Thursday, October 10, 2013

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

2008 Atlus
PS2 (this review) / PS Vita
Role Playing Game / Social Simulation
Director: Katsura Hashino
Composers: Shōji Meguro, Atsushi Kitajoh
Screenshots courtesy of


Persona 4 games
Persona 4 merchandise
Persona 4 books & strategy guide

Back Cover Description:
Tune In, Turn On, Drop DEAD...

A rumor is going around school that by looking at a TV screen at 12:00AM on a rainy night, the face of your soulmate will be revealed. But is that all? A chain of murders appears to be connected to the rumor, and you and your team of Persona users must brave the mysterious TV world before another schoolmate dies.

Enhanced Social Links
Development of friendships is integrated with traditional RPG gameplay. Master teammates' Social Links to earn greater support in combat!

Team Control
Command each member individually in battle, or let them decide their own actions.

CD Included
This 2-disc set includes the game and a special soundtrack CD.

Was my high school life ever this stressful? >>> by skysenshi
While I was playing this game, many alternate review titles came to mind:

- This is not how I escape real life.
- An introvert's nightmare.
- I want my old Persona games back.
- I'm too old for this game.
- In a love-hate relationship with a game.

And so on...

All the good things I have ever said about Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 applies to this one, but it's also a lot more. And because these two games are highly similar, the way Persona 2: Innocent Sin (which I have not finished as of this writing, thanks to a broken PSP) and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment are similar, there will be plenty of comparisons in this review.

I'd like to do a different format for this particular title and just enumerate the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let's start with the positive parts.

The Good:
Improved Social Links. One of the best things about the new Social Links is that when you become more and more closer to your team mates, their abilities in battle improve. I still do not like the idea of being obsessed with Social Links (my biggest frustration in Persona 3), but this was a good addition. One of my complaints about Persona 3 was that I could only spend too much time with one person per half day, but this has been fixed a bit in Persona 4. Whenever you answer someone's call for socialization on Sundays and holidays, there's a chance that you'd be spending the day not only with this person but also with several other Social Links. Plus, it now warns me if I already have a girlfriend. It has a conscience. Finally. It didn't have this feature in P3. Or at least, I don't remember it.

Velvet Room's Margaret. Thank goodness, they simplified this Social Link in particular. You only need to show her certain types of personas to level her link up, unlike in Persona 3, where you have to actually go out on a date with a Velvet Room assistant ON TOP OF the other Social Links you have to hang out with. That was annoying. So I was relieved to see that Margaret was a vast improvement. Also, you do not waste hours with her, so you can max this Social Link in one sitting. I also noticed that the personas she requests are coincidentally the exact same personas I would need in particular boss battles. This makes her Social Link one of the most useful in the entire game.

Nanako. This tragic little girl is probably the ONLY child character that I've ever liked. Here's a short clip of her during her rare happy times. Every time I see it, I want to pinch the screen. ADORABLE! =^.^=

Aaaand yep. That jingle of hers is now officially my text message tone.

Characters. Nearly everyone in your party has a P3 equivalent, actually. It's just that for some reason, the characters here are much more lovable, relatable, and frickin' hilarious. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but I really find this set of characters better than the previous Persona games (with the exception of Persona 2's Maya, Ulala and Baofu). I found myself laughing at many of the characters' antics and literally crying over some of them. Even my boyfriend, who would watch me play, found himself laughing hysterically. I don't remember being this affected by P3 characters, even though I liked Akihiko and Mitsuru (probably the only names I remember in that game). They dealt with delicate issues such as homosexuality and bisexuality in such a creative manner that both my gay and straight friends are amused.

Battle System. I've always loved Persona battle systems, though I sometimes miss the older games in this series where everyone gets to summon different personas. P3 and P4 are similar in that only your protagonist can summon different personas. There are pros and cons to this type of system (you get to maximize your friends' personas' powers while your starting persona remains stunted), but I still find battles fun.

Endings. This is probably the only Persona game I've played that had good and true endings that didn't cut my heart out into tiny little pieces. I love how -- despite the antagonists being made up of shadows (Jungian psychology right there) -- bright everything is. Including the ending.

The Soundtrack. Oh. My. God. I have always been a little bit in love with Shōji Meguro's music, ever since I heard Persona 2: Eternal Punishment's ending theme. I think I have been infected with "Change Your Way" as my last song syndrome (LSS) for the last decade (alternating with Final Fantasy X-2's "1,000 Words"). But this. Am I ever so glad that this package came with a special soundtrack CD. Within the first few days of playing, I found myself humming alternately the battle music, the Velvet Room music, and the opening theme. I am currently LSSing on "Never More", Persona 4's ending theme. It's happy. Even when the lyrics are bittersweet.

