Absolutely. Do it yesterday. Better yet, do it a month ago so we can talk about it now. Still need convincing? Alright, here goes.
Persona 4 is a JPRG that’s technically part of the MegaTen franchise, which is a huge deal in Japan but kinda only has a cult following here. Europe got Persona 4 in 2009, but the rest of the world got it at varying times in 2008. The developer in question is Atlus. For those of you who don’t know of them, Atlus are famous for making really difficult games. For example, a boss that can hit every party member every turn for their precise weakness, bypass your physical defense and has a resistance to every single element is only really a mild threat compared to what else is out there.
Yeah. Still, this game’s Beginner Mode is a lot more forgiving than your regular Atlus game, if only because it seems to have stopped the AI from using strategies that would murder you every turn.
The game is about you moving to the small Japanese town of Inaba for a year and the people you meet. Except it’s not, because you get involved in a supernatural murder-mystery case. Except that’s not it either, because this game’s actually about the truth. There’s a constant undercurrent to every encounter you have that nudges the characters towards facing and accepting their own repressed negative feelings and dealing with them to become a better person.
It manages this because I wasn’t entirely truthful about the genre classification. Yes, this is a meaty and challenging JRPG, but it’s also a social simulator. As a High School student the time you don’t spend saving the world is spent attending clubs, doing part-time jobs and working up the courage to ask girls out. Literally. And somehow, it pulls it off. Though you may not like a character at first, chances are that by pursuing their Social Link you’ll grow invested in their story.
There’s a real incentive to do so, even if you’re some heartless bastard that doesn’t give a damn about Kanji-kun or Nanako-chan. That’s another thing, this game is unapologetically Japanese. It throws around the honorifics without ever explaining them and you’ll be quizzed on how to make dishes like sushi.
Anyway, the battle gimmick is that each character gains a ‘Persona’, a magic creature that gives them special skills. The protagonist is a ‘wild card’, who can wield the power of many different Persona and fuse them together to form new, more powerful ones. For each rank in the corresponding Social Link you’ve established with the characters, you get bonus experience for the new Personas you create, which can save hours of grinding for cool abilities.
Battles rely around you finding the weaknesses and strategies to defeat the enemies, with your allies being able to do their own thing or fight under your control. For the most part, they’ll do the right thing if left on autopilot. Even if you take control, by increasing their Social Links they’ll gain a level of autonomy, becoming able to help each other cure status effects, performing special moves and taking powerful blows for you. It’s all very gratifying to see your team come together with all this camaraderie.
Still, if a straight up RPG is what you’re looking for, this isn’t your ideal game. The dungeons, for all the interesting symbolical representations of a characters personalities and randomly-generated maps that mean it’s never the same twice are few and far between. You’ll often spend in-game weeks running around doing unrelated stuff. Luckily, there’s enough scripted events and general activities to make sure this doesn’t get too bad.
If you’re wondering just how far a game can push a single theme, you’d be surprised. In order to find everything there is you’ll really have to work hard. Some of the Social Links are a devil to start, let alone finish and you need absolute perfect actions throughout game year to get them all up to maximum. And the advanced Fusions you can perform require very specific Personas that are a nightmare to assemble without some kind of detailed list of locations and Fusion outcomes.
Another major point in the game’s favour is that it keeps its perspective firmly grounded in the mindset of the teenagers we follow. There’s a lot of tantalising hints at budding romances between just about everyone, and things like midterms carry some fairly serious weight to them. The unfolding plot isn’t told from an omniscient point of view, always giving us the relevant facts like a lot of games, but in the insular bubble of knowledge the characters have. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll understand after you’ve spent some time with it.
Ultimately, you’ll get out of Persona 4 what you put into it. If you just try to potter through on
Beginner and see what all the fuss is about, you’ll have a good time. If you invest heavily in the characters, you’ll be rewarded with appropriate and meaningful resolutions. And if you pump it up to Expert you’ll see the Game Over Screen so much it’ll become almost welcoming.
But the best way to play it is to remember that you’re always searching for the truth. If a character is looking to you for advice, that’s what you’ve got to push them towards. If there’s an easy way out, you should ignore it. If there’s still mysteries left unsolved, you’ve got to keep looking for answers.
This is one of the best JRPGs I’ve played. And I’ve played a fair amount of them. It’s seriously worth your time, just try to forgive the fact that the opening cutscenes last for several hours. Hey, if people can forgive Metal Gear Solid for it, they can forgive Persona 4 too.