Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
(Finally!) I have finally managed to find a decent Shin Megami Tensei game!....OK, that sounds all kinds of accusatory, so I believe a brief retelling of my history with the series will suffice. It started long ago with Shin Megami Tensei, a pretty cool, raw-ass RPG for the SNES. Unfortunately, navigation was such a nightmare that I couldn't play too much of it. Much later came Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. The less said about that atrocity, the better. Then some time after that came Revelations: Persona, a Shin Megami Tensei game too ashamed to call itself Shin Megami Tensei. Yea, the story was decent, but the gameplay was far too confusing and ultimately not any fun. And now...this. Oh hell yes.
Now usually, I start with a summary of the story, but seeing that this is Giant Bomb and everything, most of you probably already know the story. However, as I am a condescending fuck, I'll summarize it, anyway. So after a stylish anime intro (seriously, it looks like Japan trying to make an iPod commercial!), we get into the story proper: Katawa Shoujo. Oh, don't act like you don't know. Both games feature a Japanese high school student, whose parents are out of the picture for ambiguous reasons, moving to a secluded area to make new friends and stuff. Hell, you even get the "introduce yourself to class" scene! However, this doesn't last for long (actually...remember that); one anime cutscene later, it moves onto being Yu-Gi-Oh. WHAT!? Both franchises feature Japanese high school students traveling to a realm of shadows (a Shadow Realm, if you will) to play card games and stop an eyeball-centric threat. Oh, and the protagonists both have "Yu" in their first name. COINCIDENCE!?
Actually, that's a misleading characterization, as this story is really good. Like, really really good. Anybody who's played the game knows what I'm talking about: the camping trip, the King's Game, the culture festival, and all the other moments of the game. That's what makes the story awesome: all the cool moments. There's so much cool shit in this game, ranging from humorous to balls-out awesome, that I'm seriously angry at it. Not only will future games be less awesome because of it (most likely), but now there aren't many great moments left for other games. But don't think it's all fun and games...even though that's exactly what Persona 4 is.
What I'm trying to transition into are the themes for this game. You got Nietzsche, Jung, identity, truth, TV, family, eyes...yea, there are more themes in this game than there are characters, but the amazing thing is how well it develops all of those. OK, not so much the last two, but everything else is extremely well developed. It's pretty obvious that they thought through things like television being the key to the public subconscious, or how bonds of people is the true power. Of course, this carries over to the Persona theme, too. They make it extremely clear that a Persona is a façade with which one faces the world...or something like that. That part's pretty confusing, especially when you realize it means that the protagonist has, like, twelve different identities at once (and not just because he's me). Yea, it's not exactly the tightest story in the world (the plot should come to a screeching halt right here), but just look at all those themes! And how well they're done! Man! What an awesome story!
And it fucking better be, because there's a loooooot of it. This much was evident from the beginning, when I accidentally birthed Japanese Eskimo Ami Yu Naruk. I restarted the game as Yu Narukami and skipped all the dialogue I'd seen before. It took me nearly twenty minutes to get back to where I was before. And there was still more cutscene ahead of me. Hell, the game doesn't even open up until around Shadow Yukiko, so until then, it's pretty much all cutscene. After that, it's....still largely cutscenes, actually. 90 hours of cutscenes and spell names so strange that they might constitute their own language. Before I continue, though, remember that I'm not really criticizing the game for this. After all, when you have a good story, you're perfectly entitled to flaunt that shit as much as you want. I'm just telling you what you're in for.
