Hey everyone! Today, I will be doing a review of a critically-acclaimed Japanese RPG (role-playing game) for the Sony PlayStation 2 that may have gone unnoticed by a majority of people, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4! The game was first released on 7/10/08 in Japan, before arriving in the U.S. on 12/9/08. Since its release, Persona 4 has won game critics over with its story and unique gameplay. P4 has also developed a cult following among RPG fans and anime fans. Does it deserve all the praise? Yes and I’m gonna get into why.
The story of the game takes place in a rural Japanese town and revolves around a TV channel, appropriately named the Midnight Channel, that only shows up on rainy days at midnight. Supposedly, when you watch the channel and someone appears on that channel, the person that appears on that channel will eventually die. A series of murders have occurred in the town that may have been related to the Midnight Channel. Therefore, a group of schoolmates with special abilities decide to band together, venture into the world of the Midnight Channel, and solve the mystery behind the murders. Without spoiling anything, the story has a lot of twists and turns. It paces itself pretty well. There are a lot of humorous moments in-between that really lighten the mood & will get you bursting in laughter.
Let’s go over the combat portion of the game. You and your gang of heroes basically go around the TV world exploring dungeons that open up as you progress and kill monsters. There are a interesting variety of dungeons, ranging from a secret lab (1st picture above) to a bathhouse to even a strip club at one point. All of your characters can each summon a creature known as a “Persona”, which have a wide variety of abilities to use for combat. The main character, however, can summon multiple Personas and you can gain more of them from killing enemies or by fusing the ones you have to create stronger Personas.
Battles are completely turn-based. You and your enemies take turns hacking each other to bits until one side gets KO’ed. What makes the turn-based combat fun is targetting weaknesses. Most enemies have weaknesses to certain types of attacks (i.e. fire, ice, wind, lightning, etc.). Once you figure them out, you can knock enemies down and gain an extra turn (2nd picture above). You can do this repeatedly until all enemies are down and you and your party members have an option to do an all-out attack, which is pretty awesome and funny to watch. However, you and your party members have weaknesses as well, so enemies can knock you down and gain an extra turn like you can. Therefore, there is a level of strategy involved in battles and you have to plan carefully.
What makes this game very unique compared to most RPGs is that it follows a calendar system and the fact that you have to live normally like everyone else does. The game takes place from April 2011 to December 2011 and each day has blocks of time (Morning, After School, Evening, etc). You, the main character, have to learn how to juggle time in a well-balanced manner. You will have to go to school, attend classes, take exams, etc. There’s even pop quizzes from time to time! You can actually learn a bit about Japanese history in this game.
After School (or whenever you have no school) is when the fun starts. You can either go inside the TV world to fight monsters, explore the town & talk to the residents, go fishing, take part-time jobs, study, or build up Social Links. Social Links are what make this game reach a whole other level. Basically, you form bonds with a variety of people you meet throughout the game, from your party members to other classmates to relatives (see picture below). As you spend more time with your loved ones, your Social Links level up and you can create even better Personas or, in the case of your party members, have access to enhanced abilities during battles. Therefore, you can’t neglect S.Links because they give you so many immediate & long-term benefits.
One problem you may have with this game is the time-management. Throughout the game, a new person appears on the Midnight Channel at certain points and you have a deadline to save that person. If you don’t make it, then it will be Game Over. Also, the game can be difficult at times because some boss battles are pretty tough, which brings me to the next problem you may have. If the main character dies in battle while your other party members are still alive, it’s Game Over no matter what. It can be bit frustrating at times, so you have to make sure that the main character is well-prepared & well-equipped for long battles. I do want to point out that the game is rated M for Mature. There’s probably some content that you may find offensive and the story goes a lot into psychological issues. It’s also a pretty long game ranging from 60-80 hours to beat.
Overall, I highly recommend this game despite its minor shortcomings. The story and pacing, as I said earlier, is great. The main cast of characters are a very likable bunch (I love Chie~!!!). The combination of both dungeon crawling and social simulation is well-done. If you consider yourself to be a huge Japanese RPG fan, get it! This game was considered by many to be the PS2’s “swan song” and oh, what a perfect end it is for one of the most successful video-game consoles ever.