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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PlayStation 2) review

"If someone were to ask me what I thought the most fulfilling game I’ve ever played was, I would tell them that without a doubt it is Persona 4. Persona 4 is far and away the most fleshed out and satisfying RPG I have ever played in just about every single way. Categorically speaking this game is flawless. "

If someone were to ask me what I thought the most fulfilling game I’ve ever played was, I would tell them that without a doubt it is Persona 4. Persona 4 is far and away the most fleshed out and satisfying RPG I have ever played in just about every single way. Categorically speaking this game is flawless.

Let me begin by defining some of what I would consider classical elements in a traditional RPG and then I will talk about how Persona executes them perfectly. First and most importantly we have pacing. At any given time during an RPG the player should have choices as to what they can do in the game. Traditionally your options are “Explore” versus “Progress”. Brilliant games intentionally control the flow of your options to build your excitement and involvement appropriately to ensure that you are experiencing the game in the way the developers intend.

Personas pacing is immaculate. There is a small amount of exploration, but the areas available to you never change and are permanent throughout the game, sans the dungeons. Instead the game teaches you to spend time with your digital friends, family, and acquaintances. This is also where most of the games side quests and filler stories come to life. As you spend time enacting the juicy parts of this visual novel you’ll gain points for your “social links” that will in turn empower your character further on in the customization process. Beyond that you’ll learn more about each of the individuals you choose to spend time with. The back stories are very thoughtfully written and add a lot of substance to the games story.

Even the nature of battling in the game is essential to and tied in well with the story. Your characters will earn their Personas (essentially avatars) after going through some personal tribulations which will empower them and enable them to act in battle. The concept behind the characters Personas is integral to the story of the game, and it’s more profound for the player to experience that connection for themselves so I won’t explain it much beyond that; you’ll have to find out for yourself!

When it comes time to fight, you're going to love each battle. The fights are very simple in their execution and that lends itself very well to having extremely strategic game-play. There are weaknesses that when exploited lead to combo-style attacks from your team and also enable your party members to perform special actions that they’ve earned from your social links. For example one of your party members may earn a special ability that removes a debuff (poison, silence, curse, etc) from another party member after you’ve exploited the weakness of an enemy. Keep in mind that the different party members you’ve met have weaknesses of their own that must be kept in mind and accounted for during battles. Each character inherits their battle attributes from the Persona they wield. The main character is unique in that he can hold many different Personas at once. He may only wield one, but he can choose from all that he holds in his inventory at the time. Every other party member that you meet throughout the game has only one Persona they may use. This also means that unlike his party members, the main character may change his elemental weakness/attributes/abilities at any time during a fight.

Another crucial piece of an RPG is the element of customization. Being able to choose any number of attributes, statistics, equipment, or other features of your characters is a defining aspect of RPGs that enriches the game-play immensely. Persona does not ignore this and in fact iterates on it beautifully in a way that integrates well with both the story and battle system. As your Personas level up they gain new abilities, with some of the top level abilities being incredibly game changing. There are two ways you can obtain new Personas for the main character to wield. You may earn them after battles in a mini-game, or you may fuse them from existing Personas. Each Persona you discover may be registered and recalled at the cost of money should you discard it or fuse it into a new Persona. Fusing a Persona is an involved and potentially complex process that allows huge variations of customization.

Each Persona is tied to an Arcana (associated with a person or group in the story) and each Arcana contains many different Personas at different levels. When you fuse a Persona from two or more “seed” Personas, different abilities that they have learned will pass to the creation. Certain Personas will be attracted to specific types of abilities (specific elements, buffing, debuffing, etc) or they may be disinclined to accept other types. Because the Persona you fuse is predictable (providing you have done your research!) you can plan out different Personas as long as you are patient due to the inherited abilities being pseudo-random. When you fuse a Persona it may gain a bonus based on the social link level you possess for that Arcana as well as the “fusion forecast” of the day that you fuse on. The fusion forecast is a predefined day-by-day schedule of additional effects that may occur to your fusions, such as adding an extra ability or increased stats.

I could continue to go on about the extreme amount of customization you can use or abuse in this game. I’ve spent hours on fusing Personas in between levels. If obscene customization is your thing, this game is for you. In addition to Personas your characters also have armor, weaponry, and accessories that they can utilize, but they are far less integral to succeeding in battle.

