Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ignorant American Gaming: Persona 4 Golden

Dear Persona 4 Golden,
There's something deep in my heart I want to tell you. It's something I've been holding inside and now I want to express it publicly. When I first saw you and your brothers and sisters Shin Megami Tensei and the other Persona titles I knew little about you. Something seemed different about you. Something unique. You were mysterious yet you looked beautiful from what I could tell. You're like the quiet pretty girl at school that not a lot of people know. You may not have the largest group of friends and lovers, but those you have really love you and I can see why. The first of which were your lovers on the excellent podcast Retronauts. It was there that I heard about you and the rest of your family in extensive details. I was immediately interested and wanted to get to know you better. There was just one problem, the only games I could play I either had to pay a premium price or get a new console that would have your titles!
But then a shining savior came that is Sony and graced their digital store with a rom of Persona 3 FES. I immediately got online to buy it (since my PS3 model doesn't play PS2 games but this PS2 rom will). I couldn't express how excited I was to start playing. Unfortunately in the end I didn't play it as much as I thought I would but do plan on getting back into it eventually. Not sure why. But that's for another day. We're here to talk about you, Persona 4 Golden.
After the announcement of the next generation of consoles I was pretty uninterested in what was being offered. The intense focus on online and TV left a sour taste in my mouth. I just wanted the games. You know, a game console for just games, call me crazy. But something that started catching my attention was the Playstation Vita. It had been years since I was a part of the portable gaming scene and with my lack of excitement for what was coming I decided it was time to return. As popular as Nintendo is I decided that wasn't the route for me. I went straight back to Sony and I'm glad I did. When I finally did get a Vita I made sure the first game I picked up (outside of COD which came with the console) was you, Persona 4 Golden. When I popped you in I knew I was in for a great experience, but little did I know that what I would experience would be the best and most immersive experiences I've had in a game in years. Not since Metal Gear Solid 4.
Now I must say I'm usually a bit hesitant when something is very anime themed. And since your game is just that I was a little worried, however I did my best to keep the faith alive that I would enjoy it. It's not that I don't like anime period, I just am not as into it as I used to be. I'm a lot more picky now. But your first good call was how you handled the style in your game. The cutscenes that are actual animations are few and far between, and when they do come up they're short, sweet, and straight to the point. Because of this your anime cutscenes are really well done. They convey the excellent story within the game. Oh, the story, the story story story I love this story. What I liked about it the most is that for a game as huge as this you really jumped right into it and said what the story was and how it would play out. It's a really unique approach to what's essentially a murder mystery. But there's so much more to it than that and that's what I love about it! But that's mostly because of one major thing, the immersion.
I honestly don't think I've ever been as immersed as I've been with your game my sweet sweet Persona. I've played other games with silent protagonists where you customize their name and other features but your's has immersed me more than any other character I've customized. Even though the character is already designed and has specific elements set in stone outside of the name customization I still felt this silent-ish (thank you for letting him talk by the way) was way more relatable and immersive than any other protagonist I've seen or played as. For once you actually made me feel like I was the character and that I was interacting in a story where these other characters were my friends. I got to know them progressively over a long period of time instead of all at once. While my character's friendship with them grew deeper so did my interest in these characters. I watched them like many people watch TV shows in a long run. I was invested in them and always wanted to know what came next and legitimately cared about what happened to them in a story. I rarely have that level of dedication to characters in shows/movies let alone video games which are known for being a bit lacking on the character end. Also I find it amazing how fleshed out and well rounded all the characters are!
Seriously Persona! You did a knock out job with the characters! Almost every character I found relatable and could even connect to someone I've known from high school and college. Youske is for a lack of better words your bro. He talks big a lot and clearly shows he's hot for the ladies. On the surface he seems shallow but as you get to know him he has depth at a level you would have never guessed. Chie is that fun girl who is more like one of the boys. She's easy to hang out with because of her love of king fu movies, and even though it doesn't always show she may secretly have a crush on you. Yukiko is that beautiful yet quiets girl who never really acts out. So when she does it's very surprising. Rise is that popular girl who you're surprised hangs out with you but is just as surprisingly down to earth like you wouldn't expect. And then Kanji is that tough guy who has super sweet side but is very insecure about it. All of them are really fleshed out and you slowly watch them grow as the story continues. In many cases this felt more like an interactive storybook than a video game. That's one of the many reasons I love you so much Persona 4 Golden, you took me in like almost no other video game ever has. I do like story in games but more recently I've been more interested in just getting to the action. But your story and characters wanted me living that day to day life more than anything else. Not to say I didn't like the gamey part of the game.
