You know what I love? Anime. You know what else I love? Murder mysteries. And you know another thing I love? RPGs. So imagine my surprise when I found out that there was a game that combined all three of these things!
While Persona 5 was the first game in the series I actually played, Persona 4 was the game that exposed me to the series. I had watched a playthrough of it on YouTube, intending on using it as background noise while I wrote. Unfortunately, I quickly ended up getting distracted by it because the game looked so dope! Then, once I had played P5, I became determined to get my hands on P4.
So, I went and bought a PSTV (cause I’ll be fucked if I’m being the more expensive Vita), made that my Persona machine (I’ve got every game in the series on that thing) and went at it. And surprise! I loved it!
If only the PC port had come out about three years earlier. Would’ve saved me a whole heap of trouble.
You play as *insert name here*, a transfer student going to live with your uncle Dojima and his daughter Nanako. Shortly after your arrival, your character starts to have strange dreams of the Velvet Room and a strange long-nosed man who urges him to pursue ‘the truth’. The next day, after getting through school and meeting some new friends, a dead body turns up, the victim what appears to be a gruesome murder.
Shortly after this, you hear a popular rumor concerning something called the Midnight Channel. While testing it out, you reach your hand out and into the TV. The next day, while browsing the TV section with your new buddies, you discover that you can, in fact, dive headlong into the TV itself, entering the TV world. Turns out, this world is directly connected to the murders, as the killer shoved his victims into this world and left them for dead.
When the killer turns their gaze towards your friends, you and your buds get up in arms to stop him. Together, you must save every victim shoved into the TV world and find the killer! Will you be able to overcome the dangers of the TV world and discover the truth?
The mystery of this game is actually a surprisingly compelling one. It gives you clues in a trickle, bit by bit throughout the entire game. Then, just when you think you understand it, some new revelation occurs and throws the entire image out of balance. It’s a great mystery that does a great job of keeping you guessing.
Right up until you need to solve it. Yup! The mystery doesn’t solve itself! You need to put the clues together and find the killer yourself! Granted, it should be super easy so long as you’ve been paying attention. But having to actually solve the mystery instead of watching the characters solve it automatically is a ton of fun! Plus, it’s super satisfying when you get it right!
And kind of hilarious when you don’t. Side note: if you don’t want to replay large chunks of the game, make use of as many save files as you feel comfortable with.
Also, avoid guides. Spoilers are extremely frequent and having it spoiled for you can quickly detract from the enjoyment of it.
Now, a story wouldn’t work without good characters. Especially not a game like Persona, which is built almost entirely on the relationship you have with them. So, how are they? Answer: pretty good.
All of the main characters are fantastic. The group dynamic of the party is an incredibly fun one, even if some of the gags can get pretty repetitive. However, I think the side characters are only decent. Most of them are either very one note or just plain forgettable. It certainly doesn’t help that the actual gameplay benefit for getting to know them are almost non-existent. It’s hard not to put them all on the backburner and focus exclusively on the main cast.
That being said, the social links in this game are pretty solid. They do an incredible job of fleshing out the cast in fun and interesting ways. Learning that Kanji is a softie who sews dolls for children or watching Yukiko try and break away from her family’s inn is all pretty compelling.
The story ain’t perfect, though. The slice-of-life stuff often lasts for waaaaaay too long and adds very little to either the characters or the story. As much as I love watching these teenage idiots acting like teenage idiots, I can only handle so much before I start tapping my watch and yearningly running my fingers over the buttons of my controller.
It certainly doesn’t help that the presentation is very limited. While I am talking about the PC port, it is still jus that. A port. Not a remaster or a remake. It’s a PS2 game made to run on the Vita made to run on the PC.
Sure, it runs at incredibly high and smooth framerates now and the load times are practically non-existent. But the character models are still blocky and lacking in detail, their motions are stiff and limited, the environments are all distinct visually but mostly consist of repeated textures, so on and so forth. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still love how this game looks; my affection for older-looking games is greater than any romance I’ve ever had. However, it does make those overly long slice-of-life scenes draining to watch, as there aren’t many visually compelling things to carry you through it.
The music is a fucking jam, though. The upbeat pop vibe is catchy as hell and consistently puts a smile on my face. The battle themes are all exciting and exhilarating. It’s even got some really effective creepy music that’ll give you chills!
But now we come to the important question: how’s the game? How does it play?
Well, it’s a mixed bag. The combat is an absolute blast, especially on some of the higher difficulties, and the social elements are always satisfying. But the dungeons themselves are incredibly repetitive, featuring some of the most barebones levels I’ve ever seen in an RPG. On top of that, the side quests are often incredibly frustrating, requiring many in-game days of effort and grinding.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first. Starting with the dungeons. Each one has a distinct aesthetic, from the reds of Yukiko’s castle to the foggy yellows of Kanji’s bathouse and the pinks of Rise’s strip club (which gets even more uncomfortable when you remember that she’s fifteen). However, the actual levels themselves are all the same. Walk through hallways, fight enemies, find the stairs, rinse and repeat until you run into a boss fight. It makes the dungeon crawling aspect of the game very exhausting; I can only go through the same exact hallway so many times before I need a break.
I’m not a huge fan of the side quests, either. Most of them boil down to giving a certain item to a character (which may require a ton of grinding to find) or just talking to them enough times over the course of many days. It’s way too easy to blow them off as a waste of time. Especially since the rewards for completing them are lackluster at best.
Thankfully, the actual combat is as satisfying as ever. It’s still very simple. Each member of your party and your enemies have weaknesses, be they elemental or physical. Hit an enemy with their weakness or a critical hit, you’ll knock them down. Knock them all down and you can do an All-Out Attack, dealing massive damage. If you want to survive, you’ve got to balance offense and defense, boosting your stats when necessary and protecting the party members vulnerable to the enemy’s magic.
Be careful, though. You’ve only got so much SP (mana), which isn’t restored upon leveling. You can only go so far in a dungeon every day before you need to pull back and spend a day recovering. Play too recklessly and you’ll die. Play too conservatively and you won’t have enough time to beat the boss. Fail to save the victim and you’ll find yourself staring at a game over.
A rather horrifying one, I might add.
It gets even more tense on higher difficulties. If you aren’t extremely careful on modes like Hard or Very Hard, you may end up losing a ton of progress. This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes combat even more tense and forces you to manage your resources even more carefully. On the other, it fucking sucks when you lose several hours of progress over a single mistake or a bit of bad luck.
Also: this game has some of the worst boss fights in any RPG I’ve ever played. About half of them are really fun and satisfying to fight. But the other half have special mechanics that are so damn frustrating and annoying, which only makes them more time consuming to fight. If you aren’t completely prepared, you’ll get wiped time and time again.
As for the social aspect… it’s fine. It’s exactly what you’d expect. The only real problem is rain. On a rainy day, every single character vanishes from the map, forcing you to either skip a day or go and spend some time grinding. Either choice is frustrating.
All in all, this is a rock solid RPG. It’s got plenty wrong with it, but it’s still a classic through and through. If you’ve got the patience to endure its slower or more infuriating moments, you’ll find an incredible JRPG. Persona 4 is still very much one of the best games in the genre, one that any fan should give a shot. Especially if their only exposure to the series has been Persona 5.
Now, if we could just get a Persona 3 PC port. Or literally anything for Persona 1 and 2.