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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Persona 4 Golden (ペルソナ4 ザ・ゴールデン)

I don't want to sound like a hipster (not Jhipster, but the annoying real hipsters that think a shitty indie game is awesome cause it's "innovative") but I'm glad I was able to first experience the Persona series completely blind from the 3rd entry around 2007, which is kinda impossible to do now given all the praise, hype, and media attention the franchise has gotten in recent years.

I picked up Persona 3 at a store completely on a whim because well, the screenshots and the anime art style looked cool. This was back when I was a typical Final Fantasy mainstreamer and was just starting to branch out into the vast world of a Jhipster gamer. I had no idea what to expect but it was definitely different and interesting. Vicariously living the life of a Japanese high school kid through an RPG? Heck YES! I never did finish Persona 3 and in fact didn't play much of anything while working 10 hour days as a Japanese salaryman. But I did finally finish Persona 4 Golden recently very much late to the party so let's talk about that instead and not revisit those alcohol-hazed, overworked days, OK?

Why did I go to school in New Jersey instead of this? WHY GOD? WHY?!!!!!!
To sum up Persona 4 (and Persona 3), it is a real-life simulator combined with an RPG. If you've ever fantasized about being a Japanese high school student surrounded by 2D JK (and who hasn't???) but still want to enjoy a fun RPG in the process, this is the game for you. The game tries to make you balance your regular ol' high school life such as making friends, studying, part-time job etc. with the secret life of busting up monsters in various dungeons. Every day, you have to decide whether to hang out with a certain character to increase his/her community score or a plethora of other activities that are available based on the calendar.

Now, if this was real life, I would probably have spent every day playing video games at home and wishing I had the courage to talk to all the cool kids but this is not "Moon: Remix RPG Adventure" (review pending) so sadly there is no option to play video games in the game. Now, you can decide to sit around and do nothing but those communities are vital to leveling up personas and unlocking various abilities for your friends when it comes time to fight some monsters. You really need to make the most of your precious time but there is one major flaw to time management: you can stay in the dungeon for as long as you want.

Apparently, I totally went about my high school life the wrong way...
(screenshot not from the game)
In Persona 3, people eventually get tired in the dungeon and if you're playing in hard mode, it pretty much means instant death in most cases as well as losing the next day or even more due to fatigue or sickness. However, in this game, the only real incentive to leave the dungeon is if your SP runs out. But you can easily overcome that early on by buying SP items from the vending machine and later on by maxing out the fox community and paying him some cold hard yen.

If you're like me and you really want to fully experience all the various side stories, you end up with a lopsided pattern of hours of high school life followed by a LONG stretch in a dungeon.  I'm not necessarily a fan of the fatigue system as it is quite annoying as well but I just wish that it was better balanced somehow, perhaps not having such a tight schedule to max out your communities. Would it kill the developers to leave some days you can just totally waste? I mean, in real life, we waste time all the time, right?

Now you can make the argument to just chill and miss out on some communities but it's pretty much impossible for the completionist to not max out all communities (yay trophy whore!) and experience every bit of story the game offers. And personally, the side stories are THE highlight of the game. You would be REALLY missing out if you just rushed through the main plot.

Dem FEEEEEEELSSSSSS!
In fact, I would say that the true allure of this game is in the totally believable characters with their real-world problems in a slightly exotic but still familiar (albeit very Japanese) setting. This game covers every conceivable human themes from death, loss, fame, divorce, social pressures, kids, etc. that you're bound to find something to tug at your heart strings. People die all the time in games sure, but how many games have you spending time with a family member day after day after the character's death? For me, the climax of the game was actually in the first BAD ending which is probably one of the best "bad" endings I've ever seen especially if you've maxed out the relevant communities.


Dem FEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLSSSS!!!!!!!

Unfortunately, the game continues to drag on for a good 20+ hours and it gets a bit preachy and repetitive about the whole persona and being true to yourself theme near the end. I GET IT. The GAME is called PERSONA! However, I'm not gonna be one of those "professional" reviewers that say stupid, asinine shit like "are games too long nowadays?" The game continues to be fun and there are TONS of nice content, even more in the Golden version which added the whole month of February and a nice new dungeon that has some cool twists (how about a boss that repels EVERYTHING??). I feel like it's great value for my hard earned dollars. Oh, and there's some sort of murder mystery thrown in there somewhere? HAHA.

Counting hours lost by dying, probably 120ish hours.
Hard mode OF COURSE. Yeah, this game is a TAD bit long.

This game fulfills my fantasy of living as a Japanese high school kid as well as any game could do without VR (OMG Morpheus Summer Lesson HYPE). Yeah, it's not exactly realistic to have like 10 girlfriends in a small town but hey, it IS a Japanese game. Overall, the OST is great, TONS of high quality story content, fun dungeon crawling, anime cut scenes, and everything is incredibly polished. Besides a few gripes in terms of time management and the fact that everybody acts like you're the most eloquent guy ever despite being completely mute, this game does deserve most of the praise that it has received. Is it the best game of ALL TIME? Not really, I mean it does feels a tad overrated but if you ignore the masses that gush over this game like it was krispy kreme with powdered cocaine, it is still undeniably a great game.

As a Jhipster, I also have to make the obligatory comment about the English localization. The English dub while acceptable doesn't really seem to convey the same aura of camaraderie and just overall "funness" of your fake riajuu high school life. In particular, the TOTALLY HOT AND BEST GIRL Rise loses 75% of her charm without her loli-ero-kawaii voice (yes, that is a thing). Keep in mind my score is always for the Japanese original Jhipster version. Based on what I've seen of the English dub, I would score that one 3/5. Hmph!

Score: 4 when in god's name is this game going to END? out of 5 (~120 hours played)
(optional +.5 for loli-ero-kawaii Risechi)

Nuff said

Scale
0 - Awful
1 - Bad and not worth your time
2 - Has some flaws but still enjoyable
3 - An average enjoyable experience
4 - A great game
5 - Masterpiece of a caliber only found very rarely

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