Also, despite that description, most of the customization in this game is accessory to the actual game-play. Strategic, careful, planned play will always be able to succeed whether or not you have spent five hours to craft an ultimate, invincible, carnage-wreaking god of a Persona.

As you may have noticed me mention earlier, I referred to the game as a visual novel. In some ways that is excessive, but in other ways that is the perfect description of the story of this game. You will progress through the story in a way that is very similar to a novel, and you will have to make very real choices that can have a weighty impact on the outcome of the game. From the outset of the story you are told that you must solve a mystery, and that if you fail to do so, your future will be obscured. I promise you that this threat is real. I won’t spoil anything more about it, but I implore you to USE YOUR NOGGIN as you progress through the game. Every detail is important. There is an end-game as well, but you won’t find it unless you play carefully and explore every alley of thought. This game will test you and force you to find the truth (or a guide on the internet) in order to truly understand what you’re involved in.

That about covers the major points of the story as much as I’d like to, but as any well-polished game should have, there are many small things that will make you smile, think, and appreciate what a great game this is. I don’t think there is another game story that I have experienced that has made me laugh as much as Persona 4 has. The characters are brilliant and unique and there are things to discover around every single corner.

Visually the game is charming and endearing, with a small dabbling in some emotive darkness. The primary mystery of the game is of course quite gloomy. The character sprites and models look brilliant for a PS2 game. There is little to no pop-in or visual anomalies to be noticed while playing.

The music of the game is another big highlight. With upbeat mesmerizing hiphop-style lyrics, you’ll definitely feel the atmosphere of the environment you’re in. Each dungeon has its own music that sets the mood brilliantly. The music generally ties in to the story as well, and due to the amount of time you spend playing the game, you won’t soon forget these pieces.

I’ve done my best to come up with things that I think could be improved upon, but it was tough. At the root of the complaints I did come up with is personal preference, and I would never attribute these to lack of vision or poor design. What they are is this: The game is incredibly long and the story very extensive. You should not expect to be able to beat this game in its entirety in one or two weeks, unless you have absolutely nothing else to do. (Eat.. sleep.. persona.. eat.. sleep… persona.. eat…. sleep……. Persona!) The game designers do a good job of recapping the situation (optionally) whenever you have the chance to explore the town so that if you spend 30-40 hours playing one week, and then need to take a long break, you aren’t lost upon starting up the game again. The other thing, since I just mentioned it, is that most of the music (not all of it) has lyrics and is rap / hip-hop. It’s not particularly intrusive, and is generally drowned out by what’s going on in the game, but if you really protest to this style of music you may have a hard time getting through the dungeons.

The best thing about Persona 4 is that everything ties together. There is no single piece of the puzzle that sits as an outlier or is unexplained. Everything is meaningful in one way or another. Like any great story there is tragedy, comedy, mystery, and a hint of insanity. You’ll be quizzed, interrogated, embarrassed, threatened, deal with food-poisoning, get into trouble, get people out of trouble, be a mentor, be mentored, meet celebrities, solve crimes, get the girl (or multiple), and save the world (maybe).


venfayth's avatar
Community review by venfayth (June 23, 2011)

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CoarseDragon posted June 27, 2011:

I finally got around to catching up on some reading and found this great review. I don't think the depth of the characters in this game can truly be explained. You can find yourself being drawn to certain characters just to know more about them at the expense of actually playing the game. I found myself being drawn to Nanako's story and felt sorry for her so much so I talked to her every chance I got bypassing some special encounters that could have happened. I had to play the game several times to find out everything and I am not sure I found all there was.

Well done.
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venfayth posted June 27, 2011:

Thanks for your response! This is the first -official- review that I've written, I was worried I got rather scattered because there was just so much I wanted to talk about. You can probably tell I'm enthusiastic about this game :)

I appreciate your comment and I definitely share your enthusiasm for the storyline with Nanako in particular; she is so adorable! You can imagine my surprise when I found out her voice actor is actually
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CoarseDragon posted June 27, 2011:

I may have known Ms. Strassman did Nanako's voice some time in the past but had completely forgotten about that. She did a really good job.

I could tell from your review that you really liked the game a lot, dare I say loved it, but then again so did I. I felt it was much improved over Persona 3. Personally I liked being able to choose turn-based combat or not.

I thought your pacing was good and I might be biased but I liked reading your review probably because it brought back good memories of my time playing the game.

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