Persona 4 is an interesting concept; half random dungeon crawl, half odd Japanese high school dating sim. While this probably sounds like one of the worst things to bring over to America on paper, Persona 4 manages to be head and shoulders above any other role playing game that came out last year and ties all of the seemingly unrelated elements of the game into one smooth and well thought out stream. Once Persona 4 builds its speed, it never manages to slow down until the story is finished.
This also means that the game doesn’t start off at the fastest clip in the world. The story of the game involves the main character being transferred to a “small” town in middle of nowhere Japan. Shortly after he arrives strange murders start to plague the town. It turns out that people in the town are being thrown inside of their TVs and being attacked and killed by the creatures that live inside of it. This entire explanation takes the game roughly 5 hours to tell before the game starts in earnest. While this may sound a little extreme it just shows how serious Persona 4 takes the plot of the game.
Half of the game is a dungeon crawl through an ever changing demonic world. Each dungeon in the game is based off of the minds of people who were thrown into the inner world of the TV, meaning that every time a new area is opened, the look and feel is entirely different from the last. Each character in the game fights with a persona, a kind of alter-ego demon that expresses who they really are. The one exception to this is the main character that has the ability to change his persona at will, from any of the vast assortment that have managed to be collected throughout the course of the game.
While the collection aspect of the game manages to be addictive and interesting throughout, what really sets it apart is that it also affects the life of the main character while he isn’t in the dungeon trying to save people. Each persona in the game has a tarot card sign that it falls under, this is also true for the characters that can be befriended in the game. If a persona in the main characters party is of the same sign as the character that is trying to be befriended, say the sign of the priestess, the main character will naturally get along better with the other person. As this friendship becomes stronger and progresses, the tarot card sign becomes more powerful for creating other persona of that sign as well, meaning that going on a date can make the dungeon levels much easier.
This kind of feedback is constant throughout the game, so that at no point does it ever feel like doing something in the real world is negatively affecting future events inside of the TV. This is the case multiple times throughout the game, including a quest system that is scattered around the game. Randomly NPCs on the street will ask for if it is possible to be given an item, and vow that in return they will give something of equal value back. This kind of thing happens constantly in the game, making the two halves of the entire experience feel like one giant whole instead of two entirely different games.
This is all done with what could possibly be the best graphics that the PS2 has produced. While they haven’t improved that vastly since the last Persona game, which came out just one short year ago, they still manage to look amazingly good given the PS2’s age. This isn’t to say that they are going to rival any games that are currently coming out on the PS3 or 360, but instead still manage to be rather pleasant to look at over the course of the 100 hour game.
There is also a vast amount of spoken dialog in the game as well. Surprisingly the entirety of the spoken dialog in the game is rather good as well. While not every line of dialog is spoken there is still a staggering amount of lines that manage to be delivered through the course of any one play. Added on top is the rather good music score and the game ends up being enjoyable to listen to.
While Persona 4 manages to be the very definition of a hardcore Japanese role playing game, and possibly one of the better (if not best) role playing game that came out in 2008 as well. While it does manage to have a rather slow start, the entire experience is well worth the wait. The characters in the game are well fleshed out and worth the effort to find out more about, the dungeon crawls are a blast, and all of the collecting and mini-games are well worth the effort to play through. For anyone who has ever enjoyed a RPG, Persona 4 is worth a buy. For those out there looking to break into the genre, Persona 4 is also a great place to start.