Content of the article: "Games I like: Persona 4 Golden"
SPOILERS ahead. If you haven't finished the game and don't want to be spoiled, stop reading.
These are my completely biased opinions on why this game is good, and what could've been done better. It's pretty long, so feel free to skip some parts you don't necessarily care about.
You might not agree with all (or any) of the points, and that's totally fine!
The length (which is more or less forced upon the player due to the calendar mechanic).
I think the main reason why we as players empathise and connect with the characters of Persona 4 (henceforth P4) is that we spend an inordinate amount of time with them. This ensures that even though they aren't necessarily all that interesting (more on that later), we grow accustomed to them and form bonds almost without noticing it.
I found myself really caring about the characters in this game. I've noticed that this is often the case for me in Japanese rather than western games (The Last of Us being an exception). I think this is due to the fact that Japanese games (particularly Persona) focus heavily on characters, and less on choice/consequence, which is a big thing for western RPGs.
The characters in P4 are a great mishmash of believable personalities, and the large amount of time spent with them nearly forces the player to grow attached to them. I dare anyone to finish this game without feeling like a big brother/sister to Nanako.
Absolutely excellent, though you do tire of the same tracks when you play a game for 80+ hours.
The gameplay loop
Grinding dungeons, fusing new personas, finding skills that are useful to pass on (I carefully made sure all my personas had invigorate 3 (SP regen) and growth 3 (EXP gain outside combat), and I bet many people did something entirely different to complement their playstyles), and the tactical aspect of not over-committing SP to be able to keep going all gels together nicely.
I grew a bit tired of the combat after a while (due to its repetitive nature), but I still found myself losing hours without noticing it (which is the best feeling when playing games) in the last dungeons.
Murder mystery in a small town is a tried-and-true recipe, and I loved the premise (I'm a Twin Peaks fan as well, so I might be partial to these kinds of stories). The well-rendered characters solidify the already strong premise.
What doesn't work (as well)
I want to preface these points by saying that P4 solved them well enough, and certainly better than many of its contemporaries, but there is always room for improvement.
While I enjoyed the plot overall, I felt it had some pacing issues.
It starts off very well, with a slow introduction to the sleepy town of Inaba, and then BAM murder. The player is subsequently introduced to the world of the shadows, accessed quirkily enough through a TV (I thought that was both campy and cool), and a delectable mystery unfolds.
The story plows onwards for the first half of the game, and the intensity escalates. Mitsuo Kubo is presented as the serial killer, and I genuinely feel this is the peak of the game (a particular shoutout to the scene where Mitsuo creeps Yukiko out at the start of the game, which makes the player think "wait, haven't I seen him before?" when he's finally revealed).
The fact that his motivation doesn't seem to make sense can be attributed to a classic "incel" motive, which is believable enough. Something struck me as not quite right about Kubo as the killer, and I loved how P4 played with the player's expectations and eventually revealed that he was indeed a copycat killer.
As soon as Kubo's dungeon (by far the best one in the game) was over the game grinds to a halt. A slower part is to be expected of course, since the "killer" has been caught, but I feel the game seriously needed something to fill the dead time between Kubo's (August) and Naoto's (October) dungeons.
In addition to the boring downtime between the two story dungeons, the player knows the game isn't over since it's barely autumn, which adds to the feeling of just passing time. By this time the player has likely maxed out Yu's (the protagonist) attributes as well, which means all you have to spend time on is the predictable (see below) social links.
There really isn't much development to the story until November either, the only concrete step forward is the knowledge that Kubo certainly isn't the killer, but the player already knows this. The story progresses with the reveal of Namatame (why Naoto never said anything about his alibi being useless until after this reveal is beyond me), but by then I had lost interest in the story due to the poor pacing up until that point.
That being said I really liked how the game expects the player to figure out who the real killer is, though I wish it'd give more concrete hints. I admit I googled it.
As I said, I think the characters are well-written and believable (particularly Yosuke and Yukiko), but I also feel they aren't necessarily all that interesting. Let's take an example:
Kanji's whole arc is about accepting himself and discarding the notion of what a "manly" man is. He has erroneously attributed being a strong man as being a "badass" who picks fights and gets into trouble with the law. The reason for all this is a misunderstanding of a comment made by Kanji's deceased father.
His arc is also steeped in some Japanese weirdness surrounding sexuality, but I mostly attribute this to cultural differences.
Because of his erroneous notion Kanji is embarrassed about his hobbies (sewing), and his social link is all about him accepting that he's no less a man because he has "female" hobbies. He learns to embrace this part of himself and grows as a person as a result. The actual hobby is only a narrative vehicle to emphasise Kanji's growth of course, but that's beside the point.
This is all fine and dandy, but it's also very predictable. You can pretty much see the end result for his character art after rescuing him from the Sauna, and the ten distinct social interactions with him seem highly formulaic and padded.
This is hardly a problem contained only to Kanji, I feel the same way about pretty much all the social links.
Procedurally generated dungeons are not very interesting. This game was released in 2008, so this is not meant as a slight, more a general statement. Games released much later tried this and failed as well.
Regardless of the problems I had with the pacing of the story, the predictable character arcs, and the randomly generated dungeons I still thoroughly enjoyed this game and heartily recommend it to anyone.
- It really bothers me when games can’t commit to their heavier themes or don’t understand the unfortunate implications they’re making
- Pacing is a lost art in videogames
- This sub is kinda biased on what “RPG” means
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