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Posted on Nov 11th 2015 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under Atlus, rpg, playstation 2, ps2, sony, turn based

This may be the first game that lets me truly use the name of this review series. Persona 4 is a turn based RPG that was originally released late in the life of the Playstation 2. This game was developed and published by Atlus, and was released in the West in 2008. The game's commercial success, especially internationally, has lead to Atlus releasing an updated version with extra content on Sony's Playstation Vita, Persona 4: Golden. Spinoffs of this Shin Megami Tensei spinoff are all over the place now. Arc System Works developed the fighting games Persona 4: Arena and Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax for Japanese arcades, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. The Vita recently saw the release of the newest spinoff, a rhythm game called Persona 4: Dancing All Night.

The success of a niche RPG released two years after its console's successor is an oddity. I believe this came about because the Playstation 3 was expensive and slow selling at launch. This let the PS2 have a long and fulfilling life even after its little brother's release. Its only within the last few years that the system has finally had all new support pulled for it, even if that support was limited to low budget sports ports to mostly be released in countries where the consumers cannot afford to upgrade.

Persona 4 takes place in the rural Japanese town of Yasoinaba. You play as Yu Narukami, should you choose to pick the canon name, a second year student in high school. While his parents go on some year long business trip, Yu moves to Inaba to stay with his little known Uncle, Ryotaro Dojima, and his young daughter Nanako. Yu starts up school in this new town shortly afterwards and starts to meet the first few, core members of the party within his homeroom class.

Pop some popcorn for this introduction.
Video is courtesy of dorkculture.

If you've grown tired of the trite 'Save the Entire World' plotline, then the story of Persona 4 can be a great breath of fresh air. The game takes you on a long, supernatural detective story. A series of strange murders starts up right after Yu moves in with the Dojima's. The school kids are all talking about this rumor of a strange program on TV that airs on rainy nights at midnight on a few days of fog, dubbing it "The Midnight Channel." A strange connection is made between those who show up on regular TV shows, and then show up on The Midnight Channel before they're found dead the next day.

In terms of gameplay, Persona 4 is one of the RPGs that has lead the charge for deeper, social gameplay elements, and carries the idea over from Persona 3. Social Links involve the main cast that you'll take to dungeons for combat, as well as a cast of supporting characters. While the game does not allow for open geographical exploration, the way you can play the social game through Social Links is entirely open. The game also has a great use of time, with each day being broken down into different chunks. You'll have to choose between Social Link progression by hanging out with somebody, or some other activity like fishing, dungeon crawling for story or quests, or pursuing stat boosts. Every Social Link is its own story where you look into the window of a character's life while they try and work through their problems. High school aged characters make this work perfectly, since most people this age are questioning almost everything about themselves, while juggling school and a home life they have little, if any, control over. There are adult Social Links as well, but outside of the Dojima family, they are hidden in the game's various part time jobs.

These Social Links are not just a mechanic that is meant to fill out character development. They tie in closely to the Velvet Room, mostly through Persona fusion. Higher Social Links give extra bonus experience based on the arcana of the Persona you're trying to create. Each character with a Social Link is tied to an arcana, which is nothing more than one of the 22 major arcana of tarot. The only one in the cast with the ability to use different Personae is Yu. Everybody else is locked into their first Persona, but they get an upgraded version of it when you max out their Social Link. Persona fusion is limited to Yu's level, but you can use the bonus experience from Social Links to push beyond the base level of fusion. An example would be a level 20 Yu fusing a level 19 Persona that ends up with enough bonus experience to reach level 21 before it ever even sees a battle.

Combat is turn based, mostly built with additions to Persona 3. The biggest addition is the ability to directly control your other party members, something that Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES lacked, but was added for Persona 3 Portable. The game also gives you extra attacks when you land a critical physical strike, or take advantage of your enemy's elemental weakness. The game's base difficulty will make it next to impossible to get by relying entirely on physical attacks, many are resistant, immune, or absorb the damage to heal themselves! This also applies to magic based enemies with elemental affinities.

