10 December 2013

'Persona 4' Part II

The guys at the DDS-Net forums are pretty laid-back and cool people. No massive wars started yet. No internet drama and bullshit erupted. Since it's still a small community, I managed to find my voice among a sea of veteran fans.

Not long after I published part 1 of my review, someone started a Persona 4 thread. I laid down my opinion of the game and tried to be as honest as I could. Within hours, people flooded in with their own few cents. Just recently, a few of us got heated over a tiny aspect of the game. Had someone not pointed that out, the discussion could've blown up into full-scale war.


It's funny how I am most experienced with the Persona series, but I have more in common with those who like other SMT games.

I have... TONS of issues with this game. Let's say that this can be the ending of Mass Effect 3 levels of rage.

Spoilers ahoy.

Characters

Normally, I would cover each character's general gameplay gimmick and plot significance while providing my general reaction to him or her. That happened with Persona 3, including the intermission rant, and Mass Effect 2 had this section go on for two and a half posts. There was just a lot I could say about the cast overall, or specific characters that really touched my heart. So much personality overflowed in those two games that I know I forgot some subtle quirk or a memorable moment to reference. Even the opinions of some characters have changed. For example, I think I was a bit too harsh on Akihiko if only because I barely touched on his complicated relationship with Shinjiro. That was a goldmine I think I missed out on, and ultimately I described the silver-haired boxer as a bland, unimpressive personality with a badass voice actor trying to prop him up. Either that, or I'm getting Persona 3's canon mixed up with my own fanfiction.

The point I'm trying to make is that Persona 4's cast is severely underdeveloped.


Okay. Maybe that's not the right word. Misused? Mishandled? Insignificant? Irrelevant? Poorly integrated with the main plot?

Yes. The characters do not grow along with the plot. If you remove the Social Link system, the characters in Persona 4 feel as worthless and flat and dull as cardboard.

This has nothing to do with the supposedly more "realistic" approach to this game. There is no sick girl creating an alternate world that feeds her delusions and blends into our own. There are no universes sculpted by rumors coming true. Hitler and the Nazis won't come back, start the third reich, and call forth Mayan aliens. No dual universe hopping and altering is to be found. There are no Persona-summoning dogs or humanoid mechs with emotions. No one wears heeled boots up to their kneecaps and has a motorcycle that runs at a hidden hour when no other vehicle does. Everyone has parents, even if they are mentioned off-screen. There are no ridiculous rogue gangs with crazy get-ups setting up doomsday cults. There's no mysterious hidden hour where black muck seeps out of a person's eyeball. Death is not so prevalent that nearly half the cast drops like flies.

No, the real problem is that in the main "mandatory" parts of the plot, your teammates have only one big, shining moment that defines them.

And the formula is extremely recycled and repetitive.



"You're not me."

...

"You are not me."

...

"You aren't me."

...

"Tú no eres yo."

...

"你不是我."

...

"You're not me."

...

"YOU. ARE. NOT. ME."

...

You know what? I was wrong. I hate this game.

I hate the Shadows of these characters. I hate these Shadows. I hate these Shadows. I HATE THEM. I hate their gimmick. I hate how stale and annoying they get. I hate that after a while, I stop giving a fuck about what's going on with each kid and his or her sob story. And I hate that the most important character development is exclusive to Social Links.

Whatever good this concept had is completely obliterated by how overdone it is! It's not original by the time Naoto gets kidnapped. It gets no more interesting when Rise's Shadow starts pole dancing. It's not funny when Shadow Kanji's camp gayness crosses the line. I don't care any more about Yukiko, even when her Shadow starts spewing fire out of every orifice!

Going through these parts of the game is A Clockwork Orange style of torture because it's so goddamn predictable, frequent, unchanging, boring, and relentless!


*feels a Rage Comics moment coming*

...

Fuck it. I need to recalibrate my brain.






*three days of crying, screaming, and self-harming later*


*cleans and bandages wrists*

*returns with bottle of sparkling cider*


Where was I? Oh yes, "character development" and Persona 4. It generally feels nonexistent and irrelevant.

Because everyone undergoes the same thing and reacts identically, I couldn't generally bring myself to be invested in anyone from the get-go. Those I did come to like later still felt rushed or incomplete. Plus, since the game never takes the perspective away from Yu, you only see the characters from his point of view. You never see what's going on behind the scenes in the hearts and minds of the other characters. The Social Links try, but they feel so isolated from the main story and unnecessary padding slice of life moments that no significant growth has a chance to really shine through.

Persona 3 had character development in Social Links too, but there's a great difference. When everyone gains the resolve to overcome their weaknesses before the final fight, it happens along with the plot. Everyone visibly changes from the beginning to the end, both from the protagonist's point of view and the third person perspective away from Hiro/Makoto and Rin.

Ken doesn't get over his mom's death via the Justice Social Link; he overhears Shinjiro and Akihiko's conversations, watches Shinjiro get shot in front of him, and gets motivation from Akihiko to move on during the aftermath. Yukari doesn't learn the truth of her father through the Lovers' Link; she sees the video clip on Yakushima, is at odds with Mitsuru throughout the story, then gets the real video from Fuuka after Ikutsuki tries to kill everyone. Akihiko doesn't get over his insecurity about feeling weak through his Social Link. He questions his reasons for fighting when Yukari argues with Mitsuru; Shinjiro verbally bitch-slaps and harshly headbutts him on a monthly basis; October the $#@%ing 4th happens; then he finally realized through his losses that protecting people is what's important, not seeking power like a blood knight. Hell, Mitsuru's Social Link doesn't even START until she undergoes her story arc with her father!

