The PS2 has had its share of role playing games.  With several titles in the Final Fantasy, Wild Arms, Suikoden, Dragon Quest, and Xenosaga series, there is no dispute who reigned as king in the last generation of consoles for RPGs.  While there has been some movement towards placing RPGs on the current generation of consoles, it looks like the PS2 has a few surprises for RPG fans.  The latest comes from Atlus with the latest in the Shin Megami Tensei series, Persona 4.

 

Persona 4 starts out with you signing a contract with the mysterious Igor.  With his lovely assistant Margaret, you find out that your life will take an unexpected turn.  What lies ahead is intrigue, murder, shadows, relationship building, and a big hollow bear named Teddie.  If you are familiar with Persona 3, then some of this probably makes sense.  If you aren’t and are a fan of RPGs, then you have a wild ride ahead of you.

Persona 4 looks to be built on the same engine as Persona 3.  The character models look similar, and you aren’t going to find any polygon-breaking character models.  Some of the buildings and objects look very square.  Still, the character animations are smooth, whether it is riding a bike, running down the street, or strolling down the sidewalk while holding an umbrella.

 

Dialogue boxes have the characters drawn up in an anime style.  These hand-drawn illustrations look great.  When you do a group attack, a short comic-like screen shows slight movement in the background that looks like something you might see from an anime series.  The movement is very slight that it’s not overdone like some high-powered action sequence. This style shows up as well when some kind of emotion icon is shown above the characters head, like a exclamation point or question mark.  While the contract might not sound important, it really fits well into the game.  There are also some animated sequences that help to move the story forward too, and they are as high quality as something you might see in Death Note.  While you might not understand all of the details shown in each cutscene, it will become very evident later.

 

What makes Persona 4 spectacular is the creativity of the enemies you face and the Personas summoned.  There is something new and different with each turn.  While you can see some inspiration from horror movies, they are some of the craziest creatures you have seen.  Ever want to go up against a giant sphere with a tongue larger than Gene Simmons?  How about a dancing hand with a bowtie?  If you are sick of the typical fantasy realm for RPGs, then Persona 4 is a title to look at.

 

While there is a lot of darkness, Persona 4 is vivid with color.  Part of that might be the fact that televisions play an integral part into the game, and you’ll see several studio

The first thing I noticed when I started Persona 4 was the operatic music used in the velvet room.  It has an air of mystery while still setting the mood.  This is the case for all of the music.  The music is upbeat during battles, and really kicks into overdrive with the female singing.  The intensity builds during the boss battles.  The music is a heavy mix of bass-driven J-pop.  While you might think that this would get annoying after a while, the music is so catchy that you might actually find yourself humming it while out and about.  Wherever the Persona team has gotten their musicians from, they certainly know how to capture the right mood.

 

While the voice acting in Persona 3 was good, a couple of the voices were just a bit off.  Persona 4 has managed to make all the voices fit the part.  While not every conversation is voice acted, a good majority of them are.  It’s really amazing how many conversations are voiced and how well acted they are.  It almost sounds like the voice actors were together performing their lines together.

Movement is simple.  You move with the left analog stick and control the camera with the right analog stick.  You talk to people or perform actions with X.  Hitting Square brings up a menu where to go in the city or tells them to standby during an attack.  Square also brings up information for you, such as what a certain spell or item does.  Triangle lets you rush through a combat, but you want to be careful when using this option because the computer probably won’t use the same commands that you would.

 

My only complaint about the controls with Persona 3 was that the options were in a circle.  Sometimes it wasn’t exactly clear which way to move the cursor to go to the menu option I wanted to.  Now there is a list in the lower left hand corner.  This makes more sense and makes control better.

While I thought that there were some issues with Persona 3, it was still a great game and would be difficult to beat.  After playing Persona 4, Atlus has topped themselves.  While the game isn’t all that different, the setting and some tweaks make for a much better game.

 

In Persona 4 you start out as a transfer student to the small town of Inaba.  You are staying with your uncle Ryotaro Dojima, the local detective, and his daughter Nanako.  As you move in, the local news reporter Mayumi Yamano has been involved with the City Council Secretary Taro Namatame.  His wife is enka ballad singer Misuzu Hiiragi.  When Mayumi Yamano is found dead hanging from an antenna, it appears that Taro may be involved.  Ryotaro is on the case, but not everything is what it seems.