As you may already know my sweet buttercup, I love RPGs. Specifically JRPGs (sometime begrudgingly). And one of the make or break points in the game is not just the story, some of which you have to be VERY forgiving with, but the combat system. If the combat system isn't your cup of tea then it's not going to be very long before you grow tired of the game. Your combat is so accessible I can't believe it. For years I've been hard wired to the Final Fantasy method of battle so it took some getting used to. Like when I first got my Persona I saw it more like the summons in any given FF game. Something you use that's more powerful but not all the time. No, Persona 4 Golden, my buttercup, you integrated it into the battles and it made for exciting battles. Also the auto-battles from the other characters gave a different strategy instead of direct control over them (despite that option being available). This is another great example of immersion. I was in control of myself but everyone else made their own choices in battle. The battles are filled with varieties of enemies all with different weaknesses whether it's lightning or fire or whatever. Speaking of enemies, let's talk about the boss battles.
The boss battles were pretty incredible if not in design alone. I love how the boss fights are the shadows of each person, showing their other side they're not willing to accept and they are designed that way intentionally. Rise's shadow being the Risette side of her, the celebrity side, showing that a part of her is the overly sexualized character she's been portraying on a day to day basis. Not to mention Teddie's shadow, too! The "mascot" of this game even had a shadow and it was a pretty incredible turn of events. But my favorite is much later in the game when you catch up to the killer. I don't want to spoil much for the readers, which is something I know you'll understand Persona 4 Golden, but I loved this design like crazy. Only going into visuals he was angelic at first glance, pitch black skin with very thin red stripes going across his body vertically, wearing a t-shirt that has the love and peace logo, and wearing a gigantic spinning halo. Hard to describe properly for the proper imagination but I loved it, and that may only be partially because he reminded me of the later scenes in The Lawnmower Man but I think there's more to it than that.
Now the Persona's. OHHHHHH BABY the Personas!!!!! There were times when I would grind just so I could collect more Personas and see what sort of fusions I could pull together. It's like it became a more adult friendly version of Pokemon. I was definitely trying to "catch" them all, or at least I want to. They all are crazy unique creatures, all with different stats that will determine the power of their shared abilities. I must say when the fusion element was introduced I was a bit worried because I thought it may be a bit overly complicated. Like some alchemist abilities in the more "hardcore" RPGs, usually western. But no, Persona 4 Golden, you make it just as approachable as your battles, as your inventory, as your characters, as your story.
Might I say thank you for the incredibly down to earth story. I used to make love to games like FFVII that had an out of this world world and an even more out of this world story. In short I was looking for something epic. But you, my sweet honey, have a story that takes place in a high school, with characters that are recognizable and relatable. It's very straightforward a plot which makes it easy to get into. There are murders, it somehow involves something called The Midnight Channel, and it's up to you to stop the murders. It's not pretentious and despite all the fog elements in your game, you're far from smug (lame attempt at a joke I know but it made me think of that episode of South Park with the Hybrids and the smug attitude). You don't take yourself too seriously. Quite the opposite. You are very willing to make fun of yourself but are serious when it is necessary. Much like late in the game when everything changes drastically and you make the player make a game changing decision. It was heavy and I felt the weight of the situation, especially with what happened just before it. Sadly I made the choice that seemed to give me the "bad" ending, although I would call it less of the bad ending and more like the unfulfilled, anti-climactic ending.
And because of that along with the passion I have for you Persona 4 Golden is why I didn't want things to end there. It all seemed to come so quickly despite the fact I had already spent 60 hours with you. So the moment those ending credits ended I immediately started new game plus to not only re-experience the story, but also to take some different paths than what I did my first time around.
You see Persona 4 Golden... I don't want our time together to be over. I am crazy about you despite your flaws. I may have been praising you this whole time but you and I both know you have some flaws. Like how some of the decisions throughout the game tend to not change things too dramatically, and even getting one of the lead characters your girlfriend surprising changed basically nothing as far as I could tell. That and how the difficulty curve from one enemy to another in the same dungeon on the same floor would rise so high that it's hard to believe they're on the same level. Then the last thing that comes to mind is the fact that the weapons and armor is crazy expensive and getting the money for it can be a bit of a chore.
Now I know there are probably some other flaws here and there but that's not important. What's important is how amazing of a game you are. If I had an actual rating system I could imagine giving you a higher rating than most anything else I've played the last few years. I loved 3D Dot Game Heroes, but that had it's problems. Been loving the Assassin's Creed games, but those definitely have their problems as well. Basically I can't imagine which game in the last five or more years I've enjoy as much or more than you my love. The closest thing would be Metal Gear Solid 4, but that was way back in 2008. And honestly the only time the immersion broke for me was when it seemed like most of the girls I met in the game automatically developed a crush for my character with little to no hints of it when the characters are in a group. But that's a minor complaint cause everything else is done SO WELL! I can't let some minor inconsistencies or bizarre character choices go. No game is perfect and this is a game ported forward from a previous era. If modern games can't cover all bases I can't expect a PS2 game of this size to do that.
In the end I think I've fallen madly in love with you Persona 4 Golden. We've spent so much time together already and I know we'll spend even more time together in the future. At least until I earn that platinum trophy.

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