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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
I'm really tempted to just write, "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 is just like Persona 3 but better," but I don't think the powers that be would let that through the editing process, so I'll have to tell you why it's better and one you need to play.

I've seen several games ship with an art book as an added bonus, but there are few that I've found myself actively thumbing through and interested in looking at more than once. This was not the case with Persona 4. The art book is great and, unlike Eternal Poison, the look translates into the game. There's a bit of awkwardness, but the overall style is appealing and helps make the characters even more engaging.

Once again, the magic isn't in the voicework, but the writing. Each of the scenarios are based on a character's fears and handled with just the right amount of seriousness and humor. A few, like a character's desire to move out of her sister's shadow are relatable, but others plumb the very depths of human insecurities. Persona 4 goes to the bone with some of its stories. Looking at the problems, you would expect some sort of emo wrist slash-a-thon, but the sense of humor adds a completely different dimension to the cast. They're incredibly likeable and it's hard to not want to follow their stories to the very end.

It's hard to imagine something darker than shooting yourself in the head to summon demons, but Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 manages to top that. The story follows a student (you) who moves to a small town to live with his uncle. Not long after your arrival, your classmates tell you about a TV station with a bit of a "Bloody Mary" -style rumor behind it. According to the rumor, watching the station after midnight on a rainy day will allow the viewer to see their soulmate. Curious, you decide to try the trick, only instead of seeing your soulmate you see images of the two grisly murders that your uncle is currently investigating. You also discover that you can enter the TV where you meet Kuma who tells you that things haven't been right in his world either.

It goes without saying that there's a good bit of exposition involved with Persona 4 is an understatement. You'll have to read and listen to nearly an hour of setup before the gameplay begins, and after that, you're treated to long stretches of explanation. I'm usually one to complain about games that I have to watch more than I play, but with Persona 4, it's different. Story and gameplay segments are evenly balanced and compliment each other. As you explore the mysteries surrounding occurrences in both the real and TV world, you discover that the occurrences are due to entities that are actually manifestations of the main character's doubts and fears and the only way to save the day is to face their inner demons.

Time management plays a major role in gameplay. Rather than follow lunar cycles to predict important events, Persona 4 follows weather patterns. Since you can only enter the dungeons after school, it sometimes feels like there isn't enough time to work on both your dungeon hacking and social skills. Though it feels limiting, it ends up working in the game's favor. Everything feels like it has greater weight to it and nothing feels insignificant. This is a big part of what made Persona 3 such an amazing experience and makes it stand out from other games that attempt similar features.

There are three difficulty settings that dictate how tough battles are. If you made it through Persona 3 with little trouble, you should be more than ready for Normal and may want to bump the difficulty up, but be aware that some of the "outs" given in Persona 3 are gone.

Dungeons have been slightly reworked. There's only one save point in each dungeon (right before the boss) and escape portals have been removed. This is frustrating if you aren't prepared. You can, however, purchase items that act like portal scrolls in Diablo that allow you a one-shot escape/ return ability. Again, it comes back to being prepared. If you don't buy the right items, you can find yourself in a world of trouble.

The only time the lack of save points/ portals becomes a problem is if your main character dies. Although you have control over allies in battle, if the main character falls, you're unceremoniously tossed back to the title screen. It's frustrating to lose a couple floors worth of work because an enemy was able to get a cheap shot in, but over time, you get a feel for how things are handled and to learn how to reduce the chances of getting sucker-punched by an enemy. Again, it all comes down to planning and realizing that there's no such thing as an insignificant detail.

Game Mechanics:
Social Links are just as much a part of gameplay in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 as they were in Persona 3. Days are split between in school and after school sessions. While in school, characters have social obligations that they need to attend to. Doing so will increase their Social stats, which, in turn, increase your experience, as well as providing other statistical benefits. Sometimes you'll have to complete bonus objectives, while other times you'll need to answer questions from teachers. In other words, the system works exactly the same way it did in Persona 3.

One of the better additions is the ability to control party members during combat. Persona 3 offered limited control over characters; you could tell them to attack or heal, but they were mostly left to their own devices. That method is still available if you liked it, though the new method does have its advantages. An issue with leaving things up to the A.I. was how unpredictable battles became. They could usually hold their own, but every once in a while there were questionable actions. I was a fan of the old system, but was won over by the amount of strategy the new system offers. Combat is still based mostly around exploiting weaknesses, so the more control you have the better.

Persona 4 is an all-around great game and a must buy for any RPG fan - or really anyone in the market for a good game. There are numerous, much flashier titles coming out this holiday season, but Persona 4 should not be overlooked.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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