Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: December 9th, 2008
The Midnight Channel, an urban legend that states if you look at a TV on a rainy midnight, an image will appear and reveal your soul mate. After a new transfer student arrives in the town of Inaba to stay with his uncle and cousin, he is convinced to try looking at it. That night, he sees a woman on the screen and is drawn to his TV screen, only to have his hand nearly swallowed by it.
Our hero and his classmates then get involved in a string of murders that are connected to another world that only they can access through TV screens. Using the Midnight channel, they are able to investigate missing persons, and then mount a rescue to find them, all the while searching for the one responsible for these gruesome murders.
I love a good murder mystery, and Persona 4 does a good job delivering. The story concept for this game differs a bit from Persona 3, in that this game does more in defining what a Persona truly is. Each member of your party must discover the hidden, darker side of their personality, and only when they can accept that side, will their Persona manifest. Persona 4 talks about several topics that affect people every day, such as sexuality, gender identity, jealousy and the constant fear of how those around you truly see you.
The story setting also tackles some real-life issues happening in the world today. For example, Inaba is a nice and quiet town that relied on its local businesses to thrive. These businesses have been dwindling since the Junes Corporation put up a department store in town, stealing all the business.
When it comes to characters, the Persona series has always excelled at making fun and loveable characters, both playable and NPC. I did particularly like a lot of the NPC characters more than I did with Persona 3. It helps that Dojima and Nanako are more than just the family you’re staying with. They truly help create an atmosphere that makes you feel at home.
Persona 4 uses similar graphics to Persona 3. The key difference here is the significant use of fog in areas. While it is a hindrance, it is a key factor in the story, so there’s no reason for it to not be present.
The TV world is very colorful place too, with each dungeon having a specific theme, and a very unique look. It was nice to see that change of pace from dungeon to dungeon. The 8-bit video game dungeon was a particular favorite of mine, I’ll admit.
Persona 4 was released in North America with an English-only dub. This includes voice actors such as Yuri Lowenthal and Johnny Yong Bosch. For a dub, I do think it was executed rather well. Each voice actor felt believable, and did a good job of bringing that character to life.
Gameplay – Exploration
Persona 4 follows a day to day schedule. You go to school during the day, then you can hang out with friends or enter the TV world after school, and you can do some activities in the evening, like take a night job, or do things in your room. Activities in your room can include reading, studying, building a model kit, or just go to sleep. It is recommended that you use your time wisely, as there is a finite number of days before the game ends.
Like Persona 3, Spending time with friends will increase your social link rankings, which are beneficial for Persona fusions. You do have the option of getting into a relationship with the other players, but once you do, you are “commited”.
When you learn that someone needs to be rescued from the TV world, there is only so many days to save that person. This is indicated by the daily weather report. If you fail to rescue the victim before the fog sets in, they are murdered and the game ends. If you save them before that, then you have the extra days to perform other daily activities. While there is a clock on saving people, you are given plenty of time to make multiple trips into the TV world if you need to grind a bit before the end of the dungeon.
When exploring a dungeon, each floor is randomly generated. It is also explored in a third person perspective. You can run around, and find treasure, go up a floor, and fight Shadows. If you are able to sneak up on a Shadow and attack it first, you get a turn advantage at the start of the fight. I found that hitting a Shadow in a third person perspective was a lot harder than it was is Persona 3 with its bird’s eye perspective. Getting the right distance was a bit tricky, but I managed to figure it out after a while.
Gameplay – Combat
Combat is done in a turn based order. All party commands are entered at the start of each round. As a new feature in Persona 4, you have the ability to manually control your entire party, or leave them run by an AI, and just control the protagonist.
Your commands include attacking, using a Persona skill, using an item, switching the protagonist’s active Persona, and running away.
In typical Shin Megami Tensei fashion, the key to victory is hitting your opponent’s weaknesses. Doing so incapacitates them for one turn, and if all enemies are down, you can perform an all-out attack for massive damage. After an attack, your friends may also perform a follow up attack that can do additional damage, or even take an enemy out of the fight. Enemies are also able to exploit your weaknesses, so be careful. Also, take note that a Game Over will occur if the protagonist dies, even if the rest of the party is still alive.
Personally, I like the combat system for Persona 4 on the sole fact that I can control my entire party. Simply put, I don’t trust AI’s to do what I need them to do at the time. It was a nice change to the system. Even the Game Over condition of the protagonist’s death isn’t a big issue, since it’s not hard to keep him alive. I’ll admit, there are still points where it may happen, but it’s all part of the challenge.
Gameplay – Character Progression
While each character will gain stats when they level up, the protagonist is a little different. his stats are based on which Persona he has equipped. Therefore, it’s necessary to keep updating his Persona collection. Where does this happen? The Velvet Room.
After battle, you may receive a new Persona as a reward. These Personas can be levelled up, but the best thing to do with them is to go to the Velvet room and fuse them. Fusing Personas will create a newer and higher level Persona, with better stats, and new skills to learn. As the protagonist levels, he will be able to carry more Personas at one time. Once made, a Persona can be registered to the Compendium, and be purchased again.
Personas are connected with a specific arcana of the Tarot, and will gain bonus EXP when fused, based on the rank of the social link connected to that arcana. This is why socializing after school is such an important factor of game progression.
This system has worked well for the past two games, and similar systems have been used in other Shin Megami Tensei games. It’s a system that works. It doesn’t even get much tweaking with each installment, because it really doesn’t need to.
Gameplay – Optional Content/Side Quests
As I talked about earlier, hanging out with your Social Link friends after school or in the evening is optional, but highly recommended, due to its connection to Persona fusion. It’s also a good way to expand the world by getting to know all these other people. Each social link has a different experience, life, and story to tell.
After all of that, there are many different side quests available to do throughout the game. These take on the form of fetch quests, quizzes, and the like. Anytime someone needs you to do something, an icon will appear over their head. Once completed, you go back and talk to that person to get your reward. Sadly, the quest only gives you the name of the person you talked to, and not their location. If you take on too many quests, you may forget who is who. I didn’t do too many of these quests, but they can give some decent rewards, so it’s worth looking into. It’s good to point out that one of your social links requires you to do some side quests. These are given by the social link character, so you don’t have to do any more than those, if you don’t want to.
I have a bad habit of comparing a sequel to its last game in the series. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, I try to do it as little as I can. That said, a lot of the mechanics of Persona 4 are very similar to Persona 3. What sets them apart is everything else. Both stories are very different, the cast of characters are very different from each other, and the feeling you have at the end of each game are both uniquely satisfying.
Persona 4 was also re-released for the PlayStation Vita as Persona 4 Golden. This version of the game added additional content, and fixed some of my issues with exploration and combat in the original. You can typically find it at a good price, so if you get the chance to play either, It’s worth doing.