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Jahanzeb Khan
07 May, 2009

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 Review

PS2 Review | This is what a modern Japanese RPG ought to be like.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 was a breath of fresh air and those who had the pleasure of playing this gem were able to experience a fantastic and memorable Japanese RPG that was unlike the more conventional RPGs that are more readily available here. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 finally received an Australian release earlier this year and fans will be pleased to know that the game is not the kind of sequel that simply improves on the predecessor, but it also manages to offer an experience unlike the original.

Persona 4 does not take place in a busy and trendy city. Instead players will spend their days in a Japanese rural area called ‘Inaba’, offering an experience that is entirely different from the far more urban themed nature of Persona 3. While the countryside may sound like a place too boring and peaceful to live, it quickly proves to be the perfect setting to take full advantage of the "Social Link" system that was introduced in Persona 3, and also serves as the perfect setting for the game's mystery drama storyline.

Being an out of date region with no internet facilities there really isn’t much to do in Inaba other than socialising, studying, taking part in poorly organized school clubs and working part time. Persona 4 is devoid of the urban activities and entertainment that Persona 3 offered, such as karaoke and cinema, but it also gives players more opportunities to develop several strong social links with family, school friends, customers and even coworkers. A simple countryside provides that perfect intimate social environment where people genuinely care about each other.

No massive world to explore on an airship - this is all you get.

No massive world to explore on an airship - this is all you get.
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As peaceful as Inaba is things quickly take a turn for worse when a corpse is found hanging from an unlikely place and this is soon followed by another similar incident. At the same time an unusual fad in school called ‘The Midnight Channel’ intrigues the main protagonist (who must be named) and his friends. This channel appears during a rainy night on a switched off TV screen at exactly midnight but during his experiment the protagonist accidentally discovers a whole new world by going through a television screen. This strange world is somehow connected to the aforementioned incidents as the people who were found dead first appeared on the Midnight Channel. The protagonist and his friends decide to take up the mission to save anyone else who appears on the Midnight Channel while also trying to figure out why the TV world is influencing Inaba in such a way.

Overall, the plot is intriguing and intuitive with plenty twists and unexpected surprises. The game keeps one guessing till the very end and never spells things out. While the case solving process can feel painstakingly slow at times, the pace is still just right for a mystery drama plot.

Social Links are back and better than ever and the characters that you interact with are interesting people, who live ordinary lives just like us and go through problems that many can relate to. Apart from the many charismatic high school students and the co-workers and customers that are at work, the main protagonist even has some family with whom players can establish social links with. At the end of the day it is up to you to decide who you want to spend time with and this creates some interesting situations where you are forced to prioritize.

I love hanging out with you guys!

I love hanging out with you guys!
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The protagonist has several ‘characteristics’ he needs to work on throughout the course of the game in order to help him to become a better person, improve his relationships, academic life and work performance. These characteristics include Understanding, Expression, Diligence, Courage and Knowledge and are developed via daily routine activities such as studying, reading manga, working at one of the many part time job opportunities and by interacting with people in general. This aspect of character building integrates quite well with the overall game and never really interrupts the flow and pace.

Persona 3 featured a massive dungeon called ‘Tartarus’, where the major events revolved around a predictable moon cycle. The TV world in Persona 4 instead features a series of smaller dungeons. Furthermore, the game revolves around the weather, which makes things far more interesting and challenging. The main catch is that victims have to be rescued from the TV world before a heavy fog sets in. Otherwise, Shadows emerge to attack any weak humans they find. Since the weather is unpredictable, each rescue mission becomes an intense race against time that will keep players on their toes and over prepared.

Battles are all about team work.

Battles are all about team work.
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The battle system in Persona 4 features turn-based combat mechanics complete with the knock down attacks and rush/all out team attacks. You can also assign specific battle strategies to your party members and apart from that a few additions have been made. Persona 4 gives players the option to directly control all characters. This makes things a little too easy and even if you avoid it initially, you eventually end up putting all characters under direct control rather than relying on the AI (which is still smart as always) because it’s that much more convenient. Allies have also been given new abilities such resisting fatal blows, helping those who are knocked down, following up attacks with their own special moves and even helping others snap out of confusion spells. These abilities are gained by improving your relationships with them.

