Persona 4

Persona 4

Persona has always struck me as kind of an odd series of games and as I used to be very traditional when it came to JRPGs I never really bothered with it. Last year, though, a number of people appointed Persona IV the Game of the Year which seemed kind of odd; it being a last-gen title in a year that saw many great releases for the current generation – not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, but it is unusual. Sporting an above 90% review score average, my overall impression is that is overhyped – a niche title requiring a lot of the player’s time, and as such only reviewed by people already sold on the concept.

That is not to say that it is a bad game. A bold combination of a JRPG and a dating sim that holds up fairly well and offers some refreshing variation in gameplay, it also sports a story and setting that could be straight out of any high-school drama anime. The fighting system, while monotonous and not quite so innovative as some have lauded it for, has an incredibly large amount of different attack combinations and the socializing part gives you opportunity to pursue any side stories you like in any pace you like, usually without it feeling awkward with the main storyline. I really liked the game (or I would not have spent so much time with it), but I would still think there are some glaring issues with how it was made.

It has been said that Japanese company culture is strictly hierarchical and disagreeing with your superiors is very taboo, this could maybe explain why so many Japanese games still have design elements that add nothing but frustration and that the rest of the game development world abandoned several years ago. Or maybe it has something to do with how we tackle difficulty, but there is a clear difference. Persona 4 does not give you very many opportunities to save, and the combat system is quite ruthless as there is always a significant risk of running into an enemy that will kill you in a single turn. To alleviate this you will have to do some grinding, a normally frustrating experience made even worse by the inclusion of curses that can rob you of all progress for several battles in a row. Thankfully there are the equivalent boosts and some quick-commands for making fights last shorter, but that seems like a patch rather than good design. And speaking of repetitive gameplay, all dungeons in Persona 4 are randomly generated – rather poorly. Beside from a few thematic differences, every floor looks and plays more or less like the same endless collection of corridors, and tackling new areas is nowhere near as interesting as when someone has actually sat down and designed them.

Also, the dating sim part of the game works better but is not without flaws, some of them can be attributed to how the developers wanted the game to be played but others are pretty glaring. In particular, it had the most glaring conflict between gameplay and narrative that I had ever seen – Once you make a close connection with someone, it automatically becomes useless to socialize more with that person. Might be a minor issue if you look at the individual elements, but as Blow pointed out it ruins the holistic qualities of the work when the game discourages you from hanging out with your girlfriend after spending a good few hours building a relationship between her and the player character.

JRPGs used to be the only thing I would play, but seeing as this console generation has yet to see a really good one it has been awhile since I had the chance to play one. Maybe a good thing, since sinking 80 hours into a game that could have been significantly shorter without losing detail does not seem like a good way to be spending the few hours of spare time that I actually have, but on the other hand I really do like the basic concept of them and playing one good game feels like a better use of said time than playing 8 poor ones.

Seeing as releases get fewer, though, the genre seems to be phasing out slightly so it is not really a decision that I will be forced to make really often.

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Posted on Sep 29/09 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »