I regularly receive requests from dear friends to join them at playing video games online, one of the benefits of this modern console age. I’ve politely declined their requests recently, much to their confusion. They assume that I am much too cowardly to play modern first person shooters with them and they aren’t wrong exactly, but the reasoning is a little more shameful then that thought.
While my friends are gathered online, I’ve been spending time with a 10 year old gaming system, playing a game series that has changed only superficially since 1996, that is more a dating simulator than an RPG, with the latest instalment featuring teenagers shooting themselves in the head to unleash their hidden super powers. You can read my review of Persona 3 here.
Persona 4’s nameless protagonist is a high school transfer student recently moved to a rural Japanese town. The town’s inhabitants are disappearing after appearing on a mysterious midnight television show and saving them and unravelling the mystery behind the disappearances requires jumping into a television and fighting various demons. Part dungeon crawler, part murder mystery, the plotline is admittedly a little nonsensical but the weirdness is tempered with an involving narrative and genuinely interesting characterization.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Fable II which can be found here, a game that tried very hard to be an engaging fairy tale, but falling flat for the most part. Persona 4 succeeds where Fable II failed because all of the components of the game are equally interesting. Fable II’s hook was a solid levelling system and a fun combat system. Unfortunately the story was trite and the side quests were repetitive.
Persona 4 literally casts you in the role of a high school student who is also tasked with saving the world. You still have to study for tests, join clubs, work part-time jobs and, most importantly, date girls. These tasks are technically optional, however they provide invaluable perks that feed back into the main dungeon crawling elements of the game. The trick is deciding what part-time job, what after school activity and what girl to commit to. The game really is all about time management and given that the characters operate on a real world clock, it is impossible to investigate every single option available. This leads to the game unfolding in a very personable way as players set their own priorities.
I’ve got some gripes with the game. The dungeons elements can get tiresome when all you want to do is “mack” on that “special” girl from your class. Also, to get the “good” ending you have to answer a very long conversational string in a very specific manner. Beyond that, this easily is one of the best games for the PS2 and one of the best RPG’s available on any game system. It has a rabid following in Japan and a devoted fan base here in North America.
Fans of RPG’s would do well to pick up Persona 4. It’s well worth the dust that will accumulate on your XBOX controller while playing (it will take a minimum of 11 hours to complete) and the embarrassing fact that Japer is now able to take you out with a knife in Call of Duty.