25 January 2014

'Persona 4' Part III

...I just need to get to the point.

No build-up, no long introduction. Let's get this story tackled.

Because dear superior being(s), I don't like it.

SPOILERS, of course. I reeditted this post to remove my digression with other games. But still. Mass Effect 3 and Tales of Xillia handled their "big bads" better than Persona 4. My god, this game will be the end of me.

Since it took me over a month to pull myself together - and failing miserably - here's a brief recap of my review of Persona 4:

- As far as Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games go, Atlus made a much easier installment than usual. Though not a bad thing in the original as far as I know, Golden is exceptionally laid-back and hand-holdy to the point that the hardest mode is probably an easy mode of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. [Don't quote me on that.]


- Despite exploitable gameplay shortcuts like Shuffle Time, the overall combat system is still competently programed and fun. I can spend more time level grinding in the more aesthetically pleasing dungeons here than in Persona 3.

- Character development equates to psychiatric sessions. Personal and intimate, yes, but horrifically isolating from the plot. If you can't attach yourself to one guy when he first crops up, good luck finding a reason to care outside the Social Links. I surely hope Persona 5 fixes this optional character development issue.

- I only felt genuine intimacy within the Dojima household. And it actually becomes threatened, thus raising the stakes for the only time in the game.


- I can't wait for my best bro in the whole universe to beat Yosuke to death in Persona 4 Arena 2. Such slaughter will be beautiful to behold.

- The only positive to the Lovers Social Link is that I get to hear Grant George's voice again. Even if it's just for one scene.

- Kanji and Naoto were excellent discussion starters for challenging gender roles and sexuality in video games. It could always be done better, but Atlus did well for taking a step in the right direction.

- As much as I'm bitching, I still had fun with the game. Seriously. I did.


... I still come off as a Negative Nancy, however. Maybe I'm lying to myself, maybe I'm thinking too much. Or maybe I have so much to say about what I hate about the story that I have no idea where to begin without completely compromising my ability to critique. So before I go there, here's some very minor characters I skipped over.


Social Links and Other Characters

The stories behind these Social Links are written well and have heart, but I can't say I remember most of them. This in fact may be due to my only beating the game once. I have started a second playthrough, but I still only put about a hundred hours in Persona 4: only seventy six were from the first run.

Even then, I still can't say many of the Links were that fun or interesting to me. The Sun Link - regardless if you hang out with Yumi or Ayane - comes off as bland and uninspired. I didn't mind Yumi at first, but once she gets mopey and angsty over her dying dad, she's less tolerable and more boring. As for Ayane... I agree with Hiimdaisy's comic. I saw her for one second and wanted to run for my life. She makes Hinata Hyuuga look like Lara Croft. Hell, even Luna from Virtue's Last Reward is the model of a strong ideal woman next to this flower! Maybe even Serah - oh, wait never mind. Unlike anyone from that one Square Enix abomination of a "trilogy", Ayane at least as a character arc. Too bad it's on the safe and predictable end of the characterization spectrum.

But I digress.

To be fair, I did enjoy the sports-related Links more this time than in Persona 3. Aside from Rio in Rin's route, I couldn't care about Yuko or Kazushi in Makoto/Hiro's route. This time, however, I found myself having more fun with Daisuke and Kou. And it's not because Kou looooooves them balls. Though that did help the comedy. The two felt more like really close friends who bounce off each other very well. Their banter felt genuine and it felt like Yu wasn't left out - for being a silent protagonist anyway.

I also mentioned how much I liked Dojima and Nanako. It's hard to forget about people your character lives with every day. I cannot stress enough how much I liked these two. Sometimes either I'm too hard or too apathetic to family relationships in fiction. This time, it felt organic. Nanako slowly warms up to not being alone in the house anymore and she has the chance to be a wide-eyed kid she should be. Dojima the workaholic policeman is heartbroken over his wife's death, but Yu helps knock some sense into him so he can be the loving father he always wanted to be. The transition from being somewhat distant to being warm is so gradual and well paced, I sometimes forgot when and how the three of them became so close to each other. They were the best characters in the game, as they evolved day to day as well as in their Social Links.

Everyone else? Ai Ebihara was better than I originally feared for the Moon Link and Sayoko was quite endearing for the Devil Link. Otherwise, I can't remember anyone else because they were boring.

Though if you have to add Golden into the mix, I have to mention Marie.


Marie. Oh, dear, Marie. This chick is a base breaker. She's not been well-liked by the fanbase from what I've seen. I didn't care too much of her tsundere tendencies either, but I have seen worse. To be honest, I'm appalled people find Taiga from Toradora to be more charming than Marie. Who contaminated the marijuana with hallucinogens? Taiga is a homicidal, monstrous rabid dog who needs to be put down. Marie is just an unapproachable jerk, and not the lovable kind.

