It's only been a year since Persona 3 FES was released in Japan. Two years for the original Persona 3 game. Now Atlus is back with Persona 4 which follows very much the same gameplay from P3. You play as a high school student who must balance your daily life routine with dungeon exploring as the days pass and the story unfolds. So is P4 the same as P3?
For those who haven't been following my coverage or checking out other gaming sites, Persona 4 begins when a young man moves to the countryside area of Yasoinaba in Inaba City to live with his relatives because his parents will be working overseas for a year. Arriving in Inaba, he hears rumours about something known as "Mayonaka TV". If one was to stare at a switched off TV on rainy midnights, they will see who their other half will be. One night, the Main Character (MC) tries just that together with his new friends Chie and Yosuke to see if it was true or not but, they find themselves caught up in a series of murders.
What was most frightening was that every time there was a mysterious murder in Inaba, they would see the victim on Mayonaka TV the night before. It is then that they learn someone is using Mayonaka TV, another world that only they have access to, as a murder weapon. But who is is the murderer? What does it all have to do with the strange shows that appear on rainy midnights? Knowing that they are the only ones who can do something, the MC and his friends are determined to stop any more tragedies from happening.
The majority of the game feels very similar to P3 on the surface but, there's a lot of changes made. First, you'll notice the addition of weather forecasts on the calendar and this has a number of roles. Instead of waiting for the full moon in P3 to progress the story, you now have to watch out for foggy days. What's more, you can fight the boss whenever you are ready, so long as you do it before the fog appears.
I think this is a great improvement because you're not forced to follow the story at the game's pace. You can choose to go finish off the main event quickly then, enjoy your school life until the next victim is in trouble. This way, you can set your own pace and feel a greater sense of freedom.
Of course, this isn't the only thing the new weather system affects. Just like in real life, you'll find characters aren't at their usual places outdoors if it's raining and, some other activities become unavailable while others gain bonus effects. Even fusing Personas gain bonuses depending on the weather now.
Building "Social Links" are still a big part of the game if you want to fuse Personas and give them those extra bonus levels, unlock new fusions and to meet more characters. That also means building on your personality just like in P3. Class tests are still there and of course, you still have to answer the odd question and prepare yourself for the quarterly exams.
Difference is, by strengthening your friendship with your party members, you earn new skills that help you out in the dungeons such as "Cover" where, another member of your party will knock you out the way when an enemy attacks and you are in low health. This really helps add to the feeling that you are really improving your relationship with them. It's also good to know the relationships are multi-branching too now so you can either develop a relationship as lovers with one character and, only friends with others so that you don't end up reversing arcanas as in P3.
The usual stats are here such as academic but, Atlus has now introduced part time jobs too which can be done mostly in the evenings, giving you more options to boost your social stats and while earning you that little extra cash. Of course, to do a job you need the right skill and that's where your social stats come in. You won't be able to accept the jobs until say, your patience is high enough to do the mundane job of stamping envelopes! Again, this helps add to the realism of the game making it more believable and immersive overall. You can even raise multiple Social Links at once now through events such as parties!
The rural area of Inaba is quite a small place and doesn't take that long to travel between areas just in P3 but, it's great to see Atlus has thrown in a shortcut menu allowing you to jump instantly to the place you want. The only limitation is that is doesn't transport you to sub-places. For example, you must travel to Yasogami High first before you can select any of the floors from the menu. You can't select which floor of the school you want to go to while say, running along the riverside.
When you're not socialising, you'll be inside Mayonaka TV exploring dungeons of course. The fun part is now that there's a mystery theme to P4, you'll actually have to go around gathering clues before you can gain access to some of the later dungeons and with very limited time available, this adds to the tension. Once you're past the clue gathering part, dungeon exploring works pretty much similar to P3. You fight Shadows that are visible, allowing you to attack them from behind to gain a pre-emptive attack and, you must make your way to the top to defeat the boss.
However, just like the sim part of P4, Atlus has added a number of changes. Some of the main story actually takes part in the dungeons now making them more interesting to get through and, there's a few simple puzzles to solve along the way that will hinder you from getting to the next floor. Scattered throughout each floor are chests but now some of them are trapped and some are locked. Having to gather these keys for those rare items kind of encourages you to explore even more although you don't really have to.
Perhaps the greatest improvement is that you can now issue commands to each of your party members individually instead of relying on their AI like in P3 which, was kind of relying on luck when you needed some healing. By default, the characters are set to act using their AI but, you can easily change this via the Tactics option whenever it's the MC's turn.
Another improvement to the dungeon exploring is that you are now allowed to resume a dungeon from the last highest floor you reached. In P3, I used to always rush my way to the top first every time I reached a new block to save before concentrating on levelling. Now you can just buy an "Return" item from the shops. This can save quite a bit of time!
