An idyllic little town in the countryside, a national political scandal involving a famous enka artist, an encroaching market chain that threatens the resident's livelihood, a murder where the victim is strung up amongst antennae in the town's rooftops, a channel that tells you your soul mate if you watch while it is raining outside, and a visit to the Velvet Room to meet Igor's new assistant. Persona 4 contains all those things and more, and what I've talked about is just the first hour or so of game play.
This story overload sets up the latest Persona adventure, where your silent protagonist is shipped off to the outskirts of civilization to the country bumpkin town of Inaba. From the moment you get there you know something strange is going down after a young girl is murdered and her body is found attached to a TV antennae. Of course, if you've played a Persona title in the past, you know this is just one of the strange things you're going to be seeing throughout the game. Along the way you'll meet a large assortment of people in the town, from the son of a market chain to a girl who helps run her families inn, to a giant teddy bear with a removable head.
Persona 4 retains the Social Link system and the school system present in Persona 4, and expands upon them quite a bit. Previously you were limited to just three aspects of personality that affected the social links, now you're up to five different stats, all of which grow with your responses to everyday situations. Challenging an insulting teacher can result in an increase in your courage for example. There is also a great deal of customization that goes in to building your hero's room, you can pick up stuff to decorate your room, including figures from capsule machines.
The battle system so far remains mostly unchanged from the short amount of time I was able to spend with the game. However a great new change is the ability to hand control each character. This time around you don't have to worry about them potentially not healing you when you're in dire straits, which is a greatly appreciated change. The game still remains very challenging, as I got stomped by a boss that I went in to unprepared for. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to save before the battle which had me questioning why I wouldn't be able to warp to a boss like I could in Persona 3. Perhaps I missed the save point, I don't know for certain but I intend to go back. Basic enemies are also very dangerous as well, especially opponents that can summon reinforcements, make sure you keep a robust stock of personas that allow you to dish out a variety of attacks.
The game has picked up a few graphical updates, some nice new texture work, some post processing effects, and overall looks very solid for the last of the great Playstation 2 titles. The game is loaded with color and style and it really goes a long way for this game and helps it stand out quite a bit. The audio work is just as strong as the previous title as well. Some of the tracks from Persona 3 made a transition to this title and they felt perfectly in place as well, along with some new compositions from Shoji Meguro, especially the new battle music, I fell in love with it instantly. Personally I don't know if he can top the final boss music from Persona 3, but I am looking forward to finding out if that is possible. There are also some excellent dance styled tracks from Yumi Kawamura that fit just as well as they did in Persona 3. The voice acting this time around is quite strong with an excellent performance from Johnny Yong Bosch, and Yuri Lowenthal returns as a second banana type character rather than the lead this time around and he is doing some of his best work this side of Ben 10 (Yeah that's right, I like the new Ben 10 series). Dave Wittenberg also does an excellent job as Teddie, your bear-like companion who serves as your scout, even his terrible puns come across as believable.
The short time I've spent with Persona 4 have been extremely exciting. It has only been a little over a year since the original Persona 3 release and only a little over six months since the release of FES, and yet I am excited as all hell to play Persona 4 this holiday season. Early prognosis looks like this really is a standout title this holiday season despite its platform of choice. Of course this also feels like further proof that the PS2 is still a viable platform amidst all this high definition gaming. Now if only the PS3 could do backwards compatibility to allow PS3 only owners a chance at this amazing game. We'll be back soon with a full review after a bit more exploration of the Midnight Channel.
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