Thoughts on Persona 4

For anyone who is worried about spoilers there are some spoilers in this about two of the S. Links (Moon and Sun) so if you're worried about that, or haven't seen them, then there's spoilers to be wary of.

Let's get the positive stuff out of the way before doing anything else. These are the things that I like based off of how the game compares to P3 basically.

I don't care what anybody says, i like Teddie. He's got some interesting character elements to him, he grows over the story and I figured that his overly cutesey personality had a purpose and lookit that, it did. It also made perfect sense having his S. Link be based on game progress, something I wish the game had done with the other party members in retrospect. More on that below.

The ability to actually directly control your party members is a freaking godsend. It eliminates all of the hoping and praying that Persona 3 was full of at tense times and really puts the ability to control the party in your hands. For a micromanaging player like myself this made the game so much more fun.

The story to this game tops the Persona 3 one simply for being more down to earth for the most part. Persona 3 was full of stuff that your average person really couldn't relate to such as: Mitsurus millionaire family, the elite school dorm setting, the android party member and a hyper intelligent dog. That's all without getting into the Midnight Hour and such. Stuff like this kind of creates a disconnect at times with the player but in P4 all of the characters are pretty much down to earth with the only really well off party members being realistically so (Yukiko and Yosuke).

Let's move on to the annoyances now.

Who the heck thought that putting the dungeon crawling at the same time that you do 90% of the Social Links was a good idea? There's only like... 2 Social Links you can do at night now (Tutor and Hospital Janitor part time jobs) while all of the rest are daytime S. Links, requiring you to choose between dungeon crawling or doing much of anything else. While I get that they were trying to force you to make that exact choice it flips the dynamic of this game a bit too much for my taste. Hear me out.

In Persona 3 you could go to Tartarus every night if you wanted to, making small and measured excursions every day. This allowed you to level up slowly, gather up Persona for Fusions, complete requests and actually dungeon crawl at your leisure. Playing P3 was kind of like that for me; every other day I was in Tartarus for a few hours in the least. I actually like level grinding in my RPGs so it worked out rather exceptionally for me, allowing me to perfectly balance my dungeon crawling to my tastes. The access points, teleporters and HP/SP being restored when you go back to the bottom floor to save reduced frustrations from dying and losing an hour of work like you can in most other RPGs. I don't mind hard games but losing all that work due to a single random encounter is staggeringly frustrating.

This is so far from the case in P4 it's not even funny.

Being forced to choose between dungeon crawling to save victims/fight optional bosses/level grind and doing S. Links or increasing stats meant that I only went to the TV dungeons about once every other week. But when I did so I had to stay in there for at least three or four hours, measuring out my SP ridiculously, so that I didn't fall too far behind the deadlines the game sets. It wasn't too bad at first but as the game went on... ugh. Towards the end I found myself coming down to the wire and almost got the bad ending because I just couldn't level up enough to fight the boss of Magatsu. For me to be underleveled is completely agitating knowing my power-leveling ways.

Making it even more annoying is the fact that I could have easily maxed out three more Social Links if not for everything happening during the day. Not that I needed to max them out, that's what a second playthrough is for, but it's kind of annoying knowing how close I was to doing it and not being able to due so simply due to how finnicky the game is. Raining? No Social Links are around. Victim kidnapped? Numerous S. Links are unavailable. Not the right day? Well wait for another one.

Admittedly, in retrospect, it's obvious that the devs wanted you to explore the TV when it was raining since there are rare monsters to find, most S. Links are nowhere to be found and there's honestly not much else to do at those times. But it's still very annoying seeing how constrained you are by the games limitations. It kills a fair bit of the freeform nature that Persona 3 had going on for it.

Secondly what the heck is up with the encounter system in this one? Why did they change away from the perfectly serviceable encounter system in P3?

I liked that in P3 if you snuck up behind an enemy and stabbed him in the back you got the advantage with no problem. If you weren't careful enough then they got to you first most of the time and you had only yourself to blame. In P4 I can't even count the number of times I waited for two or three whole minutes to get the jump on a hard, flashing, enemy and snuck up on him only to have him whip around 180 degrees and whack me before I can even swing my sword. I've noticed that the higher level the monster, the bigger their sprite is and the larger their detection radius.

