Having LOVED 'Devil Survivor' for the DS, I seeked out games made by the same developers and came across the Persona series for the Playstation 2. I decided to get Persona 4 as it was the best rated and reviewed game in the series and popped it into my console... and WOW... I was hooked.
Set in the rural Japanese town of Inaba, mysterious murders begin taking place during foggy days, where the body is found hung from television antennaes. A group of schoolkids hear a rumour that watching a switched off TV at midnight on a rainy day will reveal their soulmate, but when they discover that the person they see on the TV is the person that will die, they do everything they can to save them.
Whilst watching the TV set at midnight, the protagonist discovers an alternate world on the other side of the screen, a place with dark shadows. At their peril, the protagonist discovers his 'Persona', a being with great power summoned by realising their darker shadow selves, revealing their true personality. Having confronted their shadow self, they are able to use Personas to fight the dark shadows.
When they see one of their friends show up on the TV screen, the schoolkids are determined to fight their way in the TV World in order to rescue their friend and find the killer behind the murders.
The story is fast paced and immediately gripping, filled with distinct personality and humour. What makes this game different is the integration of real life events with events of the shadow world. As a schoolkid, you must juggle school, friends, relationships, family and part time jobs alongside battling, training and rescuing your friends in the TV World.
Open and free, it is up to you to schedule your time between both worlds. Everyday, there are triggerable events and distinct opportunities which will help you in either world- a relationship boost? A sale for armour and weapons?
Another dimension to the in game clock is the weather patterns. Every time there is fog and rain, you can watch the 'Midnight Channel' and a person may appear. If they do, you will have a set number of days to rescue them before they die. This retraint adds pressure to what you choose to do and how you spend your time.
In the Human World, the town is diverse with several districts to explore- shopping, school, department store, home and river bank. Each will feature a range of unique characters and opportunities, including quests. At times, you will also be asked to look for something or interview someone in which knowing the places will help you greatly in completing the task!
Building relationships is also a huge part of the Human World. By talking to friends and hanging out with them you can build 'bonds' which will help you and your personas in the TV world. With an open dialogue system, you can choose how to respond to your friends and each decision leads to a different result, creating dramatic, fun, embarrassing and even emotional moments.
In the TV World, you and your friends explore each fog filled dungeon by walking and encountering shadows. Each dungeon has numerous floors, increasing as you progress the game, with a boss meeting you on the last floor.
Combat is turn-based and strategic. Each character has their own skill set and persona with varying stats, strengths and weaknesses. As you encounter new shadows, you will be able to discover more of their traits and to utilise your personas accordingly. The graphics are beautiful still for a game released several years ago and it definitely maximised the potential of the PS2 visually.
With a total of 9 dungeons to explore, the varying themes of each (steamy bathhouse/8-bit/marukyu striptease) make them very engrossing. Despite the very repetitive and at times tedious nature of exploration, you venture deeper and deeper into each as you yearn to discover the truth about the captive's personality.
In order to create stronger personas, you can also 'fuse' them. By combining two or more personas, they merge to form stronger, more powerful ones. With hundreds of different personas, each with different skills and abilities, trying to fuse them all will take a large part of your time also.
As the plot progresses and you obtain more and more clues to the investigation, the story takes a quick and dramatic turn, with an ultimatum of a climax. The final dungeons are hard, but worthwhile and the multiple endings drop hints and makes you feel the story is still incomplete, pointing to an unlockable 'true' ending.
The movie scenes which finish off the story are emotional and you feel so attached to the characters and people around you that it really tugs at your heart as your character finishes his time at Inaba. It is satisfying, but really sad... and it is like they have become your true friends- no other game makes you feel like this!
Much like Final Fantasy XII, it's taken me ages to finish this epic game. I started this last Summer and finished it only just now. With over 71 hours of game time clocked on my play through, this game offers so much in terms of depth in story, humour and is so personable that you just feel like you've been a part of a big story. It is so immersive that you get such a hype playing this.
