Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ghost's Arcade: Shin Megami Tensai Persona 4

"And theeeen we do stuff like 'Persona!' and with our Personas beat the crap out of Shadows!"

LENGTH WARNING - This is a long game with a lot of plot.  I'll try to keep it as concise as possible but....well if you know my reviews you know that won't happen.

Ghost here, Thanks for joining me.

I originally had a large "comedy" routine for the opening of this review featuring some announcer getting me to play this game under false pretenses and only afterwards telling me about all the weirdness within.  However, once I actually got to writing this review I realized that would probably detract some from the content I wished to talk about; it might paint a poor light on something that I truly feel many people should experience.  Yes this is yet another game where I've basically already told you my feelings in the very introduction but...some games are just worth it to show to you exactly why they are so good.

Have you ever discovered something that you had a sort of preconceived notion about which turned out to be vastly different than what you thought?  Sure, we all have and it usually turns out to the detriment of the production in question.  We've all been disappointed by something promising.  However, that's not what I'm talking about today; in fact, my meaning is the exact opposite.  Have you ever found something that is very different than what you thought but actually turned out to be EVEN BETTER than you originally thought it would be?  This has only happened a few times to me (mostly with food) but the subject of today's review is one such instance.

KoD as Yu Narukami
I first heard of Persona 4 through that constant contributor friend of mine KoD and his cosplay of the main character.  I was curious about the game and he not only told me the general premise of the story but explained it's RPG nature.  I was also interested in this game because of the upcoming Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE that was coming out.  I wanted a feel of the gameplay with a Shin Megami Tensei game before seeing if I wanted to get the Fire Emblem Crossover game or not.  KoD even decided to stream the game for me over Skype.  I thought I had a pretty good idea of what would be in store for me based on KoD's partial playthrough and discussions.  Admittedly part of the gameplay during the Skype sessions seemed a bit less than exciting but it seemed good enough to warrant spending $15 on Amazon to get it for myself.  However, once I got to actually playing the game I was surprised.  The things I thought were exciting at first turned out to be pretty much as expected or even a little bit mundane.  However, the parts KoD showed me that I was bored with actually became my favorite part of playing the game in person.  It was a VERY different experience than what I was expecting and was far better than my expectations gave me.

So what exactly impressed me so?  Let's take a closer look at Persona 4 and find out!


April 11, 2011, Yu Narukami has come to Inaba, Japan to live with his Uncle Ryotaro Dojima and cousin Nanako for a year as his parents are traveling for work. That very night a local news reporter is murdered and rumors about the Midnight Channel, a strange show that appears briefly at midnight when it's raining, starts to surface.  The next morning a high school student, Saki Konishi, finds the reporter's body and within a couple days she is also murdered.  Yu's Uncle Dojima and a rookie detective Adachi begin the investigation into the deaths but the cause of death in both cases was completely inconclusive.  Meanwhile, Yu has started attending the same high school as Saki and has made at least three friends already in Yosuke Hanamura, Chie Satonaka, and Yukiko Amagi.  One day while hanging out with Yosuke and Chie, the trio accidentally fall into a television as Yu discovers his hand could pass through the TV.  They land in a bizarre fog-filled world inside the TV and run into a strange bear creature named Teddie who tells them to leave before the shadows attack.  Bizarre grotesque creatures known as shadows do attack but Yu feels a surge of power.  Yu summons a being known as a persona to help him fight off the shadows.  With the shadows defeated, Teddie creates an exit point and shoves the trio back into the real world.

Yosuke can't keep the TV world out of his mind and asks Yu to take him back into that world as he remembers seeing Saki on the Midnight Channel the night before her death.  They agree and run into Teddie who informs them that people have, in fact, been thrown into his world and asks them to help find the person responsible.  Teddie takes them to the place where Saki was thrown in.  When a person is thrown into the TV world, the area around changes to reflect their psyche; in Sakis case it became her family's liquor store.  Yosuke hears Saki's voice and runs after it only to find it is a trick by the world to torment him.  Suddenly Yosuke is face to face with a shadow version of himself.  The Shadow versions of people are the manifestation of a person's hidden thoughts or parts of their personality they are not proud of.  Shadow Yosuke attacks but Yu is able to subdue him.  Yosuke accepts Shadow Yosuke as part of himself and the shadow transforms into a Persona that Yosuke can use in battle.  The pair return to the real world.