Honestly, I didn't mind her. Her being a tsundere is far from the worst thing about her. Her Social Link mostly consists of other characters from the Investigation Team butting in because the writers didn't want to integrate her with the plot. Considering how her presence actually makes the True Ending a bit less of an asspull, it's still a pain that her story arc can best be labeled as optional DLC. Marie in my eyes strengthened some parts of the story I still don't fully get and appreciated an attempt to clear the air. Sadly, I can copy my complaint about the therapy sessions disguised as character development for your teammates and paste it as my opinion for the handling of Marie. Though just like Naoto, I still ended up liking her despite the flaws.


Okay. Get your torches ready.


Plot

Yu Narukami transfers to Inaba to live with his uncle and cousin while his parents are overseas for business. While living in the middle of nowhere, Yu obtains the odd ability to summon multiple Persona around the same time a series of murders begin to sweep the once still town. He is able to adapt into the new environment and make new friends regardless. Once they hear of the rumor of the Midnight Channel revealing one's soul mate, Yu, Yosuke, and Chie discover a world within a TV at the local supermarket.


Actually the Midnight Channel mysteriously reveals the identity of the next person to be kidnapped and killed. The picture is fuzzy at first, but once the person is taken away, their image is crystal clear, but presents the polar opposite of what that person behaves like in a cheap, reality TV-esque fashion. Once they determine this pattern, Yu and his friends form their own Investigation Team and rescue those trapped in the TV World before they are killed.

And then fanservice and anime cliches ensue.

...

A few months pass and the gang has grown from three to five... cue camping trip.

...

Then when the team has seven members, Yu and his friends continue to ponder who could possibly be the culprit and what the motive could be... Oh! Motorcycle fun time at the beach!



They gather whatever facts they have found so far - SUMMER VACATION, BABY!!!!!!

...

Suddenly the murder case goes cold for some odd reason. Could the culprit - PORT ISLAND FIELD TRIP!!!!!!

...

Okay, stop it. I'm trying to - 

*cues music playing at Escapade*


O_O

Oh, Lotus Juice, how I missed you. Why am I NOT playing Persona 3 right now?



... Oh, yeah. Right.


Okay, okay, I'm being very petty. There is a plot in here. It's understandable (most of the time), it has heart, and it strives to impress those of us tired of the same recycled cliches found in anime and video games. But it keeps getting distracted with frivolous cliches found in every anime ever.

I need something to cheer me up...








Persona 4 is the greatest work of fiction ever! I take back all criticisms!! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!!!!!! JUST NOT THE NAILS!!!!!! NOT THE NAILS!!!!!!!!!!!



*sigh*

I, uh, realize how much I bagged on Persona 3's plot. November and December were painfully slow and chalk-full of angst. The mythology of the apocalypse and the method of stopping it was vaguely explained and questionably executed. Erebus was shoe-horned in at the end of the optional epilogue with no prior foreshadowing. The needless revival subplot just keeps going on even three years after the event in Persona 4 Arena for no adequately justifiable reason. It's so bad, I am begging Atlus to not make Elizabeth have anything to do with Persona 5. I will send myself to a mental institute if that storyline touches that game.

And have I said how much I hate "The Answer"? Well if not, I hate it. There is no reason for it to exist. Hell, it can exist, if only the revival subplot was never even brought up. Or if the main story (or Ryoji) hinted at Erebus LONG before January 31st. There is a reason I started my long-ass fanfiction to fix that poorly told apocalypse plot, you know.

...

And sheesh, even the existence of Maxwell in Tales of Xillia was done fairly. Sure, the point of Milla's existence was a gamble, considering she wasn't born a slave, making that god's whole plot very convoluted and -

...

And hell, even The Catalyst was a better developed villain than Erebus. Yep. I said it. At least the characters of Mass Effect 3 discuss the importance of the Catalyst in the first two hours of the game and the references persist throughout. It's only its appearance and motivations that are -

...

Wait. This is Persona 4 isn't it? Oops. I guess too many games I've played lately had stupid godlike beings make the stupid decision of showing up late with bad timing or no prior build-up. Or had illogical reasons why the dead are still walking, eating, and going to the toilet like the rest of us. Or had stupid god-like characters in general. Well, when I noticed that Persona 4 had a similar trend of springing a god-like being at the very last hour of the canonical ending and having a stupid plan all along, I will give credit to P4 for at least being 0.000000001% smarter with how they handled it.

We run into the final big bad within the first hour of the game.

The execution of this, however, is a bit of a different story. While I will forever decry Erebus for being irrelevant if only because his presence is not needed to make a satisfying ending to Persona 3, I will declare how the True Ending is far less awesome than it could be in Persona 4. We just don't get enough subliminal messages about the tale of Izanami and Izunagi and how it can be incorporated into the mystery murder story. Maybe something was lost in translation. Maybe I know so little about Japanese mythology that any subtle shout-outs fly over my head. Even a simple Google or MegaTen wiki search of these dieties and the Persona of the Investigation Team did not register. Some Persona like Ameterasu and Susano-o only tied back to Izunagi by... simply being siblings birthed from him after he failed to save Izanami. Yeah. How that relates to the relationships between Yosuke and Yukiko, Yosuke and Yu, or Yu and Yukiko; how that goes back to seeing the truth for what it is rather than live a life of lies and delusions; how they add more to the Magician and Priestess Social Link have all failed me.