At first this doesn't seem like too big of a problem until you realize that it's a veritable fight in and of itself to sneak up on the stronger enemies. So basically any enemy that gives you any real amount of experience will be a pain in the butt to sneak up on. This isn't a problem early on (seeing a pattern there?) but when you get to the point where you're fighting voltron looking dorks who one shot kill your party members it's realy annoying. Remember what I said about losing an hour of progress to a single random encounter? Well I guess since they seem to have fewer enemies who use Hama and Mudo spells they decided they needed enemies so strong they can one shot kill you with physical attacks or spells. Yay!

What makes this whole fact more annoying is that most of the bosses in this game aren't that hard. They just very rarely have weaknesses and when they do they tend to dodge their weakness incredibly often. Then again most monsters seem to dodge their weaknesses an inordinate amount of time. Pair that up with the fact that most encounters are against three different monsters, all with different weaknesses (if any) and more often than not one will drain an element, one will null an element and one will be weak to that same element. So if the enemies get the jump on you good luck taking them out before they beat the crap out of your party.

Third I find the SP restriction system wasn't very well thought out. Okay so you don't get it refilled by going back to the main area, you can't buy it and the thing that refills it later on is uber expensive. But it wouldn't be such a problem if you weren't usually forced to go on extended sojurns into the dungeons. This goes right into the complaint about the tv dungeons being open at the same time as all of the S. Links, thus forcing some annoying micromanagement on that level.

Lastly are the S. Links themselves. Whereas in P3 even the annoying people were somewhat fairly easy to empathize with some of these S. Links are just annoying. Ai Ebihara and Yumi (Drama Club) come straight to mind as glaring examples. More details in the spoiler block.

They feel so freaking sexist that it's physically painful to me. I suppose I could also say that they feel so freaking Japanese in their mentality and it be a bit more accurate. You see because Yumi, even though her dad left her and her mom for a younger woman, is a horrible daughter if she won't forgive her. And her mother has to be forgiving and run herself sick trying to take care of the deadbeat because that's what a good woman does. Yeah. Right.

Also Ai, that's a great one too. She's pretty but the boy she likes doesn't like her back so she's going to jump off a roof. Fine, normal teenager stupidity I can get that. But the fact that the older kid basically calls her a tease, slaps her in the face and runs off and you can't beat him down, defend her or anything and the game almost acts like she deserves it? Nobody sees a problem with this?! Is this like that whole thing on the trains where you're not supposed to say anything even though a guy is fondling you under your skirt? Ugh.

Let's just say I hated some of these S. Links and leave those two my examples as to why that is. I'm not even going to go into the fact that all of the growing up/therapy that you give to your party members is done in the main storyline, leaving the S. Link scenes to feel like... well not like much of anything. The only one who really felt like they grew in those is Kanji, but the rest happen as you play so it felt kinda redundant almost. Ah well.

There you have it. It's still a great game, better than anything Final Fantasy has done in over a decade but still horribly flawed. My score for it will change when I actually write my review.


Fallout 3, Fable 2 and Gears of War 2 Game Guides

So I finished my Gears of War 2 guide for GamesRadar. The only one posted so far is a text version of it but I did a PDF version as well. I also finished the Fable 2 guide that I worked on with two other guys, a FAQ writer named Jason Nimer and Jason Venter also known as Honestgamer. It was a fun experience. Most of the work on that one is mine although Honestgamer did a fair bit of research (Silver Keys, quests I missed) and Jason Nimer compiled it all into the document.


Console Exclusivity: A Rant

I'm sure that many of you saw the title and thought that this would be a rant about "exclusivity is dead" and "Square sold out when they said they're porting FF13 to the brick" or whatever. Well it isn't, not really. What I'm going to rant about instead is games that are more deceitful, games that claim to be system exclusives and then get ported a few months down the line. Games like Fable, Jade Empire and Halo have all done this but perhaps the most recent egregious offenders are Bioshock and Gears of War.