Dojima and Adachi still haven't found anything out about the murders but the media has gone crazy even interviewing Yukiko as the news reporter was staying in her family's inn before the murder.  Things take a turn when Yukiko appears on the Midnight Channel and almost instantly goes missing.  Chie, desperate to save her best friend has Yu and Yosuke take her into the TV World.  With the help of Teddie they find where Yukiko is currently being held which has manifest itself as a castle. Chie bursts forward but instead of finding Yukiko she finds her own shadow who represents her jealousy of Yukiko's more girly nature and talents.  Just like with Yosuke, Shadow Chie attacks, is defeated, and turns into a persona for Chie.  The trio return not long after to search the castle once more.  They finally find Yukiko being confronted by her shadow who represents her feelings of being trapped by her family and the inn.  Shadow Yukiko is defeated and becomes a persona for Yukiko.

Still unable to find anything out about the two murders, the higher ups send a young brilliant detective, Naoto Shirogane to help Dojima and Adachi who begins keeping an eye on Yu's group.  Before long, the news picks up a story about a local punk named Kanji Tatsumi who beat up an entire biker gang.  That same night Kanji appears on the midnight channel.  The team tries to warn him but are unsuccessful and he disappears.  The four go into the TV World and with Teddie's help find Kanji's area which has taken the place of a bathhouse.  Eventually they find Kanji who is being confronted by his shadow who represents his love of cute things that aren't manly and his fear of rejection (being manifest as homosexuality.)  Shadow Kanji is defeated and becomes a Persona for Kanji who joins the team.

Around this same time, famous Japanese Idol Rise "Risette" Kujikawa has a media conference that she is stepping down from her career and returning home to Inaba.  That night, Rise appears on the Midnight Channel.  Once again the team tries to warn her but she goes missing.  The group enters the TV to find Teddie despondent that he doesn't remember who he actually is.  Despite this, he helps them find Rise's area which has taken the form of a strip club.  They find Rise being confronted by her shadow who represents her frustration of being sold as an airhead sex object when nobody knows the real her.  Shadow Rise attacks but is different from the others.  She can scan the other personas and render them completely useless.  Teddie, however feels a surge of energy and attacks defeating the shadow who turns into a persona for Rise.  But things get harder when Shadow Teddie suddenly appears behind the bear representing the real fear that his search to find who he is would be pointless and only end in pain.  The group defeat Shadow Teddie who turns into a Persona for the bear.  Teddie becomes a fighting member of the group while Rise becomes a supporting member.

Things take a turn for the unexpected when Yu's homeroom teacher, Mr. Morooka is murdered and found in the same position as the reporter and Saki though he never appeared on the Midnight Channel.  Naoto, the young detective, informs Yu's group that a suspect has come forward and that their "little game" is at an end.  However, that night on the Midnight Channel a mentally disturbed high school student named Mitsuo Kubo appears and says "Catch me if you can."  The group rush to the TV World and find Mitsuo's area which has taken the form of a video game.  There he is in a confrontation with his shadow who represents his feeling of emptiness.  After defeating his shadow, Mitsuo confesses to all three murders and is taken into custody in the real world.

Naoto, however is not convinced and keeps digging into the mystery.  Eventually Naoto makes a television appearance to voice concerns that the case may not be over.  That same night Naoto appears on the Midnight Channel and goes missing.  The group find Naoto's area which is in the form of a secret base and discover through Naoto's shadow that he has been a girl this whole time.  Naoto's shadow, who represents her repressed childhood and femininity attacks and is defeated, transforming into a Persona.  Naoto becomes the last member of the group and is not certain that Mitsuo is not the real killer as she was tossed into the TV world after his capture.  Mitsuo only killed Morooka so that he could come forward and claim responsibility for all the murders and be seen by the people around him.

Yu begins receiving threatening notes to stop saving people so his Uncle brings him in for questioning.  Yu tells Dojima of everything but he doesn't believe him and leaves him locked up for the night.  Unfortunately, that night Nanako appears on the Midnight Channel and goes missing.  The group comes to Yu's aid as Dojima goes out to search for his daughter.  Naoto, with some information gathered by Dojima, believes that the murderer must be someone Nanako knows, must be able to be unnoticed, and must have the ability to carry a large TV with him.  Only one man immediately fits the category, delivery truck driver Taro Namatame.  They radio Dojima who sees Namatame's car and pursues him.  Namatame crashes his truck, causing Dojima to be severely injured, and jumps into the TV in the rear or his truck.  Naoto discovers Namatame's diary with words about how he was wanting to save people by throwing them into the TV.  Yu and the gang rush to the TV world and locate Nanako and Namatame in an area resembling Heaven.  There they find Namatame holding Nanako who is slowly turning unconscious due to the world's fog.  Namatame smiles at Yukiko, Kanji, and Rise as he has saved them and won't allow them to stop him from saving Nanako as well.  He gathers shadows to him and transforms into a large grotesque angel.  Yu's group defeat Namatame as both he and Nanako lose consciousness.  The group bring them back to the real world and they are admitted to the hospital.  However, they notice the fog from the TV World has started showing up in the real world.  Nanako's condition keeps on getting worse and worse with the fog around.