Going back to Persona 3, at least multiple characters had Personas with simple myths attached to them that made for obvious symbolism if you are familiar enough with Greco-Roman mythology. You knew Ken's purpose in the story once you see Nemesis. The visual similarities of Polydeuces and Castor and the allusion to the Gemini Twins is extremely clear-cut. The evolution of immortal Polydeuces to the god-like figure Caesar is blatant. You know Thanatos and Hypnos are on the same side once you realize they are instigators of death. As much as an asspull as he was in the game, even Erebus still sits at home perfectly with other figures - such as Nyx, Thanatos, Hypnos, and Moros - from a mythological standpoint. So though his presence felt tacked on, I can still understand the intention behind this creation.

I know I've been nitpicking, but please understand where I'm coming from when I say that Persona 4 feels like it's lacking in the depth department.

If you don't take on any Social Links, there is no reason for the members of the investigation team to exist except for having strength in numbers. Rise may get a few points because of her role as a background support and combat analyzer; Yosuke and Chie might get off the hook because they were the first people thrown into the mess; and I doubt Yukiko could get killed off since Chie would theoretically go to hell and back for her on paper. It sure is questionable in practice how close they are, however, but I digress. That just leaves Kanji, who, let's be honest, bears less weight on the plot than Garrus does in Mass Effect 1; Naoto, who feels more like a DLC character thrown in at the last second of development to balance out the sexes; and Teddie, whose existence is to give more world building to the Shadows... and nothing else. What baffles me the most, however, is how I far more enjoyed the disposable cast members with fascinating studies on them more than the possible "essential" ones with cliche issues and emotional baggage.


A while back, I wondered what could happen if you let some of your "recruits" die in their fight against their Shadow. Why must there be a non-standard game over screen if you don't save Rise or Naoto? Why can't the story continue on, but lead to an ending whether it be good or bad? You can still have the full eight-man team lead to the good ending, but what if there are other ways to reach that same ending? Since most of these characters don't have interestingly intimate, complex webs of bonds holding them all together, why shouldn't the death or failed recruitment of one be a viable story? What if more clues emerge and the case is solved more efficiently if someone doesn't survive? What if the failure pushes the team to work harder, to not sit around and joke about bad cooking, questionable sexuality, and the next school trip?

It bears repeating but what made Shinjiro a wonderful character was not just because of my incurable fictional jerkass with a kind heart fetish. No matter what kind of person the characters or players thought he was, the story demanded that he had to die. Persona 3's theme was accepting and living with death, and they followed through with it. On the obvious level, Strega sent some threats, Ken sought revenge, and Shinjiro wanted to kill himself. Then once you count the symbolism from Castor to exchanging watches with Rin, it's neigh impossible for him to have a second chance at life. His purpose and role was designed and prepared so tightly that the execution was beautiful.

Have I told you lately that I hate this recycled confrontation?
Such care did not return to Persona 4. The theme this time involves searching for the truth, no matter how unpleasant it is. Obviously this is played when members of the Investigation Team have face-to-face arguments with their Shadows, but it never seems to go beyond that. The townsfolk have very little reactions to the world around them. Maybe that's the point. Maybe they are so focused on their personal lives that they could not care about the reality of the murders. They don't care how they happened, why the happened: they just want the cops to handle it so they can continue to live in their tiny small town world.

But that's the problem. It's just a maybe. Plus, it sounds far more like apathy than denial. Yes, they focus on the wrong things and are oblivious to what's really happening, but does that justify a wide-mass killing of the world because people lie to themselves? Really? At least people were excited for Nyx in Persona 3 because Strega set up a death-obsessed cult where people got attacked by Shadows constantly and the Port Island area was completely crazy and trashed. That was evidence that people were clamoring for Nyx's return, even if it was a last-second pull. At least the cries for the apocalypse were clearly illustrated.

Persona 4 only has persistent mist that gets some people woozy. Ok. Not as dramatic and impactful... I guess. Maybe that is the refusal to seek the truth Izanami was talking about. So, I guess I'll let that go... kind of.

But I still need to say one thing. No one but the investigation team is capable of seeing the truth. That's only because Izanami gave Yu access to his powers and Izunagi, who then in turn recruited others who were thrown into the crazy world by force.

This story taught me not to search for the truth. It taught me that some gods are just trolls. Izanami isn't bringing a desire to humanity that they long wished for. She just made up that excuse solely to play around with three humans she chose to stand up to her - only for a few more kids to unexpectedly get the power of Persona too. This is Shin Megami Tensei in a nutshell.

Nearly every demon in SMT is a troll making humanity suffer for shits and giggles, where humanity wants them to or not. Arguably, the reasons these creatures exist is because humanity holds beliefs in them or the ideas they represent. Nyx, Thanatos, and Erebus are gods of death, and humans believe in the concept of dying, being killed, or wanting to avoid death. The Abrahamic god can be seen as a figure of divine authority and punishment as man view him to be, and thus he is just that. Etc. etc. With these and other big figures causing a racket, a handful of humans may have the ability to get past this chaos and reshape humanity's future to end the conflict for a time. This is classic SMT. Persona 4 isn't too far from its parent franchise after all!