Overall design. As a game producer, I am blown away by the complexity of this game's design. You can really appreciate the tremendous amount of work that went into this, considering you're combining a social simulation game with an RPG that also deals with cards of different stat values. And man, they didn't scrimp on the quality of the cut scenes, which were properly integrated into the game. Everything is just well-balanced and not over-the-top, unlike some newer titles that may as well be released as movies for all the gameplay you get out of them.

The Bad:
Social Links. Though they improved in leaps and bounds, I still get annoyed whenever I feel like I'm being forced to hang out with people I don't feel like hanging out with (Ai Ebihara, Yumi Ozawa). It's even worse when there are about 4 or 5 Social Links with exclamation points on their heads (meaning you can hang out with them). I would stare at the screen and utter, "Oh gawd, I have to talk to ALL OF YOU????" An introvert's nightmare, I tell ya.

Time usage. Just a minor complaint about this, actually. I hate it when my protagonist gets home in the evening and I'm told that I can't do anything else but make him watch the Midnight Channel. Dude! If he got home at 6-7PM, he could still do part-time jobs (making envelopes or cranes on his home desk) for 5-6 hours till the Midnight Channel airs! What's he going to do in his room for 5-6 hours before midnight strikes, huh? Twiddle his thumbs??? I am irritated at how this game sometimes unnecessarily wastes calendar dates. Despite all my proclamations of not wanting to obsess with Social Links and increasing the attributes that drive these, I still can't help but be conscious of how much time I'm wasting in-game.

Persona evolution. Probably the one thing I prefer in P3 over this one is that in P3, the second form of your friends' personas are story-driven. In P4, you'll have to max their Social Links in order for their personas to evolve. I also did not like the idea that the protagonist's starting persona is the only one that had weak powers and that if I wanted to improve them, I'd have to blow a ton of cash in fusing a better version. Um. No thanks. I ended up fusing a sorta powerful Izanagi that I didn't even use in the final battle.

Overwhelming activities. I got stressed thinking that this kid has school, fights bad guys when no one's looking, forced to pick TWO CLUBS, make friends with everyone, including the cats and the dogs. I remember in college, I had to drop chorale because my schedule only has space for one organization and I went with the one that would look good on my resume. The thought that I'd have to max club-related Social Links stressed me out mentally.

The Ugly:
Fishing. I don't know why RPG developers insist on including fishing mini-games. I never found any of them fun and Persona 4 is no exception. Sure, I maxed the Social Link that required it, but that did not mean I was happy about it. Plus, this meme I found on Facebook says it all (even though it spelled "dimension" wrong):

Ai Ebihara. If there is one particular reason to stubbornly not chase after a Social Link, it's this character. She was so hateful, I wanted to draw eyebrows on her face whenever I saw her. So obviously, the only time I'd hang out with this girl is when there's no other Social Link to interact with.

I'm now too old for Persona. I knew that I was hooked so bad when I once complained on Facebook:
October 1, 2013: When David Ramos (my colleague who used to work for Ubisoft) asked me how far along I was in my book, I told him that I should be done with approvals by the second week of October so I still have lots of time. Then he said, "But it's already October now! It's the first day of October!"

And I told him, "Holy sh*t! I thought it was the first week of September!"

And then I remembered. It is the first week of September in my Persona 4 game! NOT IN REAL LIFE! AGH! -- :( feeling stressed

And it's ugly because when I finally surfaced back to real life upon finishing Persona 4, I looked at my REAL calendar and realized that I had too much stuff crammed on my plate. My book wasn't writing itself, the games I was supposed to produce weren't developing themselves, my bills weren't paying themselves...the only thing I could do fairly well was my part-time teaching vocation. Everything else stopped. This game stopped my life, including REAL social links. (Yes, my boyfriend, a video game programmer, COMPLAINED.) I'm not even sure if that's a good thing or if I should continue playing future Persona games knowing how much havoc it could wreak on my supposedly responsible adult life.

Here's the sad, sad thing about my self-control, though, especially when I'm overly stressed in real life...I said I would not replay this game because the Social Links are not retained and I still have a book to finish. But the urge is just...

DIFFICULTY: Moderate - Difficult
COMPLETION TIME: 77 hours 21 minutes when NG+ was started, 132 hours 42 minutes for NG+ and True Ending
HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: 80 for all party members (MC, Yukiko, Yosuke, Chie)
RATINGS: Gameplay 9; Battle 10; Story 10; Visuals 10; Characters 9; Sounds 10; Replay Value 9

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