Persona 4 came out in early December, and yet here we are just now getting to a review. I just completed the game, and I must say, I think I just finished the greatest game released on the PS2. Yes better than God of War, yes better than Resident Evil 4, yes better than all the years of Madden put together. Yes even better than Tony Hawk 3 that sits atop the PS2 Metacritic list somehow. Even Persona 3 is beaten in terms of sheer quality when compared to Persona 4. Atlus has done what I didn't think possible, even though a sequel is where you improve on a title it is rarely better than the source material. But everything in Persona 4 has been improved, the game looks better, the Social Link aspect of the game is beefier, and the combat is better, with more control given to the player, making it a much more enjoyable experience and less of a crap shoot. Overall, this game is one of the finest titles on the PS2, and is honestly the best swan song of a title the PS2 could receive.
From the outset this game looks fantastic. Persona 3 was a good looking game, but with the post processing effects Persona 4 takes on an even better look. The overall style of the game is also drastically different, it's a lot more colorful than P3, and it has an even more distinct style. With it's almost retro look, Persona 4 is a visually striking title, with incredible design that fits the story and motif perfectly. There are some recycled models through the game in some of the normal enemies, along with some new shadow designs. But there are also some of the most visually amazing and imaginative boss designs I have ever seen.
Audio is again a pleasure thanks to Shoji Meguro who has been a series mainstay, and his music continues to be excellent. The music is much more varied this time around, instead of being tied to the seasons like P3 the music is all available from the start. This keeps the game a lot fresher and doesn't make the game feel as linear as before. But the music doesn't have the genre spread that P3 had, so there is no hip-hop styling, but it's all Shoji Meguro rock, and that's what he does. However there is a questionable track selection near the end of the game, and this is the one place where P3 feels superior, the end-game music of Persona 4 does not have the same level of impact that P3 did.
The voice acting of Persona 3 was quite possibly one of the best dubs in gaming. Then Persona 4 came along and easily trumps it. Every actor feels perfect for their roles. Yuri Lowenthal returns after being the main character of P3, he now plays a second banana (Yosuke Hanamura) opposite Johnny Yong Bosch who does a superb job for each of his roles. And the rest of the cast is a who's who of proficient anime talents. Special notice goes out to Dave Wittenberg, who was responsible for the voice of Teddie, he does an amazing job in this game. Other great performances come from Karen Strassman, Amanda Winn Lee, and Troy Baker who definitely had his work cut out for him as Kanji Tatsumi.
The story of Persona 4 starts of strangely similar to P3. As a nameless protagonist, you are asked to name your character at the outset of the game. And then you are dumped in to a new and unfamiliar place. The town of Inaba, to live with your uncle and his daughter, and to attend a new school out in the sticks. Things are off to a strange start when you're called in to the Velvet Room, to meet with Igor, and his new assistant, Margaret. After this strange meeting the town is rocked by murders, where the victims are found strewn up in the antennae on various rooftops around town. At this point you discover you have the ability to climb in to televisions, where a large plush bear has taken up residency alongside Shadows that have been killing people who enter the TV. It's up to you and your new found friends in school to find out who is responsible for these murders, and this mystery will be a life changing event for everyone involved. There is a surprisingly mature story buried in the game, dealing with issues of self-reflection, gender confusion and even homosexuality. Of course it is hard to take since it is through the medium of a video game but it still makes the story interesting and makes the characters a hell of a lot easier to relate to than the characters of P3. There is also a little bit of social commentary in the game as well and it is cleverly delivered, kudos to the translators for making this game feel socially relevant.
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