... So why are we spending all our time performing shitty J-pop to keep a store afloat economically?

No. I refuse to drop this complaint. That concert scene marks everything that is wrong with this game. It's this, and the other slice of life scenes that stand above everything else. The dungeon crawling is just an accessory. People are dying. Shadows are running amok, ready to attack anyone they see. A mist threatens to consume the world in self-indulgent lies and delusion because a god was bored. Only a handful of high schoolers are capable of putting an end to this scheme! And they're too busy fucking around like they're in Maui during the winter watching the whales and playing golf. ARE YOU SERIOUS?! Who's in denial about the scope of this threat now? Why should I be cheering for these absent-minded, incompetent "heroes" when even the dumbest slasher horror film characters have more brain cells functioning?!


I know, I know, I fucking know. They're just kids! They should worry about grades, their futures, getting laid, and having fun. They have no idea of the true culprit! How should they know from the get-go that they could be dealing with something so supernatural? Well, here's a word no one in this damn game knows about: EFFORT.

With every single rescue after Yukiko, no one makes any progress on the investigation. Everyone brings up the same questions and shrugs because no new answer can be found from their narrow-minded perspective. You are only called to dungeon crawl in the TV World when someone is missing, otherwise your friends whine and cry that they'll miss the next episode of Featherman R. It's fine if it was for a month or two like in Persona 3, when everyone was depressed. But NOPE. This goes on for even LONGER than that. So many months of nothing. So many months of Social Links that will only help for completionists and Persona Fusions - which lost all agency in Golden. So many months of twiddling your thumbs, hoping the characters will have something meaningful to say to advance the plot, hoping character development does not equate to individual therapy sessions.

Only three variations happen. First is Mitsuo, the saddest stereotype of a basement loner gamer I have ever seen in fiction. Trollish, misogynistic, and arrogant, this cactus somehow manages to out-attention-whore Yosuke, the sassiest drama queen I have ever had the misfortune to suffer with. That pointless subplot and forgettable dungeon and boss fight was just a red herring that made the plot go way off course for five to seven hours only to stop once again for more highschool hijinks.

Second is when Naoto gets kidnapped. If she got thrown in the TV earlier, a tad more progress could have been made while the group's IQ raises by 9000. Even with her help, by doing research on Personas and Shadows and making doctor's visits, the plot still drags for another two months or so. (Speaking of which, why the hell did no one think of this sooner?! Did anyone wonder if the TV World could get anyone sick?! Did anyone try to look up Carl Jung or Izanami and Izunagi on Google or Wikipedia, rather than just half-listen to Edogawa-sensei?!)

Third was the failed attempt at re-creating the same dramatic feel as October the dog humping 4th did. Don't get me wrong, I love Nanako. I was upset when she got involved. I felt awful for Teddie and Dojima, both who were utterly destroyed when the girl's heart flatlined. I shed a tear myself. But again, as the problem was with Izanami, the entire thing was handled poorly. This is the point the game can branch into multiple endings. Yu and the gang find the guy who threw her in the TV World. They are ready to beat him up and outright murder him in cold blood. If you play vigilante, Nanako dies. If you spare him, Nanako lives.


You know. I can let a pocketwatch deflecting a bullet slide. Maybe. It's wish fulfillment, unrealistic, and a load of bullshit; however, it changes nothing. The slight side effect of death was only delayed for a while. At least there was a consequence.

But now you're telling me a little girl is spared from death only if you don't take revenge in a half hour cutscene. That's beyond stretching suspension of disbelief. That's a goddamn asspull.



Now, a reader might say, "A child can't die, Fangirl! You're a soulless harpy if you take pleasure in watching children die! There's the Infant Immortality trope for a reason!"

And I only have one thing to say.


That is profoundly stupid.

Why does Nanako get plot armor and is brought back to life with NO CONSEQUENCES? I don't care if she's an old woman, a toddler, or a pregnant woman with mirror syndrome. You can't just make a death fake-out with no ramifications on their physical and mental health. She was stone dead for over three minutes! There has to be a shitload of brain damage from being out that long! And do not use the "it's just fiction" excuse when other Persona and SMT games did not do stuff like this. Even if they did, there was some kind of foreshadowing or mythological or cultural reference tied to the character, his/her name, or his/her purpose in the plot.

Of course. What could be good stories from Atlus must have some serious holes or an Achilles heel that everyone ignores but me. Why do I even bother?


*sigh*

I got way off track. Plus I don't know how much of what I wrote is comprehensible.

So let me try something else.


Everything in Moderation

When the story lacks focusing on the murder mystery and the relation of the Izanami and Izunagi myth to Persona 4, all that's left is the fun time stuff. They serve as comic relief to a game that has so much sugar it can give the most jaded of us diabetes. Not all of it was as bad as I make it sound. It's the abundance of it and the mandatory nature of it is what drives me up the wall. You cannot skip any of this because Atlus doesn't want you. Too bad I want to play a video game, not watch an anime.