New Personas are again gathered very much the same way through battles. If you've played any title from the MegaTen series before, you'll be familiar with most of the Personas along with their strengths and weaknesses. However, unlike P3 where the cards are laid out before you after winning battles, most of the time the cards are constantly spinning on screen so you have to hit the button at just the right time. What's more, there are now "Penalty Cards" which as the name suggests means you'll lose everything you're supposed to have gained from the battle. That means all the experience points, money and items! Fortunately, it's not too hard to get the right card.
The bonus experience and money cards have also gone. All you'll see after battles are Persona cards. Instead, they have now been moved to something known called an "Arcana Chance" which you can choose to play, giving you a wider range of bonus effects that last for a number of minutes while you're in the dungeon such as always getting a pre-emptive attack, bonus experience points, full SP recovery etc. When you choose to accept, a tarot card is spun and if it ends up the right way round, you'll get the good effect but if not, you'll get the reverse effect. For example, instead of recovering full SP, you'll lose all SP instead. It's quite a fun new feature, especially when your party's starting to wear out after exploring for some time.
Those of you who played P3 may remember how juggling between the dungeon exploring and the daily life part of the game can be quite hectic. For example, in P3 if you studied too much and went to the dungeon, you could find the characters getting tired or falling ill the next day. You might be glad to know that nothing like that happens here. Characters no longer fall ill or tired. Instead, you're partly limited in your activities such as, if you go dungeon exploring then you won't be able to do any studying or part time jobs later in the evening. Personally I found the character tiredness added to the realism, though.
In terms of game content, I can't say if P4 is one and a half times bigger than P3 as Atlus says but, there certainly appears to be a lot more things to do. Not only are there part time jobs now, there are also post dungeon bosses, more quests and the new weapons only become available when you sell the material you collect from defeating enemies. So for those of you who want like to go for the perfect save file, I'm sure it will definitely be longer that way.
On the presentation side of P4, I found the rural setting of Inaba to be a very light-hearted one. Even though everything looks so rundown in comparison to P3's locations, it doesn't feel so dark. Perhaps it's partly because there aren't Apathy Syndrome victims lying around. I also found myself laughing a lot more than I did in P3 because there's a lot more hilarious scenes and dialogue to entertain you throughout P4. That's not to say the plot isn't a dark one like most MegaTen games. Dungeons aren't quite as plain looking as P3's Tartarus, with an on-going theme depending on who the victim is.
Shoji Meguro's music is great as usual with Shihoko Hirata doing the vocals this time, again a mix of rapping. The OST makes a good listen although some tracks actually remind me of Trauma Centre and not surprising since Meguro did help with some of the compositions.
Voice acting wise, Anime fans will recognise the talented Seiyuus amongst the cast such as Ami Koshimizu as Yukiko (Kallen from Code Geass) and Yui Horie (Love Hina) as Chie. You can just hear the energy bursting from Chie's character when she greets you with a simple "Osu!". What I found funny was the characters actually say, "Level up!" whenever they well... level up while you're exploring dungeons. Sound effects are great and, I particularly like the ambient sound of insects in the background that can only be heard in the countryside.
Visually, I can't say the graphics are any better than P3 but, you might need to wear sunglasses for the bright yellow themed screens that pop-up after battles or when you bring up the menu. You'll still find there's no change in the character's clothings even after you equip new gear. Only the weapon graphics are updated and there's quite a variety from weapons you would expect from real combat to simply tools such as golf clubs, chairs and spanners! I guess this makes more sense considering the protagonists are high school students. You'll also notice the gun shaped evokers from P3 are gone as Personas are summoned a different way but it definitely has nothing to with those glasses they're wearing.
If you were a fan of P3 then I'm sure you will enjoy the Persona 4 experience. This really is P3 with a whole new coating as Atlus suggested when the announced the game, keeping the same system but expanded upon. I can sort of see why the game ended up with the same score as P3 with Famitsu. The character interaction feels a lot more in-depth and trying to link the clues through multiple choices as you play makes the game even more immersive than before, forcing you to pay attention not just in the classes and gives you the feeling you are there working with the team.
On the other hand, the story doesn't feel very well paced out because it doesn't make you want to know more unlike P3 which kept your interest by feeding you bits of information in-between bosses to build up towards the end game. In P4, it seems to focus more on self-contained character stories than the mystery.
Other than that, I doubt you'll have paid attention to the weather forecasts as much as you will here! Now I just hope they don't decide to release a "FES" edition...
Time Played: 58 Hours
- Scenarios and dialogue more hilarious than P3.
- Nice relaxing rural setting.
- Shortcut menu to jump from place to place quickly.
- Items to resume from the last dungeon floor.
- Part time jobs give extra option to raise life social stats and money.
- Usual great music from Shoji Meguro.
- Freedom to progress the main story whenever you're ready.
- Still about exploiting enemy weaknesses in battle.
- Fun Arcana Chance gambling.
- Shadows now have eyes on the back of their heads.
- Showing Personas available from inventory during fusion would be good.
- Not as many extra endings as implied when game was announced.
- The story isn't as well paced.