Persona 4 is a game that is hard to find true flaws with. There are a few issues with the game, but it is technically sound. The game starts with a difficulty that's too high. A lot of people who have given this game a shot have hit a brick wall when they get to the final boss of the first dungeon. This difficulty gives players a much better sense of fulfillment than what they receive in a lot of the more recent games. You can truly breathe a sigh of relief when you watch a boss go into its death throes. Trial and error fighting against some of the bosses can lead to a few reloads, and some of the bosses are half hour slogs even when you're hitting their weakness.

Video courtesy of vtuyen.

I've played a bit of Golden, mostly when I showed a friend how to properly move through dungeons and engage shadows one night. I've talked to him about a few of the differences, but most of them are minor outside of Marie, a new Social Link tied to the Velvet Room. The user interface is changed around to be more intuitive, like Quests getting its own direct link instead of having to go in the System menu like you do on the PS2 original release. A lot of other extras were added like a series of 'TV' links that gives you options such as a sound test, clips from live concert performances, developer commentary through the teacher Edogawa, game trivia, cutscene theater, a Midnight Channel minigame (which is only available between midnight and 1 AM on the Vita's clock), among others. Within the game, they give you back the option to leave the house in the evening, something you could do in Persona 3 that they took away for Persona 4. A couple more locations are available, along with new events that fall into the calendar of the game.

Persona 4 is a great game, and despite its late release, it seemed to help breathe new life in Japanese RPGs at a time when people were heavily criticizing turn-based combat as a design that should be retired. I remember a lot of emotional threads around the internet during the PS2 days, so many RPG fans were getting tired of turn-based combat in general. Atlus never let that get them down, and has arguably been among the most consistent major RPG developers when it comes to overall quality in recent years. Persona 5's hype train for PS3 and PS4 is in full swing, and if you start Persona 4 now, you just might beat it by the time the newest one releases next year in Japan! You can expect this game to take over 80 hours, and that's with a no guide run like I played through. Will you face yourself to unravel the truth behind the Inaba Murders?

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Such an amazing game. Only thing I'd point out that you didn't mention is the strength of the cast in these games. Both the playable characters and the NPCs are absolutely amazing. They spend a lot of effort making sure that pretty much everyone you can interact with in the game is interesting and unique and add to the overall experience. Was really surprised how attached I would get to nearly everyone I encountered. Oh and the music is really different and intoxicating too! P5 can't come out quick enough!!
One of my biggest gripes about P3 was that you could not control your other party members in combat. I'm happy to see that this was one of the changes they made in P4. Thanks for the review!
@Crabmaster2000: Shoji Meguro is easily in the top tier of video game composers right now, East or West.

The cast of characters is also among the best I've seen in video gaming period. And if you're short on time the entire tone of the game makes it perfect to play late at night with the lights turned off.
@singlebanana: They actually default to P3 style control, or lack of control, and you have to manually change their tactics to direct commands or watch them be stupid in combat.
The gloomy base with happy overtones was amazing because I would start to sympathize and it would get depressing , then I'd hear "signs of love" and it brought the mood back up every single time. That balance is nice considering a lot of games with a dark premise have just downright dark music and sometimes it's over the top . But this game made me understand that type of balance in games .
Shoji Meguro is God.
The more I hear about Persona, the more I'm curious about it, but with so little time to game, I don't need another series of expensive RPG's to sink time into.  I do kind of wish I had bought Persona and Persona 2 for PlayStation back when they were cheap, however.
Anyone who either enjoys  or is interested in the Dangan Ronpa games should definitely check this out.
@MetalFRO: I pieced together a Persona 2 for a decent price overall, but I'm not seeing me picking up the original PS1 release of Persona 1 anytime in the near future. There is a much cheaper and upgraded release for Persona 1 on PSP, but they changed Mark from being black to white...
I feel like for an rpg you actually could play it with a tight schedule. If you have a free day in real life you could do dungeons and on casual moments do social links.

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