Okay... Port Island was fun minus this comic relief bimbo.
You know what though? I loved the Port Island field trip for the King's Game. It was a truth or dare game with kids you had more time to be around and enjoy. Plus, the gang's insanity comes off as genuine, making the humor more organic and heartfelt. I also adored the skiing trip, both for the humor and the bonus dungeon that finishes Marie's storyline. Even the camping trip was alright, despite having the moment that made me swear Yosuke as a colossal, insensitive prick.

The rest of the stuff ranges from okay to awful with the length of the gags being the major factor. The beach episode and Babe Hunt 2.0 were boring. Perhaps it may be due to my dislike for the beach and the flirting with strangers because you're a lonely sexually repressed loser respectively (1). The two day, multiple event cultural festival was great when it was done in the Fruits Basket manga. Each year in the story a character or plot point was introduced or developed based on how the Sohma curse continued to twist and break the lives of everyone affected. But this is Persona 4, where such interesting plot progression is replaced with ship teases and homoerotic subtext. And it lasts for two in-game days, meaning over one hour wasted on cutscenes that are entirely wasted and pointless.

The hot springs episode leaves me divided, since it's the first time I actively despised how the boys got the short end of the stick. Seriously, the girls had no right to mistakenly enter the springs during the guys' schedule slot, throw stuff at them, call them perverts, and continue to stay. I know it's anime, and I'm not the best at breaking from Double Standards, but Yukiko, Chie, Naoto, and Rise came off as massive assholes. The only positive is that Nanako drops a massive hint that finally helps the gang solve the case.


Speaking of which, Adachi was the premeditated killer of the first two victims. Some other guy continued the TV throwing tradition for everyone else because he was convinced doing so would save them from being killed. And King Moron was killed by the freaky gamer kid Mitsuo. It should not have taken over nine months or 70+ gameplay hours for all of this to come to light in the last five hours of the game. That is called horrible pacing.


Final Plot Notes


If no one figured it out by now, I kiss Persona 3's ass too much. Arguably, it had a story with so many characters intwined in a tragic tale of accepting that death is a reality, but that does not mean living is pointless. The storytelling felt more like a novel or series of movies, which is standard and predictable a structure, but it made a compelling story, even if the pacing was dreadful at points. I wanted Persona 4 to be the same - not in the tone and the concepts - but in the forethought and composition of the narrative. I wanted every character to have a purpose. I wanted to bond with the team personally, as well as letting them evolve with the rest of the cast. I wanted a smart story with compelling themes brought out in a well thought-out manner with limited digressions.

But by this point, I just don't care anymore. This game isn't a murder mystery. It's a dating and high school simulation that happens to have mild Shin Megami Tensei traditions arbitrarily slapped in the background and an emphasis on "truth" that beats you on the head obviously and painfully like a bowling ball to the groin. I apologize that I don't find the story of this game to be as cohesive and paced as I ideally like.

I don't buy the Japanese mythological references. Izunagi and Izanami are in a way similar to Orpheus and Eurydice in Greek myth, but it just doesn't make sense within the context of this game. I don't find many of the characters to be as concerned and involved in a mystery only they are capable of solving. The Investigation Team does not fully utilize their true strengths and they don't seem anxious to search for the truth behind anything until the last possible second. Naoto tries to do research on Shadows to help Teddie, but everyone brushes it off so they can have a stupid pop concert.

Yes, Persona 2 Innocent Sin had a concert too, but it was a major plot point that took advantage of the rumors become a reality theme. "Joker" may have been sung in Japanese, but the lyrics are full of foreshadowing concerning the Oracle of Maia. Persona 4 has a concert because... ... because... ...uh... Junes will go out of business? So? Does that mean bye-bye TV World? And bye-bye Inaba since the whole town is dead thanks to that convenience store putting everyone else out of business? Care to address any one of these comments, game?


Come on, Atlus. Clearly you weren't on your A-game this time. How is it that you crafted a duology with one of the most beloved plots in your super-mega-ginormous Shin Megami Tensei franchise with almost no un-skippable filler... then "improve" your international bestseller by throwing in slice of life episodes, inject multiple instances of delayed plot progression, AND dumbing down the difficulty of the combat?

There's a reason I love Persona 3. When I get tired of kissing ass to a jerk like Kenji or falling asleep to Yukari's droning, I let off my frustration in Tartarus. When I'm sick of level grinding and running from the Reaper, I go back to school. Then I go back to Tartarus after Tanaka threatens to post my picture on a porn site for prison inmates. Rinse and repeat.

I do not get such joy in Persona 4. The characters are plain because they hardly develop in a meaningful way outside of the Social Links. There's no more plot-triggering Persona evolutions either. We hardly see any interactions between other characters because the game puts all focus on Yu. While the layout of the dungeons are far better than the monotony of Tartarus, the mood is killed when I have to actively turn off my brain in order to get my assed kicked. That's not factoring in the Team wondering why the heck I'm an awful person for going back to the source of their "nightmares". Then in combat, I have to force myself to jump through hoops to not activate the Shuffle Time mechanic and not get game-breaking bonuses every single round.

