Persona 4 – Staff Import Review

When moving from a bustling city to a quiet rural town, one would usually expect life to become more peaceful, but this isn’t the case in Persona 4. Instead, the main character’s arrival is followed by news of a scandal, and later, a murder. Rather than worry too much about that, he quickly makes a few friends and hears an interesting rumor regarding TVs and rainy days at midnight. While investigating, he and his friends instead find a connection between this strange phenomenon and what has now become a string of murders. Discovering that they may have the power to help the would-be victims, they set out to prevent as many casualties as they can while solving the surrounding mysteries and attempting to catch the culprit.

You will die in seven days.
“You will die in seven days.”

Persona 4‘s gameplay, like Persona 3‘s, is divided into two portions: daily life and fighting through dungeons, with occasional detective work necessary to bridge the gap between the two, particularly in the later stages of the game. Weather plays a large role this time around too, with foggy days somewhat taking the place of Persona 3‘s full moons and rain having an impact on that day’s available activities. Daily life largely involves going to school, making friends, and doing part-time work. Not only do the social links forged through friendships have the benefit of granting bonus exp to fused Personas as it did in Persona 3, there are often many other advantages this time around. For example, building a strong relationship with party members will have benefits during battle, and many social links are tied to activities, such as playing a musical instrument, that will better the main character’s personal status in the related field. This is very helpful since there are five of them this time around, rather than three as in Persona 3, though they’re thankfully much easier to increase this time, especially knowledge. These statistics also tie back into the social links, with some options not being available unless the main character has enough courage, or not being able to further a difficult conversation if he is lacking in communication ability, for example.

Maxing out all of the available social links is now significantly easier than it was in Persona 3, and this is a good thing because dungeon exploration no longer takes place after midnight. Instead, the game’s many dungeons cause a significant time conflict with social links and other daily activities. It’s much easier to finish dungeons in multiple passes than in a single trip, especially since HP and SP are no longer healed for free within dungeons. Multiple trips will also give the party a chance to use items that enemies drop to forge stronger equipment, but the more trips that are made the less time there is to spend with friends or complete other activities. As a result, players are encouraged to complete dungeons in as few days as possible instead of persuaded to spread it out as much as possible due to fatigue, as was the case in Persona 3. Thus, players are more likely to end up going through each part of the gameplay in large blocks unless they don’t mind the consequences of not being able to spend as much time working on social links and other activities. Fortunately for those who don’t like the concept of going through several dozen dungeon floors in one sitting, dungeons have far fewer floors than they did in Persona 3, typically somewhere a little less than ten, with each floor offering more of a jump in enemy difficulty than was present in Persona 3 as well as locked treasure chests and the occasional trap to mix things up. Enemies also offer far more exp, so there is significantly less grinding. Money is now always given after each battle as well, so it has become far more balanced and no longer relies on Shuffle Time and treasure chests. Replacing Persona 3‘s version of Shuffle Time are various new Shuffle Time minigames, with the prize of these games always being a new Persona if the player chooses well, though there are often penalty cards mixed in too. Occasionally, a chance to spin an arcana card for various positive or negative effects will appear as well. For players who would prefer to use their own fused Personas instead of bonus stock Personas, these minigames can thankfully be skipped entirely.

Friendship Power!
Friendship Power!

Battles themselves typically require a fair amount of thought, especially boss fights. As with most other recent Shin Megami Tensei titles, striking an enemy’s weakness will provide that character with enough momentum to strike again. While following up with another attack will cause most enemies to faint and lose a turn, the player can also use this as an opportunity to attack and defend at the same time by instead following up with a healing or support spell, or even guarding. Guarding reduces damage taken from enemy attacks, nullifies some special enemy attacks, and also temporarily negates elemental weakness. Since enemies will work to exploit the party’s weaknesses, it’s up to the player to create a careful strategy that allows taking advantage of enemy weaknesses while attempting to cover up those of the party. Successfully knocking down all of the enemies will also allow for a powerful all-out attack, though some enemies are now highly resistant to such assaults. Most members aren’t able to change their Persona, but the main character is able to do so almost at will, and this flexibility can be of great assistance in battle. Not only does it offer him a much larger available moveset, it also allows strengths and weaknesses to be adjusted based on the situation. Fusing Personas together in order to pass down skills and create a stronger Persona can lend a good deal to the game’s strategy. New to Persona 4 are special fusion effects that will take place depending on the date and range from fused Personas receiving bonus statistics to gaining additional skills, making some days more opportune than others for repeated fusions.