If you don't want the ending of this game spoiled, then skip on to the gameplay section.   This is the only warning you'll get.

Nanako passes away in the hospital surrounded by her father and Yu.  Teddie stays by her side as the others rush to Namatame's room.  There is a large TV in his room and Namatame's shadow appears on the TV to taunt them.  They contemplate tossing him into the TV and allowing him to die for his crimes.  (Side Note: You CAN choose to do this.  If you choose this option the game ends with all of Japan dying though.)  Yu still thinks something is off and lets Namatame go.  At the same time, Teddie is seen in a strange void not sure of where he is but his memories are slowly coming back to him.  Back in the real world, Teddie's disappearance has somehow cause Nanako to come back to life.  The group confronts Namatame for his side of the story.

Namatame agrees.  He had seen the reporter die on the Midnight Channel and that night discovered his hand could go into the TV.  However when he saw her body the next morning he realized the TV may be a warning.  When he saw Saki on the TV he tried to warn her but she ignored him and ended up dead as well.  Later when Yukiko appeared on the Midnight Channel he called the police who refused to listen to his claim.  He then decided he should save the people from death and his TV may be telling him to put them in there so the murderer would not kill them.  He stuffed Yukiko, Kanji, Rise, and Naoto into the TV.  Since the murders stopped (with the exception of the copycat murder of Morooka) he believed he was doing the right thing.  So when Nanako appeared on the TV he was going to do the same thing only this time he needed to follow her and it was only then he realized what that world actually was and what he may have been doing.

Naoto begins to think further.  Namatame didn't murder the reporter or Saki; he also did not throw Mitsuo into the TV.  There must be one other person who could easily blend in and be involved in all these circles of people.  Finally they arrive at the proper conclusion and confront the rookie detective Adachi believing him to be the murderer.  Adachi flees into the TV world and the group follows.  There they meet Teddie who stumbled back into that world realizing that he was once a shadow with special powers (which explains Nanako coming back to life) who developed human emotions.  They learn that Adachi was the one who tossed the reporter and Saki into the TV and was enjoying the little game Namatame was doing.  Adachi had also tossed Mitsuo into the TV not wanting the excitement to end because a kid took credit for murders he didn't commit.  Adachi also reveals the reason for the fog in the real world is that the TV World and Real World were joining together soon and that everyone would eventually become shadows.  The group fight Adachi who also has an evil persona and defeat him.  However, a large eye-ball creature named Ameno-sagiri appears  It is he who has partially influenced Adachi's actions and it is he who has brought the fog and the impending destruction of the real world.  Ameno-sagiri is not an evil presense but rather is there to fulfill mankind's wishes.  Since much of mankind prefers fantasy to reality he has brought the fog to give them their wish.  However he promises to lift the fog and fade away if he is defeated.  Yu's group defeats the creature and the fog is lifted for good.  Nanako returns to full health because of the fog's departure.

It is March 2012 and Yu is about to depart for home when he receives a letter from Adachi in prison.  Adachi can't shake the question of how he, Namatame, and Yu all three could enter the TV world without having a persona at first.  Yu decides to track down this question and questions Nanako on what they did his first day in Inaba.  He remembers meeting a gas station attendant and shaking the man's hand.  Yu finds the gas attendant who transforms in front of him.  The attendant is the goddess Izanami who still plans to cover the world in fog so that people could live in their fantasies and end suffering all around.  She gave Yu, Namatame, and Adachi their powers, created the TV world, created the Midnight Channel, and influenced how people would utilize them with the rumors.  Yu's group fight and defeat the goddess who is pleased with mankind's choice for reality and promises to not interfere.  Yu boards his train and waves goodbye to his friends, promising to see them on his breaks as often as he possibly can.


If you're talking gameplay with Persona 4, there are really three major aspects to the game.  The TV World, Social Links in the Real World, and Fusing Personas in the Velvet Room.

