Game Overkill – Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (Personal Edition)
First thing’s first: Persona 4 did not make the cut. It just missed. But, seeing as it’s my series and I make the rules, I’m going to be writing about it anyway. I refuse to accept the fact that not enough of “you people” put it on your lists. “You people” are wrong. With that, here’s the first of many post you’ll be seeing from time to time, bonus Game Overkill content I’ll be labeling “Personal Edition”; games I believe everyone should play at least once that didn’t make the official list. I wanted to call it “The Great Games Idiots Forgot to List Edition,” but apparently that’s “insulting.” Babies.
I had pretty much never heard of the Shin Megami Tensei series until well after Persona 4 came out. At first, I’d see some tweets about it here and there, but I just assumed it was some new anime series or a bizarre Nintendo handheld game I would never play or care about because I don’t like handhelds. I kept seeing more and more tweets about it and eventually clicked on a few links. I found out that Persona 4 is far from the 4th game in some oddly named series. The SMT series apparently dates back to 1987 on the Famicom and the 50th game will be released next year. Honestly, I was absolutely shocked that a video game series could exist for so long without me even being slightly aware of its existence. Worst of all, they’re RPGs! I love RPGs!
Eventually, Persona was on sale on the Playstation Network, so I bought it. I didn’t play it for about 6 month, finally giving it a shot last May. When I first played it, I initially really liked it. The story was immediately interesting. I cared about the characters and wanted to know more about them. The visuals and colours were gorgeous. The combat was fun as well. I also REALLY injoyed the Social Link (S. Link) aspect of the game, where you build relationships with other characters through your interactions, the time you choose to spend with them, and what you choose to say during all of it. As a result of this element, the “sim,” “dating sim,” or “social sim” genre is tacked on to “RPG” when describing the game. The latter is the most accurate, since you can’t date every character, nor do you even need to start a relationship with any of the female characters in order to get the best ending or any bonus items. The relationships are completely optional.
In any case, the story and S. Links are what really hooked me, to the point that I grew to hate the combat because it eventually felt like this annoying stuff I needed to do to unlock more of the story. I stopped playing the game for several months as a result. It felt like I was watching an amazing story unfold, only to have hours of commercials come and interrupt it all the time.
I eventually realised that this hatred was irrational and picked the game up again. Honestly, the combat is great, but for me, the story and Social Link elements were just so much better, the combat was terrible only in comparison. I’ve said it numerous times on Twitter: I think I would’ve enjoyed Persona 4 more as a visual novel. I still loved the game. This is all just personal opinion, especially since I’ve heard from people that loved the game, loved the combat, and hated the story.
When I did complain about the combat on Twitter, I had plenty of people tell me they loved it, but didn’t care for the social elements; however, even more told me they loved both! Matthew Williams, one of the people who listed the game, loved the whole game so much, he practically wrote a whole review for me:
What do I like about Persona 4? Everything really. It’s a JRPG but it doesn’t suffer (too much) from the usual clichés. You’re not a kid from a lost village suffering from memory loss, you’re a guy who moves to town and tries to make friends. The rest of your party aren’t mages or ninjas or anything, they’re just schoolkids, albeit ones armed with swords and guns (never really got that in retrospect).
Yeah ultimately you do go around saving the world, but the main focus of the game is developing relationships with the people of Inaba and your school friends. Where most games just have your protagonists work together out of necessity, Persona 4 establishes how your characters meet and the everyday actions that help the group become best friends (and more if your into matchmaking your Japanese teens).
It’s a funny game too, and I genuinely mean it rather than the ‘humour’ that most Japanese games seem to consist of (‘teehee boobs teehee’). Pretty much all the main characters have their moments that make the player laugh, which makes it that much more difficult to choose who to hang around with when you’re not exploring shadowy locales in the magical TV world.
The actual dungeon gameplay is fun too, with lots of variety in the style of the ‘dungeons’. All the locales are uniquely designed, which helps to remove the potential tedium of exploring. This is all aided by Persona 4 not really requiring ‘grinding’ to help beat it’s levels. Bosses can be tough but usually they’re around the same level as the player.
All in all, Persona 4 is just a quality experience. There are a few niggles along the way (Why use Japanese honorifics if you’ve translated everything to English?) but the overall experience is so solid, memorable and just plain fun that I’ve had more fun with it than any other JRPG in a long time.
I liked the Japanese honorifics, but Matthew is right about a lot of things here. I think I “needed” to grind once, mostly because I was particularly good at avoiding encounters with enemies, to the point where I was able to avoid all the enemies in an entire dungeon. For a JRPG, that’s kind of crazy. There is still lots of fighting to be had, and like he said, the bosses especially can be tough, but the challenge is perfectly balanced.
More on the dungeons, they truly are unique, ranging from a steamy bathhouse and a secret base to a strip club and an entire dungeon done in the style of old school dungeon crawling video games. I have to admit, I really liked that last one.
The music was also great, even though my wife now refuses to watch the anime because it uses a lot of the same music. She says she’s been listening to it for months and she just can’t anymore. Whatever, Cronotime agrees with me. He was one of the people to list the game. He shared some of his reasons why:
Personal 4 is on my list for a few reasons:
- Classic RPG style.
- Engaging story.
- Excellent sound track.
- Plus, the dating sim style out of dungeon is tied in very well and doesn’t feel tacked on..but the scheduling of it is so punishing.
- It’s part Pokémon since you catch monsters with your mind.
The Pokémon comparison might sound crazy. Hell, even I never thought of it that way, but he’s right. The different personas (the things you summon to do most of the fighting for you) can be “caught,” in a sense, and they can even be combined (or bred, if you will) to make new, completely different personas. So, it’s like Pokémon… except I didn’t hate it and think it was boring and easy.
In the end, the most impressive thing I can say about Persona 4 is it managed to do something very few games have. My save file says I played it for 165 hours, but that number is grossly exaggerated by the fact that I would play for an hour, leave the game on while watching TV with my wife for a couple hours, and then play a bit more. Still, I certainly played it for at least half of that total, so roughly 80 hours playing a single game, and as soon as I defeated the final boss and got the “true” ending (there are three ending and I bothered to get them all), I immediately wanted to restart the game. I can’t think of another game that left me wanting to replay it as soon as I finished it, especially not a game that takes so long to complete. Just writing all the stuff I just did and looking for images to put in this post is making me want to quit doing Game Overkill altogether so I can stop playing all these other games and just focus on Persona 4 forever.
Like I said, Persona 4 just missed making the official list. I plan to do more of these posts from time to time, where, on top of games I put on my personal Game Overkill list, I also plan on doing something like a top 5 or top 10 for a few select consoles or platforms that had some great games, but weren’t owned by enough people to get more than a couple (or none) games to make the official list. Not sure when I’ll be doing them, but in the meantime, the ActRaiser post should come sometime next week and I’m currently in the middle of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Also, Persona 4 not making the list: what are your thoughts? Most people seem to think the game is absolutely amazing or they hated it. Where do you stand?