The Persona franchise is, in and out of itself, a legend among JRPG’s. However, out of the entire Shin Megami Tensei trail, Persona 4 is the one which has the biggest name to it. It’s spawned the original game, an anime, two fighting games, a dungeon crawler, a manga, a live stage production, a spinoff novel, a dancing game and an enlarged remake of the original game…which is what this review is talking about.
Persona 4 takes place in a rural village in Japan, named Inaba. You, the classic unnamed protagonist, move to this town for a year due to your parents and the like…a very typical setup. However, almost instantly after moving, murders start taking place, and a strange, unscheduled TV show called the Midnight Channel airs which appears to be related…but all that is kind of dwarfed to the fact that you can go inside a TV. With these newfound powers, you explore the world on the other side of the TV, and it’s not very long at all before you make a connection to the other world and the murder victims. Playing as the hero, you obviously take it upon yourself to save all the future victims of this serial killer, and after settling into this routine, the team of people who you’ve saved start to get pretty large and the killer ups their antics.
The story itself almost entirely revolves around the murders, and as such, it’s a relatively simple one. It’s obviously got it’s plot twists and it’s unique revelations, but it’s nothing that’s going to blow you away. However, a large portion of the charm here really does come from the fact that the game isn’t trying to do something new or amazing, and as such, can direct some of the focus from the story onto the characters…which is where things turn from “well executed” into amazing.
On the surface, the characters are pretty overused tropes. The tomboy, the sidekick, the posh one, the adorable pet…the list goes on. However, Persona 4 uses these tropes as starting points, and, over time, actually deconstructs these starting points. The sidekick, through both story development and through the unique development point’s that are called Social Links, becomes less of a sidekick and more of a companion who’s just following you for his own reason, and they all develop to this degree…some of them significantly more than others.
See, Social Links are where you chose to spend time with cast members – some of them are playable characters, and some of them aren’t. There are over 20 fully fledged “links” that you can forge with people, and these links play an incredibly large part in the outstanding character development. For an example, you’ve got a transexual who’s coming to terms with herself, and through your interactions with her, you become an incredible force in her change and development, and depending on what you do in certain situations will actually influence if she accepts herself as a female or not in the long run.
Not many games go this far with their characters, and the example that i’ve given above is one of the better examples, but there are many that are so similar.Sexuality, acceptance and a sense of self all have huge roles in individual links and characterization, and these are done in an amazingly realistic way. Love is also touched upon, obviously, as you can date almost any of the females in the game if you so please, and this changes a lot of their development to one that’s focused more on you and them than just them. However, the one tiny thing that actually stops this game being able to claim a perfect cast is the main character himself, since as all of the focus falls on everyone else, he turns more and more into a Mary Sue archtype who’s too perfect for his own good. It’s a crying shame, but you can actually ignore him and focus largely on the characters whom you really have a special “bond” with…both as a player and as the character in the game.
So, the characters are the best part in the game. There’s no denying that. However, a lot of their subtle development actually occurs in the world inside the TV, where “shadows” of people reside, the inner thoughts and feelings that you’d rather hide. All of the victims that you save have a dungeon that’s entirely themed around their inner self, and this alternates from a video game to an elegant castle that’s come from a Disney film. It’s traditional dungeon crawling at it’s finest, as the battle system is both incredibly simple yet incredibly in-depth, as the power of the Persona’s that you and your team-mates carry allow you to engage in good ol’fashioned turn based battling. There’s no complaint or problems with the battling system, and unlike most games, there’s a good reason to train and use all of your party members, as they all have unique abilities and elements the more that they’re trained up. The boss fights are incredible, as are their designs, but even these all come down to an underlying theme – the characters.
The remake has added an extra major character into the mix, as well as given the old characters a little bit of a polish, and actually extended the original game by two or three in-game months. It clears up a lot of loose ends that the original game held, and creates a much more “complete” package. However, despite how jazzy and funky the game looks and plays, one strength stands arms and legs above all of it’s other strengths, and that is the characters that it uses, employs and puts on parade, and this makes the game worth playing for the characters alone. I’ve only scratched the surface of everything that this game does, with a collect-em-all type system, quests, collectibles and costumes and a surprising hidden boss all adding onto your experience in Inaba with your friends and family, but that’s what this game is about at it’s core, and because of the effort that’s invested into them, you can’t fault it for this.
Persona 4 was an amazing game…but Persona 4 Golden is one better than amazing.