Review: Perhaps the PS2's swan song, but what a sweet song it is.
What is the one thing that you're afraid of? Maybe it's something that you're not aware of; secretly harboring it inside of you as you go about your daily business or maybe it's something that you're hiding from the world around you. While Persona 4 won't be able to answer these questions for you, it'll definitely make you think about it. It's this slice of life theme that makes the game stand out from its predecessor and perhaps any other RPG of recent memory. As the basic premise for the latest entry into the Shin Megami Tensei series, Persona 4 takes players on an emotional ride through the quiet rural streets of Inaba as they meet characters trying to answer these questions for themselves.
Although the game's setting initially appears to be a sleepy mountain town, the game's central character ends up getting involved with a serial murder case that happens every time fog lifts in the human world. Where Persona 3 had a huge two hundred plus foot tower as your central hub, Persona 4 puts players inside the world of reality TV. Every primary character has his or her own personal TV show/dungeon that reflects feelings that they have hidden inside themselves and it's up to the player to help them overcome these obstacles. From the reserved future inn manager Yukiko to the tough guy Kanji the characters seem to have a more realistic human personality appropriate for their age, unlike Persona 3. Over the course of the game's fifty to sixty hour playtime, which is about twenty hours shorter than Persona 3, the player will have a great time getting to know the characters which lends itself to the game's heartwarming climax and its ultimately satisfying ?true ending.' Yes, there are multiple endings in the game people and from what I've heard the true ending is vastly improved over the normal one.
Similar to Persona 3, battles are played out using a turn-based system with one huge difference: the introduction of allowing the player to directly command their comrades. While the A.I. is vastly improved, this allows players to dictate battles any way they see fit and according to their own style. Outside of the battles, each day is divided into about three different phases: morning, afternoon, and evening. The lack of a ?13th hour' like the game's predecessor means that you'll have to spend your time carefully balancing between your social links, leveling up your stats, and dungeon crawling. For the most part going into the TV world will take up an entire afternoon and further prevent you from leveling your stats or anything else at night which forces the player into having to meticulously plan each and every moment in the game. Thankfully, stats seem a tad bit easier to level than in Persona 3, which helps to balance out the game's complex structure.
Artistically, the game is light years better than Persona 3. While it lacks your typical high-def thousand poly count characters and scenery it still does a very good job with fine tuning the PS2's graphic engine. Personally, I had a blast going through each of the uniquely designed dungeons. This wasn't always the case in Persona 3, which often felt bland and uninspired. As stated earlier, each of the characters has his or her own personal dungeon which represents their psyche and the problem that they have to overcome. Folks playing on early model PlayStation 3s that own hi-def televisions will be glad to know that the game looks absolutely marvelous upconverted to 1080p. The only disappointing feature was the lack of a progressive scan or widescreen mode which would have made the graphics that much better.
Audibly, Shoji Meguro returns to the game with a soundtrack that is mostly improved over his previous work, with only a few exceptions. Although Yumi Kawamura is absent from the game's soundtrack, Shihoko Hirata does just as good or perhaps even better than she did in the previous game. The game's battle theme ?Reach out For the Truth? is far better than ?Mass Destruction? and is one that you'll find the most memorable, with its mashup between Japanese J-rock and J-pop along with Engrish lyics. I've personally listened to it a thousand times, and I'm still not tired of it. In regards to the voice actors, you'll notice the return of many familiar voice actors including Mr. Yuri Lowenthal who is in just about everything and anything these days. Your enjoyment of it will be based largely upon whether or not you liked Persona 3's dub. However, they do a great job at conveying the character's emotions and none of the characters sound out of place with the exception of Chie's Winsconsin-ish accent.