what it is but I preferred 3 over 4. 4 is still fantastic but the ambience in it felt off to me in a way I can't pinpoint.

well i started at 4 and played P3P and i still prefer 4 mostly because all the characters in 3 are all "i have a dark past" whereas most of P4's characters were "i have a lot of emotional issues"

I also enjoyed the Persona series, but i actualy started with the Shin Megami Tensei games by Atlus.
I started Lucifier's Call as it's known in the UK or Noctorne: III in the USA. I've basically drifted through most of the PS2 titles avaiable in the UK at one point or another and Persona, alongside "Digital Devil Saga" are the best in my opinion and if someone asked me to recommend a JRPG to them i would recommend either the Shin Megami Tensei games or Final Fantasy, as both are well recieved and are at different points of the JRPG spectrum

Im really hoping atlus ports the persona game to the 3ds or the wii u or something, my ps2 ate my persona 3 save so I Dont trust it anymore

Persona 4 is bar none, the BEST game ive ever played. Story? Excellent, Characters? Fun and likeable, when they got in trouble you felt like you needed to save them. Gameplay? It a turn based RPG, you cant screw that up.

But the bosses were AMAZING so tough yet it was fun, good ol' Atlus with its good ol' challange bosses.

One of my favorite games of all time.
It made me get back into RPGs and I plan to cosplay as Yosuke.
Also this happened because of this game


I am happy.

YES! One of my favorite games of all time. The SMT franchise is just full of win though. I cant wait for the anime series! I also hope they release a new persona some time this gen.

Probably my best videogame purchase ever. Bought it brand new for $8 in Delaware about a year ago.

Drakmeire:
One of my favorite games of all time.
It made me get back into RPGs and I plan to cosplay as Yosuke.
Also this happened because of this game


I am happy.

Oh, -Oh God, I can't. Stop. Laughing...!

Kakkoi:
If you do play it, be ready to sink 80+ hours into it. But if you actually work at it, leveling up, talking to people and NPC's then it's REALLY rewarding. And there's the New Game+ and about a million side quests that ensure replay value. I bought this in 2008 without knowing a thing about ATLUS or the other Persona games. I just thought the box art looked cool. It was one of the BEST buys of my gaming life and I'm still playing it 3 years later. I STRONGLY suggest anyone with a PS2 pick this up. I've shown this game to people who HATE JRPG's and they come away loving Persona 4. That's the power of ATLUS. They know how to tell a story and they know how to make likeable characters. Those are my two main reasons for coming back to this game every time.

Actually I thought the NG+ was a real letdown. P3 got the NG+ right, allowing you to take practically everything over so you could just concentrate on social links but P4 only allowed you to take social stats and the compendium. So really you didn't have a huge advantage. I'd still replay it, but not for NG+.

Sevre:

Kakkoi:
If you do play it, be ready to sink 80+ hours into it. But if you actually work at it, leveling up, talking to people and NPC's then it's REALLY rewarding. And there's the New Game+ and about a million side quests that ensure replay value. I bought this in 2008 without knowing a thing about ATLUS or the other Persona games. I just thought the box art looked cool. It was one of the BEST buys of my gaming life and I'm still playing it 3 years later. I STRONGLY suggest anyone with a PS2 pick this up. I've shown this game to people who HATE JRPG's and they come away loving Persona 4. That's the power of ATLUS. They know how to tell a story and they know how to make likeable characters. Those are my two main reasons for coming back to this game every time.

Actually I thought the NG+ was a real letdown. P3 got the NG+ right, allowing you to take practically everything over so you could just concentrate on social links but P4 only allowed you to take social stats and the compendium. So really you didn't have a huge advantage. I'd still replay it, but not for NG+.

I have one complaint. I love the game, but the murder mystery is written too predictably and makes the characters look like idiots at times. It doesn't really surprise you.

Just an example. And avoiding the Neutral Ending at a certain point can be very tricky because of how badly the event is designed.
Great review otherwise.

RedEyesBlackGamer:

]I have one complaint. I love the game, but the murder mystery is written too predictably and makes the characters look like idiots at times. It doesn't really surprise you.
"Yukiko is wearing a red kimono."
"You see Yukiko on the News wearing a red kimono."
"The figure on the TV appears to be a young woman in a red kimono, but you can't think of who it could be."
Just an example. And avoiding the Neutral Ending at a certain point can be very tricky because of how badly the event is designed.
Great review otherwise.