As the game is so open and with so many differing decisions, each playthrough of the story will be different and due to the fact that some areas, conversation areas and options are locked the first time you play, there is a real incentive to play again and again!
I cannot describe in words how amazing this game truly is and would urge you to play this if you still have a PS2 because this is unmissable and definitely one of the best games for the console. If you have upgraded however, fear not, Persona 5 is in the making and will be out within two years, most likely for the PS3.
And for those who (like me) cannot wait, 'Devil Survivor 2' for the DS was released at the start of this year (which is on my list).
It's 2009, the PlayStation 3 is in full swing and the PlayStation 2 systems are in the closets accumulating a period of dust as the games of the 'next-generation' take centre stage. With the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet and Killzone 2, the PS3 has finally been given the kick start it deserves. This makes the decision not develop Persona 4 for the PS3 surprising and perhaps a wasted opportunity to further perfect what is already in my eyes; a masterpiece.
What the game is about
Once again the player takes the role of a silent high-school protagonist whose personality is shaped by the player themselves. The character has moved away from the city to live with his uncle and little cousin Nanako (whom he has never met) in the country town of Inaba for a year. Shortly after arriving, fog envelopes the town bringing with it unusual deaths of citizens. The rumour of the 'Midnight Channel' is passed around school, where staring into a blank TV on a rainy midnight conjures the image of ones soul mate. Curious, the main character tries it out and discovers he can in fact pass through the TV into a world that can only be described as the materialisation of other's desires. This new found power leads himself and his school mates Yosuke and Chie to take it upon themselves to investigate the murders of Inaba with the idea that the midnight channel may have something to do with the unexplainable deaths. They soon realise they are the only ones who can save the victims from an unpleasant demise by doing so before the fog returns to Inaba.
Alongside battling shadows in the TV world to become closer to solving the mystery, the player can partake in developing 'social links' which is a level based term for ones relationship with other characters in the game. Strengthening these links directly contributes to increased battle performance with the ability to summon a stronger 'Persona'. You can form links with team-mates and certain other characters such as school club colleagues and even a fox. The player also has the opportunity to take part-time jobs such as tutoring and making envelopes which each increase 1 of 5 of the character's personal characteristics: Knowledge, Expression, Understanding, Diligence and Courage. Certain levels of the these characteristics are requirements for progressing further with some social links and starting others in the first place.
The RPG combat system takes place in the TV world and takes up the whole day for the character. The battle system will be familiar to players of previous Persona or Shin Megami Tensei games using weakness and strengths as the most fundamental approach to any battle. By hitting an enemy shadow's weakness, the player gets 1 extra turn and likewise the enemy would get an extra turn if they hit your weakness. Even a standard battle can become a nightmare for your team if you don't protect your weaknesses. The player attacks by summoning personae to cast magical spells or physical attacks, the main character can switch between a variety of aquired persona whilst teammates are restricted to a single persona of their own.
Developing your character I feel also develops yourself as a person. Persona 4 subjects yourself to many different scenarios that you may never have been in before. Given the choice of what to say is really thought provoking. There is a lot of depth to the characters which you interact with, different emotions and views. Maybe if its only just slightly, I feel its made myself a better person, I understand more about the people I speak with and Persona 4 has made me realise how treasured my friends really are.
The cast of Persona 4 really is great, topped off with fantastic voice actors it is a joy to have such a band of personalities as team-mates. Moments that make you smile, or even laugh out loud are simply abundant with some continued jokes that carry throughout the game. The team feels extremely close and as a result makes for some upsetting moments that you feel yourself.
The style of Persona 4 emphasised with its upbeat soundtrack by Shoji Meguro does not become tiresome. In fact, I'm listening to the soundtrack CD that accompanied the game as I write and I'm once again blown away. Its the first time I've heard each piece so clearly and distinct which is probably due to my TV's audio settings when playing the game. Persona 4 is colourful and battles are fought with a song being sung in the background, not something I'm particularly used to for RPG battle theme music, but its a good change.
