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PS2 Review – Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

Ah the PS2, so much fun I had with you, but now it’s time for you to rest… Oh wait, Persona 4? Seems like there’s still a bit of life left in you. Let’s check this out!

Well, before starting actually reviewing the game, I’ll start by saying that I’m very far from finishing it, but I still gave it a lot of playtime before writing this, to be able to get a fair view as to what the game plays like and everything. So take this review as you will.  I also didn’t play any of the previous Persona titles and my experience with the series are limited to watching my friend play P3 for an  hour or so (I did buy P3 FES, but I have yet to play it).

So let’s jump into one of the PS2’s last hurrah’s 

Story
The story here is quite mysterious. You are just some random kid who moved in from the city to live with a relative and is going to start going to a new school in the country. Not too long after you get there, someone in the town gets murdered, her corpse hanging from an antenna. After a few days you make some friends, Chie and Yosuke, and they tell you of a rumor about the Midnight Channel, where some people appear on the Television at midnight when it’s raining, when the TV is turned off. You check it out and it just so happens that someone indeed appears on the TV. For… some reason the protagonist touches the TV and realizes he can enter it, but he gets stuck halfway through because the TV is too small.
You talk about what happened to your friends and decide to try it out on a bigger TV at the Junes department store. Which leads you to the Midnight Channel world or whatever it’s called. There you meet a bear-like thing named Teddie, who says people have came to this world a lot recently.
After some investigation, and death from one of your schoolmates similar to the first murder, you realize that the Midnight Channel is related to the murders, and you decide to take action when you see one of your friends on the TV. On the way you find alternate personalities of your friends, who say their deep thoughts and change into big monsters if this side of them is neglected by them. Your main character gains a Persona, some kind of manifestation of their inner being, to fight those, and as you fight them your friends earn their own Personas when they accept that more “evil” side of themselves, which builds up your party.
So on they go to discover the mystery of the murders. Once they see someone on the Midnight Channel, they only have a limited time to save the person inside, because when there’s fog in the “real” world, the Shadows (monsters) in the Midnight Channel go crazy and kill everyone inside.

So that’s pretty much it for now. The story involves you and your friend trying to find who is sending people to the Midnight Channel, and, on the way, you have to try saving people who are sent there. The story is deepened a lot by character interactions, where you can improve your Social Links with other characters to learn more about them and such.
The story overall is really interesting, and you can really get attached to the characters, moreso if you start engaging into deep social links with them.
 
Graphics
Though outdated by recent standards, what with HD being the new thing and graphics that aren’t close to realistic being called “lame”, this is really a breath of fresh air. The graphic style is anime-based. The characters are quite well drawn and the rest of the visual style is just really nice. Lots of flat colors make up the menus and such with lots of yellow and black, the whole thing is just incredibly stylish and pretty to look at. The anime cutscenes are also very well done, though after a while you see fewer of them. You do see the limitations of the PS2 hardware when it comes to character models and such, but by PS2 standards the game still looks very nice. The one annoying thing is the fog in dungeons, there’s just so much of it…  thought the glasses Teddie makes your characters wear removed that, but it doesn’t seem like it.
Overall though the game looks very nice, some of the better visuals on the PS2 when it comes to style. 

Sound
I really like the soundtrack here. Though there’s some tracks I’m not too fond of, but overall the pop-ish rock-ish style of the music, as wel as the creepy sounding piano music when something bad or weird happens, really help the mood of the game, and complement the visuals really well. Otherwise, the voice actors aren’t too bad, they capture the overall attitude of the characters pretty well, though they suck at saying “-chan” and “-kun” for some reason…

Gameplay
Exploring
Exploring is a pretty big part of the game. Dungeons are where you’ll pass a bit more than half of your playtime. Depending on how much you want to boost your characters up between murder cases. Dungeons are randomly generated. Each time you enter a dungeon, even if you visited it before, it will look different. Or at least the corridors and rooms will be placed differently, since once you’re inside they look the same everywhere. Some floors aren’t randomly generated as they have certain puzzles and such. In the dungeons you’ll find 3 things: Treasure Chests, Shadows and Stairs. Chests come in 2 variety: normal and golden. Golden chests give great stuff, but they need to be unlocked by Chest Keys which can be found in normal chests if you’re lucky. Enemies in dungeons are represented as floating balls with creepy arms, or weird blobs with creepy arms. Touching them starts a battle. You can also swing your weapon at them to start the battle. Hitting them in the back gives you an advantage, hitting them in the face has chances of giving you an advantage. Same for the enemies. Finally, on all floors except the last in the dungeon, there’s gonna be stairs to go to the next floor. No much to say in that aspect.

