So I got Persona 4 for Christmas. All I can say is…I’m sorry I ever doubted Atlus.
Let’s not mince words: the honorifics are back. But somehow, they’re not as grating this time around. The writing and voice acting has improved markedly from the last game: there’s still the odd quibble, but I’m up to June and I haven’t encountered anything on the level of the previous game’s disastrous flubs.
Teddie is a shining case in point. I know he gets replaced as spotter (hopefully by not another Fuuka Yamagishi, but if it’s who I think it is, it’s highly unlikely this is the case), but while he does drop honorifics, he’s funny enough to offset it (a statement that has no doubt shaved several points off of my credibility, if the petition and the perpetual delays in releasing Breath of Fire 2 haven’t done so already). He calls the protagonist “Sensei” (which has its pragmatic purposes from a writing standpoint, since the protagonist is named by the player), but seeing how he picks up the habit after watching the protagonist dispatch his first shadow, it’s not only a tolerable habit, it’s actually hilarious when you consider the implication that the protagonist has picked up a fanboy in the form of the strange mascot from the TV world.
And the game itself? Nothing will ever quite top Persona 3’s setting, what with its Greek mythology overtones, its predominantly blue palette, the freakin’ Evoker pistols…but there’s something more comfortable about P4’s setting, and at the same time more unsettling. The town of Inaba is closer to your average Harvest Moon setting than anything the Persona franchise (heck, anything the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole) has seen before, though instead of farming, you’re attending high school, trying to maintain a social life, taking part-time jobs, studying, hanging out, reading, cooking on occasion…oh yeah, and you’ve stumbled upon a nefarious plot to murder people by feeding them to the demonic denizens of the TV world. There’s definitely more to do in Inaba than there was in Persona 3’s city, but at the same time there’s a darker cloud over things (no pun intended) as you’re not a band of highschoolers contracted by a secret organization in order to save the world, but a band of highschoolers who discover they’re the only ones who can stop a string of serial killings. You’re not superheroes, you’re Scooby-Doo and the gang, only with less running, more fighting, and peoples’ lives on the line. The premise also hits much closer to home this time, as you even get acquainted with the second victim before her demise (even though she turns out not to be quite the person she appears to be).
Persona 4 fixes many of Persona 3’s issues, including the nagging gameplay problem that you could only control your allies as far as setting AI profiles for them. They still default to AI, but now you can select the Direct Command option and control them manually. There’s also a nice synthesis system of sorts in the game: Shadows drop materials which you can sell at the weapon shop for extra money, but selling enough of them will allow the owner of the shop to make new equips for your party members. You also have more characteristics to level up and more means of doing so: giving right answers at school will not only boost your Knowledge but also your Expression if you’re helping one of your classmates out of a bind, you can buy books you can read for stat bonuses, and part-time jobs will not only give you a little extra spending money, but also boosts to your characteristics. (One of the more humorous ways of boosting stats involves tackling the Aiya diner’s 3,000-yen rainy day challenge, a quintuple-size beef bowl: in addition to boosting several at once, the protagonist’s internal monologue is priceless.) Elizabeth’s Requests have been replaced by a quest system: there are fifty in all, obtainable by talking to people at certain times (or through the Hermit Social Link – yes, those are back). Many quests involve getting rare drops from monsters; others might involve answering questions or solving other peoples’ problems, and all provide useful (if primarily meager) rewards.
Thus far…yes, I think it’s been better than Persona 3, and I apologize profusely for talking smack about things I knew nothing about. Thank you for listening, and again, I apologize to Atlus for my…rude behavior.
Which brings us to the other half of the apology: that I haven’t gotten out Breath of Fire 2 by the end of the year. But my alpha run’s about halfway done (just finished up in Farma/FarmTown), so beta will begin…soon. I can’t say when; it’ll only jinx things.
See you all in the new year!