Persona 4 - hands-on

On a dark and stormy night, you stare at a blank TV screen as the clock strikes 12:00. You were told that the Midnight Channel will appear before you, even though your set isn't on, and on the screen your soul mate will appear. A girl then materializes; you can't tell who it is, but she seems to be in pain. Then the TV starts trying to draw you in; after you fight the television’s pull and drag yourself out, the set is blank again. The next morning, the girl you saw is found dead.

That’s the starting point of Persona 4, a new Japanese RPG coming in December and ready to deliver a creepy adventure into the unknown and within the self. It's approaching pretty hot on the heels of last year’s Persona 3, and it has the similar setting of the real world of High School mixed with a strange other world where plain students unleash their "Personas" to fight the bizarre beasts inhabiting it.

Unlike the fashionable fantasy based RPGs, Persona 4 is rooted in a realistic world, as the characters go through each day, with a different calendar date and a similar sequence: morning, school, after school, evening, and night. In the early levels we played, we stuck fairly close to that schedule, as the first few hours are almost exclusively spent going through dialogue introducing the characters and setting, with you barely ever moving your character.

But soon enough we arrived in the other world and met Teddie, an adorable/disturbing stuffed bear… thing. He seems to be the sole friendly resident of an otherwise ghastly dimension after stepping through a TV. The answer to the girl’s death seems to be in there, this shadowy world with no visible exits. Enemies pop out of the shadows to kill you, but in this realm, you can activate your Persona, a powerful, idealized version of yourself, to defend yourself.

Each character has their own unique Persona, from the main character’s futuristic samurai, to tomboy Chie’s kung-fu master, to well meaning slacker Yosuke’s caped crusader. They level up separately from the character; while the person gains HP and MP, the Persona learns new attacks and magic. They make a nice break from the true world, making you want to return to this other place, no matter how creepy it is.

With the game almost here, it’s appears up to be just the type of game the PS2 needs. An exclusive title with big production values, including an abundance of anime cutscenes and voice work, that’s way weirder and more mature than the big RPGs you’ll find on Wii or 360. If this is the last major game on the PS2, it might be the great send off it deserves.

Nov 8, 2008

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.