Thanks, but to be fair when you're trying to pace out a murder mystery into a 70 hour game you're inevitably going to repeat yourself. The perfect murder mystery should be unpredictable but believable. With the exception of two characters(the last victim who, lets face it, no one wanted to see in that situation and the Void Quest guy) we could predict all the victims, and this sort of made the final twists even better because we weren't expecting them, but they did fit the puzzle.

If we weren't able to predict those victims then the story wouldn't have been as good, because it would've seemed too convoluted and unbelievable. The last few events deciding the endings were very badly designed though I agree, and the characters do reiterate everything a bit too much.

Also, moderator note: Please don't reveal spoilers in this thread and ruin the game for folks who haven't played it.

Sevre:

RedEyesBlackGamer:

]I have one complaint. I love the game, but the murder mystery is written too predictably and makes the characters look like idiots at times. It doesn't really surprise you.
"Yukiko is wearing a red kimono."
"You see Yukiko on the News wearing a red kimono."
"The figure on the TV appears to be a young woman in a red kimono, but you can't think of who it could be."
Just an example. And avoiding the Neutral Ending at a certain point can be very tricky because of how badly the event is designed.
Great review otherwise.

Thanks, but to be fair when you're trying to pace out a murder mystery into a 70 hour game you're inevitably going to repeat yourself. The perfect murder mystery should be unpredictable but believable. With the exception of two characters(the last victim who, lets face it, no one wanted to see in that situation and the Void Quest guy) we could predict all the victims, and this sort of made the final twists even better because we weren't expecting them, but they did fit the puzzle.

If we weren't able to predict those victims then the story wouldn't have been as good, because it would've seemed too convoluted and unbelievable. The last few events deciding the endings were very badly designed though I agree, and the characters do reiterate everything a bit too much.

Also, moderator note: Please don't reveal spoilers in this thread and ruin the game for folks who haven't played it.

Sorry. The Yukiko thing happens like 4 hours into a 60+ hour game. I figured that it wasn't really a spoiler. I'll edit it out.

RedEyesBlackGamer:

Sorry. The Yukiko thing happens like 4 hours into a 60+ hour game. I figured that it wasn't really a spoiler. I'll edit it out.

Actually that was addressed to everyone, Yukiko is as much of a spoiler as Darth Vader's kids.

I'll put it into the OP.

I love many of the Shin Megami Tensei titles. Persona 4 is very fun, and while at points I don't like the supposed humor, the story is interesting, social links are deep, gameplay is engaging and solid, and Kanji Tatsumi is awesome.

And the Hiimdaisy comics and dub video is epic and hilarious.

Alright, I've read this review a few times over and I finally found the few bits that I found threw me off a little upon reading it. While most of the review flows nicely and gives me the image of Persona 4 you're looking to present, there are a few minor flaws that need to be addressed.

The first being your layout. Layout is one of my most frequent critiques of reviews since one is so difficult to perfect; in this case you're doing well, but in the middle of the review, two images are too close together cramping the review together. This is further seen with the images on the beginning and end of the review as well. If I were you; I'd eliminate the final banner image and set the third image lower on the page, in the long run it just looks better.

Second thing is this: "Persona 4 often draws criticism for its pacing, however this is unwarranted as the pacing is actually quite good." This sentence almost sent me right out of the review due to its immediate contrast with the rest of your detailed review. To me it looked like you glossed over the criticisms, instead choosing to shower it with more praise, which in this case, due to immediate detail, came off as shallow and forced. In this situation, I do believe that a bit of expansion on why it draws critique for pacing is necessary, its alright to love a game after all, but part of that is knowing what is wrong with the game. A review is about informing after all.

Finally I would give me thoughts on the game, but honestly I've never played it since I've never owned a PS2. Based on what I know of Atlus though, that being by playing Catherine, I can say that they are indeed a breath of fresh air and I enjoy their alternate JRPG types. I do have a feeling that Persona wouldn't be my cup of tea though, due it its turn based nature which I detest.

In short it looks like a good game, the review was solid with a few minor criticisms and in all I look forward to seeing more of your work.