At least Teddie's a good cross dresser.
This is why I couldn't finish another playthrough. Whatever initial fun I had from it gets crushed by my nitpicking. I can't stand the deficiency of action, the disposability of the cast, the pretension of its themes, the abundance of unskippable filler, the pressure to not play a dungeon crawling game, and the fact I'm the only one who feels Persona 4 was nowhere near as focused as it could have been. It digresses too much and highlights what really is optional content so much, I question what media I'm supposed to be experiencing. Persona 4 The Animation is more condensed and is easier to sit through, thank the superior being(s), but the plot problems persist and are not fixed. If anything the ending's problems are even worse than in the game.

Overall, the disjointed themes, the sluggish pacing, the apparent procrastination, and the lack of incentive and stakes just made me wonder why Persona 4 was so beloved in the first place.


Well, this is how an opinion of something can change within one review. The next part with technical remarks and the final verdict will be interesting. For now, I need to find my happy place. The pissed off fans will lynch me soon.


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

Meanwhile, time for some more smiles. Hello, Tanaka in the TV!


H-How can you say no to a cute little girl who loves you so much? She made a rainbow Slime from the bottom of her heart!

... HELP. TT-TT

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

-

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


(1) - Not everyone who flirts all the time are sexually repressed. Yet based on how desperate the guys seem, it feels more sad and awkward than funny. Perhaps it stems for my extremely high standards with humor and my utter revulsion to Will Ferrel films with similarly painful "comedy".

9 comments:

Voltech said...

Yikesy mikesy. You know what I just realized? This is your version of The Last of Us. It totally is -- it's a game you can't bring yourself to like, and can willingly point out its faults in spite of overwhelming critical acclaim and love by a devoted fanbase. Congratulations! You've got an unpopular opinion! Now embrace it! Let it weave through your core!

Just watch yourself when you go outside. There are people with halberds out there. But that aside...

"This story taught me not to search for the truth. It taught me that some gods are just trolls."

Ah, such a heart-warming lesson. And that's precisely why P4 is clearly the ULTIMATE game. 10/10, would play again.

Seriously, though. Reading these posts of yours has gotten me thinking about what sort of place P4 -- Golden or otherwise -- will have in the gaming canon. Hear me out on this: the original game came out in, what, 2008? It was one of the last big(ish) PS2 releases, and wowed gamers all over with its style and panache. The colors! The combat! The characters! I'd like to think that vanilla P4 was a "last hurrah"; considering what would follow it later in the generation -- Gritty McGritGrit shooters all over the place -- then its more fanciful elements and pace may have made it more memorable.

The PROBLEM, then, is that P4G took vanilla P4 and added more, to some extent. People liked those slice-of-life moments, so they added more. Maybe people complained about some of the nastier combat aspects -- or maybe wanted to get to the fun out-of-battle stuff faster -- so they added changes to make things easier.

Basically, I'm starting to wonder if P4 has become distorted; people remember it for what it symbolized, rather than what it WAS. And future endeavors have exaggerated the symbol to an insane degree. They're adding more and more and more without any concept of what it means to have a tight experience in the first place.

It's "spectacle creep", as the Extra Credits guys might have put it. Only instead of more explosions and zombies, P4 has become about goofing off in silly scenarios (pop concerts, yeah!) What was originally supposed to be just a reprieve from the stresses of saving the world and beating the baddies -- in the MegaTen canon, RPGs, or otherwise -- became a major, and corrupting, characteristic. And nobody's willing to give the game a more critical look BECAUSE of the symbol, rather than the reality. Nobody's willing to reach out to the truth, because the concept has more weight than the execution.

...So basically, P4 really is like The Last of Us. Sending off a console as best it can, but stumbling along the way -- and earning the divine right of kings regardless.

I'm not about to try and defend P4 any more than necessary, and I'm not about to go denying your (pretty awesome) claims. But I think it is important to think about the place and intent of the game, seeing as how -- at least for a little while longer -- we'll be seeing more of it.

Anyway, looking forward to the next post. Now excuse me while I go puke thanks to your mention of Serah.

...Yeah, I caught that. It's like you're TRYING to spite me.

Chalgyr Vokel said...

Wow - probably the longest, most detailed Persona 4 read (especially given the parts) I have seen yet. I enjoyed the game, though many of your nitpicks do resonate with me too. I think I still came away much happier with it than you did - though in fairness I don't have Persona 3 to compare it to. I have only ever played parts 1 and 4.

Melanie~Light said...

@Chalgyr
Having multi-part detailed reviews takes a ton of time, but it's the best way for me to get my point across. I know I'll miss something if I don't. Still, it has to be a game with a ton of material I got salvage - such as RPGs. It's a big project I can focus on and think over carefully so I can make solid points and arguments. Thank god it's not a real job, or else I wouldn't get paid for being so slow and cautious. lol

@Voltech

Interesting observation. Though the impression I got from your take on The Last of Us was that everything from characters, setting, themes, and plot was very unpleasant to the point of you hating it entirely. Maybe I misread your posts, though.

