Persona 4 originally came out on the Playstation 2 in 2009 (in Europe), the Persona series is a spin off of the Shin Megami Tensei series, and whilst sitting under the same banner as these games does not share a universe with them. From Persona 3 the series shifted focus sharply moving away from the demon bartering isometric dungeon crawler and into a school environment. Whilst retaining dungeon crawling it becomes a lite version of a visual novel, making choices in order to get closer to those around you and increase your own power.
That’s what makes Persona unique as an RPG, you don’t explore a wide open world with endless possibilities, like most JRPGs. Your scope is limited to that of small Inaba and your exploration is more personal. You’re a young man trapped in the middle of nowhere for a year and the game explores the issues of being a teenager in the doldrum of a small town.
Persona 4 centers around the sleepy grotto of Inaba, a small mountain village where nothing ever seemingly happens. As with most JRPGs nothing happens until you enter the picture. Upon arriving in Inaba a mysterious series of murders begins and through no fault of your own you become entangled in these events. It becomes your job to discover who is behind them with your group of chumly school cohorts, as you battle your way through the mysterious TV world and save the people who are thrown in there by the games mysterious villain.
This is not the entire tale though, Persona 4 has you weave your own story by making you interact with, the sometimes comically over the top, citizens of Inaba. Your own tale is forged through the experiences you have with others, Persona 4: Golden introduces you to the personal issues of each individual you meet and educates you on how these people are dealing with their situations as you help them. From a young man who is being blamed for destroying the towns economy through proxy of his fathers business, a father dealing with his daughter growing up and the absence of her mother, the weighted expectations of a family legacy which a young girl isn’t sure she wants or a young man’s worries about his own masculinity.
Through this you fall in with a group of misfits, Chie, Yukiko and Yosuke. You participate in after school clubs and meet people through these expanding your group of friends and helping those people along the way. Seemingly boring tasks such as part time jobs lead to bigger things such as a cleaning job at a hospital that has you to meet a nurse who is nearing her breaking point after an incident at her previous hospital. Taking part in these part time jobs also improves your personal statistics, giving you more courage in order to confront people and intelligence in order to impress your peers in classes along with providing you a stable income in order to buy equipment. Not shrinking away from touching delicate subjects it deals with them in a mature believable way, whilst still keeping the game light enough to not bog the player down and depress them. Persona is very much an anime and there is no question about that, with the world of shadows looming in the background and the constant questioning of its existence.
Eventually the rain begins to fall in Inaba and this is where the dungeon crawling element comes into focus. People are kidnapped and thrown into the TV, the world of Shadows, by an unknown assailant. The TV seemingly shows their inner desires and true feelings. If you do not save these people before the fog falls, they die. Giving you a constant sense of fear and threat hovering over your head.
The game focuses on confronting the side of you that you choose to ignore and the victims own insecurities, it uses this as a way to create a different world for the player to explore. The world behind the television is supposedly created by the heart of the person who is thrown in where it is distorted by their “true feelings”. Whilst all the areas inside the television are procedurally generated, each with a separate skinned theme, each one is at least interesting to look at. Starting with a castle, a bath house and even styled like a retro video game. Each of these areas initially acts as a way to expand your party, since those you rescue join your party as they face their fears and unlock their Personas to use.
Personas are the games collectables essentially, the easiest comparison for these monsters is “Pokemon”. As the main character you hold a unique ability, dubbed the “Wild Card” effect, that you belong the Fool arcana. This means you can freely switch between personas unlike your team members. Your team members are locked into specific Personas, however, if you max out your social link with them their powers increase and they gain extra skills and eventually evolve into a new Persona. Each Persona falls under a certain arcana and you gain more power by progressing a social link with somebody in the real world, thus the focus on relationships and those around you. The more relationships you form the more Personas you can create in the games mysterious “velvet room”. A new addition to the velvet room is “Marie” who will open up a new social link and ultimately a dungeon towards the end of the game. Marie’s role is to handle skill cards that will sometimes be found at the end of battles during “shuffle time”. Marie allows you to give her the cards and then she will let you buy a copy of that card at anytime in the game from then on. This is especially helpful since it allows you to stockpile cards of certain skills, or create Personas that have purely “useful” skills (such as healing or the ability to escape a dungeon).
Persona’s battle system isn’t exactly complicated and doesn’t have much depth to it but it’s fairly solid and fit for purpose. The simple mantra of “buff, debuff and exploit” will carry you through most of the game. Even harder enemies will be easy so long as you have a character or Persona with their opposing element. The game throws a few curve balls by changing how you might fight a few times throughout the game or playing the old “you’re going to die, but not really” trick on you a few times but it is never too annoying. The enemies for the most part throughout the game consist of several recolours, since there aren’t a lot of assets on show, but this isn’t really a bad thing. Eventually you start to spot patterns in enemies and can figure out their weaknesses from a glance from small things like the colour of the mask they wear or the style that the enemy has.
Despite being more or less a straight port there are a few new additions, such as Marie and her skill cards, this includes as previously mentioned a new end game dungeon involving Marie as well as a social link with the skittish partner of your uncle Dojima, Adachi. The game has also been upgraded for widescreen displays and has had a large majority of textures updated.
Shuffle time is a mechanic that has been improved since the last version, rather than trying to introduce an element of luck as with the previous version where cards would appear on the screen and be shuffled in front of you, forcing you to pick one whilst avoiding the smoking cards, instead you get a choice of picking from 4-6 cards, if you draw all your cards you get a bonus allowing you to draw more cards after your next battle as well. This adds an element of strategy into picking which cards you want for the largest pay out, cards that let you draw more cards typically have negative effects as well such as one of the “Draw 3 more cards” options being “No Experience for this battle”.
Another addition is the use of the “SOS” feature which allows you to get assistance and give it to other players currently in the same dungeon as you. You press the button in the top right corner when online and woosh, away you send out a little bit of help to people elsewhere. This feature could work better as something that is on constantly rather than continuously pressing the button after every battle. However it’s a nice addition, even if it adds little.
Persona 4 is very much one of the most relevant games today in the way it portrays relationships and growing up. The relationships of those around you and the way people have to survive and get through their issues. They may be alone to begin with but you eventually bring them together to help them.
Persona 4: Golden has been out in American and Japan for a while but just hits shores in Europe on February 22nd, make sure to check it out!
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