Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PS2) Review

Author’s Note: One of the very first games I reviewed! Also, please keep in mind that this was written when the game was released originally for the PS2 back in December 2008. Will probably post up more of my old reviews soon. Mainly to fill up the place with some content and to test out the review system. Enjoy!

Last year’s release of Persona 3 was under the radar for me. I had no idea of that game whatsoever. That was until I stumbled upon a preview article of the game in a magazine. Just reading that preview immediately got me interested. Much to my surprise the game just got released not too long ago. I bought it and inserted it into my PS2 and became hooked, I also became a Shin Megami Tensei fan overnight. I knew what SMT was, but never really looked into it. Thanks to Persona 3, my eyes are now open to how great the SMT franchise really is, and I get the honor of reviewing the next hit title in the SMT series.

Following up on the success that Persona 3 had, by winning “Best RPG of 2007” from many game websites, Atlus has now released Persona 4. Unlike many other Playstation 2 sequels, Persona 4 didn’t make the jump to a current-gen console like the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. Not that anyone wouldn’t mind if a SMT game were released on a current-gen console. But since the game is on the PS2 it should be accessible by mostly all gamers and those gamers should not miss out on this great RPG.

Persona 4, at its source, plays like the previous P3 many fans have come to love. That’s not to say you’re playing the same game, just with new characters and story. There are so many changes in Persona 4, it feels like a totally new game. In case anyone is wondering, NO you don’t have to play the previous Persona games or any other SMT game in order to enjoy Persona 4.

This time around you take the role of a normal city-boy who transfers to the small town of Inaba, staying with your uncle and young cousin for a year. Upon your arrival, a sudden murder mystery starts to surface onto the quiet town. Along with your classmates(and a talking teddy bear thing), you embark on a long journey to uncover this serial killer. The way you all do so is by traveling to an alternate world that you can access by diving through a TV screen. Once inside the TV you explore different dungeons, each with its own theme, and battle monsters called shadows with the help of your “Personas.” It is your guys’ duty to solve this murder mystery, and to uncover the secrets behind the TV world and the “midnight channel.”

Though it may sound like a simple murder mystery, it is much deeper than that. There are some twists and obstacles you’ll become faced with and many mysteries you’ll have to solve. Once you think it’s all over, chances are, you probably overlooked something. Some P4 references are made but like I said, they are minor enough to skip right to P4.

The game system is still similar to that of P3, but many improvement/changes have been made. The game still feels like a mix between a dungeon crawler and a dating sim.

The dungeon aspect has changed and no longer takes place in a supposedly never-ending tower. This time you explore many small dungeons, with each sporting a unique theme. Each dungeon is full of long paths for you to follow and many doors for you to open, until you reach the set of stairs that will lead you into the next section. Of course, it won’t be easy as shadows will be in your way and the battle phase will begin.

Battling is still the same, as you will mainly take control of yourself, while the AI performs the actions of your other three party members. In Persona 4, you are now given the option of actually being able to directly command your party members, which makes some battles go a bit easier now that you can actually plan out a strategy. Another helpful change is being able to display the details of attacks and spells. This is especially helpful to those new to the Persona franchise as I’m pretty sure spells like Agi or Sukukaja are unfamiliar to you. As was the case in P3, your main goal to winning a battle is by finding an enemy’s weakness and attacking it. With the whole ‘weakness’ factor, you may also lose if the enemies attack your weakness as well. Thanks to a new guard system, you and your party members will be able to guard. When guarding you will receive less damage from attacks to your weakness and will avoid the knockdown, what’s even better is that you will also prevent the enemy from performing another attack. After battle you will earn the usual experience and money, but enemies will now occasionally drop raw materials, which you can then sell at the weapons shop in order to expand your list of available weapons, armor, and accessories for purchase.

After battling you may also be presented a “shuffle time.” This certain event will help you in acquiring new Persona to fight alongside you by presenting you with cards and shuffling them, then you pick your card and win whatever you get. The cards available for choosing are Persona, Blank, and Penalty. Persona cards will grant you the Persona pictured, blank cards do nothing, and penalty cards completely take away any experience, money, and items that you were to be rewarded. Every now and then an “Arcana Chance” will appear. This will then show a random arcana card(ex. magician, lovers, fool) and you will be given the choice of participating or passing. If you participate the card will start to rotate. Whether it stops in the upside or reversed position, will reveal your bonus or penalty. For example the upside Moon arcana will grant you an experience bonus with each battle for a short period of time, while the reversed Moon will grant you 1 experience point for each battle. So be fully prepared to take responsibility for your actions.

It will take you some time to fully complete each dungeon, but you are given a time limit on how long you must complete each one. Failure to do so, will end your game. Thanks to one change, however, you can actually complete a dungeon in one period of time. The “tired” and “sick” status were present in P3, and their main role was to let the player know that he’s spent too much time in the dungeon and must return another day. This does not occur in Persona 4, but at the cost of that, you party will not get the “full heal” that would happen in P3, if you exited the dungeon. Instead, your party will only heal by way of items and magic. Though in the future you will get the opportunity to pay for some healing. So if all goes well, beating a dungeon in one day could actually be pretty easy. However, this will slow down your experience. Since Persona 4 is very dependent on time, the story won’t progress until a certain date. So if you finish the dungeon off in one day, be prepared to wait a long time until the story progresses.

When you’re not in the TV, you spend your time like an ordinary high school student. You explore different places, and meet new people, perhaps building a social link with them. Exploring around is actually easier now in Persona 4. By pressing the square button, you can instantly transfer to a certain location, and no longer will you need to find your way out of a building to get somewhere. Social links have also been revamped a bit. Overall it still works the same as in P3, but some slight additions have been made.

