Persona 4

School's In

Oh, hey, Persona 4 came out a while back. We should probably review the last great RPG for the PS2, right? Or we could play it safe and just go with this really, really good one.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 4, 2009
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There's a reason this review of Persona 4 (or Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 if you like rolling verbose-style) is so late, and for once it's not our tireless ability to procrastinate on even the most promising and high-profile of reviews. Okay, so it's not entirely thanks to our uberprocrastination (and random word creation) abilities. Persona 4 is a meaty game, one meant to occupy weeks rather than hours of your time. This comes to no surprise to anyone who played the previous entry or its special and even more packed special edition re-release, but for the uninitiated, be prepared for something of a grind.


I mean that in the most game-like of senses; this is an experience that will require at least a basic commitment to slogging through the game's randomly-generated dungeon floors more than a few times if you're to see the story to its completion -- and then multiply the grindage a dozen fold if you want to tackle all the optional (and quite difficult) bosses in the game. Luckily, Persona 4 is also mercifully temperate in how it handles a lot of these stretches of fights and exploration, and in almost every way is a better, more refined, more newbie-friendly version of what was done in Persona 3, a game that got a whole-hearted recommendation from us even in its more comparatively grueling approach.

Much of what Persona 4 gives you is lifted from the last game: you'll still regularly explore dungeons made-up of randomly-generated, labyrinthine floors, fight tons of enemies by running into them (or, more preferably, by jabbing a sword into their back when they're not looking so you get the drop on 'em) while attending school in the daytime. If that sounds unappealing, prepare for something of a surprise. You'll go on quasi-dates, hang out with friends, answer questions in class, help classmates answer questions in class and take mid-terms and finals. Here's the thing, though: it's fun. This mash-up of light dating game activities and dungeon crawling slogs keeps the game's pace slow enough that it doesn't always feel like a grind, which is impressive.

Better still, if you're diligent about paying attention in class and juggling, say, soccer practice, meetings with friends and drama classes, you'll end up building relationships that feed directly into your ability to craft Personas (and yes, I'm ditching that whole "personae" pluralization, I know it sounded wrong and just a weeee bit pretentious). Personas, as the game's title would surely indicate, are the crux of your experience in the game. These representations of one's psyche are no longer called into being during battles by holding a gun (sorry, sorry, evoker) to one's head and pulling the trigger, but their effect is the same: the ability to use elemental spells, restoratives, buffs, physical attacks and status drains that "normal" high schoolers wouldn't normally wield.

Though the general formula is the same, nearly all the rough edges of Persona 3's experience have been smoothed out. Extraneous or repetitive screens of text have been shortened or lopped off, the fatique system that kept you from exploring for too long is gone now, the dungeons themselves are per-character and are more story-driven so it's not just the same thing over and over again (at least not visually), you can now leave dungeons at any time provided you have a relatively cheap item and when you return to the dungeon, you can resume on the last floor you were scampering around in. They seem like minor things, but the smaller tweaks -- and I'm missing a ton, I'm sure, but despite being completely burned out on playing through both P3 and the FES re-release, the Holiday season has claimed many of my memories of the finer points of my time with both -- make a huge difference.
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