Nearing the close of the game, the player actually gets the option to choose, from a list of almost every named character in Inaba and choose who committed murders which I took a long hard think about. I wish there was more of this as you feel slightly detached from the mystery itself, it unfolds before your eyes without much input. However, that is possibly too much to ask for and you do get the satisfaction of suggesting a possible reason for an occurrence during talks with the team.
Adding jobs to Persona is a great way to build up cash, better yet it helps develop a social link making evenings working also a joy and not just a way to earn money.
Developing links with allies allows them to learn new follow up attacks or assistance moves which actually makes it worthwhile to develop social links with your team-mates.
Battle difficulty is a very good balance, it provides challenge without utter frustration of dying and losing that time spent getting up floors of a dungeon.
Items that are collected are stored in the same scrollable inventory with the only organisation being that similar items are adjacent items in the list. I found this pretty lazy, key items that are never used again are thrown in with frequently used items making the list scroll on forever. I feel the items should be categorised and tabbed.
Like Persona 3, dungeons are randomised which it might be nicer if they were a bit more personalised and had a strict design. Of course this could just be limitations of disc space, which makes it a little more annoying that it was no on the PS3.
Main character dies then that is that, game over.
There are 3 different endings for Persona 4, the bad, normal and true. The only way to avoid the bad ending is to answer a series of questions with certain answers at a particular point in the game with is perhaps a little unfair compared to a 2 answered question in Persona 3. I attained the normal ending myself but later found out about the 'true' ending which involves doing a particular thing at the very end of the game which was not really prompted. The true ending leads to an extra dungeon and boss which I missed out on my first play-through. I saved over the very last save I made with the new game+ data so I'd need to replay the whole game to get there. Putting in 80 hours, I'm not ready to go through it all again just yet and thus resulted in using youtube to satisfy me with a better ending, of course this was my own fault and it is kind of nice to discover for yourself, depriving a whole dungeon I feel is a little harsh.
Persona 3 comparison
Persona 3 (FES) secured the hearts of myself and many others as the greatest JRPG of the PS2 and one of the best of all time. Its pretty difficult to grasp that Persona 4 excels its predecessor in almost every single way...
The battle system formula is essentially the same with all the familiar Personae and spells at your disposal. Its still an enjoyable system and a redesign really was not needed, why fix what was already pretty great? The difficulty has been toned down making Persona 4 an easier and more forgiving game on the standard difficulty setting. The most notable change is that you can now control all of your team-mates actions if you like, placing less reliance on the AI allowing for more strategic battles.
What I feel to be the best addition to the combat system is social link induced attacks. Developing social links with your team-mates allows them to eventually take hits that would ultimately kill you amongst other helpful functions making social links that bit more important.
You have no control over which weapon the main character uses unfortunately, you are restricted to a 2 handed sword instead of getting the choice of any.
Cast & story
Persona 3 was pretty gloomy, dark and at times depressing. It was an incredibly serious game which I appreciate in its own rights and is great in those respects. Persona 4 takes a far lighter approach with a much more light-hearted journey which simply shines through its characters making for a more enjoyable experience. Living with relatives in Persona 4 adds family life into the mix and makes for a closer attachment to the characters. Using a murder mystery as the basis for the story adds a lot more depth than it was exploring a tower.
I had a concern with the clunky interface of Persona 3, its great to see Persona 4 lightening the load a bit with a much more responsive menu when switching persona or healing characters. Unfortunately the Velvet Room remains largely unchanged with my major issue of being unable to dismiss personae inside of the room still existing.
The mammoth dungeon that was known as Tartarus in Persona 3 was a real pain. There was the sense of achievement in scaling the mighty tower, but with difficult battles and only being able to teleport back to the bottom every 10 floors or so was simply hell. Having to ascend 10 floors in succession then conquer a boss without a save point in sight was unforgiving, tiring and left me not playing for days after losing an hour or so of battles. Persona 4 totally spawns relief by having smaller dungeons of 10 floors or so which allow you to return to the floor you exited the dungeon via an item or spell to save. Essentially this allows you to return and save for each floor you complete to beat at a much more manageable pace. Of course this is too good to be true and HP and SP are not restored. There is the fox that will cure SP at a fee which is determined by your social link with the fox.