I can forgive some of Persona 4's streamlined nature, particularly gameplay difficulty as they stand on their own. If anything, the dungeon crawling was the best part of the game when I'm not in my standard SMT mindset. Even then, I can still have fun with the reduced strategy. But I think I tackled too much at once, since I'm trying to talk to SMT/Persona virgins and fans alike. At least I could focus on comparing two very similar games.

2013 was the first time I played Persona 4, so I never had to experience 2008 and the glorious end of the PS2. I can't relate to anyone who went through that because I lack the context. Such lack of context, however, let me see Persona 4 from an angle that seems to be underrepresented. I cannot express how angry I was the past month, praying I'm not alone in my frustrations, especially with Golden's absurdly new levels of style skyrocketing past originally flimsy substance.

So yeah. I might give the original some benefit of doubt... in terms of a fraction of the pacing, but Golden is a chore if you hate anime cliches, even if they are "well written". Golden added far more problems and fixed nothing worthwhile or challenging as a video game in my eyes.

BTW, I added all those Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, and Tales of Xillia references just to keep myself from stabbing my throat with the tip of my toothbrush.

Nix da said...

Wow Girl please marry me ! I really agree with you 100 %! Marry Joke aside Very well written opinion thought i stood more or less alone there. But what I dont understand is People bitch about p3 that you cant controll the main hero thus is inferior to p4 but then p3p must the better game because you can controll him/her ?

Melanie~Light said...

When I stalked around on the internet like Youtube, the now-dead Atlus forums, and even DDS-Net I see far more controversy over which game had the more likable cast. Sure, gameplay was another can of worms but I found far more flack on the characters themselves. Persona 3 arguably has more of an anime/JRPG trope-heavy cast. It's really damn hard to justify a dog or robot having a Persona afterall, so Persona 4 had more organic, realistic people in a sense.

My issue, as you have seen, is mainly on how the cast is used. I can let Aigis' cliche robot-becoming-human plotline slide because at least she crossed paths with Ryoji and the protagonist after the accident. Junpei has ties with Chidori; Akihiko, Mitsuru, and Shinjiro have various histories to each other, the main conflict, and the villains; etc. etc. Persona 4 has absolutely none of that. I can't for the life of me defend Rise on any basis if she weren't the combat analyzer, I'd left Kanji by the wayside if his premise wasn't so well done, and Naoto arrived too late to save the shitty and nonexistent plot progression.

But then again, as Voltech mentioned above, Persona 4's worship may have originated from the fact it was one of the last impressive JRPGs off one of the greatest consoles ever made. That context has skewed the real worth of the game, which I can argue is good, but not godly. Then Golden came around and bloated the ego of this game to astronomical levels I thought weren't possible.

No wonder people think the Vita's library is nonexistent. >.<

Anonymous said...

This analysis is pretty interesting - I'm an unabashed Persona 4 fan and it was a similar amount of nitpicking on my part that prevented me from fully enjoying Persona 3. I thought the lack of control over the battle system was irritating, the characters were underdeveloped, The social links could be a little off-putting (the worst one was that fat kid that tries to get you to join a cult. WTF?) and the narrative become less interesting as the game proceeded, the absolute nadir being November-December where everyone just mopes around the entire time.

Having said that, I do think the game has one of, if not the best ending I've ever experienced in a game. P3P also smooths out the issues I had with the battle system and Social links/main characters. Hell, August was one of the most compelling moments in the game for me - I, too have a thing for brooding bad boys with hearts of gold. :P

The thing made Persona 4 for me was that it made these improvements first. The Shadows Bosses were thematically interesting, and what with so many SAVE THE WORLD narratives in jrpgs it was refreshing to come across a simple murder-mystery. (Well, it was right up until Izanagi showed up. The ending wasn't so great really, compared to p3, but the journey still felt worth it.)

A lot of the criticisms that you make seem to stem from the added content in The Golden: The beach trip, the skiing, the Marie, ain't none of that in the original game. Having not played Golden, I can't say much about it, but since I have played Persona 4 Arena I can venture a guess that the writing was like a semi-decent fanfiction - alright but not the quality you usually expect from an Atlus game. That's what worries me about all these Persona 4 spinoffs/remakes - they Seem to be losing the essence of what made the original game so great.

- Dazura

Melanie~Light said...

I see where you're coming from. The concept of the TV World reflecting the deepest parts of one's psyche was interesting, ignoring the repetitive nature of it and the "You're not me" whining. That - along with many aspects of this game - would have been fantastic if the execution was done better. But I won't ignore the fact that this game did have highlights.