It's not a game switching consoles that really grinds my nerves. Oh sure, I bought a PS3 thinking that I would need it to play Devil May Cry 4, Assassins Creed and Final Fantasy 13... if I even bothered buying it considering all the details of it, ugh (FF X-2's director on the heels of the soap opera that was FF12? I think not). But I'm not the sort of person who is fanboy enough to be bothered by this. I bought all of the systems to enjoy their unique attributes. I enjoy Achievements and Xbox Live but I like FREE online gaming on the PS3 and the exclusives to that console as well. The Wii... well I bought it for the VC and have thusfar been stymied by Nintendos reluctance to help me out any (too many games and I refuse to play swap out with an SD card). So I view this sort of thing as a benefit to gamers everywhere. Everyone gets to enjoy the game instead of just one consoles worth of gamers.

So instead of that particular axe to grind I find a new one, the one of exclusives that jump ship instead. Let's take an example:

Bioshock had a pretty big opening, selling oodles and oodles of games on both the PC and Xbox 360. It was lauded wide and large as a great game in the genre and a wildly intruiging storyline mixed with the first person elements to create a game like Deus Ex: The Invisible War more than Halo. It was great, it was one of the best games released that year. Hurrah, hurrah!

So how does 2K reward those people who bought it on the 360 and dealt with the widescreen cropping bug? How do they reward those people who dealt with their stupid SecuRom authentication setup? To those unfortunate souls who bought the limited edition and had to deal with broken Big Daddy statuettes? Simple, they port it without any of the problems to the PS3. But that's not all, the PS3 gets exclusive content, content that will likely never appear on the Xbox or PC versions of the game. Their way of saying "thank you" to all those who bought the original game and made it such a huge success is what essentially amounts to a giant middle finger waving in the air at them as they roll around in their money.


Mind you this isn't some console fanboy bitterness. As an owner of all three systems (and the PSP to boot) I could very easily pick up Bioshock for the PS3 and shelve it right next to my copy of it for the 360. I've invested a lot of time into the game to find all of the audio diaries and to get all of the Achievements but I would enjoy the new challenges as well. However I will not be buying the game unless I buy it used from someone because I will not give my money to 2K for something like this. There are ways to go about something like this without totally snubbing those very people who made your game such a success and apparently they aren't quite aware of this.

Take Overlord for example. It was initially only for the PC and Xbox 360 as well but they decided to port it to the PS3. Included in the package, for free, is all of the downloadable content you could get for the 360 and a few minor additions like a mini-map. Since Overlord is now cheap for the 360 it isn't actually a big deal since you could purchase the DLC and the game cheap but if you don't have a 360 now you can experience the game in its entirety. The free inclusion of the DLC is their way of excusing the fact that PS3 owners are paying 50-60 USD for the game while 360 owners only need to pay 20 for the game and maybe 15 for the DLC. But this makes sense seeing as how it's been out on the 360 for awhile, if the PS3 owners wait they can get it on the cheap as well and everyone is happy.

However this is something that even Microsoft enjoys to watch its customers suffer for (as if Vista wasn't enough). Gears of War for the PC comes right to mind and annoys me straight away. Not that Gears wasn't a good game, it was pretty good. Barring the grunting monkey of a script and the fact that Dom was the only character with any personality it was fun to play. However the narrative of that game jumped around more than a monkey on speed and just generally made less sense the further into the game you got. By the time the squad escaped from the Brumak and teleported to the train station for some reason I was more than a bit frustrated with what was going on.

Turns out that they decided to fix this and add a little section on to this abysmally short game when they ported it to the PC. Sure an extra half hour isn't that big of a deal but when the game itself is only six/six and a half hours long then it's quite an improvement. And while Epic was pretty good about releasing all those online maps for free after a short wait 360 owners who made GoW practically the next Halo were shafted out of this. It's a small thing but seriously, what's the deal? There's no real reason that this couldn't be backwards ported to the 360 as a nice little reward to those same fans who made your game more than just a blip on the radar.

But I suppose I just don't understand business. Or rather I do understand the gaming industry. They work on the same mentality that George Lucas does. "Keep rereleasing stuff with new little tid-bits thrown in so as to entice people to buy our game multiple times." I say forget that little game they're trying to play. Buy your games used if you have to indulge this little bit of tomfoolery on the part of game developers. This way the money goes to whomever you bought it from instead of lining their pockets as they do their best to basically spit in the faces of all those fans who bought their little games.

Thank you for reading. Coming up next on Misfits Rant theater, the Nintendo Wii. Stay tuned!