A momentary diversion on the road to the grave

Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4

By S.A. Renegade on December 27, 2008 in Reviews

Final verdict: A
Final playtime: 142 hours

I’m back, behbeh. You can file complaints to P4 for my short hiatus. ’cause I know you all can’t get enough of me. So now that I’m finished with it, it’s review time! Let’s see what we got here.

From the start, it was obvious that this game was almost impossible to fuck up. After all, it was going to be basically identical to P3, right down to the system it was for. And shit man, I gotta give props to Atlus for going with that decision. They obviously know the score. It’s like they looked at the Wii, 360, and PS3 and thought “Crap, mega crap, ultra crap.” But yeah, you’d have to be an imbecile to develop for a platform other than the PS2. An install base of 140 million compared to the 360’s meager 20, easier and cheaper to develop for, and zero benefits from developing for a current gen console. Yep, you would really have to be a dumbass to choose anything over the PS2.

So anyway, like I was saying, it was pretty much impossible for this game to be bad. And if you think about it, that’s really amazing. Ever since Nocturne was released in America there hasn’t been a single SMT that hasn’t rocked. Throughout the different releases I’ve always had my doubts, thinking “Yep, the streak has gone on long enough. This is when they fall and start to suck.” But it never happened. Game series that have gone on this long without disappointing are far between. In fact, try as I might, I can’t think of another one. I think it’s pretty safe to say that SMT is the best videogame series that has ever existed. That’s fucking it, man. Enough doubting! At this point I’m willing to walk blindly into anything that has SMT in its name.

Just kidding. There is no way in hell I’m buying that SMT MMO that’s coming out. Not even super saiyan Jesus on a pogo stick could make an MMO that doesn’t suck. You’d have better luck rising from the dead. In fact, I think he did one time! But this MMO business is just another league entirely.

Anyway what were we talking about? Oh right, Christianity. Wait no, P4. Let’s start with the praising. You just turn on the game and get greeted by an awesome intro. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if there’s something Atlus excels at, it’s making intros I want to watch every single time I turn on the game. P4 is no exception. The intro is everything I hoped it would be. In fact, this is supposed to be a secret but I’ll tell you since we’re such great friends: as I was waiting for the P4 release day I probably watched the teaser trailer around 100 times thinking “Shit, this would make a great intro. I hope this is what they use in the actual game.” And sure enough, that was exactly what they used for the intro. Needless to say I was very happy.

Of course, an important part of the intro was the song, which is great, and the same goes for the music throughout the entire game. I will say that my expectations for the music were met satisfactorily, but that’s it. While still good, I think it’s the weakest soundtrack Shoji Meguro’s put together, when compared to the ones in Nocturne, DDS, and P3.

Next up, the art. Just like P3, it’s made by Shigenori Soejima, who I’d like to give props to for being such a great artist. Still, I can’t help but compare him with the main man Kazuma Kaneko. And my comparison is this: Soejima destroys him when it comes to drawing pretty girls (which Kaneko seems pretty incompetent at doing), while Kaneko is better than Soejima at drawing badass looking guys/demons/things. With that in mind, it makes sense that they’d boot Kazuma out, since relationships are such an important part of Persona.

But let’s start getting into the stuff that matters most. When it comes to gameplay, they’ve made some serious improvements. It’s almost like they read my FES review and addressed a lot of the complaints I had! The most important one being that now you can control every one of your party members instead of just giving them basic tactics to follow. Frankly they had no fucking excuse to not have that in P3, so I’m glad they saw the light and fixed it, as the game is a lot better for it. But don’t think just because they fixed one glaring flaw I’m going to let it off easy. Because let’s face it, even with this big improvement the entire battle system is still a step down from the press turn system used in Nocturne and DDS.

It’s press turn system lite at best. For example, as long as you hit one enemy’s weakness, it doesn’t matter if you missed another one with the same attack, or if it got repelled/absorbed. You’ll still get an extra turn. In fact, since every character’s turn is separate, the penalty for using wrong attacks is easily laughed off. In Nocturne or DDS, using the wrong attack was murderous since it meant losing two or all of your turns. This highly forgiving system is for pussies. The press turn system is much more satisfying and strategic, so I can’t understand why they’d use this one instead. The only explanation I can think of is that they wanted to cater to casual gamers who couldn’t take Nocturne’s difficulty. In which case it looks like Atlus has disappointed me after all. And you know the most tragic part of all? Going by the EGM reviews, it looks like it fucking worked, as those pussies preferred the P3 battle system over Nocturne’s. God fucking dammit. Casuals need to be killed with fire. But oh well. Since I’m such a nice guy, I’m willing to admit that P4 is still awesome despite this grave error. I just wish Atlus would one day have the balls to say fuck the casual gamers and go back to the better battle system. Ha, most likely just wishful thinking. Oh fucking well. At least I’ll always have Nocturne to remind me of mankind’s greatest achievement.

Moving along. Another thing which I complained about in my P3 review was this, let me just paste it: the game trivializes relationships with girls. What do I mean by this? Well, there is no way to keep your relationship with any of the girl characters from becoming “intimate” after some time. In spite of this, the game wants you to develop a relationship with every character all the way. In short, it wants you to be some kind of pimp playah who doesn’t get emotionally invested in anyone. So what happens if you do what the game wants and go all the way with every girl? I think we all know what happens. Ultimately, every relationship becomes less meaningful. Less important. Less personal. I never expected them to fix that, but they actually did for P4, and that’s amazing. Now when developing a social link with a girl you’re actually given the choice of whether to make it intimate or not. I have to say they really impressed me by doing this. Just another reason why this game surpasses P3.