Social links are now a bit easier to rank up thanks to the addition of being able to eat lunch with a s. link in order to build up points. The best thing about lunches are that they take away no time from your schedule and occur during the school period. It definitely helps in gaining some much needed points when at the higher ranks. Sadly though, you are only able to perform this at certain times. Perhaps a major change are your personal traits; In P3 it was knowledge, charm, and courage. In P4 it’s knowledge, diligence, courage, expression, and understanding. These traits are now more important than ever as you won’t be able to make certain choices, or be able to rank up, unless a certain trait is at the right level.

Speaking of importance, social links are definitely more important this time around. They will not only help you in making stronger Personas, but will also help make your party stronger. You see, each of your party members are now assigned a social link. As you rank up that member’s s. link, they will gain some abilities in the battlefield. One such ability is saving you from an attack that will kill you. If you played P3, you will know that at certain times you will unexpectedly die in battle and if you failed to save, you may have had to start over many hours of game time. Thanks to these helpful abilities, I was saved many times from some possible unexpected deaths. Of course, the game isn’t that easy and I still had my moments of death without saving for a long period of time. But I like this change since it really lowered my death rate.

Of course, another change would be your supporting cast. Along with your new set of party members, your social links also have new characters as well. Some old characters also make a return, as always Igor is back in the Velvet Room. To me, the characters in Persona 4 feel closer to you than the ones in P3, and you may tend to care more for them this time around as well. It’s mostly due to how the storyline introduces each character and the fact that you build a social link with each party member, enabling you to get to know them more personally. It certainly gives the game that “real-life” feel.

Persona 4’s gameplay has undergone many changes from P3, so the game doesn’t feel much like a sequel but more of a new experience. No experience from the previous Personas, or even the SMT series, is needed. Though there is a lot you can do in the game, it is very easy to understand and play, so newcomers will have no problems at all getting into this game. The unique battle system, the social link system, and the deepness in gameplay in this game is what really makes Persona 4 shine.

There really isn’t much of a graphical difference between Persona 3 and Persona 4. The game mainly uses anime-inspired drawings for most of the game. You will even get some anime cutscenes. The overall look of Persona 4 isn’t really anything to talk much about, but its really not what the game is about anyway. If I did have to say something about the graphics then it would be that, it suits the game pretty well and its looks great for a PS2 title.

Voice-overs also make a return in Persona 4, and are of the same high quality you hear in P3. Some people may not like the voices for some of the characters, but I for one actually enjoyed it. The voices mostly occur during major scenes and short sayings occur for small talks. The overall dub though is well done and the people at Atlus have done a good job in translating the game from Japanese to English.

I also enjoyed the music in Persona 4. I think it’s mainly due to my high interest in J-pop. Not that you would need to enjoy J-pop in order to enjoy the music. The music is not bad at all and is used very well in emphasizing the feeling of a scene. It does suck though that you won’t hear much variety of music when going through the whole game. When exploring the town, the music is the same. When you’re in the TV selecting your party members, the music is the same(each dungeon has its own music). So you may start getting sick of some songs due to the lack of change in music throughout the course of the game. As for me, I really enjoyed the music. So I give big thanks to Atlus for including a music soundtrack in each copy of the game.

Persona 4 is a LONG game. If you plan on beating this game, you will need to spend quite an amount of time on it. It took me around 90 hours to complete. It won’t be the same for others though due to the many different things people can choose to do in the game, so it could take less time or more time. I would say an estimated range between 60-100 hours is pretty much what you’re looking at. After you beat the game, you could actually play the game over again, in a new game +, where some things will get carried over from your completed game to your new one. You may also choose to play again since there is so much to do in Persona 4, that you may not actually see everything in the first run. So if you have a habit of being unable to finish games because they are too long, then Persona 4 may have the same effect on you.

If there is one thing I would have to complain about on Persona 4, it would definitely be the pacing of the game. In the beginning, you will have to endure mostly dialog for almost two hours, until you get into some real action, and you will have to wait a bit longer until you actually get to your first dungeon. As I already pointed out, once you complete dungeons, the story won’t progress right away. Its these slight delays that may ruin the experience for some, but this period of waiting does help in ranking s. links and other stats, so its not like the experience is totally ruined. But it does kind of draw a bit more away from the dungeon aspect. For instance, I will find myself completing a dungeon in a day’s worth of time(in-game time), and then use the long wait to rank up many things, but I hardly see myself going back into the TV world, I hardly even go back to just grind. That is until the story progresses and the next dungeon is revealed. So I don’t see feel much of a priority in going through the dungeons as much as I did in P3, much you do feel that sense of urgency to complete it right away. This could also be due to the fact that the “dungeon-diving” takes place during the day, which is a crucial time period for those social links.

Overall, Persona 4 is phenomenal. I really loved Persona 3 and had a hard time wondering what they could do to improve on it. Then Persona 4 came out and much to my surprise, I actually got blown away again. They may be similar in many ways but Persona 3 and 4 are totally different experiences. And if I had to, I would have to choose Persona 4 as my favorite. I just love the story and the characters, and just the whole experience overall. And once again, I don’t know what new changes could be made in (hopefully)Persona 5 that would overshadow the sheer brilliance of P4.

If you are low on cash due to the holidays, and there is one game you would want to treat yourself to, I say make that game Persona 4. Come on! It’s for the Playstation 2, and practically everybody has one, so you should have no problem being able to play this game. Plus, its $40 and comes with a music soundtrack, if that doesn’t scream “Buy Me Idiot!” then I don’t know what does.