|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Atlus||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atlus||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Dec. 8, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Although the Persona series was not an instant hit in the United States, it has quickly developed a devout following among the RPG faithful, especially since last year's mega-hit, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (and the subsequent FES re-release earlier this year). Largely hailed as the best RPG of the year, this title pushed boundaries in the genre, especially in terms of storyline and plot conventions. This year sees the release to a new Persona title, which somehow manages to be bigger and better than last year's title in many ways.
Those who played through last year's Persona title know that most of the game's impact came from its story, which somehow managed to be an endearing, yet highly disturbing take on high school life in a small Japanese town. Part dating sim, and part occult thriller, Persona 3 was a thrilling title that kept your pulse pounding until its bitter end.
Although Persona 4's story is completely different from previous Persona titles, there are quite a few conventions that the title sticks to. For instance, the action all still takes place in the mysterious region of Inaba, and all the characters are local high school kids. You may also recognize a few minor characters from Persona 3, who have aged slightly. However, the story this time around is completely stand-alone, and it involves some mysterious murders that seem to be connected to an alternate universe that the protagonist can reach by stepping inside a television.
I know the premise probably sounds more than a little ludicrous, but Persona 4 does a good job of establishing the game's narrative in the beginning. The game gives you about two hours of prologue at the start to help make the events of the game more plausible and to familiarize you with the setting and characters. Although you won't be able to really "play" the game until about three hours in, the beginning cinema and dialogue scenes are vital for the story, and they help you bond with the different characters early on and grasp complex plot elements.
The result is a highly imaginative story that definitely defies conventions and will have you thinking very deeply. Much like its predecessor, Persona 4 raises a lot of philosophical questions, and it allows you to make ethical decisions that affect the course of the game. The narrative shifts as a result of some of these choices, and many of the decisions you make in the game will require you to reflect on your own moral values.
Another strength that Persona 4 has is its depth of gameplay. Although, at its heart, the Persona series is a basic turn-based RPG, there is a lot more to it than that. Instead of just running through the different dungeons and finishing the game in a marathon session, Persona 4 invites you to take your time and become immersed in the world of Inaba. Your character can go to school, get a part time job, and even date one of the other characters. Although most of these actions are not required for the game to move forward, engaging in these extra activities will make your character more effective in battle, as "social bonds" will be created that aid in fighting with each character's Persona.
The social links system represents some key changes to the Persona formula, as it becomes important in battle later on in the game. Each character also has five social stats instead of three, which makes getting your character to a preferred social standing take more effort and time than it did previously. However, the rewards are also much greater in Persona 4, and the social links system definitely adds a lot of depth to the already intense Persona experience