If there’s one thing that school has managed to teach me so far this year, it’s that senior year is busy. Painfully, ridiculously, ungodly busy. But has that stopped me from watching anime or playing video games?! …Actually, yes. Which is why I’m pulling out the big guns and reviewing Persona 4, which I actually played much earlier this year around February or March.
Persona 4 begins with the introduction of your character, a nondescript boy with gray hair that you get to name. This boy (known canonically as Souji Seta) has just moved to the rural town Inaba from the city to stay with his uncle and cousin Nanako. He arrives at his new home for the year, attends his first day of high school in Inaba, and seems to make a few friends. But just after his arrival, there’s a mysterious murder of a local TV announcer, and another murder quickly follows. Before long, Souji and his new friends find themselves tangled in this mystery and have to fight to solve it before more people die.
This game is one of the most interesting JRPGs I’ve ever played. In terms of gameplay, it’s very unique. As Souji, you play through the year on a day by day basis, with the day divided into periods like Morning, Lunch, Afternoon, and Evening. Most actions that you are allowed to perform take up specific amounts of time: for instance, if you wanted to study before a test, it would take up your afternoon and you would go straight to evening. On schooldays, the game fast forwards through much of school and you are only allowed to control Souji again come afternoon. This allows for a certain degree of strategy when playing- you have to figure out how you wish to delegate your time and what ways to maximize efficiency in completing your goals.
Your goals are divided into two different portions of the game: the social portion and the combat portion. The social portion involves a game mechanic called Social Links, where you make friends and strengthen them throughout the year. Of course, strengthening social links takes time and you must figure out how to divide it amongst your many friends. The combat portion of the game centers around a mysterious dimension called the Midnight Channel, which you learn is tied to the mysterious murders. You and your friends must explore the Midnight Channel to discover its secrets, and along the way you fight off enemies with the ability to summon creatures called “Personas.” The aforementioned Social Links also give you benefits in the combat portion by strengthening the types of Personas you can fuse.
I found that one of the most interesting parts of the game was the way it made you want to play more. Of course, there was the mystery that you wanted to solve, but I personally had another motivation. Whenever I was in the social stage of the game, I always wanted to play the combat portion. Conversely, whenever I was in the combat portion of the game, I began to miss the social portion and wanted to play that again. Perhaps that was just me, but that made me really want to continue playing the game. The characters are very likeable and fleshed out almost unbelievably well through the development of their social links. The combat does leave something to be desired in its repetitiveness (it’s turn by turn combat) but it was not a game breaker for me. If I had to pick something that I could say put me off, I would only be able to say the difficulty of the game itself, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, this game is what you make of it: it is really your choice in terms of how much you want to learn about the other characters, how attached you become to them, and to what extent you decide to pursue the truth.
I truly loved this game, but I recognize that it may not be for everyone. I would likely describe it as a blend of the best elements of a visual novel, a JRPG, and an action game. If any of those genres don’t appeal to you, then Persona 4 may not be one of your favorite games. However, I really believe that it has incredible things going for it, especially in terms of the characters, and I highly recommend it. Persona 4 is rated M and is avaliable on the Playstation 2 and the Vita.