Hell, there's even a feature dedicated to cutscenes: the Social Link feature. What? What does the Social Link have in terms of actual gameplay? As far as I can tell, it's mostly just stat min/maxing, Persona fusion fuckery, and the game cockteasing you about a cutscene "soon". So yea, it's pretty much the game tricking you into looking forward to cutscenes. Again, I've no problem with this, largely because of the characters. OH MY GOD, THE CHARACTERS, YOU GUYS. Hell, I could probably write five paragraphs alone on how great the cast is. But I'll try to keep it to one paragraph, instead. Hard, because look at the cast: you have a trillion weird teachers, the manliest motherfucker this side of Inaba, Hatsune Miku meets Pinocchio, Pinocchio meets too much sexy, and even a few characters who aren't hellbent on murdering crickets. And Johnny Yong Bosch. Of course, that's an unfair characterization, especially in light of the Social Link feature, which magically turns characters into people I'm actually interested in. In the game, Rise's so damn childish that she gets shown up by a six year old (it certainly doesn't help that she vaguely sounds like a Rugrats character); in Social Link World, her life sucked so hard that she went down a road that left her with identity confusion. And it's like that for all characters. Yukiko goes from socially awkward as all hell to a regular teenage girl; Yosuke goes from Yuri Lowenthal to a pretty cool dude; Sayoko goes from entirely nonexistent to confl...alright, Atlus, now you're just fucking with me.
But that leads really well into my next point: the voice acting, which is what really solidifies a lot of these characters. Yea, a lot of the situations are humorous on their own, but it's the delivery that really makes these characters so memorable. Granted, Crispin Freeman isn't doing K-OK, I'LL ACTUALLY TALK ABOUT THE GAMEPLAY. I mentioned fusion before, so what's that about? Well, you mash two Personae together and get a new one. It's pretty necessary to be good at the game, but I have no idea how it's supposed to work....That went nowhere. How about the battle system? That seems like something I could talk about for days on end. Odd, because on its face, it looks like a normal RPG battle system, what with the options for attack, item, and ever-useless defend. But then you go into the magic and discover where the true meat of the system lies: magic. In Persona 4, magic is everything. It can heal enemies, hurt you, and knock them on their ass. Of course, it can do the same for you, but for the most part, you want to focus on the weaknesses. Those are what allow you to create cartoony smoke clouds of death, and what encourage you to experiment around with your battle options, like party members or (ideally) equipment. Oh, and you have to manage your own weaknesses, which usually means paying attention to Yu's Persona because he's the only person who can change them...for some reason. (Also, the only character whose death results in immediate game over....for some reason.) That reminiscent flaw aside, though, the battle system is pretty damn awesome.
But at its heart, Persona 4 is but a dungeon crawler. You spend most of the game
in and out of cutscenes exploring randomly generated dungeons, searching for treasures and bopping enemies on the head. That may not sound like much, but the dungeons are the game's source of difficulty. Oh, and really awesome dungeon music, but mostly difficulty. Now remember that thing about magic being integral to the battle system? Well, that magic costs SP, obviously. At first, this isn't much of a problem. After all, the first dungeon is just one room, and the next one is pretty much three floors high, both with easy-ass bosses waiting for you at the end. But let these dungeons go on for ten floors or so, and you'll run out SP pretty quickly, and Mysterious Fox only has so many fucks to give. After he runs out of fucks, you are fucked, because you have all his fucks. Also, you need all that SP to take down the stupidly exaggerated bosses at the end of the dungeon...and even then, there's a good chance you'll your ass kicked. Sure, you can always leave the dungeon for the day, but...uh...
Actually, about that: turns out there's more to do than whack Shadows on the head. Yea, I mentioned Social Links way long ago, but there's so much more to this game. The sidequests, for instance. A few of them involve deciphering the mental workings of a particular afro, but a lot of them are just some variation of "go fetch this thing for me, for some reason"....OK, that sucks. There's also fishing, but that's pretty confusing and a tad dependent on luck, so....yea...maybe I should pick a side option that's actually pretty cool. School has that word in it. Yea, let's go with that. All I have to say is this: if you liked school while you were in it, you'll probably like it here. After all, it's pretty much the same experience: quirky teachers asking you questions with obscure answers, and you taking notes the entire time. Oh, and studying. Lots and lots of studying. This transitions nicely into yet another point I have: the limits on what you can do from day to day. That sounds innocent enough, but I'm not entirely a fan of it. I don't have a problem with it in theory, but more in execution. To be more specific, some of the limitations feel arbitrary. OK, it makes sense that spending the day with friends bumps me out of other activities, but why can't I make origami cranes while waiting for the Midnight Channel to come on? I mean, it's not like the protagonist is clueless as to when it comes on; it's called the Midnight Channel. So yea, I guess you don't come to this game for all the side stuff.
