In a small rural town a few hours away from Tokyo is a place called Inaba. Here, a young man spends his academic year with his uncle and little cousin whilst his parents travel abroad for work. At first, his time in Inaba seems as if it’s going to be an unmemorable one and rather uneventful. After all, the countryside is known for not having much to do. However, he soon realises that this is in fact not the case, and ‘shadows’ are around every corner. It’s up to you as the protagonist to band together with other students and form an unbreakable bond between yourselves and ‘Personas’ that’ll help you prevent a series of murders.
Persona 4 is actually split into two separate worlds. The TV world where you and the victims are thrown into is a sort of alternate dimension where our true personalities take physical form and are capable of utilising special abilities to fight against monsters within the world known as Shadows. And the second world which is the real world which our protagonist knows as Inaba. In the real world, our protagonist cannot summon his Persona so it is up to you to utilise your days within the real world to create and nurture bonds among the town’s people, your family and friends. Through these bonds, our character’s personas are able to not only level up but also take on stronger forms to battle it out against the shadows in the TV world. Your Persona incarnations can also level up and learn new attacks within the TV world while battling against shadows.
In the real-world players will also find themselves taking on part time jobs, tutoring their friends for academics, spending time studying for exams, assisting the town’s people in locating items or other people and so much more. Each day you’ll find yourself debating internally with yourself on what to spend your time doing, as each action you take will affect you personally. Studying will increase your Knowledge whereas making Origami may increase your Diligence and Understanding. There’s also a local bookstore where your character can visit to purchase certain books that’ll help increase these stats. Indeed, this rural town has more than meets the eye.
The character development is truly something special in Persona 4. Even after the characters have discovered their true Personas, they still struggle internally in their day to day lives. It creates a highly relatable bond between the player and the characters. It shows the player that even here, in a game, after 50 hours of a play-through, the characters are still not perfect and struggle every day. An idol who’s given up being a celeb is struggling internally with her dual personalities that she has had to keep in the eye of the public and at home. Or the protagonist’s closest friend who cannot find his true purpose or meaning in life and feels as if his in the shadow of others. And of course, there’s your uncle who’s a single struggling parent who spends more time in his job as a detective rather than at home with his daughter, who’s left with only the television set as her companion. Much like it is in the real world, there will always be an internal struggle daily in each of us. And yet always be people who stand by you to help you through it.
“People fight against the person we were yesterday to become a better person today,” Ayane, Persona 4.
Moving on from Personas, the dungeons placed within the TV world are quite straight forward. From the get go, they act as labyrinths. Each one designed in the visual form and shape of the person’s psyche that you’re trying to help. From a castle to a steamy bathhouse and even a striptease joint. Each dungeon has multiple levels and at the top (bottom, in some) of each dungeon lies a boss. The battles themselves can be quite challenging so it’s best to go in with a good strategy in place. By placing your attackers first and healers last you will be able to optimise your characters before the enemies attack. Well this is the strategy I used.
The battle system is turn based and allows you to start off controlling only your character. However, you can switch between manually controlling the other protagonists, to allowing them to use their free will. I would recommend that the player takes control though as often the AI doesn’t use the most effective moves or you may need to heal the team. Each character controls a Persona of their own, with unique abilities and elemental characteristics. The main protagonist though is capable of controlling and using multiple Personas. And is also able to fuse Personas to create more powerful battle personifications. Think of the Personas as a beast or monster you let out to battle against the shadows who in fact take on many different forms such as giant lions, floating mouth balls (yes, they are quite freaky), statues and even monsters in humanoid forms that resemble body builders. Each enemy, just like your own Personas, possesses different elemental traits. So, it’s best to keep this in mind to optimise your own characters strengths to utilise critical attacks, otherwise known in a pocket monster franchise as super effective moves.
10 years, or rather nine years in Europe (and five to six years for the definitive edition in the form of Golden on the Vita) later, Persona 4’s story holds up better than ever. Although I didn’t enjoy the dungeons as much as I should have, the bonds and social links not to mention the daily lifestyle decisions I had to make during my playthrough were incredibly enjoyable. Deciding on a daily basis within the game on whether I should rather study, work part time, grind in the dungeon or spend time working on my social bonds was quite intriguing, with pros and cons in each day spent in Inaba. Persona 4 and in turn Persona 4 Golden is truly a Blast from the Past, and one that I’ll be re-visiting soon again.