Another important reason why this game is better than P3 is that it’s not drop dead laughably easy. First of all, it actually gives you difficulty modes at the start to choose from, and expert mode (which you will choose if you’re not a complete pussy) is much harder than P3, especially early on. The first optional boss was so tough that I had to leave it for later on, and one story boss actually killed me like ten times, which was awesome.

While we’re on the subject of difficulty, let me praise a few good design decisions they made here. First of all, everything is hell of all kinds of expensive (I can barely buy shit!), so money is always a scarce commodity, and MP healing items are never sold so you have to be very careful with your MP usage. This isn’t exactly new with the SMT series but I just thought I’d throw it out there so it’s clear that I appreciate it. One cool new thing they did though, is make it so that the vending machines in town run out after buying 5 cans and they take like a week to get refilled! This means that you can’t buy a shitload of sodas that heal 5 MP each like you could in P3, so careful MP usage is even more critical. That is fucking hardcore.

Coming up next in the good design decisions department, they also now put a save point before every boss. How fucking awesome is that? Very. I mean, simply telling you that a boss is up ahead (which they do), would be enough but they go the extra mile and actually put a save point before them. That’s greatly appreciated. But that’s not all. The item used to escape from dungeons is easily bought in bulk, and when you go back, you’re given the option to return to the exact same floor you escaped from instead of having to run back all the way. Very well done, Atlus. Asshole developers would do well to learn from these guys.

There is no more stamina, which in P3 served to tell you when you’ve been exploring the dungeon for way too long and to go back home and rest. I’m kinda sad to see it go, since I liked that, but now MP serves that purpose. The only way to restore your MP is either to go home and rest, heal it with hard to acquire items, or pay a shitload of cash out the nose to a fox to get healed (although by the end of the game the price becomes pretty small).

Finally, rounding out the improvements are bunch of cool minor things like having a lot more stuff to do (which is sometimes a bit overwhelming when coupled with all the people you can hang out with) like part time jobs, fishing, reading, and cooking. Now instead of there being only 3 social stats like in P3 (intelligence, charm, courage) there are 5. Knowledge, courage, diligence, expression, understanding. As expected, Atlus hires some serious actors and makes the voice acting really fucking good. And I thought I wouldn’t like the rural setting of the game compared to P3’s ultra modern one, but it’s very well done and I actually like the school in this one more than the one in P3. It feels a lot nicer and cozier, especially when it rains.

Now let’s talk characters. Overall I’m pretty happy with them. You know how P3 had faggot party members like that little boy Ken, and the dog whose name I don’t even care to remember? Shit. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s dogs and little boys. But the P4 party members are all good. In fact, when I originally saw Chie in teaser artwork I instantly hated her, and even thought she looked like a boy. But in the game she actually turned out to be a pretty fun character, so it’s all good.

As the token beautiful girl we have Rise, and while she is probably prettier, I definitely don’t like her as much as I liked Aigis in P3. What I liked about Aigis was how attached she was to you and how unconditional her love was. Like I said in my P3 review, she wanted to be with you forever, and she loved you so much to the point of saying she felt bad about it because it wouldn’t let you be with real girls. The difference between her and the rest of the girls was pronounced. She wouldn’t even look at anyone else, and she would follow you to the ends of the earth just to be with you. Hell, even when the main character was gone she still couldn’t move on. Rise, on the other hand, once you max out the social link with her, she’s suddenly all like “Welp, I decided to go back into showbiz, and since you’re also leaving in the spring we won’t be seeing each other much if at all anymore, so let’s have sex tonight and then say goodbye!” HWAT. I fucking see how it is, bitch. You were just with me to pass the time huh? So yeah it’s bullshit. Besides, farewell sex isn’t cool, it’s depressing. I guess in a way it makes sense though. The only way a girl could love you as much as Aigis would be if she was a fucking robot and was fucking programmed to.

Shit, let’s just move on. One of the things I wish they’d fix, but they didn’t, is this whole randomly generated dungeon shit. I said it in my P3 review and I’ll say it here: they are never better than dungeons created by a human being. They’re fucking lazy and make exploration nigh pointless. That is a definite point against the game when compared to Nocturne and DDS.

I was also sad to see the guns from P3 go. Seriously dude, whoever came up with the concept of shooting yourself in the head to summon your Persona in P3 needs a fucking promotion because that shit is pure unbridled genius. I’m not joking. That shit is all kinds of badass. The gimmick this time around seems to be using glasses, and although that’s alright, it just can’t possibly compete against shooting yourself. Come on.

Finally, I was happy with the ending in this game because, although it was a little bit sad, it wasn’t tragically and cripplingly depressing like the P3 ending.

But anyway, that about covers it. Overall this game is fucking awesome. It manages to be even better than P3 due to a lot of improvements, mostly in the gameplay side of things, but still falls short of the greatness of Nocturne and perhaps even DDS. As expected, really. But I’m not complaining too much. I don’t even think making a game as good as Nocturne is even possible anymore. And even then P4 is far better than most everything out there. Well done, Atlus. You keep your crown as the king of developers.

Final Verdict: A

Final Playtime: 142 hours

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