03 January, 2009

Game Journal: Persona 4


The death march continues. I will finish the game, simply to say I did. But Persona 4 is not my style.

Persona 4 gives you a huge possibility space. Every persona you carry has certain resistances, weaknesses, offenses, buffs, and debuffs. In any given fight, the right combination means certain victory while the wrong combination means speedy defeat (even on Easy). But since you never know what you'll be up against, you just get screwed randomly. Or you cheat and go to GameFAQs to read ahead and know what you'll be fighting. Either way it's not fun, just memorization.

The social link system is also not fun. At first it was cool to spend time with certain people. But the game is on a clock, and most contacts are only available three days out of the week. Plus if you don't have a persona of that person's arcana, you'll have to waste days chatting that you could have spent doing something useful. I know my OCD is my problem, but this game rewards it heavily. It nurtures OCD. It's basically the point of the experience.

Social links are for combat. They power up any personas you create, saving lots of tedious leveling. In the case of combat characters, they add special abilities which make combat significantly easier. And there are special non-combat characters who get support ability upgrades. But to get the most upgrade points, you have to have a persona of their arcana with you and say precisely the right things. Fail to say the right things and you'll have to waste days hanging out to get invisible "friendship points" towards your next level up. And while guessing what the right thing to say is can be rewarding, it's nonsensical just often enough to make it no fun. Saving and reloading to try other responses takes way too long. So it's back to the FAQ. Again, the game discourages exploration and experimentation by offering a hidden best path.

This is a design meant to sell strategy guides, not to be played. There are special events that improve social relations, so it's best to wait for those instead of spending days chatting certain people up. It's best to adventure in the other world when Nanako and / or Dojima are home, or there's a courage building piece of rotten food in the fridge. Otherwise you lose the ability to do anything useful in the evening. There are just so many opportunities that are completely lost if you don't know the future and do exactly the right things.

It kills any illusion of social interaction. Originally I liked Chie. But her social interaction has right and wrong answers and right and wrong timing. So she's not real anymore. She's a test. So's everyone else.

The only reason I am finishing Persona 4 is to be able to say I did, and as an excuse to procrastinate. The experience itself is terrible. I'm finding that collecting all the personas, consulting all the tables in the FAQ to figure out which fusions I can make, is more fun than the game itself. Let me break that down in a way that makes it more understandable.

Doing simple math and cross referencing tables is more fun than playing Persona 4.

At least I can always do that and it works. Playing the game makes me feel like I'm always missing something. I could somehow wring more points out of the system if I was just willing to completely deconstruct it, to break down the entire game calendar, map out all my social links and rescues, plan all my attribute increases, know what the best use of all my rainy days would be, etc. The way it is, though, I never feel like I have enough information to make solid choices. And I rarely get enough feedback to know if the choices I did make were really good ones.

Why did I want to finish this vacant exercise in point mongering again?

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