 

But you start of your days as a typical student.  You make friends, take classes, and get a part-time job.  As you make friends and join clubs you develop Social Links.  These are important because the stronger they are, the more powerful Personas you can create.  The more you nurture those relationships, the stronger the Social Link gets.  While this might sound odd, it is more of a strategy for how you want to build your character.  There will be times where you have to make sacrifices and choose one group over another.

 

During school you find out about the Midnight Channel from some other students.  Rumor has it that if you look into a turned off TV at midnight on a rainy night, you will see your soulmate on the TV.  However, when you try it out you find yourself actually able to put your hand through the TV.  When you tell your friends about this you prove it to them at the local department store.  The TV is so big that you and your friend actually fall into the TV and find yourselves in the Midnight Channel.  You see what looks like a bunch of TV filming sets.  Could this place have something to do with the murders?  You will take many trips to the Midnight Channel to figure that out.

 

The weather in Persona 4 acts as a bit of a timer.  A mysterious fog occasionally comes where you live.  Once the fog clears another person shows up dead.  You need to check the weather for timing since you can’t go into the Midnight Channel every day or else you will tire you and your party out.  You also have to remember to take your Social Links to heart and develop them.  Keeping the correct balance between social life and investigating the Midnight Channel is important.

 

In the Midnight Channel you battle against some of the craziest enemies you’ll ever see.  Some seem to be rather silly, while others are downright bizzare.  When you start you only control your own character.  Eventually in the game you can either let the AI control your teammates, give them suggestions as to their strategy, or control every move they make.  Most of the time your teammates do a good job of controlling themselves, but you may want to take over for some boss battles.  The battles go by fast and furious, but you still feel like you have enough control of your party.  It just works well and should be a boon to those who get tired by combat.

 

All enemies and everyone in your party has a weakness.  If you attack an enemy with the element of its weakness, the enemy will go down.  If all the enemies are down, you can call an All-Out Attack that uses everyone in your party to defeat them all in one shot.  This definitely adds an element of strategy to battles.

 

The card shuffle from Persona 3 is back, although it has changed significantly.  In Persona 3, the cards shuffled like a street card game, like the cards were on a table and you selected the card after the shuffle completed.  Now the cards start to get shuffled and continue to move while you try to make your selection.  They move all over the screen, moving towards and away from the screen.  When you hit X, the card closest to the center of the screen gets selected.  Sometimes you get an item bonus, sometimes a new Persona, or you may get a blank card that does nothing.  There are also penalty cards that cause you to lose the experience you just gained.  This really makes choosing your card more difficult.

 

Personas are your other self.  They are a part of you.  The other members of your party have one Persona that they can control, but you can control up to six at one time.  They act as spellcasters in your party.  As you gain experience, so does the Persona that you control.  Your Persona gains new abilities as they gain levels.  You can also transmute Persona cards to create a completely new Persona, with the help of Igor.  You need to do this to create the more powerful Personas and include them in your army.  It is an element similar to raising Chocobos in Final Fantasy.

 

There are a few complaints about Persona 4.  First of all, there is a lack of save points in the Midnight Channel.  You can save during the day, but in the Midnight Channel, you have to be sure with what you are doing and leave if you find yourselves too deep in the Midnight Channel.  If you die, the game is over.  However, your allies will take a fatal blow if they need to so that you survive.

 

Going into the Midnight Channel can be a bit of a chore because of the amount of ground to cover for each level.  Also, there are a lot of enemies to defeat so your party can be drained by the time you encounter the final boss.  With no save points, this becomes a greater issue.

 

Also, just as a warning, Persona 4 is rated Mature for a reason.  There are some crazy monsters you will fight in there.  There is also quite a bit of rough language and some sensuality with the Personas.  While there isn’t anything as extreme as the SEES device that looks like a gun in Persona 3, as the eyeglasses are the key to the Personas in Persona 4, the game still has some mature themes.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the Persona series though.

Persona 4 will keep you occupied for over 60 hours.  You also need to make sure that you solve the mystery before the end of the year.  Otherwise your questions about the Midnight Channel may be forever lost in the fog.

 

Each game comes with a free soundtrack CD.  If you pre-ordered the game you get a

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