The Persona system works the same way as it did in the previous game. Personas are basically personifications of a person's true self that are summoned during battle using special cards - gone are the suicide encouraging Evokers from Persona 3. The main character is able to use multiple Personas that are obtained by collecting Persona cards after a battle and can also fuse these cards in the Velvet Room (a strange and reoccurring area in Persona games) in order to create new Personas. It’s here where the whole reason for the Social Link system becomes clear as each social link and its development is associated with a corresponding Persona.

Persona 4 has a lot of freedom as you can spend each day however you want. You are consistently making decisions that have a huge impact on the outcome of certain events and the overall game. Will you choose to study to improve your grades, or train hard inside the TV world to prepare for an upcoming boss battle? Will you spend time with a friend in need or choose to go on a date instead? Will you choose to settle as being friends with a cute girl or will you enter into a more serious relationship? The game is filled with countless examples like these and that’s what makes it so engaging and unforgettable.

You have a very interesting personali..I mean persona.

You have a very interesting personali..I mean persona.
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Even when it comes to the actual case there will be times when you have to make deductions, decisions and even search for clues. These moments are quite tense and thought-provoking as the outcome is never obvious and each choice you make will be based entirely on how you perceive the overall situation. Of course, there are heavy trade-offs that come with such important decisions. Persona 4 overall succeeds at creating a very involving RPG experience where you literally live an alternate life with characters with whom you will go through a lot. Apart from that, plenty of side quests have been introduced in this installment which gives players a good reason to interact with NPCs other than the Social Link specific characters. Completing random tasks provides a nice break from the main game and allows you to get hold of some rare and useful items. With a lengthy main quest and plenty of things to do, Persona 4 will take around 75-80 hours to complete even if you decide to skip the side quests.

The graphics, although quite simple, are still a significant improvement and the art style is pretty good. The game features animated cut scenes and although the style used isn’t as unorthodox or unique as the one featured in Persona 3, the animation and character designs are still solid. The soundtrack features groovy and intoxicating J-pop tracks infused with modern rock and moving jazz instrumentals. The soundtrack really helps you sink into the present day Japan setting of Persona 4 and the voice acting is quite good as well.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 may not feel as revolutionary as Persona 3 but it is still better in every area and also manages to introduce many appreciable and noticeable changes. Persona 4 will provide gamers with an exceptional and thought provoking plot, highly involving character development, a mechanically sound and deep battle system and a lengthy quest that has plenty of variety.
The Score
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 offers a unique and unforgettable Japanese RPG experience that even succeeds at being significantly different from what Persona 3 offered. Persona 4 is the kind of game that will win back gamers who grew tired of the genre a long time ago. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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20 Comments
4 years ago
Quote
and the voice acting is quite good as well.
English only? Option for Japanese with subs...?

Given that I grew tired of JRPGs around the start of the next (aka current) generation, I suppose I might look into this.
4 years ago
Hey there, thanks for being the first person to comment on my very first PALGN review icon_smile.gif

As far as the US version is concerned (which is the version I have played), it has english audio only. PAL version should be the same.
4 years ago
I must say Jahanzeb, you couldn't ask for a better game to do your first review on. icon_smile.gif Excellent review man, I think you nailed it, Persona 4 is up there with the very best PS2 games. In this time of HD graphics and motion sensing, it's great to see that a 9 year old console can still produce such a good game.
4 years ago
Fantastic review Jahanzeb. One of the best reviews I've read on the site, and I've read a lot. For someone who didn't even care about this series at all, my interest is now growing. So, PS2 aside... where else does SMT reside? Any plans for a PS3 version you're aware of?
4 years ago
The Brett wrote
Any plans for a PS3 version you're aware of?
No such luck. icon_sad.gif However, with the way Persona 4 has been received, it wouldn't surprise me if we see Persona 5 popping up for PS3 sometime soon.