All the Social Links did was add secondary depth to these guys from Yukari being distrustful of people to Ken being insecure about growing up to Akihiko being scared of letting go of the loss of his sister. Hiro/Makoto and Rin might nudge them a bit now and then, but other characters help them out too in other moments coinciding with the main story.

And I will say it again. October 4th was the moment I realized how much I gave a shit. October 4th made me realize how much I loved the characters, and how much they will suffer through before they can earn their happy ending... and they still don't get it in the end. Hiro/Makoto or Rin always dies, "The Answer" happens, and the rest of the living cast is forced to move on. That night jumpstarted the plot on the right course and I couldn't look at Persona 3 the same as I did the first time I played FES. Persona 3 broke me. So of course it set a high bar that other games might not ever reach. I understand that. But even Persona 2 Innocent Sin made me care about the characters, and the Social Link system doesn't even exist!

So what's Persona 4's excuse?

Instead of making each character conflict arise in a variety of memorable ways, everyone's problems are put on display on TV in an identical fashion, and the aftermath of their issues are resolved one-on-one with Yu. There are no interpersonal relationships seen with the others that grow beyond the humorous bits. We don't see how Yukiko and Chie help each other grow by talking out their problems. We don't see Kanji and Yosuke trying to get past the "Are you sure you're not gay?" immaturity. We don't see how Rise and Naoto would interact if they were alone in a room together. We don't see Kanji and Naoto discuss their common insecurities. We don't see ideological arguments arise and reach a conclusion of admiration or understanding.


One can argue that Persona 4 is a character-driven story, but it limits itself in how the characters grow. Rather than having everyone work out their problems together in conjunction with the overarching story, we get slapstick, cliche slice-of-life humor within the group and actual character growth in isolation with Yu. When everyone's together, it just feels like a bunch of high school kinds in a club with only one minor thing in common. It works better than most fiction involving high school drama, but this isn't a dynamic cast with complicated relationships. This is a Legend of Zelda side quest of fixing someone's problem in a vacuum. Seeing how previous Persona games, like Innocent Sin with the backstory of the Masked Circle, had characters bouncing off each other and having varying interactions that helped you feel for everyone as bad things happened, Persona 4 is not progress in the writing department. It's at least two steps backwards from Persona 3, and one from Persona 2.

The worst part is that several of these characters have so much potential to be more than what they are. There could have been so many interesting relationships that evolve over time. Forming a stronger sense of understanding beyond having the ability to summon a Persona would greatly progress interactions beyond a one-note joke that doesn't change from scene to scene. This is why I cannot emotionally attach myself to most of Yu's teammates.

If anything, I see a stronger relationship web within the Dojima household, and that's only because Yu, his uncle, and Nanako are constantly interacting with each other and becoming a family together. The character development occurs both in Social Links and the main plot, and they tie together so beautifully, I sometimes forget which scene was part of the plot or part of the Social Link. Dojima and Nanako fix their strained relationship as well as love Yu like a son and big brother respectively. If the game handled the other characters like this, I might not be badmouthing it so much.


The Investigation Team

Welp, I can't just whine forever. I should just get straight to the point of this post. The main characters.

Unlike the ten-person team before, Persona 4 has a group of eight. The roster may be smaller, but from a gameplay perspective, the abilities and affinities are more scattered about, meaning nearly every character has mixed bag of skills. This may mean no one is an obvious expert in one field, but it creates a far more flexible set overall, like in case you accidentally bring two great healers or physical attacks gurus. At most, some characters are just slightly better options than others if you look at what skills they share with others. So without further adieu, let's start with the Magician.


Yosuke Hanamura is pretty similar to Junpei Iori in personality and archetype only. His Persona Jiraiya, a goofy-looking ninja-frog that gives me plenty of Naruto flashbacks - specializes in garu/wind along with a single-target healing spell, an ability to confuse enemies, and a boost to the party's agility rate. He also has two physical attacks up his sleeve, Sonic Punch and Bash, but he has a higher SP gauge. It's best if he sticks predominatly with spells that eat up SP, such as the magic attacks and status effects I described. When it comes to melee attacks, he's alright. I only used him in the beginning of the game, but he's still reliable most of the time.

He's more or less a jack-of-all-stats, so he doesn't shine all that much at anything. However, no one else on the investigation team has garu spells, and his agility and luck are pretty decent. His weakness to electricity is not a great crutch to his ability to survive, and he's a good partner to have around. A pair of kunai knives are his weapon of choice, and in combat he wears his headphones over his ears, making him look pretty chill and relaxed when in the heat of battle. As reliable as he can be, I wouldn't recommend him for too many boss fights since a few of his spells won't be utilized.

Character-wise... I can't stand him.

Ignoring the tension he has with Kanji (which that along with his "I swear I'm not gay!" vibes that was very annoying), he is rude, obnoxious, and cocky. He may be a city boy trapped in the boonies, a feeling I can relate with, but he's too awkward and forced in his attempts to be cool, it physically hurts. Watching a Will Ferrel movie has more charm, heart, and humor than this loser. Persona 3's Junpei had similar problems, but he was toned down due to not being the self-appointed second-hand man of the group. Plus, his storyarc with Chidori helped him mature into a friendlier, more reliable friend. Both characters are attention-seekers, but Junpei comes off as personable and goofy while Yosuke is arrogant and whiny.

Some people defend him by arguing he's like this because he's bored with life and wants to make things less monotonous and boring. I can buy that; I can relate. I prefer having the convenience and diversity of the city over the emptiness and homogeny of the small town. At the same time, Yosuke comes off as abrasive and never apologizes for it, which is far worse than just being blunt. Add on his status as a butt monkey with everything bad happening to him, I just can't bring myself to think of him as anything but a sitcom character who thinks he's hot shit because he's the game's narrator. He is the purest definition of The Scrappy. His presence was so prevalent, I got sick of him by the two hour mark.