I missed a few quests in Persona 3 due to completion date restrictions. Persona 4 has done away with that and it is possible to complete the quests at your own pace.
Attributes & social links
It is far easier to develop your character's individual parameters and social links this time around. I had no problem maxing out my knowledge for the exams well before the final exams which gives time for other social links and attributes. There is always some kind of beneficial action you can do with your time, even sleeping early can increase social link points through dreams.
It is no longer possible to be fatigued from battle or fall ill. I didn't find it a big issue in P3, but its one less thing to worry about
Summing it all up
Persona 4 is simply amazing, it really is. I only finished the game yesterday and I'm already feeling a bit upset that it is over. Its a real shame it wasn't developed for the PS3, it could have gone that little bit further with extra dungeons, full voice acting and parts to tide fans over until the next excellent game by Atlus. It has a brilliant set of characters, plenty of things to do and a great battle system. Nearing perfection, Persona 4 is a game I'm certainly proud to have in my collection and will surely emit fond memories and nostalgia in years to come. Way to go Atlus!
Persona 4 is the RPG genre's final hurray on the PlayStation 2, and what a finale it is combining everything that was great from past games (Don't worry you don't need to have played them to enjoy this one) and then refining it all down to near role playing perfection.
Persona 4's strongest point is like any other great RPG it's story, a murder mystery which is as intriguing and well written as any anime today. You play (like always) as an nameless high school student who has just moved to a small Japanese town to stay with family for the rest year. Soon after, a series of murders start, all of which seem to be connected to a mysterious TV show that only airs on rainy nights. To say any more would be to spoil what is the driving force behind the game and trust me you don't want anything to spoil that.
Persona 4's other strong point is it's cast of supporting characters, many of them you can be befriended to build Social links with. This Social link feature is used to develop your character's abilities but more importantly (when accompanied with the storyline that goes with it) helps to flesh out the world and the characters around you. The Social links feature is a staple of the Persona series and does what many RPGs fail to do, it makes you care about the characters and the events unfolding around them.
Persona 4 continues to deliver on almost every other front too. Graphically it is simple (Remember this is a PS2 game) but it's also bright, clean and stylish embodying the anime genres the series admires so much. Sound is also a stand out area for Persona 4. it's JPOP inspired soundtrack will have you tapping your feet along to the beat of the many memorable tracks. Lifespan is also a plus coming in at a good twenty hours first time through with the need to replay in order to see it all. Controls are straight forward like most RPGs with easy to navigate menus.
If Persona 4 has any weak points it's the slightly aged dungeon system which hasn't changed dramatically from previous games in the series. Also if your diet of RPGs has been mainly Final Fantasy you may find Persona 4's difficulty level challenging (but that should be no reason to put you off). Some may also argue that the use of Japanese popular culture in the game is a little too heavy for western tastes, but if you have any interest at all in anime, Manga or JRPGs in general you're sure to fall in love with everything Persona 4 has to offer.
At A Glance.
Gameplay ~ 8/10
Story ~ 10/10
Graphics ~ 7/10
Sound ~ 10/10
Replay Value ~ 10/10
Final Score: 45/50
Atlus's decision to develop Persona 4 exclusively for the PS2 surprised some, as by the time of the games release in February 2009, the format was entering its ninth year on sale. Lower development costs and the huge established userbase suggested it made good business sense, but there were some pitfalls to overcome. On the one hand, it faced mounting expectation from fans following the mammoth Persona 3, whilst on the other, there was the difficulty of winning over an ever-sceptical press who have historically dismissed software on ageing formats.
And yet, commercially and critically, these troubles never came to pass. Persona 4 is so good that criticism of its dated exterior seems largely superfluous, and its late show on the PS2 doesn't stop it from ranking as not only one of the games of the year, but one of the best role-playing games of the entire decade.