The portions inside the TV world is filled with your fairly standard dungeon crawling RPG elements.  In order to save each of the people inside the TV, or stop the villains, you must go to differently themed areas and climb up to the top of the structure.  You are allowed to choose three other teammates from your party to join you as you go.  Each floor changes to a completely random layout every time you enter the dungeon, and you have some 10-15 floors per dungeon on average.  Inside you will find prizes, chests, and lots of shadow enemies.  Touching a shadow will initiate a turn-based battle.  If a shadow touches you first then they gain an extra turn at the beginning, however if you are able to strike the shadow without them noticing you then your whole team gets an extra turn at the beginning.  Each shadow will have its strengths and weaknesses and you must utilize your teammates as well as your various personas you can change between in order to stack the odds in your best advantage.  If you are fighting a fire-based persona but have an ice-based persona on you, you should change it immediately.  It's kind of like Final Fantasy with a bit of pokemon tossed in there for good measure in a really simple and basic formula that any RPG lover can easily jump into.

The more unconventional part of this game is the Social Links in the Real World.  I had mentioned above that you can change your persona during battle.  This is because Yu has the special ability to have multiple personas at once.  Each persona is grouped in a category called an Arcana.  For example, Pyro Jack is of the Magician Arcana.  Each Arcana is tied to a human in the real world and by growing a closer friendship or bond with that person in particular you can create more powerful persona of that particular Arcana.  Using the same example as before, Pyro Jack is of the Magician Arcana which is tied to Yosuke.  There are several social links including your entire investigation team, your uncle and cousin, several classmates in high school, a nurse, an elderly lady, a fox, a young mother with her stepson, the mysterious Margaret, and a middle school boy.  You grow closer to these people by spending an afternoon or evening with them, listening to their problems and concerns, selecting the right response for those people and generally helping them out along the way.  If you happen to already have a persona on you of that particular arcana it will increase your chances to grow closer to that person.  Each person can rank up to level 10, which is the max rank for a social link and unlocks the ability to create the most powerful persona of that arcana. 

Speaking of creating persona, that's where the Velvet Room comes in handy.  The Velvet Room is a special place that only you can access or even see.  It is inhabited by Igor and Margaret who help you along your journey by keeping records, giving you advice, and allowing you to fuse persona.  Fusing persona is exactly what it sounds like.  You can take anywhere from two to four or five persona (i think) and fuse them together in a particular order to create new and stronger persona.  This is especially helpful for the later dungeons in the game as the persona you can obtain through random chance during the shadow battles are far weaker than some of the ones you can only get through fusion.

~Culture and Theme~

This is one incredibly Japanese game.  I don't think I've played a game so deeply set in Japan since the likes of Okami.  Now I realize that many games are supposed to be based on Japan or feature Japanese characters who honestly don't look that much like their supposed national origin... Kingdom Hearts and Pokemon Red/Blue/Green come instantly to mind.  That is not the case here.  This game is dripping with Japanese culture.  You have Yu making various Japanese dishes that you may not have heard of.  Yu attends school six days a week as I assume Japanese youth do.  There are questions in class that revolve around specific aspects of Japanese history or like knowing what time a house in Japan is most likely to be burglarized.  You get to see the kinds of festivals and holidays that Japan has with Yu either being off school or attending these festivals.  There's this whole thing about getting a new kotatsu for Nanako late in the game.  Not to mention all of the name additions that get thrown around like -chan, -senpai, and -san which I've never fully understood.  There are just so many aspects that people outside of Japan may not really be knowledgeable of.  However it's never presented in a manner that you would be confused by it.  Everything that might be new is explained briefly and simply enough that you get the general idea and you feel like you really have stepped into another country for a year.

One of the more interesting aspects/themes of this game is how they handle the shadow versions of the main characters.  It was honestly something that took me by surprise.  Each shadow was an example or an over exaggeration of the person in question's hidden feelings or suppressed emotions.  This being suddenly standing before them was shouting out all of the things that they may have thought but would never say openly to anyone.  The parts of their personality or life that they were the most ashamed of was suddenly put under the spotlight.  Rather than shun these feelings and shadows, the only way to truly end the terror around them was to accept that person as part of themselves.  They had to face the feelings and thoughts they had buried deep within and own them.  In fact, the game goes so far as to teach that those parts of us all that we don't like or are ashamed of are still part of us.  If we are to accept ourselves as we truly are we will become a stronger and better person overall.  Which is something each of us can truly take away from this game and take to heart.

~What's Bad About It?~

I'm going to break the norm and talk about the negatives first as honestly there's only one big one.

