The latest instalment of Atlus’ long running Shin Megami Tensei series is Persona 4, which I showed an unpacking video for a few weeks back. With my Xbox 360 out of action I’ve finally had the time to delve into this title, but because of the long play time I’ve decided to split it into a number of parts.
What’s instantly hit me from the start is the dedication to presentation. Just like in Persona 3, the introduction video is a slick combination of anime characters and J-pop music. Even the title screen is a blend of moving silhouettes, block colours and nostalgic score. Atlus have learnt from previous outings that even with a low resolution Playstation 2 engine, it’s possible to have a unique style that shines. The graphics aren’t revolutionary but instead worked and refined to a tee. All of the menu screens are different and lively; it certainly gives the impression of ultra-trendy teenagers in Japan.
As far as story goes, I’m as always thoroughly intrigued. As a transfer student from the city, you arrive in a countryside town called Inaba. Should be a quiet affair in comparison to the metropolis of P3 right? Wrong. The plot is as dark as ever, unfolding a series of murders in front of your eyes. Victims are strung upside down to television poles, linked to a strange world accessed by the ‘Midnight Channel’ on TV. The channel also has a rumour that by looking into your set on a rainy night, you can see your soul mate on the other side. However, as you and your companions investigate and discover your own ‘Persona’ (a being originating from your soul that can fight on your own behalf) the revelations become much more complicated.
What really draws me in though is the realistic Japanese setting. There is no fantasy world, no great journey or strange mythology to surround the RPG experience. All of the characters have real problems; the every day activities are what you would expect a teenager to participate in and from what I’ve heard so far, it’s a pretty accurate representation of life in rural Japan. There are time restrictions on how long victims survive and a strategic weather system in Inaba that really gives a sense of tension. Each morning, afternoon and evening can only be spent doing one activity so I’ve already found myself carefully planning my time. When you’re not exploring the Midnight Channel, your main character bonds with people in Inaba to create social links. These improve with time and give bonus experience points to your Persona. Therefore balancing your time between normal high school teenager and Persona hero is paramount.
The voice acting is of a particularly high quality, offering a wealth of sound to the huge amounts of dialogue in the game. What’s also noticeable is the inclusion of honorifics such as -senpai, -kun and -chan. It adds some surprising depth to the comedy and emotion in the scenes; as well as giving you a little language lesson. For such a small company, in the first ten hours Atlus have produced a miracle in translating Persona this good, so quickly. The script writing is spot on and appeals to the western audience without losing any of the original style or meaning. Other developers take note; you don’t need a huge budget to bring an unreleased franchise stateside.
The combat and exploration hasn’t been drastically changed, but it seems like many of the problems I had with P3 have been resolved. The mundane, boring Tartarus that you explored for nearly all of the game has been replaced by several smaller dungeons that relate to the victim you’re saving. For example, to rescue a strangely love stricken Yukiko my band of Persona wielders had to traipse through a medieval castle. It’s different at least?! You can choose to control all of your party’s characters too, which never become ill or tired like before.
Personal, ranting off the cuff thoughts? The main character has a god awful hair cut. I don’t think you can change it, but I’ve seen a Barber in the shopping district that I will continue to visit in the vain hope it will change. Also, one of the coolest and darkest parts of P3 was how you summoned a Persona. You took a gun and shot yourself in the freaking head. This time around though, the protagonists use trendy coloured glasses and cards. What is with Japan and card based games?! They’ve done it in Kingdom Hearts (Chain of Memories), Metal Gear Solid (Acid) and even Pokemon. I’m pretty sure they must have an unhealthy obsession about them over there. Oh, and Teddy may look cute, but after the billionth time of him saying “That’s one down Chie-chan!” I wanted to rip his head off. Is there anyway you can turn off JUST his speech?!
So far I am thoroughly impressed with Persona 4. The contemporary visuals and soundtrack (which is also free as a CD in the case) is a joy to play through. The age of the Playstation 2 may show through in a few places, but for £19.99 it seems like an absolute steal. Atlus boast that you can find 40+ hours here, with a second play through also encouraged; which is some serious time for your buck.
(P.S to players; doesn’t Nanako’s sad expression bring a tear to your eye when you have to go out and save the world?)