Having exhausted virtually my entire catalogue of superlatives on the tremendous Persona 3 FES, it's tricky to articulate the excellence of a game that tops it in almost every way. P4 doesn't try to reinvent the wheel - it didn't need to - but it offers all of what made its predecessor great, and a fair bit besides.
Once again the player assumes the role of a nameless transfer student who, in a departure from P3, moves from a city life to live in the small, rural Japanese town of Inaba. Immediately, things start to get interesting, as murdered bodies begin showing up after bouts of foggy weather. 'Interesting' soon becomes 'outright bizarre' when you discover a sinister world of monsters and warped architecture residing within TV sets (no, it's not Changing Rooms). Somebody is throwing people in and it's your job, along with a party of friends you assemble at school, to rescue them from the Persona's that their dark thoughts manifest before the fog sets in.
Persona 4 is a textbook way to go about a sequel - sticking to and building upon its predecessors strengths, it also showcases numerous small but meaningful improvements; making an already-great foundation even better. When exploring the school or Inaba itself, the player can move to a different location via a simple menu accessed via the square button, saving time as you don't have to look for exits. Common sense also wins the day elsewhere as you can now use the inventory menu to change the equipment of all party members, an option inexplicably absent in the past.
P3's daunting 100+ floor dungeon has been restructured in the form of several more manageable ones of around 10 floors, each designed to represent in abstract form the insecurities and fears of the person whom you are trying to save, including a princess's castle; a nightclub; a sauna and a fantastic-looking pixelated ode to eighties role-playing games.
Combat is largely unchanged, with the turn-based battles having been tweaked slightly to make things more palatable. Wisely, there are fewer instances of cheap, instant-death magic moves being employed by enemies and should you wish, you can now directly control the battle commands of every character in your party, not just the leader.
But it's the story that makes Persona 4 such an immersive delight. It offers such a great array of characters, showcasing real variety and depth. P4 is less susceptible to stereotyping than the vast majority of RPG's, and more attention has been paid to the development of the bonds between other party members. The hot-headed Chie is easily wound-up by the easy-going Yosuke, whilst the initially-introverted Yukiko amuses with her random giggling fits, and the boys comically-overblown reaction to the girls culinary skills becomes a running gag that is guaranteed to raise a smile. Granted, there is a lot of dialogue and some that is needless filler, but you get a script that is much more than clichéd rhetoric, leaving the player with the unusual sensation in a single-player RPG that they're genuinely doing something in a team, rather than alone, with team-mates backing up.
And it's a million miles away from your generic sword 'n' sorcery RPG narrative, too. Don't be fooled by the teenage protagonists; it's one of the most thought-provoking and smartly crafted stories you'll come across. With the TV revealing the troubled side of a characters nature, it picks a host of topics to explore, and does so with impressive depth and consistency. Along the way you'll encounter characters confused as to their sexuality; TV stars craving an ordinary life; the dangers of jealousy; the expectations of friendship and pressures of teenage life. All that, and you've still got a murder mystery to solve.
The social element of the game remains a joy and is a great reward for putting the hours in fighting. You can get part-time jobs, buy and read books, go fishing, go out for a meal or get some extra studying done. Though none of these activities are actually interactive in a gameplay sense (except the fishing, which has its own mini game), each serves in varying degrees to increase your various personality parameters. If one of these attributes is too low, it can stop you from doing certain jobs or tasks, or even prevent you from expressing a certain comment or emotion to another character. This can range from a low courage rating meaning you can't stand your ground in an argument or a lack of understanding stopping you from helping troubled colleagues. More substantially, you can choose to spend your afternoons with a schoolmate or one of the townsfolk, and through a series of cut-scenes you'll learn their aspirations and fears, and help them resolve their problems. In the process, you'll form bonds which in turn benefit the Persona's you can create and deploy in battle; thankfully, it's now a lot harder to offend friends, as in Persona 3 some responses seemed to create animosity where none was intended.