One of the goals in Persona 4 is to max out all of your social links.  This becomes difficult because certain social links are only available on certain days and in certain weather.  Some other social links won't even initiate till your courage, understanding, or knowledge are at a high enough level.  Other social links like Nanako and Dojima stop being available after a certain point meaning you need to prioritize them a little bit.  This becomes a scheduling nightmare as none of these dates or times are given to you.  Either they are available or they aren't and it's up to you to figure out what order to get things done in.  You also just have to know which answers will give you the most social points to level them up without having to spend an afternoon just simply spending time with them to get closer to maxing max them all out.  Now people in the fan community have gotten together to help you out and there are Max Social Link guides sitting out there to assist you.  However they aren't perfect as the one I used (which is widely considered to be the best one) sort of fell apart mid June and I had to make things up on my own for the rest of the year and was behind on 5 different social links at one time.  I only barely finished my social links in enough time to end the game.   If you are planning on using a guide, it has every single answer you need to give and every move you need to make on every day.  You can't really deviate from the structure of the guide as you have to follow it as verbatim as it will let you.  It basically becomes a game where you are 50% playing the game and 50% looking at the guide.  It becomes really tedious and annoying because NO guide is 100% accurate for you making the social links part incredibly frustrating.

~What's Good About It?~

Pretty much everything else is either good or excellent.  The story is fantastic, the RPG TV World part is nothing new but still quite good and accessible to even newcomers to the RPG genre.  The Social Links were beyond amazing and quickly became my favorite part of the game as a whole; in fact, I wouldn't mind a whole game of just the social links without the combat if it were done as perfectly as this.  The Japanese culture and the teaching of self acceptance were all done fantastically.  There's practically nothing that I can say poor beyond the bizarre micromanaging of your time in order to max out your social links.  Since I have already talked about all of these topics, let's just hit a couple of additional things that are fantastic in this game which I hadn't covered yet.

This is one absolutely hysterical game.   I didn't really get into any of the comedy bits during my story or else we'd still be talking story at this point in the review.  There were times when I legitimately had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard at the shenanigans this group of people have gotten themselves into.  Many of the character's quips and comebacks are a riot; practically everything that comes out of Kanji's mouth could be considered on a best quotes list.  There's the portion where they get drunk off the atmosphere of a club and play the King's Game to increased sexual awkwardness.  Teddie is constantly bringing up Yukiko's shadow mentioning that she wanted to "score with guys."  The guys are constantly irritating Kanji about his sexuality.  The Fall Festival where Yosuke signed the girls up for a beauty contest and in order to get revenge, Chie signs the guys up for a cross dressing competition.  There's all the hilarity at the Amagi Inn with the bathhouse and the promiscuous teacher.  I could go on and just thinking about these moments makes me chuckle even just mentioning them here.

Part of the reason the social links became my favorite part of the game is because these characters are beyond fantastic.  The team really knew what they were doing when they made each of these diverse and amazing people.  It sounds silly but through the social link interactions and how well these characters were written and played... they practically seem real to me.  This isn't the case with most games as Lara Croft is just a character, Professor Oak is just a character.  Not with these guys...these are different.  You get to see what makes these characters tick and get to know them on such a personal level that I almost feel like I could pick up the phone and call any of these people to go hang out.  They all felt real; Yosuke, Chie, Yukiko, Kanji, Rise, Naoto, Dojima, Nanako and Teddie all felt real.  When Yu left to go back home, I am honest enough to admit that I was teary-eyed because the game was ending.  I felt simultaneously fulfilled but a little empty.  I was saddened that the game was over.  I felt that I too was leaving my friends behind and that's not something I wanted to do.  It's a realness that I don't think I've experienced before with a video game and it was a realness that was very much appreciated.


What else can I say?  This is a masterpiece.  Sure it may not be for everyone and it IS rated M so children shouldn't be playing it, but it's a masterpiece none the less.  I was only 1/3rd of the way through the game and it had already started dethroning several games from their position on my top 10 favorite games list.  It's something I wasn't expecting and it's something that you may not honestly be expecting either.  The parts that I thought would be enjoyable (the fighting, the rpg elements, the leveling) were still good but were nothing compared to the parts that I honestly thought I wouldn't enjoy (the social links) but ending up falling in love with.  This game was so good and so popular among its fans that it spawned an Anime adaption of the game,  a remake in Persona 4 Golden with it's own anime adaption, as well as three additional spin off games in Persona 4 Arcade, Persona Q, and Persona 4 Dance All Night.

This is something you really should check out especially as Atlus seems to be a bigger powerhouse in the gaming industry with Fire Emblem becoming far more popular, Tokyo Mirage Sessions having recently been released, and Persona 5 coming out next year.  It's an excellent game to see what Persona is all about.  I shall leave  you with the ending theme of the game.

Side Note: Persona 3 is also good though definitely not as good as Persona 4.  If you are interested in Persona 3 then I would suggest playing it first (The FES Version) as it has some additional frustrations/quirks that Persona 4 was wise to remove.  It was difficult for me to get into Persona 3 after playing Persona 4, but it's still a good game.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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