Persona 4: Part Two

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.

Don't worry, these are NOT the actual graphics xD

Don't worry, these are NOT the actual graphics xD

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.

Yukiko, unleashing her Persona with colour co-ordinated glasses!

Yukiko, unleashing her Persona with colour co-ordinated glasses!

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.

Each characters offers rewards and insights if you choose to spend time with them

Each characters offers rewards and insights if you choose to spend time with them

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.

The story is darker and more realistic than your traditional "fantasy world journey" affair

The story is darker and more realistic than your traditional "fantasy world journey" affair

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.

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Persona 4: Part One

The latest instalment of Atlus’ long running Shin Megami Tensei series is Persona 4, which I showed an unpacking video for a few weeks back. With my Xbox 360 out of action I’ve finally had the time to delve into this title, but because of the long play time I’ve decided to split it into a number of parts.

What’s instantly hit me from the start is the dedication to presentation. Just like in Persona 3, the introduction video is a slick combination of anime characters and J-pop music. Even the title screen is a blend of moving silhouettes, block colours and nostalgic score. Atlus have learnt from previous outings that even with a low resolution Playstation 2 engine, it’s possible to have a unique style that shines. The graphics aren’t revolutionary but instead worked and refined to a tee. All of the menu screens are different and lively; it certainly gives the impression of ultra-trendy teenagers in Japan.

As far as story goes, I’m as always thoroughly intrigued. As a transfer student from the city, you arrive in a countryside town called Inaba. Should be a quiet affair in comparison to the metropolis of P3 right? Wrong. The plot is as dark as ever, unfolding a series of murders in front of your eyes. Victims are strung upside down to television poles, linked to a strange world accessed by the ‘Midnight Channel’ on TV. The channel also has a rumour that by looking into your set on a rainy night, you can see your soul mate on the other side. However, as you and your companions investigate and discover your own ‘Persona’ (a being originating from your soul that can fight on your own behalf) the revelations become much more complicated.

What really draws me in though is the realistic Japanese setting. There is no fantasy world, no great journey or strange mythology to surround the RPG experience. All of the characters have real problems; the every day activities are what you would expect a teenager to participate in and from what I’ve heard so far, it’s a pretty accurate representation of life in rural Japan. There are time restrictions on how long victims survive and a strategic weather system in Inaba that really gives a sense of tension. Each morning, afternoon and evening can only be spent doing one activity so I’ve already found myself carefully planning my time. When you’re not exploring the Midnight Channel, your main character bonds with people in Inaba to create social links. These improve with time and give bonus experience points to your Persona. Therefore balancing your time between normal high school teenager and Persona hero is paramount.

The streets of Inaba are a welcome change for RPG players

The streets of Inaba are a welcome change for RPG players

The voice acting is of a particularly high quality, offering a wealth of sound to the huge amounts of dialogue in the game. What’s also noticeable is the inclusion of honorifics such as -senpai, -kun and -chan. It adds some surprising depth to the comedy and emotion in the scenes; as well as giving you a little language lesson. For such a small company, in the first ten hours Atlus have produced a miracle in translating Persona this good, so quickly. The script writing is spot on and appeals to the western audience without losing any of the original style or meaning. Other developers take note; you don’t need a huge budget to bring an unreleased franchise stateside.

The combat and exploration hasn’t been drastically changed, but it seems like many of the problems I had with P3 have been resolved. The mundane, boring Tartarus that you explored for nearly all of the game has been replaced by several smaller dungeons that relate to the victim you’re saving. For example, to rescue a strangely love stricken Yukiko my band of Persona wielders had to traipse through a medieval castle. It’s different at least?! You can choose to control all of your party’s characters too, which never become ill or tired like before.

Combat is traditional turn based, but at least has you controlling the entire party this time around...

Combat is traditional turn based, but at least has you controlling the entire party this time around...

Personal, ranting off the cuff thoughts? The main character has a god awful hair cut. I don’t think you can change it, but I’ve seen a Barber in the shopping district that I will continue to visit in the vain hope it will change. Also, one of the coolest and darkest parts of P3 was how you summoned a Persona. You took a gun and shot yourself in the freaking head. This time around though, the protagonists use trendy coloured glasses and cards. What is with Japan and card based games?! They’ve done it in Kingdom Hearts (Chain of Memories), Metal Gear Solid (Acid) and even Pokemon. I’m pretty sure they must have an unhealthy obsession about them over there. Oh, and Teddy may look cute, but after the billionth time of him saying “That’s one down Chie-chan!” I wanted to rip his head off. Is there anyway you can turn off JUST his speech?!

So far I am thoroughly impressed with Persona 4. The contemporary visuals and soundtrack (which is also free as a CD in the case) is a joy to play through. The age of the Playstation 2 may show through in a few places, but for £19.99 it seems like an absolute steal. Atlus boast that you can find 40+ hours here, with a second play through also encouraged; which is some serious time for your buck.

(P.S to players; doesn’t Nanako’s sad expression bring a tear to your eye when you have to go out and save the world?)

Persona 4: Free t-shirt!

In a previous post, I made a little video unpacking the PAL version of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. The Limited Edition t-shirt I was promised was missing though and at long last, it has finally been posted to me.  Stupidly, although I asked for a small or medium (i’m pretty short for my age) i got given a large.  Still, free merchandise never goes amiss and i’m sure I will find some use for it.

All wrapped up in cellophane

All wrapped up in cellophane

View from the front...

View from the front...

Now from, the back...

Now from the back...

It's only a tad large on me... ;)

It's only a tad large on me...

The transfer on the back is a little faded at the bottom, but that might be a legitimate design choice. If anyone else has this t-shirt, I would love to see pictures of other people wearing them! I plan on playing Persona 4 this summer and will be sure to write up some thoughts on it then.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

Released in the UK three days ago, this is a quick video showing what’s inside the packaging. I’m expecting the limited edition t-shirt too, which I will probably post a couple of pictures of when it comes through the post. For those that don’t know, Persona 4 is one of the last NEW titles to be released on Playstation 2, offering a RPG that is compelling and non-linear. Having been a big fan of Persona 3 i highly reccomend checking it out.

Links i can think of:
Persona 4 Official Website
European Square Enix Version