As some of you might or might not know, I have a deep burning passion for Dungeon Crawlers, good examples of this are the Diablo series, Etrian Odyssey series, and basically anything CRPG. I tend to overlook most JRPG's though as they tend to have quite a few character stigmas attached, i.e. young boys who look like young girls commanding huge army's filled with veteran adult warriors who at first despise the young boy but then grow to respect him. Yeah I'm sure your all well aware of all that.
Persona 4 on the other hand has two of my favorite gameplay elements combined into one, the above mentioned Dungeon Crawling and a collecting element similar to that of Pokemon only cooler. This is going to be a very difficult thing for me to explain to you all so you're going to have to bear with me. Let's just start from the top shall we?
Persona 4 is a story about a high schooler (whom you can name anything you want) transferring to an isolated town to for a year, only to be swept up in a murder mystery. Someone is throwing people into a different world found within ordinary television sets, where the victim's hidden personal problems will manifest into a shadow. The victim will then have to face there "true feelings" choose to either deny or accept the truth about themselves, denying the existence will enrage the shadow leading to a gruesome death. The perfect crime right? Not really...
Playing as the Protagonist grants you the power of Persona Zero, which in short is the power to control multiple classes of Persona in battle. Persona's in a nutshell are peoples shadows that have been accepted by the victim which the player and his companions can use in battle to fight the shadows of the alternate reality that victims create upon entering the world inside the TV. With great power comes great responsibility meaning it's up to you to save anyone who falls inside. Saving people means you're helping them overcome their problems, and once they accept that they have a problem they too gain the power of Persona and are able to help you save more from the clutches of death.
Saving people is not the only thing you can do to become stronger, you can also create bonds with characters within the game that are both NPC's and PC. Each character has their own Persona Class. Developing bonds with these characters means you can create stronger Persona's that can be used in battle. The higher your social rank with that character the more bonus EXP that Persona Class receives upon creation giving it a boost from the beginning, which grants extra levels and extra skills.
So the aim of the game is to create powerful Persona's that will help you in your quest to put an end to the killings in your new home. Now that you all (hopefully) understand the idea of the game let's get into the combat system a little bit. The combat in Persona 4 is turn based; as you attempt to save people within the TV you will fight monsters called Shadows which can make up any Persona Class. These monsters will sometimes have weaknesses to certain elements i.e. weak to fire attacks but strong against ice. The Persona's you create and the Persona's that are assigned to your team mates will also have elemental weaknesses and strengths so the idea is to find the weaknesses of your enemies and exploit them while you protect your teams weaknesses in the process. Exploiting your enemies weaknesses means that character that just attacked can have another turn, if you manage to knock down all enemies you and your team can attack all at once doing massive amounts of damage and in most cases is a finishing move. Keep in mind though your enemies can also do the same to you.
Developing bonds with Playable Characters that you have saved from being killed in the TV allows you to unlock extra non-persona abilities in battle. A really great example of this in action is once you have ranked up the social rank of the character Chie she can do a "galactic punt" which she will kick a non-knocked down enemies out of the arena, this can only happen if another character knocks down an enemy. This is a very powerful move as it kills the enemies she kicks instantly, in one case it was a boss enemy that was killed in 1 move because of this awesome power. So as you can see creating bonds is very important but the game never forces you to create bonds at all.
The social aspects of Persona 4 involve you managing your time between classes in high school and days off. You are free to spend that time doing whatever you want, working jobs for a little extra coinage, developing bonds with characters by spending time with them and exploring the inside of the TV world. The only time the game really gets stressful is when the time limit is imposed on when you can save people from the TV world. In the town your living in a fog will arrive after several days of rain, which means it will be too late to save the victim (obviously there is quite a lot more to it than that but explaining the specifics will be a massive spoiler so find that one out for yourself :D). You will end up managing your time between developing Persona's and getting combat experience.
The last thing I want to mention is the story and the characters personalities. Persona 4 is a complex game but it is also very rewarding as well. The personal stories that the major character go through in this game can be quite sad and do really pull on the heart strings, so you are rewarded with helping characters through these problems and then being able to create powerful Persona's. The storyline of your team as you grow closer together is quite funny, which anyone who enjoys Anime will love. I'm currently in the last leg of the game, and can honestly recommend it to anyone who enjoys long rewarding story based games. Also sorry if you didn't understand anything that was talked about in this review as going any deeper into what everything is and what there meanings are would ruin the experience so if you want to know more. Play the game.