"Sheesh... Why'd you have to call me that?! You don't have to be so rude about it!"
Though there is a bit of a silver lining. I sympathized with his feelings for Saki Konishi; I preferred his diminished presence in the anime; I enjoyed his interactions with Labrys in Persona 4 Arena; and I liked the alternate interpretation of him in his own manga. However, in Persona 4 the video game, I am so sorry, but he's just an unlikable bitch. That last word is the last thing I thought to use to describe someone voiced by Yuri "Background Punching Bag" Lowenthal.


*sigh* This isn't turning out well. Let's try someone else.

 

Chie Satonaka is a tomboy through and through, relying on her powerful legs to kick Shadows into oblivion. Considering her obsession of martial arts, it makes sense that her abilities focus heavily on physical attacks.

Tomoe Gozen can cast bufu/ice attacks, making her useful in two offensive fronts. However, both her HP and SP are pretty limited, which means you should bounce back and forth between the two kinds of attacks to make the most use out of Chie and her Persona (1). Because of this, she can easily get tossed aside once Kanji and Teddie arrive. They each obtain better physical and ice skills respectively at a much quicker rate than Chie, and their stats emphasize having more specialization in their fields. Basically, for a good chunk of the game, she can be shelved easily if you don't want to invest in her further.

Being of the Chariot Arcana, Chie feels loyal and protective of her best friend Yukiko, often to the point of feeling jealous. She comes off so much like a tomboy that she's upset that people don't see her as a girl, especially when Yukiko's beloved by many because of her beauty and status as future-manager of her family's inn. It's a good set-up that doesn't come to light often enough due to how the story is presented. In spite of that, Chie was still fairly enjoyable. She's spunky, hot-tempered, and she beats up Yosuke exactly when I want her to. *grants girl scout cookie... and steak*

On my first run, I had Yu date Chie. The relationship was simple and sweet with her wanting them to be a battle couple. Though I didn't bring her along much after Naoto joins in, I held onto her in the party a lot longer than Yukiko and Yosuke. She was my favorite of the first three teammates you recruit, both due to the challenge of carefully planning her attacks and her personality. She was funny, blunt, and seemed rather quick to understanding the case despite her not being the sharpest tool in the shed academically. Seriously, she was one of the few characters to ever bring up decent theories about who the killer was and how he managed to get away with it.

"Aw, it's no big deal! Thanks, Melanie-sempai!"
In Golden and the anime, Erin Fitzgerald replaced Tracy Rooney as Chie's voice actress. I like the maturity in Rooney's voice, but I think Fitzgerald held a more consistent performance. She's somewhat screechy and unlistenable near the beginning of the game, but she quickly gets better after the first several hours out of dozens you'll spend playing.


Not my favorite character or Social Link, but I found Chie a better source of comic relief than Yosuke. And she cannot cook to save her life. Neither can her best friend. Speaking of which...


Yukiko Amagi, voiced by Amanda Winn Lee, likes to dodge, burn, and depress things... a lot. Her melee weapon is a fan, which she flings at enemies like a frisbee. She is the best agi/fire-user in the game, has a really high evasion rate in my experience, and can instantly send enemies into the Shadow Realm (har, har) with Mudo.  She is the best healer in the game and the only one to learn Salvation, which heals all HP and status ailments. You better not mess with this chick and Konohana Sakuya.

In spite of this, I rarely used her after recruiting Rise and once Teddie becomes a front-line combatant.

While I can look at Yosuke and want to punch him, I look at Yukiko and shrug. I can't explain why, but I just don't have any feelings toward her.

She's very intelligent and polite for a high schooler, but she's very air headed. Boys constantly ask her out, she declines, then wonders why they were trying to talk to her in the first place. That... makes... sense? Book smart but socially dumb, I suppose. No big deal, it happens to the best of us. Anyway, her family runs the historic Amagi Inn, and she's conflicted about inheriting it when she comes of age. For a while she feels trapped, but she comes to accept her future because she realizes how much she really cares for her family.

I can see Yukiko as a graceful and refined young woman of the Priestess Arcana with an impressive capability in combat, but I didn't fall in love with her. It has nothing to do with her quirky laughter, which I happened to find endearing at points, but I feel there's little else to her. I can't say there was a moment or scene when I really liked her. At least with Chie, I can remember the times she stood up to bullies or spoke up, but Yukiko is very subdued and passive because of her formalities, not because of her sex.

"I see... I respect your honesty."
At least she kicks a ton of ass in Persona 4 Arena.

A few people on GameFAQs once mentioned that there were rumors of her being a suspect of the murders back during the game's development. Supposedly Yukiko seemed "off" and a decent bit of the plot highlights the coincidence that some of the victims were tied to the Amagi Inn. It's an interesting theory, if only because Yukiko sometimes had a fairly... strange manner of behavior when the right buttons were pushed. My gut told me she might have had a darker sense of humor or way of thinking that the game never highlighted on, but it was never explained or touched upon. Though her having Mudo in her arsenal might be it, I dunno.


To lighten the mood, it's time for some squeeing.


Allow me to indulge in my comparisons again. Kanji Tatsumi, voiced by Troy Baker, is a hybrid of Shinjiro and Akihiko from Persona 3. He knows zio/electricity despite having the worst stock of potential SP, and he's a god of physical attacks, complemented with the highest HP meter, making him hard to kill. Take-Mikazuchi is an Emperor Persona and Kanji is the delinquent with a rough exterior hiding his adorable mushy heart. And he's a badass. If that does not scream the best combination in Fangirl's delusional world, then what else could?

