The Persona series moves to the rural town of Inaba full of Japanese Shin Megami Tensei characters and creatures in a fantastic PlayStation 2 single-player experience. As in Persona 3, the quality narratives and appealing characters make this role playing/action game a high level, relationship-based experience. Your main character, who you name, first learns about a local urban…well, rural legend of staring at the TV on a rainy night to see your soulmate – a nice foreshadowing element for impending drama and action.
Veteran players will enjoy the similarities and core elements that still exist in this installment. Enhancements include the ability to control other characters in your battle party and social link ranking that increase their combat skills. Overall, new elements of expression and understanding also give the characters strength to battle antagonists who trap other characters into a mysterious television phenomena called the Midnight Channel.
The timeline in Persona 4 begins on April 11, 2011, about one year after the end of Persona 3 FES. Your parents' busy work life has put you in a situation where you will now live with your uncle Dojima and his daughter Nanabo in Inaba. The end goal is finding the responsible party behind some grim events. It’s a long, worthwhile journey involving tens of hours of gameplay, so the day-by-day timeline works perfectly.
This installment is all about tarot card activations instead of guns to the head (like in Persona 3) when enacting your powers. As you make your way through the Midnight Channel world, you still experience several other psychological elements that relate to your own issues and morals. Like in Persona 3, load times can be a bit long in Persona 4, but work well given the immense content and seemingly infinite combinations and possibilities. Even your food choices and actions during certain weather conditions can increase or decrease your overall effectiveness.
This installment concentrates on a quartet of classmates with whom you experience these mysterious happenings. Yosuke is a bit clumsy and forgetful, but he’s loyal. Yukiko helps her family manage the local inn while the playful Chie loves martial arts movies. You might anticipate some cool martial arts sequence or special ability from her, but that never really materializes. Dojima's partner, Tōru Adachi, an odd blue teddy bear creature named Teddie, Igor and his assistant also factor into the mix.
Your friends also develop a bunch of handy new combat abilities as you build up their social links, so it’s wise to keep your interactions with them positive. Occasionally your friends and other characters you know might get captured. Once you understand the consequences of falling into this dark realm, the reward for saving someone becomes very satisfying, especially after all the investigating you complete.
You usually have about two weeks before the fog returns to save someone. You can even get creative with your 16 save slots to use the timeline to your advantage and you don’t lose too much progress – an easy thing to do in this game without careful planning. The more you know about victims, the better, so pay attention to all the details in this immersing game.
In three difficulty levels, the easy route gives you 10 lives in each segment, but you lose the ability to change the outcome of the game with your choices, which produces an extremely high replay value. The default normal difficulty gives you opportunities to increase your skills by choosing the right answers to class questions. The game even expands on the background behind the correct answer, so you’re going to be learning as well. Expert is the of course the most difficult level. The game expands to five main statistics from the previous three: strength, magic, endurance, agility, and luck. The amount of magic often determines how long a group can last though the fatigue levels in the previous installment are gone.
The combat mode works well, but some of the styles, like kung fu over weapons, could have been expanded a bit more. With more control over your friends, the scenarios expand nicely while better combat controls help advance to the ultimate goal of finding the culprit behind these crimes while helping others along the way. You have the standard camera options and maps to navigate the irregular areas about 10 to 12 floors deep. You engage in combat by contacting enemies then fighting them using as many as seven different methods. Exit points exist about every five floors and save points are located on the highest floor in advance of each area’s main villain or boss. The challenging bosses can be defeated, but the trial and error technique makes your conquest a bit slower.
It’s no surprise there may not be too many places to go (gas attendants and friends remind you constantly) but there are numerous events happening and even some nice references to Persona 3 like a field trip Tatsumi Port Island. You are allowed minor, functional distractions like getting a part time job and studying, which factor into increasing social links and skills.
The dense content may overwhelm some players, but most of you will enjoy this adventure as a constant go-to-game lasting you throughout the winter and beyond. Every presented element is used very well including the music score by composers Shoji Meguro, Atsushi Kitajoh and Ryota Kozuka, and excellent voice acting talent.
Persona 4 is a must have for RPG fans. I hope that a modern console installment or collection is on the horizon at Atlus. Also available is the Amazon exclusive Persona 4: Social Link Expansion Pack. It doesn’t include the game, but fans will definitely want these goodies which include a special 2009 calendar, T-shirt and music collection including exclusive tracks not presented in the Persona 4 game.
Persona 4 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for alcohol reference, animated blood, language, partial nudity, sexual themes and violence.