As for the "save the world" schtick, I agree that it is overused to death. Persona 4 did capture the essence of everyday life well, and I can appreciate that kind of focus and theme. What made me not get so invested might have been the calendar system. It killed the pacing even more than it needed to, especially when I'd sit around doing social links for three weeks straight and nothing new was brought to the narrative. This problem existed in the original, but Golden worsened this tremendously. I can understand emphasizing the everyday life, but don't sacrifice plot progression for comedy. Having too much lightheartedness can be just as bad as too much darkness.

Though I actually can let Marie slide a bit. At least Atlus was trying to make Izunami less of an asspull, though it still backfired for most people. She and her bonus dungeon was the best addition to Golden next to the stupid sidetracking at the beach and Junes. The amount of fanservice added to this installment via spin-offs is amazing. Arena is fine, I can live with Q, but Golden and Dancing is going too far. It's pretty sad.

Anywho, I'm glad to know my opinionated rant didn't anger you. With how scary the fans can get when you disagree in any way, I'm glad these comments have been civil.

EschaTheMadReaper said...

i didn't like how everyone magically appears whenever i'm with marie and how they all like her out of nowhere, even rise (!) although that is debatable. it felt... too forced. i knew beforehand she was an added feature to golden and wasn't in the golden, but i really felt in as i progressed through her social link. and her poems. i was torn between laughing like i never laughed before, or wanting to get inside the game and cut her hands off just. to. make. her. STOP.

yep, the nurse was okay, and so was ai. i also enjoyed saki's brother. but the fox. argh. it was fun and totally annoying. i never managed to max it out because i suck at fishing. *sulks* death was meh, which is too bad because i liked pharos/ryuuji. daisuke and kou were cool. one of the few main reasons i had to play more than once. i have to play both choices.

as to what i think of what you wrote about the plot... I AGREE COMPLETELY. YOU ARE MY SOLE/SOUL MATE AT LEAST IN REGARDS OF GOLDEN!!! and i would have never known the connection of izanagi and izanami if it weren't for the lecture of the best teacher ever! i stopped to research some of the japanese gods a bit, but i gave up. in the end, it had no deep meaning, unlike p3. or maybe you're right that only those who are familiar with japanese culture and mythology would understand.

about chie and yukiko, i'm convinced that they're close, but maybe it's partly because i've watched the anime and read a bit of the manga, so there was a scenes in the background that wasn't touched in the game that helped me see that.

YES, YES, YES!!! i have wondered that too! as much as i like kanji and naoto, it would have been better if there was an optional ending that would open should you choose not to save them! rise too! the original party is pretty balanced to begin with, so there's not much a need to switch players save for preference or better survival chances with certain bosses. indeed, a failure would help them sort their priorities. i KNOW that there's also a need to have a social life and you can't just spend all of your time obsessed with a case *cough* naoto *cough*, but they're way too lax too.

AH. that scene in november. i agree. it sucked. if there were actually long-term repercussions from her revival, i would have been cool with the fact that she'd live if you actually used your head. but the fact that she was almost as good as new... i loved nanako, but man did i wish she died no matter what. indeed it killed the story. don't worry, if p4 fans will kill you for this, you are not alone. :)

*hit to the heart at remembering the camping trip* i shall be honest. yosuke WAS a prick there. i always chose try to stop him even if it'll always be ignored. kanji didn't deserve that. besides, i was shielding him from kanji. what does he have to complain for? unless he's jealous, he has no reason to- oh. oh yeah. the romance option that was cut out. but no, it's still too early. argh, my head is getting messed up. homoerotic subtext. :) the hot spring scene in the anime was more painful, especially for yu. poor yu!!!

*saw video about nanako giving slime for valentine's*

poor yu...

Anonymous said...

I will be as direct as I can, I absolutely hated Persona 4. I played through Golden and beat it through and through... I know of Atlus difficulty from beating Nocturne, DDS and the other Persona games. Persona 4 straight up dissapointed me and you named... a few of my problems with it. The thing that put the cherry on top and changed this game from "game I disliked storywise, but was fun to play" to "fuck Persona 4, 4 Golden and all it's making" was

*spoiler alert*

Ameno-FUCKING-Sagiri... Adachi kept me liking the game for being the unique character he is, the ending where you join him is for me the one good ending. Ameno-Sagiri just came in and ruined him. Not to mention he looks like a Disco version of Kagutsuhi in Nocturne, a game I got all endings on and 100% compendium from how much I loved it... seeing it get ripped off was, a tad annoying... then BOOM, I hear the boss theme........ just the regular world map music from Nocturne remixed, apparently... I had to stop playing and go eat, game on in the boss waiting for my turn, while I let the awe go.

-----------------

PS. you mentioned the utter lack of variability in P4, by going to the dungeons and then back to high school. To accentuate just how little dungeon there is, if you beat the dungeon quick... I played it on easy to blast through, but I could tell that wasn't needed, since I was beating the dungeons in a single day, so here's the thing... if you do, you lose access to requests missions, the dungeons, grinding... at all and events. The game refuses to let you have fun in the dungeons... it's like if you got to the gate in Tartarus and Mitsuru started to say "no... no more exploring this month, we wont be going to Tartarus anymore until the next path opens up."

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