So what do you come for? Gamep-...st-....graphics? Yea, that'll work. The game looks awesome enough, doesn't it? As I said before, this is evident from the absolute beginning. Look at this shit. Fucking look at it. Chie aside, that's good enough to be an anime. (In fact, it was.) You're going to be seeing that A LOT throughout the game. Granted, it's going to be oddly clustered into a few areas, for no real reason, but you still get a lot of it. But what about those long periods between anime cutscenes? And the short periods, too? Well, they look pretty damn cool, too. In fact, I'd seriously consider this one of the best looking PS2 games. Don't believe me? Well, each character has about a billion different outfits, the portraits blink (and at varying speeds, something I find infinitely humorous), and Teddie even has fur! What more could ask for?
A little, if you're an ungrateful cunt. For example, I could complain about how often it reuses enemy designs, but that's sort of a minor thing, really. I could also talk about how childish the character models look, or how some of their portraits are iffy (man, the King's Game...), but you eventually adjust to those. No, what I'm talking about are the faces. Specifically, they look generic as fuck. Often times, the characters look less like people and more like dolls that can emote. So yea, I guess those Pinocchio comments earlier made some damn sense. However, I'm certain that Atlus was actually aware of this, because they actually hide the problem rather intelligently. First, by pulling the camera far out enough so that you never notice this. Second, glasses! What? You thought those were for thematic reasons? What kind of dumbass would think something so stupid? It's obviously there so they can pull in close for battle animations while still looking good, and damn it if they weren't completely successful at that.. So yea, that problem aside, the game looks pretty effing sweet.
Oh, and before I wrap this up (DEAR GOD, WHEN WILL IT END!?), I just want to take note of something that, although largely irrelevant to the game itself, is nonetheless astounding. Before I do that, though, I wish to explain my blogging process (which I'm sure I've done previously). I take notes on everything I see within a game and then compile them into what you see before you. On average, a game gets somewhere between 20 and 40 notes (20 is usually for shorter games), and if I hit somewhere in the 60ish range, then I know I'm going to review the game. The most notes I've ever taken for a game were on Final Fantasy XIII, which managed to net an amazing total of 124 notes. Then came Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. 155 MOTHERFUCKING NOTES. If that doesn't sound large, keep this in mind: there were 151 original Pokemon. Missingno brings this up to 152. That's still less Pokemon than there are thoughts on Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. The worst part, though? I didn't even use all of my notes, meaning I could have made this longer than it already is. Be thankful for my finite mercy. I'd say that I don't think I can top that, but that's what I thought two years ago. I guess that means in 2014, I'll be talking about how I managed to compile 3.5*10^23 notes on Some Random Future Game V: More Future than Ever.
Desperately Needed Review Synopsis
- There's a lot of story, but don't worry: it's all fan-fucking-tastic. (I think that may be the first non-sarcastic use of that word ever.)
- Oh, and a lot of awesome RPG mechanics, along with slightly-less-awesome-but-still-awesome social mechanics or something.
- Did I mention this game looks amazing? Because I totally did.
Shut up. That's not the video. This is the video.
(And now for something much shorter.) How exactly do I mean that? Both ways. First, remember how long the Persona 4 part of this blog was? Can you even remember the world before you read that thing? Well, fortunately, this will only net about three or four paragraphs, I'm guessing. Second, you know how Persona 4 is, like, 90 hours long and has a New Game + option? Well, this game is only three to four hours long, if that, and ends with an unskippable black screen. Still, I'd recommend it, if you're particularly bored or something.
