My journey with Persona 4 began on a warm afternoon in April of 2012 (ironic given the time frame in the game). I had finished the third game around a year prior and it, at that time, ranked as one of my favorite games of all time. I had high hopes for Persona 4 and after making it around 20 hours through it I was forced to put it down and not pick it up for around 2 more years. Let me explain—I finally got a full-time job as a teacher after working 2-3 part-time jobs for nearly a year. All the while I thought about it on occasion, but didn’t pick it up due to moving three times (!) and it got pushed to the back burner time and time again due to other games.
It was surprisingly easy to pick up again in October of last year and I only needed a quick refresher online to know where I was going and what I was doing. It ended up consuming my life until Christmas (2 weeks of travel) and then after playing it when I could for the last three weeks, I beat the game yesterday afternoon. In the moments leading up to and after the ending I couldn’t shake the bittersweet feeling that overwhelmed me. I wanted to play it again with my New Game+ file and if I had a PSVita, I’d be playing Persona 4 Golden right now. Speaking of, there’s an awful lot of Persona 4 media out now including two fighting games, a 3DS game (Persona Q), two anime’s and more games on the way. It’s for a reason—Persona 4 is that good. This review is going to be my attempt to convey just how good it is, even with all the flaws.
At the risk of this review running uncomfortably long for some, I’ve highlighted the major pros and cons at the bottom along with the rating.
Persona 4 starts off with you (the protagonist) moving to Inaba for a year to stay with your uncle while your parents work abroad. Your uncle, Dojima, is the kind hearted younger brother of your mother who has a young daughter, Nanako. On your first day at your new school, you meet and befriend three students—Yukiko, Chie and Yosuke. Things turn strange with the Midnight Channel and the murder of two residents. Over the next year you’ll make many more friends (and enemies) as you try to solve the mystery of the murders and Midnight Channel.
Persona 4 has a number of gameplay elements in place as it is an RPG/dungeon crawler in addition to being a simulation game. The protagonist is a second year high school student, so he and his friends must balance academics and a social life while trying to solve the mystery of the murders and Midnight Channel. Luckily all three are connected directly and indirectly and in order to succeed in the game players must find a way to balance all three. It’s also a give and take system as players must often choose between building a social link or increasing an attribute such as knowledge and understanding (cue New Game + perks). It works successfully too because players often have the time to spend more time on social links or on the dungeon depending on how they’re feeling.
Speaking of battle mechanics, Persona 4 has a solid system and one that builds on Persona’s 3 engine. I personally felt it was a lot cleaner and less frustrating. Persona 4 is a turn based system and players can choose to direct other characters or let them act freely. Their AI for the most part, is more intelligent that a couple RPG’s that I’ve played, so players are relatively safe if they play lazy and let teammates choose their own actions. Shadows are enemies in the game and players will find themselves often grinding to get strong enough to face bosses. That said, it’s easier than Persona 3 and players can equip items or unlock abilities through social links to make battles easier.
I don’t have any real gripes with the gameplay mechanics other than the targeting on shadows. Players see enemies on the field and can run past them (which gets easier as players get stronger than surrounding shadows as they shrink or even run away). I swear I hit around 100 shadows that got an enemy initiative. I can complain about money being hard to come by and not having enough time to do everything, but those are purposeful challenges and part of the challenge is finding a way to make it work.
Music and sound
The music in Persona 4 has a mixture of different genres and I personally never felt any were out of place. The version I got came with a Music CD (I was disappointed in it, some of my favorite tracks weren’t on it). The sounds were crisp and clear as well. The voice acting was solid and I thought each voice actor suited their respective character nicely. Chie and Teddie have different voice actors in Golden and I did like the new Chie better. Her voice was a little annoying at times. I did enjoy the music of Persona 3 better, for the most part, but Persona 4 has some great tracks. Just don’t expect to have many stuck in your head after the fact.
Graphics are an area of games that I’m hesitant to grade. Everyone has a style of graphics they prefer and one persons ideal isn’t another persons. That said, I really like the art style in Persona 4, though I admit some of the brighter colors in some areas were a little too much for me at times. I did enjoy the art style in the cutscenes, but some might not be a fan of the anime graphics. Character animations are solid and its held up well over time (it’s only been 7 years, but this game is from two console generations ago—yikes!)
It’s a toss up of my favorite Persona 4 aspect between story & characters or gameplay (ok it’s gameplay, but character is a close second!) As I mentioned earlier, the main character is staying with his uncle, Dojima, and niece, Nanako, in the sleepy town of Inaba. There’s a lot of side stories going on, but they all connect in some way and offer something more to the story. The characters though, are what made the game for me. I had mixed feelings about a couple characters from Persona 3, but in Persona 4 the opposite was true. I enjoyed every single one of the playable characters and I loved seeing them interact. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where I could say that or one I’ve laughed more at. There were numerous times when I burst out in a legitimate laugh at the characters or even had an emotionally reaction alongside them (Teddie you’re a perv). If I ever get a PSvita, I’m getting Persona 4 Golden mostly for the story and characters, I’m not joking.
What else can I say, Persona 4 is a phenomenal game and one that deserves a spot in the collection of an JRPG lover. Heck, I’d argue it for those who are fence sitters in the genre. It’s certainly one of my favorite games and one I’ll recommend until the day I stop playing video games. This is one of the best the genre has to offer, period. Now if you don’t have a PS2, Ps3, Ps4 or PSVita—go sell something and buy it or buy the console you need.
-You’re going to get your money’s worth and you’ll want to play the game again as soon as you beat it.
-You’ll love all the characters, burst out laughing with them and be surprised throughout the story.
-The battle mechanics are polished and players will enjoy balancing an academic, social and investigator life
-There’s a lot of dungeon crawling here, so those who don’t like it will be a little tired of it come the end of the game.
-It won’t be a short game at over 70 hours doing some sidequests and that’ll distance some from playing it.
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