Growing up an RPG gamer, I actually have never played Persona until this year, because the Persona games I bought in the past never seemed to work… that or my console broke. 😅 Any of my gamer friends would say one of the best RPGs are from the Persona series. I’m excited to review this mainly because I believe it’s a good game, and it’s my first time to review a game with over 70+ hours of gameplay.
Originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2008, Atlus came out with another version of Persona 4 in 2012 for the PS Vita. This includes more social links (two additional characters), places, music, cutscenes, Personas, and events.
I won’t fully recap the actual story of the game anymore because it actually quite more complex, considering it is also of the fantasy genre, but it is basically a detective story as you investigate murders and disappearances in the small town of Inaba where the actual scenes of the crimes take place inside a television screen (which only certain people have the power to access). If put this way, it sounds very dark (and weird), but it actually seems to follow a standard formula I see in well-written and popular anime like Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: the main story is a dark one but there is a perfect blend of happiness, mystery, suspense, and sadness albeit it did not have straight-through-the-heart sad scenes like the animes I mentioned did, the “sad” part of the game didn’t do it for me. Either that, or it felt a little of both typical and forced, but still relevant all the same. I also don’t understand that of all settings, why inside the television? Knowing JRPG, there is important symbolism in this that I probably haven’t seen yet.
In my first playthrough, I was not able to witness the “true ending”, and the game ended abruptly with too many unanswered questions, and I wondered for a while how I would lower the initial rating I had in mind. After realizing I had picked the wrong choices to achieve the true ending, the game doesn’t actually end there, and later on addresses all the questions and inconsistencies I noticed. The game actually tells you when the choices you choose will greatly affect your game and offers the option to save before that moment. It’s one of the crucial scenes of trying to determine the truth of a murder mystery, so choosing without thinking logically will lead you to that disappointing end I saw. I think that the sad thing about it ending like it did when you don’t get the “true ending” is that rather than feeling like you missed something or maybe you had done something wrong, you feel more like the game’s plot was not as good as you originally thought. I did feel weird, but not questioning enough, although that may be more because of who I am as a person. 😓
Being set in 2011, there are a lot of gender stereotypes that are discussed that many people grew up believing, but a playable character challenges that later on, talking about a sealed love letter saying the reaction would be the same whether a boy or a girl left it for them. Many times, the game will ask you questions that even you will question about yourself, because the characters you play and associate with are all on their way to learning about who they are. Much about it is focused on psychology, and that’s what makes this game enjoyable for me.
This screenshot generally shows the basic interface of the game. Your surroundings are interactive, without any useless narration (e.g.
“It’s your mailbox”) unless it’s actually relevant. As shown on the upper right side, awareness of the days and the weather is important, as taking your time solving or finding people will cause the succeeding victims you are trying to save to get killed, and will eventually lead to a game over. As you are a human suddenly thrust upon this situation, you juggle roles of playing detective, being a student (taking tests and reciting in class), and being a person (you have stats of your own to raise to be able to access certain parts of the game such as new social links, which you form by becoming closer with the main characters, etc.).
As soon as your character arrives in Inaba, you will be given a short tutorial to get a feel of how the game works and is perfectly segued in the story. Since your character is moving in from the city to a small town, after your long travel, your character feels tired/lightheaded (which could be because of that really weird dream you have on the way there which probably relates to personas, I dunno) and your uncle, whom you will be living with for a year, advises you to walk it off, allowing you to explore the south side of the town’s Shopping District. Various “Help” messages show up in the middle of your screen that give concise and understandable instructions that help you utilize the game’s features and understand its mechanics better. Thanks to these, there was never a time I was really confused, although after not playing for a while, you forget you can do other things (though they aren’t really important).
Persona is the kind of game that lets the player choose how the story progresses and how it can possibly end. There are choices you are presented with in the main story, and also specific characters you choose to talk to, and depending on your choice, will affect their affection toward you (social link), and also certain choices will introduce different characters to your protagonist. This includes who you can choose to date or be intimate with in the game.
No, there is no option to date characters of the same sex although it is acknowledged that it is not wrong, even having characters teased without any sarcasm (which is a good touch, although I totally would have paired my character with a guy).
There are also indicators on what a certain character is feeling, whether they are blushing, questioning, surprised, etc. I think it’s a very cute feature, and gives the story and the characters more life; without it, I think the dialogue would be more bland.
Battles are turn-based and you are given the option to either direct the commands of your other party members, or allow them to act on their own. You are essentially thrust in a dungeon of the specific victim and you have to go through a certain number of floors before you get to find/save them. Specific characters guide you throughout the exploration of the dungeon, and remind you if a party member’s health is low.
One of the things I like about Persona 4 is that the segues are done really well; after attacking an opponent with a specific character and the control goes to the next, I see the former running back to her/his original position. Depending on the enemy you choose to attack, the player will also run around other enemies. It gives a sort of realistic vibe while playing. Even roaming around the dungeon, other than walking around blindly and triggering a battle at a random moment like in Pokemon, you see these monsters/shadows, and if they notice you, they will definitely come after you. It can get tense at times.
Items garnered after each battle can usually be sold to the closest thing you can call a blacksmith in the modern era. It helps you gain funds to buy better equipment, and other useful items to help you in battles. If you’re able to hit an opponent with their weakness or do critical damage, you are given an incentive and will be able to choose from a random set of cards to acquire a new persona, more amount of EXP, money, recover health, etc.
The man in the middle of the photo is the same one that meets the protagonist in a dream at the start of the game; he offers persona fusion, which allows different personas to be merged to create one of a higher level.
Graphics / Art
One additional feature on the PS Vita for Persona 4 is the “TV Listings” option, which allows you to view the art sketches of the game, the game’s trailers, music, cutscenes, etc. It also includes”Mr. Edogawa’s TV Classroom” which I posted a screenshot of in the paragraph under “Story”, and another is the art gallery of the various art studies and final looks of the characters and their personas.
One thing I love about fantasy is how the artists behind them come up with the concepts and their final looks. In the art gallery from the TV Listings shows slideshows of the art studies by Shigenori Soejima with commentary:
The beautiful yet strange masks, dormant within peoples’ hearts, are revealed in Shigenori Soejima’s illustrations.
One of the noteworthy parts of the game is definitely its effort and creativity with the environment. It is very apparent in each dungeon; each has a specific theme, and everything completely matches the feel from the background to the music/sfx.
As I play, it feels like the angles showing each scene are very consistent and strategic, almost like a movie, but appropriate for a video game and sticking to the third-person point of view. If I were to compare this game’s graphics to another, it would be similar to Radiata Stories/Final Fantasy III/Chulip (minus the strange looking characters).
I remember that as a kid, I always loved games that had your party members follow you around, and if you equipped armor, you would be able to see it while playing. Persona 4 does just that, although instead of armor (since donning actual armor in the real world would be suspicious), you can change your clothes and purchase other kinds once you progress enough in the game. You can talk to your party members while exploring dungeons and hear them react to what you’ve made them wear, or what you’ve made your character wear.
Not only that but even in the standard interface where the anime version of the character pops up, the characters blink the way we normally blink. Also the skip feature shows how it is like to fast forward while watching a VHS tape. If you don’t know what that is, congratulations, you have made me feel old. Anyway, I think it’s a very nice touch. Persona 4 really shows the effort to make the graphics look as lively as possible, making sure that objects in the background don’t get left out.
Music / Voice acting
The music has its own “channel” in the TV Listings, which can be accessed within the game and at the game’s main menu. Every track is listed and can be played. Each song or instrumental is well-made in its own right. There are a lot of tracks and I can see how much effort it really must have taken to develop the game. Not only those, but there are also ambient noises such as chatter in any normal setting, but I noticed one awkward transition where the chatter just suddenly gets cut without any segue whatsoever.
I have to give the voice acting a little shout out because the voice actors definitely breathed life into the characters; I can remember the voice just from the look of the character, and they really match. I could feel the playfulness, and even pain from the voices. Taro Namatame’s voice actor (English version), JB Blanc, has to be my most favorite one, but I can’t explain why because of spoiler reasons! Dun dun dunnn.
I could not put the PS Vita down as soon as I started to play Persona 4: Golden. I could not sleep, either. I stayed up until 5am the first night, and what was terrible was that I only intended to try the game out first, and I ended up actually playing it already. Worst of all, I did this during my finals week in college. I am not smart for doing that, nor am I a good role model!!! Academics first, kiddos. Like the game teaches you, it increases your relationship points with your friends. 😉
The use of cards are emphasized a lot in the game and make use of the Major Arcana Tarot cards for types of Personas and the names of Social Links for the characters you build relationships with. These have symbolism and meaning, as does the theme and even the title of this game. From the bonus content in “Mr. Edogawa’s TV Classroom”, personas and shadows are actually terms used in Jungian Psychology.
According to Jung, they are other “yous” inside yourself. Let’s start with the Persona. It is the “other you” that comes out when you interact with others. Think about it: When you talk to someone, is that the real you?
Rating: 8.8 / 10
Although Persona 4 tackles dark matter, and I have posted a photo of one of the murders, it’s really not gory (although blood is shown on the walls in some places) or the least bit scary. It is rated M by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) though, and for good reason as it tackles a bit of sexual themes, alcohol reference, and curse words are uttered on multiple occasions.
Persona 4: Golden is a newer version for the PS Vita. Buy it on the PlayStation Store.
Thank you to my good friend Steph, who told me to try this game!