Though that's not to say the games are completely different. For example, they both have pretty humorous stories, I guess. It all starts when an obsessed youth named Fron chases a mysterious light into the woods. He's looking for a fairy, and the only woman in his life is fucking pissed at him for this. She wishes he'd just give up this hunt for fairies once and for all. Then comes an incredibly shocking twist nobody could see coming: they're not talking about gay people. I know that sounds mean-spirited, but no matter how far I got, I couldn't stop thinking of this kid looking for gay men. Think that was funny? Well, you have incredibly low standards, which is good, since that will make the game hilarious as fuck. Wait...I meant ot say that the game is actually pretty funny. Just about every level briefing comes across as though the developers were fed up with their own game, and the writers aren't unwilling to poke fun at how bullshit the game can be (or could have been). And then the game goes on, and all that humor gets chucked out the window. What happened, guys? Why'd you take that apocalyptic, racial turn? I didn't want that; I wanted Tia yelling at her boyfriend and everybody calling everybody else brother or sister or uncle for no real reason and then pointing that out. Then again, given how some of the jokes sound like serious dialogue, and that the plot isn't especially spectacular, I'm half certain that the humor was added only to hide poor writing.
And once you get rid of the story, all you're left with is some type of strange action-strategy-RPG. I have no idea how it works, either, and I feel that explaining it will only make things more confusing. It takes the perspective of Landstalker, controls like Resident Evil, and plays sort of like Frozen Synapse. I warned you. But despite the steep learning curve I set up with that explanation, the gameplay's oddly simple. You walk up to a monster and whack it on the head until it dies. That's pretty much it, really. You have a ton of abilities, but it takes a while for them to become useful, so a lot of the battles devolve into Whack a Slime. You also get another party member to help in your whackings, but here's the strange thing about it: you only get one party member at a time. I don't see why. After all, there are, like, a billion playable characters in the game, yet for whatever reason, they all have some convenient excuse to sit out the battle when another wants to join. Oh, and you level up automatically and get all your equipment handed to you throughout the game. So there isn't a ton of strategy or challenge or reason to play this game, right?
WRONG! Surprisingly, Monstania manages to do a lot with this incredibly strange system. Remember what I said about there being a billion characters? Turns out they all play completely differently from each other...with their abilities. What? You can't do a lot with regular attacks, so abilities are where you make up for it. I could list off all the examples of unique characters, but I'll just say that one character's entire purpose is to clean. That's how many characters they made before her that they had to make a character so lame as to clean while Fron is whacking monsters about. (Fron is in every battle ever.) And with all those characters, you'll do so many things. You'll trap bears in holes, go Metal Gear Pirate, fight a Kraken (on that note, though, how many games feature Kraken fights in them? This feels like something too specific to appear in as many games as I've seen it in), and so much more. Hell, you even get a ton of stuff that has nothing to do with battles. Yes, somehow, Harvest Moon, Inc. managed to fit in things like mopping floors and moving around colored pyramids. OK, that sounds about as unfun as possible, but trust me, these can be some pretty cool moments. Challenging, too.
Odd, though, since it's not a very difficult game. That double party member thing I mentioned before? Yea, it's kinda cool, but also partially why the game's as easy as it is. A lot of the time, you can switch who's attacking and let the other character recharge for a bit. In case the enemy decides to attack the other character, worry not, for you get so many curative items that not even the entire Russian army could stop you. Hell, you could take them down in less than three hours, but that's probably because that's how long the game lasts. Granted, it's a cool three hours, but it's still a short RPG.
- No matter how much you tell me, I can't not picture Fron as chasing gay guys. I know, but I can't, damn it!
- It looks like it'll be an overly simple game...
- ...when it reality, it's a damn fun, if easy, game.