With 20 hours now showing on my play time for Persona 4, I think it was about time for another update. Finally settled in to the unorthodox groove and style of the game, it’s now much easier to comment on growing trends or irritations forming in the latest Shin Megami Tensei instalment. Luckily, these aren’t many in an otherwise spectacular JRPG for the Playstation 2.
Firstly, although the dungeons are still devilishly hard (for even the most hardcore of gamers, bearing in mind that I’m still playing on Normal rather than Expert) I felt that P4 is much more manageable than Persona 3. In P3, “one more” knock-downs frequently stuck you on the receiving end of a constant barrage of attacks, leaving you unable to defend yourself until your untimely death. Remember that when playing a game by Atlus, you don’t have a chance to retry a battle unless you’re playing on the beginner difficulty setting. This means that every time you fail you have to reload from your last save point, which is outside the dungeon and therefore often a couple of hours before you were defeated.
Luckily Persona 4 has fixed this rut, making battles much smoother and the follow up attacks less overpowering. For example, when their social link is high enough allies can now aid you back onto your feet after you’ve been brought down by the enemy. Not having to worry about your characters growing tired or falling ill is a vast improvement, leaving the only restriction to your exploration with the amount of SP in your party. This can be a pain, but it ensures that you come back to the dungeon at least a few times before tackling the boss – which trust me is a good thing, because these bosses are tough. With minimal weaknesses and often brutal HP depleting attacks, you’ll really need to stay on your toes.
As mentioned in my last post, the dungeons are split up this time with separate themes for each person that you’re saving. Trawling through floors isn’t the most invigorating experience, but it’s better than last time and helps to add to the depth of the characters. For example, to save Kanji Tatsumi my party had to investigate a steamy bath house, with voices that echoed his sexual issues.
The characters are growing to be some of the best Persona creations to date. I really can’t decide on a favourite, which makes the social link events even better to divulge in. As any RPG fan knows, story is paramount and caring for the characters really helps to bring it alive. Teddie and a couple of the high school-ers may have annoying voice actors, but they can always be switched off if you’re finding them particularly frustrating. There is a lot of humour and quirks to be found in the investigation team, but in contrast each person has darker problems that you can discover and solve over time. It feels rewarding and makes the crucial decision on how to spend your hours even tougher.
The music, which I couldn’t praise enough in Part One is starting to grow a little bit thin. I’m hoping that some of the tracks will change when the seasons roll over or something, because at the moment… hearing the same jingle for every battle and every time you leave the classroom gets tiresome. This might be expected for most games after 20 hours, but Atlas knows how exceptionally long their titles are and should have planned accordingly. The compositions are a great blend of J-Pop, but they just need a few more tracks to spice them up.
The story is leaked incredibly well, with the rescue after each dungeon giving you just enough hints to keep the mystery interesting. How Persona 4 was designed to be so non-linear and yet so well paced is a testament to the time system that they’ve managed to create. Although a clock isn’t literally ticking as you’re walking around, knowing that you can only perform a limited amount of actions before someone is murdered brings on a real sense of tension.
Many gamers will pour over walkthroughs and guides to achieve the maximum exam scores and social links, but I really advise players to play without one for the first run through. Getting some answers wrong and making sour decisions is all part of life and actually makes the experience that much more realistic. You’re meant to be a High School student, remember? On the second time you play Persona 4 you’ll retain all of your personal stats (Courage, Knowledge, Expression, etc) making that perfect completion that bit easier.
Japanese culture is overflowing in Persona 4. If you know nothing about the formalities and traditions in Japan, P4 will teach you a surprisingly large amount about their rural life. I have even more respect for the small translation team signed onto this project, who not only turned it around in such a short space of time but managed to keep it as close to the original as possible. The school cultural festival, the use of honorifics, family expectations and education are all portrayed with a large amount of realism. We can’t all afford to experience the life of our favourite countries and so Persona 4 does a more than adequate job of filling the void.
Final thoughts for Part Two? As you become familiar with the combat and time system of Persona 4 it simply gets better and better, especially when the protagonist is released from his leash to act as he pleases. How to balance socialising and saving the world can be difficult, but as long as you don’t worry too much I’ve found Persona 4 to be rewarding on multiple levels. The characters, story and presentation keep on giving at the moment and as long they continue to do so the few gameplay flaws will be more than concealed.