If you've not played Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, stop reading this and go pick up FES before it's gone forever and you have to hunt eBay for the best deal on it. I'm not going to say the game is perfect for everyone, but for me, someone that really didn't see the hype when it was first released, it was one of the most enjoyable and unique RPGs on the PlayStation 2. But Persona 3 has come and gone, and Atlus is now weeks away from releasing Persona 4, also for the PlayStation 2, on December 9.
"If you enjoyed Persona 3, then you will love Persona 4."
Persona 4 follows almost exactly in its predecessor's footsteps in terms of feel. Upon starting a new game, players are given the option of selecting normal, beginner, and expert difficulty, and the story begins. Igor is there right off the bat and tells the main characters of a mysterious event that he will be a part of as he arrives in his new town. Soon after arriving, the town starting being plagued by mysterious murders. Before long, the player teams up with a couple other high school kids and starts an investigation that leads beyond the television and into the realm of shadows. While I hold nothing against Persona 3's plot and characters, Persona 4's features a plot less focused around the shadows and more focused around the likeable characters. The very fact that you're diving into this mystery yourself instead of being brought into a secret school group is a plus, as it makes the story seem more personable.
Gameplay is very similar to what was found in Persona 3, but there have been some nice modifications. The nicest aspect of the game is the ability to control every party member, cutting down the reliance on A.I. if you desire. Characters also will do more for you in combat if you level up their social links. One character in my party will already jump in front of a mortal blow for me, and since having the main character die means game over, this is really helpful. Also helpful is quick menus for traveling to areas around town. It seems minor, but is really helpful.
The visual presentation is every bit as solid as Persona 3's, if not better. The soundtrack is catchy, too, though "Burn My Dread" and rapper Lotus Juice are no longer with us. The voice acting is really good and the characters all have strong personalities and great localized dialogue. Persona 4 offers a really great experience, even for a PlayStation 2 game.
If you enjoyed Persona 3, then you will love Persona 4. If you were unsure about Persona 3, give Persona 4 a try, because it takes a ton of the complaints from the prior title and improves on them, perfecting the experience. Don't expect a night and day difference, because at its heart, it plays and feels just like Persona 3, but that's not a bad thing. The changes to the interface and the additions to gameplay add to the overall experience, making this seem like a more complete version. About the only complaint that can be lobbied at this point would be if you're allergic to yellow.