Once he joined the gang, Kanji never left my party. Like Shinjiro, sometimes he can become a glass cannon if you overtax him with using physical abilities that eat at HP. At least he can still wreck some havoc with budgeoning shields or folding chairs, haha! since his strength stats are really good. Magic is alright, even if he can't cast zio as much as Yukiko can cast agi. Kanji can raise your team's attack stats when he levels up considerably, and his Social Link progression can unlock Regeneration and Masukunda (lower enemy evasion rate) to help him out. Pretty useful as attack or support, depending on what skills you want him to keep.

Character-wise, Kanji has the most interesting and memorable premise in the group with the best execution. Many gamers talked about it to death, and even Extra Creditz applauded Atlus for creating a character like Kanji with the care they had. It might not be perfect, but this was a great attempt at tackling a male character with some issues regarding the nature of masculinity and sexuality. I don't want to say too much about this topic because I'm no expert and the game mostly illustrates Kanji's insecurity of being accepted by others because of his love of sewing. The whole argument about his sexuality mainly comes up because of how his Shadow is presented and because Yosuke is a stubborn, fire-staring drama queen.

But if I have to stand on that soapbox, I don't care. Sure, the English version of Persona 4 made his sexuality more open-ended and subtle (2), but I think he's more drawn to certain kinds of people. People who are independent, assertive, confident in who they are and what they do. He's clearly attracted to Naoto, before and after the reveal of her sex, and they seem like kindred spirits as they both struggle with gender roles and how society views them.

I like that this part of Kanji's character is left open, because the story focuses more on what really matters: be who you are and be proud of it. Yeah, it'll be awkward trying to communicate this to a ginormous portion of the world that still thinks that heterosexuality is all that exists (and that single-target sexuality or homosexuality is a myth and bisexuality kinky), but being happy with yourself and embracing your talents are important.

"C-Cut it out, damn it! Focus!"
Anyway, I love Kanji's Social Link, and I love whenever he gets excited about his "unmanly" hobbies. He likes cute things, he bickers with Teddie amusingly, he greatly looks up to Yu, and he's just a cool, straightforward guy to have around. He might be slower than Chie, but he knows how to snap everyone out of a funk. Kanji focuses on the big picture and, in his hot-tempered way, keeps everyone focused and motivated. If anything, I would've liked the option to make him Yu's second in command instead of Yosuke. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Overall, Kanji is my favorite character. He's got a big heart for his mother, who he took down a whole biker gang for because they kept her up at night. Say anything bad about his loved ones, especially Naoto or Yu, and he'll immediately and loudly defend them. He's got such a big heart, I can't say too many bad things about him.


Now time for me to apologize to Aigis once more.


I don't like Rise Kujikawa. From the moment she first appears, I didn't like her. Not even the power and charisma of Laura Bailey, who voiced many characters I like in anime and video games, could salvage any likability to present to me. Even flirty Catherine from Catherine and the Navi-like Omochao from Sonic Generations were more likable than this poor girl. She feels so much like a one-note character as Yu's waifu-in-waiting AND a pop singer that I just couldn't stomach her. Basically, Rise is Io from the Devil Survivor 2 anime without that one ruined moment of potential awesome.

So, I'm sorry, Aigis. I am so very sorry. I may still not consider you a favorite, and I will still find a billion problems in "the Answer", but I will never badmouth you again! I promise!

Anywho.

Here's the background support again! Rise Kujikawa of the Lovers Arcana (how fitting *groans*) has nothing noteworthy to her in combat in theory. In practice, she is so broken and overpowered, I'm amazed Persona 4 Arena declared Fuuka Yamagishi to be the superior analyzer. Or maybe it's that Fuuka has better sight and awareness while Rise has a greater psychic connection with and motivation booster to her teammates. Regardless, it was still an interesting thing that leaves me up at night for no rational reason.

For some reason in Golden, they allowed Himiko to grant your team some HP or SP in the middle of battle [sometimes multiple times!] once she is at a certain level (often not until November or December.) Otherwise she can sense enemies, treasure chests of loot, and ensure and escape route. Fuuka's Lucia and evolved Juno could do just that too (only the oddly generous magical healing was at the end of battles).

Well, her deal is that she feels a slave to her pop star image, so she quit to take a break. Ultimately she realizes after reading some fan mail how much young girls looked up to her for inspiration. Then she decides to go back to show biz, only this time preserving as much as the real her as she can. Y'know, rather than get into stuff like alcohol and drugs.

My biggest annoyance about Rise is that I've seen her character done before.


Lisa Silverman had a moment of being a pop star, but it was crucial to the plot. In Persona 2, during the song she performs, she sings a verse that helps spread a rumor of the Prophecy of Maia, which allows it to come true and bring forth the end of the world. It might sound stupid outside of context, but this took what could have been a minor, stupid event and turns it into a major plot point that foreshadows many of the tragedies in the story. Aside from the apocalypse plot, Lisa's major arcana is the Lovers and she has a massive crush on protagonist Tatsuya Suou. And Ginko's bickering with narcissistic Eikichi are far more priceless and hilarious than Rise's with Kanji. Meanwhile Persona 4's pop concert moment was just even more filler thrown into Golden for no reason.

But Fangirl, you might say, there must be something good you can say about Risette!

The bright side about her? Of course I can list one. Grant George voices her manager.

"M-My manager? Th-That's it?!"
Seriously. That's it. I've got nothing.


Instead, let's head north for the polar-izing bear! Heh, heh?


