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ESRB:T for Teen
Website:Atlus Persona 4
Dust off that PS2, Persona 4 has hit US shores in all of its demon summoning glory. Atlus’ creature collecting, life simulating, (slightly) dungeon crawling RPG is back, putting you into the role of a high school student who is transferred from the city to the country only to be thrown into a murder mystery, in which you have about a year of in-game time to solve. I hadn’t exactly been waiting for this game with baited breath, but it was definitely worth picking up. With some boring presentation aside P4 is a solid title with addictive game play that will make you jonesin’ for your PS2.
P4 is pretty much split in two. Half of it is in your character’s day to day life and the other half is in a sort of dream like world that exists within a television at a local Walmart-like store (don’t ask). This is where the meat of the game is played, where combat takes place and where you’ll be dungeon crawling as “TV world” is comprised of a variety of dungeons that you enter and can reenter as you progress through the story. Most of these "TV" excusions end with additions to your party and each dungeon is semi-unique. I say 'semi' because although they follow different themes there’s not much but the style to say their anything different then the next dungeon. The first dungeon you enter is a castle, so you wander around a series of halls with simple grey walls and a red carpet down the middle. All rooms you enter don’t lead anywhere (unless it’s the one room on each level with stairs) and each room you go in is an exact replica of all of the other rooms you’ve entered. Each other dungeon uses the exact same format. The floors are randomized (I’d imagine an attempt to make the times you return to the dungeons throughout the game more interesting) but the plain dungeon designs defeat that purpose. They’re basically just hallways, rooms with chests or rooms with stairs and though some have a cool design (there’s one that’s set up like an 8-bit RPG that’s pretty sweet) they all get boring within the first five minutes.
At least the enemies vary, and it’s in the creatures (monsters and personas alike) where P4’s design really shines. Each enemy has a unique look that can range from really cute to kind of disturbing. Despite the PS2’s lesser graphical power, they still look great and the animations for a lot of them are really smooth and just plain cool. My only complaint is that models are reused and re-colored some times but that’s to be expected from most RPG’s.
Combat is comprised of pretty standard, turn-based encounters but is spiced up with a twist of rock, paper, scissors strategy. Most enemies are based around a certain element and, therefore, inherently weak to one -- or a few -- element(s). That’s sort of standard of most RPG’s nowadays, but P4 changes it up in a few ways. If you hit any enemies weakness once, they’re on their back. Get all enemies on their back and you have an option to rush the enemy with all of your party at once, usually resulting in a victory. But be careful because you and your party will have the same weaknesses, which is where a lot of the strategy comes in. You’ll have to keep a good assortment of personas available and picking the right one for each battle. A lot of the time you’ll be switching through a few in a single battle, it’s a little reminiscent of Pokemon. This keeps the battles somewhat fresh, but sometimes they can get tedious.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint with the game: you are forced into mindless battling just to level enough to beat bosses. This becomes really annoying because you’ll get to a point where you can house everything in the level but still be swiftly defeated by the boss. What’s more aggravating is that you’ll be defeating enemies that give you paltry experience by this time, forcing you to spend hours running through the boring dungeons in the hopes that you might level up soon.
At least there’s a chance of a bonus after the hundreds of battles which is the other Pokemon aspect of the game. You’ll be collecting and leveling your personas separate from your character. Though the rest of your party has only one persona that they can use, you have the ability to utilize any you come across at your level or below. This is where the game will have you hopelessly addicted. After some battles, you’ll be given a chance to get a new persona in a sort of “pick a card” type mini game. Pick the right card and you get a persona- though you can only carry a few at a time- and can use it your next encounter. There’s also the mysterious Velvet Room which is a place you can essentially store personas for a later use or fuse a few together to create more powerful one. The possibilities here are endless and you can fuse up to five to create some select ones which will have you searching for some you know you need in the field. I can’t even tell you how many times I was in the Velvet Room fusing personas, seeing which make the best combo and I’d look down and two hours had gone by. It’s incredibly fun.
The monotony of the combat in the TV world is also broken up by a life simulator which takes you through your character’s mundane high school existence. You make friendships, join clubs or sports teams and even answer questions in class and do other menial tasks that actually end up helping with combat. As you get close with other characters in game, you create a bond. This bond increases the more you interact with that character which in turn gives you a bonus when fusing personas. This means that even if you’re only level 36 you can wield a persona that’s 40. Though all this sounds a little menial, it can actually be really refresh with the constant dungeon delving.
Persona 4 is a fun, addictive game that suffers from laziness in level design, a overbearing story that will have your finger glued to the “x” button, and release on outdated hardware. The cartoony style of the game doesn’t necessarily need the graphics that a next gen system can offer but, hell, Blue Dragon did it pretty well. P4 is huge, so this might be a few month project for some of you, but if you’re looking for a really addictive RPG (with that Anime flair) then this one’s for you.