Is it really 2009? Here I am writing up a quick review of a PS2 game, and I keep wondering myself how on earth did the PS2 lasted this long. Why, by releasing quality titles like Persona 4. Released in Europe just a couple of months ago, I've finally found myself the time to complete it. Maybe I am getting a bit too old for epic RPG quests...
I am not going to bother with a full review as I am pretty worn out. Plus most of Persona 4's gameplay is so similar to Persona 3 you can just read my long review of the previous game here... If you are interested in Persona 4, it is likely you have already bought it and do not need me to convince you. No, this was written more out of love for the title than obligation, and there is plenty to love with in this Shin Megami spin-off.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 is the successor to the hugely popular Persona 3 game, the game that I credit to finally taking the Shin Megami Tensei to the mainstream. Not that it is a mainstream kind of series, but it is good that gamers that would normally only have eyes for Final Fantasy, is finally being taken by Atlus's flagship series. Unlike Persona 3's urban environment, Persona 4 takes place in a Japanese countryside and also involves playing a student protagonist. New features includes a weather forecast system and events that happens on rainy and foggy days (similar to the full moon phases in Persona 3).
The story begins a year after the events of Persona 3 in a small town in the Japanese countryside where the main character has been sent to live with his uncle by his parents. Shortly after arriving, the town is gripped by the mysterious death of a TV presentor whose body was found hung from an antenna. Soon rumours begin to spread that watching a blank telly on a rainy night, the person's soul mate will appear on the screen at exactly midnight. The protagonist soons discovers that he is able to enter the alternative dimension of the television. As murders continue to pile up, the protagonist and his band of classmates have to solve the mystery behind them.
Persona 4 uses the same visual engine and to a certain degree, the same combat engine, as Persona 3 meaning you won't get Final Fantasy XII-esque visual orgy. That doesn't mean it is ugly, far from it though it could use a greater range of colour palette. The graphical fidelity are serviceable and lends well to the visual style of the game. Face it, if graphics are important than you won't even be reading this review. Special effects are pretty and while it doesn't really push the PS2 console to its upper upper limits, it still does the old console proud. The quality of the anime cut scenes are mediocre at best, but is more than satisfactory to forward the story.
Gameplay wise Persona 4 is very similar to Persona 3. If you haven't done so, it is probably best to just hop over here and read the review of Persona 3, before jumping back to this review, but the gist is like Persona 3 the game is divided into two parts: the day section where you go to school and do other normal human stuff and improving your Social Link, and the other world (in this case, the TV world) where you battle demons and play Scooby Doo. There are however some improvements. For one, you now have complete control of your party (if you want), which is a significant difference from the previous game (where you only get to control your character). You also get an extra turn when you hit an enemy with their weakness, something that adds another element of strategy to the combat system.
Dungeon crawling may not be for everyone, but I promise you, reward is always at hand. Besides the dungeons here are a far cry from the 200 over levels in Persona 3, where they get too repetitive. Here you get a handful of dungeons and each one unique. During the day you can improve your Social Link through interactions with your friends, going to classes and generally dick about. As in Persona 3, developing your Social Link is crucial to the game as it also affects the strength of your Personas/summons.
I did find the voice acting to be extremely cheesy actually, but you can skip them if you prefer. They may lack the production value of a Final Fantasy game or Dragon Quest VIII, but more than made up for the superb Shoji Meduro soundtrack. The brilliant music is made up of a collection of Japanese Pop and Rock, with a slice of R&B, Jazz and other genres, all infused with Shoji Meguro electronica-led compositions. Atlus seems to reckon that the fans would enjoy the music outside of the game, that they even package an audio CD with the Western edition of Persona 4 filled with selected tracks from the game.
Persona 4 is a hardcore game, and in this day it is pretty rare to find one that works as well as it. You will definitely need to set a side plenty of time as it is bleeding difficult and long (about 70-90 hours depending on skills). Unless you are jobless, you will be better off playing it in normal or even easy mode. But regardless, forget all the silly Final Fantasy spin-offs (Crystal Chronicles - heh), this game just deserves to be played. It will suck your life and you will happy for it.
Persona 4 is available to buy now from Amazon UK and Amazon.com.