Could not agree more. This became my second favorite game :)

Sevre:
With the exception of two characters(the last victim who, lets face it, no one wanted to see in that situation and the Void Quest guy) we could predict all the victims

WE could, yes, but the characters themselves were quite slow, which suited the narrative progression but strained the plausibility somewhat. This kind of discontinuity between the player and the avatar does bother me a little with the game. It does some slightly interesting things with the silent protagonist mechanic, but that nature of the player character seriously jarred for me. Of course the chatty nature of the rest of the cast along with the fully voiced script emphasises this, but the way that he is always shown as fully integrated into the group's social dynamic and capable of forming some extremely intimate emotional bonds with others kinda harmed the persistent presentation of the gang, with his slightly detached presence treated with affectionate total assimilation into the group. He has a concrete past established, but is just separated from it. Persona 3 introduced a justification for this approach that Persona 4 never does (that I can remember). So it aggravates me a little when the protagonist's friends, in a cutscene, may express all sorts of sincere, deeply felt sentiments towards him, and he responds, if at all, with a kind of vague grunt. I'm fine with silent protagonists, Chrono Trigger is one of my favourite games, but I wonder if the game could have benefited from a more specifically characterised protagonist.

I can't entirely agree with your final assessment of the game as part of a resurgent reinvention of the JRPG either. The franchise is impressively progressive in many ways, and the contemporary setting combined with a contemporary pop-culture aesthetic within the daily life structure makes it a really refreshing JRPG experience, the sociability with lively characters possessing developed psychological depth and well defined effect of the main plot on the broader community are all things I haven't seen done better in the genre. And I really cannot understate how much I admire the incorporation of the dating sim elements in the game, what could easily have been a gimmick instead elegantly reinforces the central metanarrative implicit in many JRPGs where young adults form social bonds and mature in the process of overcoming an ancient force and/or repressive social system deeply involved in the universe.

...That summary of some of the things I feel the game does terrifically well sure got longer than I expected.

Anyway, the major conservatism in Persona 4 that I can see is in its battle mechanics and dungeon structure; both of them are terrifically well presented and are present in a more dynamic, stylish, refined form than is typical, but I'm not sure how much of a future there is for either in these iterations. Linking the player's magic abilities to Personas does give an impressive range of variation in available skills, but fundamentally the battle mechanics seem to be a streamlined, slickly presented but at heart traditional turn based system, although the ability to chain moves by exploiting weaknesses adds an interesting dimension, and the speed of action prevents it from becoming too tiresome. It doesn't even have the added complexity that Persona 3 had (I can't speak for other SMT games) with different forms of physical attacks and other factors such as tiredness connected to the length of time spent into the dungeon coming into play.

After becoming bored of the intimidating size of Persona 3's Tartarus, and relative lack of variation in the floor design, I absolutely adored the thematic relevance and more elaborately conceived floors of the dungeons in Persona 4 (of course, the significantly reduced number of them was a factor too). However, it still is just a segmented tower dungeon system. Budget was probably a limiting factor here, but my favourite jrpg battle locales are those that function as more spectacular, expansive environments in their own right.

The game is progressive in a lot of ways, the personal issues it deals with tend to not be discussed with quite so much vigour elsewhere, but overall, and I'm not sure how much of this is down to cultural differences, or even a faithful portrayal of adolescent behaviour, it still seems quite questionable. While not to the same extent as Persona 3, there is a definite lecherous aspect to the presentation of the female characters in the game at times. It's the usual mild anime style fan service. Sexualisation isn't inherently a bad thing, of course, but here it's too one sided and invokes a few too many questionable anime tropes for me to be comfortable in how it comes across here. Sure, the female characters are strong enough to avoid being objectified, but as always it's an element that I'm not that fond of.

My main issue on this topic is in how it eventually addresses same sex attraction.

Also, of course the overall lack of necessity to grind is a positive, but the game's lack of facility to grind was occasionally a bit of a drawback for me. It's usually not necessary, but if it is, the game does not make it easy with the scarcity of enemies once you have cleared the floor of the original group until you leave the dungeon. Also, I have no idea why the removed the feature from Persona 3 where noticeably weaker enemies would run from rather than towards you.

While I don't have much of a developed view on the game's pacing, other than that it's far superior to Persona 3's in that it completely avoids the large expanses of time which pass with no narrative advancement, this is an interesting take on its pacing and the effect of that on the game's properties as a mystery.

I did say this post would be massively overcomplicated. Didn't expect it to be quite so massive though :P

 

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