As for where to find the SMT series, a lot of them are on PS2 (Digital Devil Saga, Persona, Devil Summoner), but it's a big series. The first two Persona games are on the PS1, and the main series (which consists of Shin Megami Tensei 1, 2 and 3) has been going since the days of the SNES. Wikipedia has good coverage of it all.
4 years ago
I have already played this game and It was phenomenal.And after reading your review Jahanzeb i want to play it all over again.
Excellent Job!
4 years ago
I have to get this sometime! - sounds like an awesome game!
4 years ago
Do you need to have played the earlier games in the series or is it more like the final fantasy series and each one is self contained?
4 years ago
Skiller wrote
Do you need to have played the earlier games in the series or is it more like the final fantasy series and each one is self contained?
Nah you don't need to play the old games to get this one. Its like Final fantasy each one there story is different.
4 years ago
Absolutely agree with the review. Fantastic game, I can hardly find a fault with it.
4 years ago
A very well written review...I haven't played the game and jrpg's are not my cup of tea but your review makes it sound so wonderful and attractive....hmm, maybe, just maybe I'll give it a shot. An excellent piece for your first review....congratulations.
4 years ago
Great review, I should get my copy of the game in the mail in the next few days and I can't wait to see how much they improved on the already amazing P3. I'm not sure why Sony aren't pleading with them to start producing SMT on PS3, the series does well in Japan and the PS3 really needs some JRPG's.
4 years ago
I am currently playing this game and it has totally rejuvenated my love for JRPG's. If you haven't played it yet, go and do yourself a favor.
4 years ago
I think I'll pick this up. I've heard way too many good things about it.
4 years ago
Itachi wrote
Nah you don't need to play the old games to get this one. Its like Final fantasy each one there story is different.
SOLD! Thanks icon_biggrin.gif, will be picking up 3 & 4 next time I see em icon_smile.gif
4 years ago
Is it in 16 x 9 wide screen? Any option for this?
4 years ago
Thank you for the positive feedback guys!, glad you all liked it icon_smile.gif

Glad to know that those have played the game agree with my review and those who havnt are now interested icon_smile.gif


As far as future games are concerned, There is a Persona 1 remake for PSP with the US version due for a September release. I have read rumors about a Persona game being announced at E3 but for now its still a rumor icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
Jahanzeb wrote
There is a Persona 1 remake for PSP with the US version due for a September release.
Holy ****!!! Awesome icon_biggrin.gif! Maybe I will end up with all of them, thank god the PSP is region free icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
Excellent review of the game Jahanzeb. Couldn't have done a better review of the game myself and I agree with all the points you have mentioned about the game. It is a great game for those that are really into RPGs (especially JRPGs).

As you said although it doesn't revolutionize like P3 did, P4 somehow manages to surpass P3 in almost every area I can think of. That's not to say P3 is bad, it's an excellent game. When I started getting into P4 though I was shocked - beautiful graphics, revamped battle system and travel is made much easier amongst other things.

Jahanzeb wrote
I have read rumors about a Persona game being announced at E3 but for now its still a rumor icon_biggrin.gif
Another one on the horizon icon_eek.gif... this is definitely one I'll keep an eye out for.
4 years ago
I'd be snapping this up quickly. But it took so damn long to come here, that I've already beaten the NTSC version into the ground and received the true ending.

I think the main difference between P3 and P4 is simply this. P3 was more unique (in the sense it came out first, duh) but also more linear. The game requires a bit of dedication routine/grind initially, to get the most enjoyment out of it. P4 on the other hand, absorbs you within the introduction and feels very polished and open in comparsion to it predecessor.

Those of you wanting to first play P3 or considering a second play-through, I strongly recommend Persona 3:FES. The battle/social mechanics are tightened up a little with a few more side bits added to the storyline. It also has The Answer: a hard as hell epilogue/follow-on from the original game which answers a few questions and opens up a whole new dilemma. It's also around 30 hours long and a rewarding ending.

Also, for those wondering. There's a new Shin Megami Tensei installment coming to the PS3, but there's not much known other than a tentative release date of sometime this year. In the meantime, Devil Summoner 2 is about to be released in the United States (this week, I think?) and is allegedly better than the PALgn panned previous title.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  12/3/2009 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $49.95 AU
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2008

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