I adore this little ball of fur. Yeah, he's a bit of a womanizer trying to get the ladies, but he's so cute when he's unsuccessful about it, unlike Ryoji Mochizuki, that I can forgive a character paw. He's nowhere near as creepy, and I liked his innocent bearsonality.

Sick of the puns yet? Sorry. In Japanese, his verbal tick is adding -kuma in his sentences, similar to how Rika Fuurude and Hanyu of Higurashi would end their sentences with -nanodesu. Or like Deidara of Naruto having his sentences end with a strange humming sound, un.

Anyway, as a combatant, Teddie is the second-best healer and can cast bufu. He might be inferior with Dia-related spells next to Yukiko, but his bear-claw melee attacks are far more affective than her fans. Plus, he knows a few abilities that remove some status effects on the party. Otherwise his other stats don't add up to much. His agility is one of the worst among your teammates and Kintoki-Douji's weakness to electricity can be a crutch at times.

Teddie's an odd fellow, because he was originally a Shadow. Somehow, which remains a mystery to everyone including him, he obtained an awareness and longed to interact with humans. Once he meets Yu, Yosuke, and Chie after they first fall into the TV World, he decides to let them get out in return for helping him find who is disturbing his world. He served as temporary background support until Rise awakens her Persona. Not long after that, Teddie's own Shadow appears as a sign that he has developed an ego of his own, and therefore a Persona. Then he obtains a human form. For the rest of the game he becomes a full-time squadmate, lives with Yosuke, and uses his bear outfit as a mascot working for supermarket Junes, all the while he tries to understand his beginnings.

His voice can be a bit grating. Both his old voice actor Dave Wittenberg and Sam Riegel can be very annoying in terms of tone, as well as the puns. However, I prefer Sam's performance much more, especially when Teddie is in his human form. He sounds more like a child with a big, light, curious heart rather than a man trying to sound younger than he really is. Regardless, both actors handled Teddie very well.

"*gasp* You're too kind, Lanie-chan! Can we 'score'?"
... Moving on.

Out of all the Social Links, besides Fool and Judgement, the Star is the only one that develops along with the plot. This may be why I enjoyed Teddie as much as I did. His introspections were extremely relevant to the story as the team questions what Shadows and Persona are. We see him bond with Yu, the team, and especially Nanako, making one event especially heartbreaking by the turning point of the story.

I only wished the other characters had mandatory progression like Teddie's did. Because this character was wonderfully written, despite the still questionable plausibility of his existence.


Next, we have the character who fell victim to the trope "It was his sled".


The last person to join the team is Naoto Shirogane of the Fortune Arcana. Naoto is an androgynous female detective trying to be seen as a man in a very male-dominant career field. I'll get to this elephant in the room.

Combat-wise, Naoto's an odd one. Sukuna-Hikona has access to physical attacks, Almighty, Hama, Mudo, and that's it (although Golden gives her Persona both agidyne and garudyne as well). Despite having no weaknesses, I would call her a glass cannon on the basis that being an exclusively offensive fighter is what her major contribution to the party is. Overall, Naoto has abilities that everyone else is better with, and she has hardly any defense to make up for being so focused on attacking anything. Worse still, like Yosuke, she's not a good candidate for bosses since a good portion of her skill set, Hama and Mudo, won't work. Golden amends this greatly by giving her Shield of Justice, which is another sign that Atlus made this game so broken in favor of the player with difficulty.

In spite of her peculiarly head-first approach in combat, I still used Naoto frequently. Her chances of dealing critical hits were high and her handguns are quite decent. Sadly, if she misses she'll fall on her butt, unlike Yukari the archer in Persona 3. Also like Yosuke, her agility is so damn good that she will often be the first person to attack in the party though having an average evasion rate.

She is similar to Kanji only in reverse. Her issue with gender roles has more to do with being seen as a good detective rather than hiding her femininity. Naoto does not seem to be transsexual as some claim, because the conflict is not in feeling uncomfortable with having the "wrong"genitalia. Or I might be saying this because of my own apathy to sexuality. I care far more about what personality someone has and what ideals he/she holds. If Naoto really feels like she was born the wrong sex, it wouldn't change much of the fact that she still wants to be accepted in a career she enjoys and is skilled in. Her inner conflict was still illustrated well enough to at least bring up a conversation that has been lacking in video games.

Sadly, she joins the team so late in the game that her character development feels very rushed. What doesn't help is that the extra fanservice scenes continue to remind us with a sledgehammer that she is far more endowed than one would expect. Then fans take it and run so far with it, I start to feel very uncomfortable, especially since this character has had years of insecurities with being born a woman (3). And let's not even start with the Persona x Detective Naoto spin off.

"Indeed. Let us continue living as if that asinine drivel never existed."
Had she been around longer, I might like her more than I do. But the fact that her transgender-ish issues get dropped the second she becomes a Social Link and possible love interest rubs some people the wrong way. It bothers me too that she accepts her femininity far more quickly than Kanji did with himself. Maybe I'm just a Westerner looking at this from the wrong lens, but if someone has struggled with gender identity for the majority of his or her life, a sharp turn-around within a handful of months with bare-bones character development is just a really bad fictional magic trick. I just don't buy the "I'm going to dress like a woman" Naoto in Golden's True Ending epilogue.

Oh well. I still like her enough.


Lastly I'll briefly mention Yu Narukami. Since he's the silent protagonist and you pick his dialogue options, very little can be said about him. However, his appearances in Persona 4 The Animation and Persona 4 Arena show a stoic young man with a very dry, deadpan sense of humor. He's fiercely loyal to the people care cares about, and he is particularly affectionate to and protective of his cousin Nanako. He respects members of authority, especially his police officer uncle, and is a generally laid back, confident dude.


