After a lengthy feud with Fed Ex, I've finally gotten my hands on a copy of Persona 4. I'm just coming 'round to the end of April now, roughly 8 hours in, and so far, I'm kind of mixed. It is by no means a bad game; it's terrific, but in many ways it feels like a step down from Persona 3.
I've had several issues with the changed gameplay already. My biggest complaint is that you can't analyze enemies anymore. Instead, you have to simply guess, and Teddie keeps track of what you've discovered. I suppose a full analysis ability might unlock as the game moves forward, but already at this stage in the game it's caused me to die once to a random enemy that repelled all four major elements.
It's also irritating that there don't seem to be many quick exits from dungeons. In the first zone, I did find one right at the very top that took me back down, but for the most part you have to rely on escape items. Then there's the fact that exploring the dungeon world takes place in the after school time period, when normally you would want to work on social links.
There are other minor things as well. The protagonist is limited to using katanas, physical attacks have been dumbed down into one category instead of three, and enemies always hear you coming, even if you approach from behind, making getting an advantage attack incredibly frustrating.
It's frustrating seeing these things, because many other areas have been drastically improved. The protagonist now often gains attributes like courage during social links, which is quite nice, and being able to manually control characters in battle is a definite plus. Dungeon floors are also a lot larger and more interesting to explore than Tartarus was.
A couple of last things to note before I move on to May... The game has a ridiculously long beginning. Too long, really. It took nearly four hours before I gained complete control over my character. Up until that point it was one scene after another with maybe three battles, with only occasional, brief stints of control that basically gave me an opportunity to save and nothing more. The game also seems to be much, much harder than P3, which definitely makes it feel a lot more like an SMT game. Expect to die a few times on each boss fight until you figure out their the right strategy to beat them.
I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, because I've always held that P3's biggest strength was it's accessibility compared to most SMT games. The game didn't try to force you to replay lengthy periods of gameplay when you screwed up, and it made sure that battles didn't (usually) seem unfair or impossible at first glance. I admit that some of the sub-bosses at floor checkpoints were a bit ridiculous, but the bosses were perfectly balanced.
Anyways, more at the end of May!
Despite my complaints, P4 is still managing to keep its hooks in me. Something about SMT games, particularly P3 and now P4, their boss battles are so unique that you just can't help but keep playing until you beat them. I just cleared the May boss, on my second attempt, though my first attempt wasn't really an attempt so much as a desperate bid to gather information. It was pretty easy to come up with a strategy and defeat it after that. I have to say, the May dungeon/boss is extremely amusing. I know Glenn would get a kick out of it, most likely.
A few more irritating random deaths occurred throughout the month, totally unexpectedly. I'm wondering if the Homunculus item from P3 is ever going to show it's face, because if it doesn't, random enemies with strong mudo/hama skills later in the game are going to get excruciatingly annoying. It's really cool that party members can save you from strikes that would normally kill you, but unfortunately it doesn't apply to AoE attacks, and that's where my deaths have happened so far. Once it was an extremely unlucky Rampage attack that crit my protagonist three times and killed him instantly, and the second time it was a Mamudo out of nowhere. Both of those set me back a solid hour of playtime, which was really irritating.
I met a character recently that allows you to heal your SP for a massive price. The character is also a social link, and the price decreases as you improve it. I've managed to get that link up to 5 now, so thankfully the price is fairly reasonable. I was also surprised, when I was levelling up in the dungeon, to meet that character in the middle of one of the dungeon floors. That caught me completely offguard, but it was quite nice, as it meant I could heal myself up without having to return to the entrance if I wanted.
Onward to June! More social links await.
Well, technically it's a week into July at this point. Unlike Persona 3, P4 doesn't seem to be rigidly sticking to one month periods. I also managed to complete this month's event using only two days in the dungeon, so that was pretty cool too.
The game's changes are beginning to grow on me a bit, though I'm still not entirely happy with them. I still can't get advantage attacks on any kind of reliable basis, but at least I'm starting to get used to the range of the katana, so I don't get ambushed.
I also really like that every month brings a new dungeon. I've been through three so far, and all of them have been unique, and sometimes disturbing. This last one was particularly amusing; the music for it even moreso.
More next month.
I was able to complete this month's dungeon in just a single game day. It does help that the social link attached to the SP healing character is at rank 9 now, which makes healing nice and (relatively) cheap.
The story is getting really good, and I'm finding myself more and more attached to the game (this is exactly what happened with P3, too.) I've also finally gotten used to the changes to the combat system and they don't bother me as much anymore. In particular, I've discovered a nice little trick that makes some battles a lot easier.
In P3, if you used an area attack (like mazio or maragi, etc.) and it missed a target or struck a target who wasn't weak to fire, even if all the others were weak to it, you wouldn't get another turn. This has changed in P4. If you knock down any enemy at all with an area attack, whether they all fall or not, that character gets an extra turn. This can lead to some interesting strategies. For example, say an enemy group consists of an enemy weak to fire, one weak to wind, and one without any weaknesses. You could cast maragi, knocking down one and dealing normal damage to the other two. Then you could switch personas and cast magaru, knocking down another one and getting another turn. Cast magaru again, and you've just struck the enemy with no weaknesses three times.
The combat is similar, but it's different enough that players are going to find themselves seeking new strategies. Oh, and I've started to find that the -nda spells are a lot more important in P4 than they were in P3. -kaja less so, but still useful. It seems like every boss knows how to use dekaja, and ma-kaja spells are expensive.
Yes, I've skipped a month. There was a bit of a lull there in August, due to summer vacation. The story picked up again in September, at which I'm only halfway through. However, the boss for this month is vanquished; I simply walked into his domain and told him who's boss. Piece of cake.
I've also started maxing out some social links, finally. To be specific, I've maxed out two of the main character's links, and with that, I discovered something I honestly wasn't expecting. In P3, at a certain point in the story, each character's persona would evolve into an ultimate form, bringing with it new powers and elemental strengths and weaknesses. In P4, the final persona is acquired by maxing out that character's social link. This, frankly, is brilliant. It may just be the best change in the game. It also made the last boss fight rather easy, as only one of my party members actually had an elemental weakness that the boss could exploit, thanks to their new personas.
This game just keeps getting better and better. Any reservations I had at the beginning are completely gone at this point, and the difficulty has actually tapered down to roughly the same level as P3. I think it was mostly just the unfamiliarity with the changes that caused it to appear more difficult.
Anyways, more in October.
<span class="spoiler">Alright, you son of a... this just got personal!</span>
Maybe I'll log out and check my e-mail or something...