Visually it's pretty much on a par with its predecessor and this means there are some nicely detailed though unspectacular looking locales to explore. Both the gains and the trade-offs are fairly minor, with the vivid yellow presentation screens proving a positive, whilst the low-res and fog-riddled dungeons are the main step backwards. Quite a few of the Persona demons and monsters (known as shadows) are recycled, aside from some remarkably elaborate-looking bosses, though for budget reasons this is perhaps to be expected and doesn't hinder the game.
Shoji Meguro delivers what is arguably his best soundtrack to date, with compositions as catchy as they are eclectic. The stomping intro is a fantastic start that is backed up in fine style by tracks that, true to the composer's record, span a ridiculously wide range of genres. Somehow, it all fits together to give a modern sound to the unusually contemporary, real-world setting. The voice acting is great as well - particularly the main corpus of characters, but it also tends to nail the tertiary figures a little better than Persona 3 did, so kudos to the translators and dub-actors in this regard as there's a lot of dialogue.
It's good for at least seventy hours of gameplay and as the game was just £14.99 on release day complete with a soundtrack CD, this represents remarkable value for money. For RPG fans I can't recommend it highly enough, and for those still unsure after all this trumpet-blowing, clear your schedule and take a gamble, you won't regret it.
The Persona games are a spin off of the Shin Megami Tensei or Megaten series as they're sometimes known. Persona 4 is the latest entry in this original series of games. Playing the Persona games is very unique experience. They're a strange hybrid of traditional action RPG and Japanese social simulator. Persona 4 as with previous entries in the series sees you playing the role of a Japanese high school transfer student. As seems to be tradition with Megaten games you play the silent protagonist, leader of a group of individuals with special abilities. In Persona 4 those special abilities are the power to summon a persona, a demonic creature representative of your inner self equipped with demonic abilities.
The game takes place over the time period of an average school year and sees you experience everything from day to day school life to battling demonic shadows and saving people from a serial murderer. The game goes through a cycle of daily life. You wake up six days a week and go to school. In school you listen to lectures, answer questions, meet new friends and can even invite existing friends to lunch to strengthen your friendships. After school is where the action really starts though. There are a number of things to do after school. Get a part time job to earn some quick cash, go shopping, hang out with friends or you could enter the widescreen television in the local department store and explore the shady other world where shadows are made flesh. In the beginning your characters discover this shadow world by accident, but the plot, which is too good for me to give away spoilers, has your characters entering the shadow realm regularly to strengthen their skills and more importantly to save the lives of innocents that have been tossed in there as an attempt to murder them.
The fighting is a typically Japanese, though highly enjoyable, real time turn based action experience. Your characters summon their personas in battle to perform dazzling magical attacks and crushing physical blows, to defeat a wide range and well designed cast of enemy shadows. Characters and personas both level up but it is the personas that learn new abilities. All of your characters have one persona each, but the main protagonist has the ability to summon multiple personas. This is where the next part of Persona 4 comes in, demon fusion. Demon fusion is the ability to take two or more of your main protagonists existing personas and fuse them to create an entirely new persona. There are hundreds of possibilities when fusing personas. I've played through the game twice now and still not even come close to seeing all of the possible personas that your character can create. However, the best way to strengthen your personas is to establish social links with the people that occupy your town. Social links are friendships that can be cultivated with the numerous NPC's that live in your town. Some are school mates, others are local business owners. Each has a story to tell. Spending time with people strengthens your bond with them and so levels up the social link, allowing you to create stronger more impressive personas, and allowing your personas to learn new abilities.
Persona 4 is the most original and exciting RPG I've played in years. The original noir plot and highly addictive social simulation elements make this a must have for any RPG fan. The Megaten games are the marmite of the RPG world. You'll either love it or hate it and they're definitely an acquired taste. However, if you like RPG's or you're a bit of a Japanophile then you should definitely give Persona 4 a try.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 is a console role-playing game (RPG) for Sony's PlayStation 2. Chronologically the sixth installment in the Persona series, Persona 4 is a suspenseful countryside murder mystery with multiple twists and turns in the plot that will have you guessing all the way to the end.