Like Makoto/Hiro and Rin, he is the Fool with the Wild Card, the ability to summon multiple Persona in combat. However, he does have his own unique Persona, Izunagi. He looks like an edgy city delinquent and is badass lightning caster. Totally beats Orpheus any day of the week.


Before We Move onto the Plot...

Overall, the Persona 4 cast was just a mixed bag of marbles. I loved Kanji and Teddie; I liked Naoto and Chie; I tolerated Yukiko; I disliked Rise; and I loathed Yosuke. Despite this, how each character was introduced was so inexcusably lazy and recycled, I'm baffled how anyone besides Kanji, Teddie, and Naoto managed to stand out in any way. With messy character handling as this, this game is a miracle.


A lot of what I said can probably be chalked up to nitpicks, and sadly it's only going to get worse. I might not be the best person to review this game because of how many problems I have seen in this game. If I had to be the most optimistic, I would call Persona 4 a game with great ideas that were questionably handled. I feel the characters and story could have been much better if everything wasn't told exclusively through Yu's perspective. I wished there were more enriching, unique character moments.

Upon looking back at my preview post, however, I can assure you I was not lying about how fun this game was regardless. If anything these characters are much smarter than most teenagers on TV shows nowadays. The interactions are still shallow, but they feel more organic and sincere. Though the slice of life moments were far too frequent to the point of confusing the tone of the game, some of them were still far more entertaining than similar scenes in anime.