Skills passed down through fusions are still random, which can cause a bit of a headache for players seeking a specific moveset, but Persona 4 does have several interface improvements. It has not only kept the renovations made by Persona 3 FES, such as help windows that say what abilities do, it has even added a few extras such as useful dungeon maps and the ability to directly equip party members.

As far as difficulty is concerned, players can choose between beginner, normal, and expert at the start of the game, though Persona 4‘s idea of easy is very likely to be more challenging than that of most other games. That said, returning players should note that Persona 4‘s difficulty settings are a bit easier than their corresponding settings from Persona 3. It’s much harder to lose vital turns due to the new knock-down mechanics, allies will protect the main character against would-be fatal blows, and the useful manual control tactic can help prevent party members from doing something stupid when exploring dangerous places. There are a variety of other useful abilities that party members can gain as a result of friendship as well, ranging from help with dispelling status effects to enduring fatal attacks.

Nobody messes with me and my friends.
“Nobody messes with me and my friends.”

Complementing the gameplay is an equally good story. This time around, the story plays out as somewhat more of a detective mystery, complete with a fair number of twists and multiple endings, though it doesn’t depart from high school life elements of Persona 3; those portions continue to play a central role. There are quite a few endings, but rather than branching paths, the majority of them are incomplete endings that play when the party solves a large portion of puzzle but is still missing at least one vital piece. Depending on which ending the player is satisfied with and how much time they spend on optional quests and whatnot, the estimated playtime is likely to range from anywhere between 60 and 110 hours. On top of that, like a good detective novel, Persona 4‘s story is still interesting once the truth of the matter is known. There’s definitely some replay value once the player is familiar with the cast of characters and their motives, and being able to see the meanings behind what may have once seemed like trivial or only partially explained events can add quite a bit too.

Despite being on the same console as Persona 3, Persona 4‘s visuals look slightly better, largely due to a slight shift in perspective in dungeons and a few other added tweaks and details that make things look nicer as a whole, such as light effects during all-out attacks and new enemy icons. Aside from those upgrades, Persona 4‘s 3D visuals and character portraits retain the same level of quality that its predecessor had. Perhaps the most welcome change is the added attention that each dungeon has received. Persona 3‘s Tartarus did have its visuals change somewhat in each block, but Persona 4‘s dungeons go well beyond that.

On that note, perhaps the largest improvement to come from Persona 4‘s dungeons is that each of them now has its own unique background music rather than a slightly modified overarching track. Coupled with the shorter length of time spent dungeon crawling, these tracks manage to avoid getting old. In the daily life portion, the music changes with the weather, so they don’t get as old as quickly either. Given the length of the game, it’s still inevitable that a few of the tracks will begin to grow stale as time passes, but the way the game’s music is organized helps to delay that as much as possible. The music’s overall high quality doesn’t hurt either, and it’s all topped off with what is, for the most part, quality voice acting.

Overall, Persona 4 is a quality title. The story is solid, can withstand multiple playthroughs, and is backed up by quality gameplay, music, and visuals. The Shin Megami Tensei series has had a good record of strategic gameplay, and this iteration of it is no exception. It should be once again noted that there’s much more of an emphasis on daily life than dungeon crawling than there was in Persona 3, but whether that’s for the better or not will depend on your tastes. Fans of Persona 3 will be happy to know that Persona 4 keeps most of the same elements that made Persona 3 good, but it also changes just enough to keep things fresh.

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