Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I remember we had a video game system growing up and I remember playing games over at other people's houses. What I don't remember is ever being good at any of these games. I'd play through the first few levels and then get stuck and frustrated. I know a lot of people earn their stripes on games like Zork, Bard's Tale, Ultima and Wizardry. Part of the problem I had was that we had a Mac rather than a PC so I had to wait a couple of years to try these things. But still-- I tried a number of them, would play for a bit and then quit. This was especially true for the rpgs which didn't do anything better than a tabletop game did. The closest I came to either getting good or really wasting time was in playing SimCity and Risk on the computer.

The first games that I really, really enjoyed came, in part, because my wife enjoyed them as well. We loved Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VI and ChronoCross in the Playstation. We pretty much bought any vaguely interesting rpg we could get our hands on. Fast forward to today. I have a list of those rpgs we have in progress but haven't finished...several dozen across various systems. I recently went through and purged a few out, but we could easily get through this entire year just working on the library of rpgs we have in the house.

Which brings me to Persona 4-- my current time-filler and procrastination device. It is from Atlus and is part of their larger and very strange Shin Megami Tensai series. It has demons, and angels, and high school dating elements. We loved Persona 3- especially in its second incarnation as Persona 3FES which added a lot of great content. They say they're not going to do that with this version, which is a little disappointing. Anyway, ten thoughts on the game:

1. The characters are more accessible and don't act like total idiots. There's a mystery going on in the game and it is a pleasure to see the characters keeping up with you in terms of deductions. Or even ahead of you sometimes.

2. You're able to choose your allies' actions in the combat section. At first I was a little leery of that since I thought it would slow things down, but it does really help. They also have some choices in leveling up which was absent from the previous game.

3. They left out weapon fusions and fusion skills. I liked both and I'd like to see those come back, but in this game it works.

4. The contrast in settings, even though both take place in a Japanese HS, has been nicely handled. The two games feel very different despite being very close under the surface.

5. Your skills don't have the chance to morph randomly when you level up. I appreciate that being removed as it often got in the way of things if you weren't paying attention.

6. The combat section has what seems like a minor change, but one that has huge ramifications for your choices. In these games, if you hit a monster with its weakness you do extra damage and get to go again. They're "down" and while they will take extra damage on the follow up, you won't get another action if you hit them again with their weakness. In the last game, if you hit a group with an elemental attack and either some of them had a resistance or you missed, then you wouldn't get the bonus from the ones you did hit. In this game-- you do. It seems small but the problem is that this rule applies to the monsters as well making your life really awful if you aren't careful. In Boss fights it can be devastating.

7. Reflective of #6 it has been much more difficult to protect the elemental weaknesses of your allies.

8. There's a general shift of the various Personas to make them more in fitting with the Japanese mythos in keeping with the tone of the game. That works. As well, there are direct references to at least two other SMT games that made me laugh.

9. Spell Point resource management is much tougher in this game. It provides a nice level of challenge.

10. Please, please, please-- don't put reflex based mini-games in an rpg. It is especially obnoxious in this game since a couple of important points require you to go through the stupid fishing mini-game and it eats up time both real and in-game. It isn't a deal-breaker, but it is wickedly unpleasant.