But I'll get there, I promise.


~~~~~~~NOTES:~~~~~~~

(1) - Chie is probably one of the few characters I didn't have to "train". Almost anything she did worked out fine, since her AI knows she can abuse too much HP or SP.

By "training" I basically mean having direct control of teammates for a time, make them do a certain pattern of attacks under certain circumstances for multiple battles until they adopt that "way of thinking" in future battles when they act freely. This technique also applies to Persona 3 Portable.

i.e.) If there are four enemies, two of which are weak to ice and two to zio, I would dictate Chie to use a single-target bufu on the ice-weak enemies, then follow-up with a group-wide attack. Kanji's turn would be next, so he would use a single-target zio on both electric-weak enemies. Cue All-Out Attack. Rince and repeat until they can use this pattern when acting freely.


(2) - I can't speak on the behalf of Kanji's Japanese portrayal, but Troy Baker was told that his character was homosexual. Whether it means Kanji is or not, it did help Baker have a better idea how to fit in this role. Without that tip, Kanji would have sounded more like yet another cliche heterosexual bad boy with a heart of gold and a domestic streak. The superior being(s) know(s) there are more than enough of them in fiction.


(3) - And then watch Fangirl become a hypocrite when it comes to the gag costumes. Like the maid outfit and the cat suit-thingy. But here is the major difference. I can go through the whole game and never be forced to put Naoto in a revealing outfit during combat. As funny as it is to watch the reactions of characters that dress up, I get that some people may be offended. Since both guys and girls get optional fanservice moments in combat, I won't demonize anyone specifically. While guys can enjoy making the girls their slaves for a while, I shall cherish the butler outfits in Persona 3 Portable and anything else that women find appealing. ^_^

The hots springs scene with the girls groping Naoto and petting her skin on the other hand? Was that really needed? I mean, sure, Japan has different cultural standards and everything, but still. Really? And did Golden have to add a cutscene with Gainax physics too? *sigh*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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For now, let's have some fun for once.



And here's the anime version.

11 comments:

Chalgyr Vokel said...

This is a seriously cool write-up. I played P4 Golden this last year on Vita, and it was my first Persona title since the original on the PS1. I loved P4, but I do find myself agreeing with a lot of your comments in this very well-written, detailed write-up. Looking forward to the next part. :)

Melanie~Light said...

Thanks a bunch! :)

I know how rabid and defensive the Persona 4 crowd can be sometimes, so my saying how seriously flawed the characters (especially the story) are could have sent me to the gallows on some parts of the internet. Plus my being a Persona 3 nut doesn't help my case.

Thanks again for stopping by! I'll start up part 3 once my exams are over.

Chalgyr Vokel said...

Yeah, criticizing a popular game, or aspects of a well-loved game can always be tricky. And I didn't have nearly the number of objections you did - but I think you explained your reasoning quite well and I'm not prone to knee-jerk reactions. Great thing about opinions - everyone has them and their own experiences color them. It doesn't make one invalid just because you may or may not agree. Still, an excellent set of articles so far. :)

Voltech said...

Well, that was certainly an...interesting post. It only shattered most of my reality, rather than all of it, as I expected. orz

It's the wildest thing, though. After reading this, it feels like a lot of the things you had problems with are things that I either didn't mind or outright liked. (Though I agree that Naoto needed more time to work her way into the plot.) I was under the impression that P3 worked its character development/arcs into the plot precisely because it didn't have Social Links for most of the cast.So when P4 came rolling around, the devs fixed that -- my guess is that it was supposed to be a way to have the player bond more intimately with the character(s), rather than make them "share" with the rest of the cast. It's an approach that can work -- it worked for me, at least -- but I can understand where you're coming from. And now I kind of wonder what it would be like of those Links were a bigger part of the plot.

I'll be honest, though: my biggest takeaway from this post is that I really need to play the game again. (Or if not that, then watch an LP.) I'm not about to go doubting you, or telling you you're wrong; in fact, I welcome dissent. You've got your perception of the intangibles, and I feel like I need to do the same...even if I have to do it all over again. So on that note, thanks for sharing.

But man, poor Yosuke...he was supposed to be your bro! Your broooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Melanie~Light said...

*reedit of badly written post. >.<

Lol. Look, man, NO ONE is a better bro than Junpei. I love that adorable idiot so f'ing much. Yosuke unfortunately could not meet my high standards, even if he and I share the same dislike of living in the boonies. I'm no city-bred girl, but if it takes me over an hour to reach Best Buy, Kohl's, and Max and Erma's, then that is a place I refuse to be.

But I digress.

This might have been stressed to death, but my negativity towards Persona 4 stems from my adoration of FeMC's route in P3P. The plot was preserved, but everyone on your team had social links. Meaning, everyone had TWO opportunities to grow. If one wasn't charming, the other was, and that's how I came to like everyone in SEES, particularly Fuuka, who has barely any plot-mandatory development thanks to her half-assed friendship with the former bully chick. So when I adore Fuuka more than most of the Persona 4 cast COMBINED, either my biases are extremely apparent or there is some flaw in the original product that I can't quite articulate.

To be honest, I looked forward to your response ever since I first declared Persona 4 having horrible ending fatigue. You love this game, and I partially felt bad that I could not share similar feelings. I dunno if it's because P3 was my first game, therefore it "defined" Persona, or I'm a sadder person than I once believed. But I had to be honest, you know? And I had to get this off my chest.

More complaining is coming, though, so be prepared. And go ahead and play the game/watch a let's play) again. I'm sure i won't change your opinion, but it's always good to re-explore something you like that has been questioned. And I know you'll have more fun than me. *laughs*

Derc Savo said...

Interesting write-up. I agree partly, I never cared for how Persona 4 kept most of the character development restricted to the social links. I too would've liked to see a stronger character arc over the course of the game, similar to Persona 3, but it wasn't a significant issue for me. I still liked the cast, and the slice-of-life scenes where they hang out and have fun are often excellently written.

Still, I never did like the P4 cast as much as I did in P3. Some of the characters like Rise or Yukiko are well-written and have good voice actors... but they never clicked with me for some reason. It especially became noticeable for me when I played the game for the second time, I found myself often wanting to get back to the gameplay instead of listen to the characters.

Here's hoping P5 nails the characters and their development, whenever it comes out.

Melanie~Light said...

Oh, the humor is indeed good. I won't ever deny that! I still smile at the scenes where everyone is hanging out and having a blast. I will get more into it in part 3, but it's the frequency and abundance of it I could have lived without. The field trip, Nanako's party, summer at the Dojima house, the king's game, and Golden's ski trip were my favorite moments, but the concert (WORST part of the game, hands-down), beach episode, babe hunt 2.0, cultural festival, and the hot springs were just too much.

I guess I'm lashing out so much because I feel that the story could have been better if there was more focus on the murder mystery and fighting shadows. The characters actively yell at you for training/grinding in the TV world because they want to spend more time goofing off. This game banks a bit too much on its slice of life anime-feel that - though it is still well written and enjoyable - digresses far too much from the plot and gameplay. Overall, I think the original houses FAR less crazy filler and more gameplay challenge than Golden.

And I'll mention it again. Persona 3 does a better job at not only developing the characters via the plot and Social Links, but there's a brilliant blend of dungeon crawling and school life. If you were bored of one, take on the other. The characters encouraged it, and it's outright expected from day one. This kept me invested a lot longer than P4 did.

As for the characters, I think it varies upon each person. I think if everyone is together, it's fine. Pull them apart, and it becomes a polkadot dress. Not the biggest breaker for me, even if my temper has flared like crazy lately.

BTW, Thanks for stopping by! :)

