Pros: Excellent storyline and characters, nice graphics, music
Cons: Gameplay isn't all there
Note:I haven't completed the game yet and this review may or may not be edited upon completion.
Persona 3 was my first experience with the Persona franchise. I eagerly anticipated when I first heard of it that fateful summer in 2007 out of a gaming magazine, but never did I imagine I would recieve perhaps my favorite video game of all time, with a tremendously compelling and intricate storyline mixed with fantastic and addicting gameplay. So of course one FES later and I eagerly awaited Persona 4. My expectations weren't as high, after all how do you follow up Persona 3?
Once more you're a transfer, however this time you're going from the big city to a more rural area of Japan. Living with your detective uncle, you enter a brand new school where you quickly make friends with a somewhat hapless but otherwise happy go lucky boy named Yosuke, a high spirited fan of kung fu and kung fu movies named Chie, and her somewhat socially akward friend Yukiko, looked to be the next manager of a famous inn within town. As soon as you arrive however, a famous model is murdered. Keep this in mind. You hear a rumor about a midnight channel where on a rainy day, you can see your soul mate on television. You, Yosuke and Chie try it out. All three see the same person, you however have a slightly different experience, nearly being sucked into the television. Of course your friends don't believe you, until your hand goes through a big screen TV in Junes department store. You and your friends are sucked into this foggy new world Although you manage to escape with the help of a bear named Teddie(your only guide in the world) clues found within the world along with the murder fo the girl you saw on the midnight channel lead you to believe this new world is connected to the string of murders.
It is also in this world where your Persona is awakened, and you'll need it as this world is infested with shadows, ma;icous monsters out to kill anyone fool enough to cross them. Further investigation leads to a conclusion:there is indeed a serial killer behind these murders, however he's not killing the people himself, but rather, kidnapping people and throwing them inside this world.
Close to 20 hours in, the storyline is very good, rivaling Persona 3's story easily, which is very impressive, a feat I thought impossible. The mystery is strong, and the characters develop very well. Much like persona 3, watching them develop and interact is one of the best parts of the story. It also dosen't make the mistake of recycling a character into a new look and expecting you to buy it(8cough*TalesofLegendia*cough*)
The graphics are wonderful. You can't accuse the designers of being lazy in that department. The character models are perfectly rendered, even smoother then in Persona 3(where it was a little blocky) Although there is a lot of the color yellow, it's not to the point it annoys you. Everything looks good, and I don't care if it's on a PS2, it's better to look at then most of these "higher quality graphics" from Xbox and such.
The soundtrack is very impressive. Eveyr musical piece adds so much to it's enviroment. The voice acting is quite stellar, though there are one or two cases where the voices feel akward at first(Chie), but they grow into their roles. There's certainly no lack of emotional output into these voices either, they'll make you feel the emotion through their voices.
This is where the cons come in. My first problem, is that the schedule of the game feels akward and forced. The game runs like Persona 3, where you begin a normal day by going to class, then you have after school to go into town, buy items, develop social links(more on those a little later) go to a part time job(new to Persona 4) and go to the TV world(which has yet to be named, if it's named later in the game I might post it here) However there is a cycle of days, leading to a certain day where you'll have to do something, usually involving a boss battle.
This is almost exactly how Persona 3 worked. However Persona 3 was much smoother. To start with, Persona 3 had a full moon system, where every month or so a full moon came up. You had the number of days left up in the right hand corner, no confusion. When the full moon came, it was boss battle time. Simple, simple, simple.
Not so with persona 4, which uses a weather system. If you're confused reading the following, don't worry, this is how I felt playing. There's a "weather" system this time arond. On rainy nights, you watch the midnight channel to advance the story, and then come foggy days. On these foggy days you have to go into the TV world and rescue someone. If you don't rescue them by the last foggy day, the game ends.
It's quite a mess. For one you can't really tell when these foggy days are coming up until just a few days, maybe a week or so before they come. This makes it very difficult to schedule your time. Think of it like having to present a huge project in school, and not being told by the teacher until a few days before it's due. However, it get's worse.
Let's talk about social links, because this presents a problem also. Social links are people who you can visit after school to develop your relationship with, where saying the right things will raise the rank of the social link. The idea is these social links will strengthen your Personas, making you stronger. In Persona 3 this is how it worked, however in Persona 3 you could use the social link, go home, and go to the dungeon(Tartarus) to level up. You didn't have to choose. However in Persona 4, you can't go to the dungeons from your home, so you have to choose, develop social link, or level up?
The choice is obvious. Whatever benefits the social links provide you, if you don't level up sufficently, the bosses will aniahlate you with ease. So social links are more a hinderence then a help. Not to mention you have social stats to raise like knowledge, courage, etc.(which in this game you'll need for certain social situations, while in P3 you only needed them to unlock certain social links) Again, the choice is obvious, level up!
Now let's get to the dungeon. Multiple dungeons will open up as the game progresses. The dungeons will have multiple floors, with a mini boss in the middle, and the boss at the top. Only by reaching the top can you reach a save point, which can also take you back to the entrance rather then tediously racing out the dungeon. Here is where a problem occurs. In Persona 3 not only were these escape points more prevalent, but when you got to the entrance, your party's health was fully restored, allowing you to go back in and level up more. However in Persona 4, the only way to restore your party is to go home, and thus, quit exploring. What makes this more frustrating is that you NEED to level up more in this game then in P3, as you never know when you'll need to be ready, but without full restoration, your party will likely level up much less in a single night.
Escaping a battle is also absurd. Rather then simply trying to escape, you have to wait for a "point of escape", which opens you up to getting pounded further.
Yes, it sounds like I'm ragging on this game pretty hard, and I kind of am. Was I expecting differences? Of course, but I was expecting those differences to be merely enhancing the social part of the game and fixing some of the problems with Persona 3's gameplay. I was half right. Instead of fixing certain problems with Persona 3, it created it's own problems, and it's frustrating as this game could've surpassed Persona 3 if they got the gameplay right.
However don't go running scared from this game because of that. This is an excellent game. Are there a lot of complaints about the gameplay? Yes however even with these, the gameplay is exceptional compared to the vast majority of games, the storylines and characters are once again brilliant. These flaws are annoying but the game is very much worth it.