Fighting 
The fighting system is very similar to that of Persona 3 (from what I recall). In general it’s basic RPG fare. You choose whether to attack, guard or use skills, and if all enemies are dead you win. And after beating all the enemies there’s a chance more enemies will come in the battle. You can have a party of up to 4 characters, and, unlike Persona 3, you have the option to control each one of them if you find that giving them tactics for automatic control isn’t good enough for you. So now your teamates do what you want them to do.
Otherwise you have in-fight analysis, which is basically a character telling you what you’re seeing… Kinda useless. In addition to the normal commands, you have an analysis command hich tells you the HP and SP a character has, as well as what the enemy’s weaknesses and resistances are. Really useful, but to find out the weaknesses and strengths you first have to test them out yourself, and only then will you see that information. Until you try it out you’re completely in the dark.
In battle, you have chances of critical hits, and hitting weaknesses. If you do any of that you’ll knock down the opponent and at the same time gain an extra turn with the character who did the attack, which can be really useful. Certain enemies can also be knocked out if they miss an attack on you. If all enemies are knocked down, all your team can go and beat on the knocked down enemies for massive damage. I have yet to see that function do anything negative, and unless it’s a boss-like enemy it’s almost always a sure kill.
After battle, you get experience, money, and materials(depending on the enemies you fought). There’s also a change you’ll get a “shuffle time” where you’ll see cards, then they’ll turn around and start moving aroun.d the screen. Those cards are either blank, negative, or Personas for the main character. Blank does nothing, negative removes the EXP, money and materials you got in the fight and the personas are given to the main character(if you have too many you’ll have to get rid of one). After drawing a card, there’s a chance you’ll have an “Arcana chance”, which reveals another card of one of the Arcana (kinda like elements). If you accept, the card will start spinning and depending on if it ends up upside down or downside up, you get a different effect. If it ends up Upright it’s almost always gonna be a positive effect, and if it’s reversed you’ll get the oppossite. For example, the moon arcana card gives you extra EXP in battle if it ends up upright for some time, while the battles will only give you 1 EXP for some time if it ends up reversed.

Social Links 
Somehow this is the beef of the game if you really want to play it “properly”. By joining certain clubs and hanging out with your friends and “family”, you build you relationship with them, and as it goes on you’ll “Rank Up” the relationship. Each person who you can have a relationship with is assigned to a different type of arcana. For example, Yousuke is of the Magician arcana. Building those social link is crucial to the game as building them up enables you to create stronger Persona of the arcanas you have social links of. 
Building those relationships depends a lot as to how you respong to other characters. If you sound mean they won’t like you, but if you’re nice your relationship will be better. There’s various options that require certain stats to be at certain levels. Raising your courage can make you say things you wouldn’t normally. To raise each stat there are various things you can do. Your expression can be raised in the drama club, your knowledge can be raised by answering questions at school or studying in the library or in your room. Your courage can be raised by saying some things or eating expired food or various other things. You deligence(as well as money) can be raised by doing certain jobs. When those stats are at certain levels you can build up more social links and find more jobs. Maybe some more things can be found, but I didn’t reach far enough to see that.

The Velvet Room
This place is really important to the overall gameplay. This is where you’ll be making new Persona by fusing them. There are 2 types of fusion. Normal and Triangle. Normal fuses 2 Personas and Triangle fuses 3. The resulting Persona from a fusion must be equal or below your level, otherwise it won’t work. Every time you go in the Velvet Room you have to check the Fusion Forecast, as it tells you what you can do for bonuses in your fusions. Sometime fusing certain Personas together will give extra bonuses, or creating a certain persona, or fusing persona of certain arcanas. Those bonuses include extra stats, or learning certain skills, amongst other things. In addition to fusions, you can register Personas to be able to buy them back whenever you want. Personas you get from shuffle time register automatically, so not lots of management to do in that aspect.
There’s not much else to say about the Velvet Room really.

Leveling
Finally the leveling. For the characters other than the main, it’s simple. They level up with their Persona and that’s the only way they can stats and skills. For the main character, he gains experience by himself, which raises his HP and SP, as well as letting him create better Persona. His Persona level up as well, seperately from him, and tend to take a lot of EXP to level up compared to the rest. Also, your Persona can get extra stats from certain Arcana chances, which is really useful, but they can also lose stats from those.
Otherwise, you can get new equipment to raise your power. Though some equipment is hidden in stages and in gold treasure chests, the rest must be found in the shop. But the inventory there doesn’t get better automatically, to get more stuff from there you have to sell the material you find in the Midnight Channel to the Metalworker, and when he gets enough of certain types of material you’ll have access to more stuff. 

Overall
There is a bit more I could talk about, but this review is already long enough.
If you like RPGs and have a PS2, it’s time to dust it off one last time, and you definitely won’t regret it. Really, P4 proved that the PS2 is still a viable console despite the current-gen being in full swing.
A great RPG with a great story, cool character interactions, good soundtrack and awesome gameplay, don’t pass this title up. And if you want a long game, this has new game+ on top of the already really long main game(around 60-75 hours), where you keep some things from the previous game and will have enough stats like Courage to say things you couldn’t in the previous game (like asking Chie if she likes you :P)

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