High school sim or epic quest?
You’ll have to put aside about 100 hours to find out!
DO: You are a transfer student from the big city, sent to a small town in rural Japan. While you deal with the struggles and pitfalls of being the new kid at the local high school, you also find yourself involved in the quest to solve a series of murders in town.
MEAT: The Persona games are a subset of the Shin Megami Tensei series, as detailed here. Set in the sleepy town of Inaba (a drastic change of pace from the usual hustle and bustle of most SMT games), you play a transfer student who needs to navigate the social While slow to start, Persona 4 hits the ground running by about the 3 hour mark and never lets up for the next hundred hours. Unlike most JRPGs that are set in some mythical fantasy land or sci-fi setting, the modern-day setting is one of the many breaths of fresh air that help to keep the game fresh. Unlike Persona 3’s evokers (which basically emulated your party shooting themselves in the head on a regular basis), Persona 4 backs away from the more controversial imagery and uses the television and tarot cards as the main method of breaking away from the reality of every day life.
During your travels, you will gain a cast of characters who initially come across as anime stereotypes but as you spend time with them, you’ll see that there are many facets to their personalities that make you care about what happens to them. In fact, the social aspect of the game is the strongest portion of the game, in my opinion. I would be perfectly happy playing a game that entirely revolved around the various social portions of the game.
There is a robust turn-based combat engine in the game for those times you need to dive into the TV and help clear out the dreamworlds of the various characters you encounter in the game. The variety of ‘dungeons’ found in the TV world is a welcome improvement over the rather repetitive tower of Tartarus from Persona 3, as each kidnapped victim of the serial killer has a particular fantasy that you must explore and rescue them from before it’s too late. From steamy bathhouses to high-tech secret labs to a retro-style game, you’ll always have a unique environment to explore.
Add to all of this already rich gameplay the Persona collection and fusion aspect, which is like a deeper, darker version of Pokémon, and you have something that will keep you fiddling around for that perfect monster ally to the wee hours of the night.
PERKS: A wonderful cast of characters; 100+ hours of questing; gorgeous graphics (given that it’s a PS2 title!); a compelling storyline; fantastic voice acting; one of the best localizations I’ve ever experienced (it keeps a lot of the Japanese charm and culture but makes it very accessible for a North American audience).
SCREAMS: For more gameplay during the first 2-3 hours of the game. One of the unfortunately quirks of the last few Persona games is that the initial 3 hours is almost like a glorified cutscene. That said, those first 3 hours are there for a reason and really help establish the world you will be mucking about in for the next 100 hours; for a ‘next-gen’ installment that renders the pop-art visuals in HD; less repetitive dungeon-crawling and even more of an emphasis on the social aspects of the game; the ability to revive the main character if he is killed in battle instead of having that be an instant trip to the Game Over screen.
VERDICT: Buy! Especially if you are a fan of Japanese culture or JRPGs and want to play something fresh that isn’t the typical swords & sorcery, save the world rut that the genre tends to get stuck in.