After blue comes yellow. So it would seem with the release of Persona 4, which has the same engine and battle system as its predecessor. Despite all this, it comes off as a much better game – Atlus clearly took the time to figure out what went wrong in Persona 3 and fix it. At the same time, they came up with a plot I found easier to connect with, composed better music, and even came up with better swag to lure people into buying the game. It’s no surprise, then, that Persona 4 is my new favorite RPG on the PS2.
Several improvements make up the core of the reason I enjoyed playing Persona 4 so much. You can pretty much copy the gripes from my Persona 3 and FES reviews and every single one of them has been mitigated if not completely resolved. Allies can now be under your direct command, although battles flow better when the AI does its own thing. The main character’s death still ends the game, but your allies will block otherwise fatal attacks for you, so long as they are single-target. The dungeons are no longer boring and repetitive – each section is unique, and none is longer than a dozen floors. Social links are no longer completely self-contained, and each of your party members is a link. Junpei is not in this game. Quests are given to you by the various quirky townspeople, which flows better than getting them all in the Velvet Room, and allows for entertaining dialogue. Although not significantly so, it’s shorter than its occasionally plodding predecessor.
I was afraid the battle system would not hold up well after playing over 100 hours of P3, but it flows better in P4 and has had a few small tweaks to make things friendlier and to add variety. The persona fusion system was left intact, and somehow they made micromanagement to make the best personas even more addictive, with some particularly useful four-and-five fusion personas available relatively early on. The difficulty curve on Normal feels just about right; although some early boss battles are a bit tricky, no longer are there hour-long battles of attrition near the end. With some creative persona fusing, the game becomes somewhat easier throughout, and generally normal enemies don’t pose a threat – which didn’t stop me from losing to them a couple times when I got careless.
No doubt Yukiko is getting revenge on someone who called her “four-eyes”.
Persona 4 is, of course, well-translated and well-voiced as I now expect from Atlus. The only character whose voice is particularly annoying is Teddie, and I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to sound annoying (it’s part of his dubious charm). My only complaint about the translation is that they left Japanese honorifics in once again, which leaves many clueless and others annoyed as to the constant barrage of -senpais and -kuns. This time, at least, they did not force a voice actor to say “Yuka-tan” all the time, and the names flow a bit better – though it could be coincidental since almost all the names are easier to pronounce too.
Much like Persona 3, the plot events take place every so often at a predefined date (this time, depending on the weather rather than the moon). There is plenty of warning, and I had no problems beating each section with weeks to spare. In between the unveiling of new dungeons to traverse, there are a couple of weeks to work on social links or grind in the old dungeons – the latter of which is only needed for sidequests. Though it suffers a bit from the same problems as its predecessor – that the beginning is filled with questions, the middle is filled with unrelated side events, and the ending is filled with sometimes contradictory answers – the pacing is improved. In Persona 3, you could usually get away with a race to the top after every full moon, then waiting until the next. In its sequel, it’s much more difficult to finish a dungeon in one day, although the social links are easier to progress to make up for it.
Once again, Atlus created an excellent and fairly mature plot – although it might not necessarily make you think much, per se. Most of the time, characters react how you’d expect them to; for example, the highschoolers are first mystified by the strange world they find and the powers they obtain, but quickly get caught up in the moment and stop wondering. The characters are well-crafted and you get to know them well throughout the game. None of the characters feels as throwaway as Koromaru, Ken, or Aigis did in P3, nor are any as annoying as Junpei.
Overall, Persona 4 is an excellent game and I would recommend it to any JRPG fan. It’s occasionally gimmicky and sometimes annoyingly anime-ish, but those are small flaws in an otherwise well-polished game. It builds on the successes of previous games and fixes their problems, creating a nice blend of story and battle that feels much more natural to me than most games. My main problem with the game is that I’ve finished it. Oh well, there’s always New Game Plus…