EschaTheMadReaper said...

i know, right? the way the game added new party members and introduced new characters was way too repetitive. i could tell how the game would go by the time yukiko joined the investigation team, so the moment i saw rise and kanji on TV, i was like, "time to go to the TV world again..." i didn't hate the game for it, but it did annoy me greatly. what made me hate the game (i still like it, i really do, but a person can still like something and yet hate it at the same time you know) was the lack of common sense of the characters. they keep assuming it's over, even though there are so many holes and unanswered questions. i could tell IMMEDIATELY that the death of mr. morooka was the work of a copy cat. i could tell IMMEDIATELY that the stalker i helped jump on wasn't the killer. i could tell IMMEDIATELY that namatame didn't kill the first two victims (i actually bothered to talk to him when i came across him in the shopping district, partly because i thought at first that he was going to be a social link. too bad.). maybe i can understand why everyone thought it was namatame. but seriously? SERIOUSLY?! no wonder adachi keeps thinking the world consists of idiots if he has to keep putting up with that! *whacks head on desk repeatedly*

and then there's way too many events. i enjoyed them, yes, but thinking i have to go over them again in my second playthrough depressed me. maybe if i could change the outcomes of some of those events (i don't mean the events with your chosen girlfriend... i don't count those...), like i can choose naoto to pretty me up and win, i'd like it more. but i can't. i'm forced to go through the same event with different dialogue choices as my consolation. not fun.

~characters~

i can understand preference of junpei over yosuke, especially if you're in the female route of p3p. sure, junpei was an ass in regards to having to take orders, but i can sympathize with him so i was cool with it. i can also understand why you think he's a whiner. even kanji complained about it, although i noticed it only happened once and it was during the ski trip. but i honestly liked yosuke. i think it's because of his social link. sure, there were moments where i wanted to give him a punch (didn't he ask for one anyway in his social link?)or better yet a critical hit to the nads because he was NOT helping at all. but just like junpei, i forgave him. albeit not as quickly as i forgave junpei in the FeMC version, but quickly enough. his eagerness to please and suck up personality were a bit difficult to get used to, but seeing as that i'm his first real male friend in inaba, i took it in stride. i even wonder sometimes if i was his first real friend in any gender friend in both the city and inaba. if i was... well, ouch. feel free to call me partner as much as you want. there's also the tidbit i got in a forum where i learned that yosuke could have been a romance option. there was a link where voiced clips were erased from social links and... i saw... two lines that made my eyebrows rise.

"i like you."

"don't make me say it again."

huh. a guy who is in love with his male best friend but doesn't want to admit it... all those insinuations and his constant arguments with kanji suddenly make sense. i wish i still have the link. i would have shared it.

moving on... YES! you liked chie! i was torn between her and naoto, among the main romance options. she reminded me of myself, right down to the love of MEAT, except she's probably much more cuter and obviously much more active (there is no way i can do half of the stuff she does... and lately i've been playing more games than anything else combined). i loved her persona's upgraded versions. star wars,anyone?

i too found yukiko meh. her persona was beautiful, and the salvation skill was useful, but after i fuse helel and max yukiko's link, i might as well erase her existence.i hated her persona's upgraded versions. UGH.

EschaTheMadReaper said...

kanji was sweet. i'm not gaga over him, but i sincerely did like him. rise was okay, mainly because she was useful in battle. other than that, i was indifferent to her. her social link was so unfair. i may not like her, but i am not such a jerk that i would be an ass and just stand there when she's having a personal crisis. she's just like yumi. ofc i can choose to be an ass. i may pick that option in another playthrough (if i will have another one) for the heck of it. but i would normally choose to be the gentleman and i will have to put up with having her as a gf. GREAT. oh, and about fuuka being the better analyzer, isn't it because she can still help and communicate with her team even if they're in another dimension and she's in the real world? i'm not sure; i never played p4 arena, but i did see someone type that down once...

teddie. oh, teddie. i loved teddie.

in BEAR FORM.

when his human form was revealed, i almost threw my vita across the room. i was MORTIFIED. he was cute. his puns were a little annoying, but they were cute and fit him perfectly. i didn't even mind his flirting. i would gladly respond (and i sort of did in the part where he was offering a kiss to the MC even though he was in human form just for the heck of it)... as long as he remained a bear. i love teddy bears. so having a talking, walking teddy bear mascot was cool. i always dreamed of my teddy bear becoming alive. maybe MY teddy bear wouldn't be as stupid or flirtatious as teddie, but that's not the point. the point is that i never wished for my teddy bear to become human. so having teddie suddenly grow a human body...

as yosuke would say... NOT. COOL.

i do agree that the mystery behind his existence was good, even though it wasn't handled well and was severely lacking. everyone promised to help him find out who he is, but it was only naoto who actually bothered to make him take a check-up. i understood why they didn't try that at first, they didn't know he could leave the TV and he had no human form then, but after? and how come no one else but naoto bothered to research about shadows and stuff?! i once tried to go to the library cuz i thought i could research there, but i could only study!!! WHY?!

teddie's persona was cute, albeit slightly freaky as it upgraded. his special skill, komui miracle i think, was fun and i looked forward to what it would result. his combo move wit yosuke was adourable. i would happily be bombed by something like that!

YES, YES, YES... i wish naoto joined earlier (i would have much less complaints if that did happen). i could didn't care much about how endowed she is. i wish she and kanji actually had time to talk about their gender issues, but golden says noooo... :( darn it.

ah. for me, the awesomeness of the MC in p3 and p4 are arranged like this: rin>yu>minato. yu had always struck me as an oddball, from his dialogue choices to the way he acted in the anime. and i enjoyed playing him because of it. now if yosuke actually WAS a romance option...oh, the hilarity that would ensue. valentine's would be MEMORABLE. *evil laugh* add kanji and teddie and i would be at peace, despite the flaws of the game. it's not fair that there's so much BROMANCE but no ROMANCE (with guys anyway).

Anonymous said...

My personal ratings for the characters pretty much went the opposite way as you, with one thing we agree on, that being:

1. Kanji
2. Yosuke
3. Rise
4. Yukiko
5. Naoto
6. Chie and Teddie are tied for just how much I ridiculously hate them

Sure, I feel like I'm looking at face value here, and my only experience with the series is 3 and 4, along with Devil Survivor games if other SMT games count, but Yosuke had a decent character arc and his personality was one I felt I related with a lot (... minus the hide your gays parts with Kanji), mostly because everyone else was so quirky that you're straight man is always going to end up coming off like an ass.

Teddie I hate more for what he became, but I do respect him for actually having story based character development. His appearance in the spinoffs causes so much acid to churn that I always relate it to his entire character. And Chie is the same except for the fact that we're meant to think her character is funny for putting Yosuke in butt monkey situations. BECAUSE THAT'S ALWAYS FUNNY AM I RIGHT??! I feel that might just be us disagreeing based on our preferences on Yosuke.

Everyone else had... ok character arcs, and I don't feel like I could disagree with you there

Melanie~Light said...

@Anon

Taking the current spin-offs into consideration, yes, Teddie has indeed worsened with the spin-offs. Sadly, almost every character (with some exceptions) in P3 and P4 has become less enjoyable in the spin-offs by being reduced to most simplistic cliche that they once defied in the original games. Chie beating up Yosuke became annoying in the spin-offs not just b/c "girls beating up guys is hilarious" but also because the reasons why Yosuke deserves such a punishment makes less and less sense. I felt cathartic in P4 b/c Yosuke was acting like a jerk most times he got hit, but not all the time. The spin-offs have him calmed to the point that him getting kicked is uncalled for. Considering the spin-offs are supposed to be fun, it makes some sense why the quality of writing is not top notch, but it does make beloved characters less likable.

Thanks for your comment!

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