Going Cold on Persona 4 Golden
Going Cold on Persona 4 Golden
My avatar in Persona 4 Golden (who is, according to Wikipedia, named Yu, although in my game everyone calls him ĎJamesí thanks to some unclear file naming conventions at the start) is carrying on an affair with a nurse at the local hospital he occasionally helps out at. Heís dating Yukiko, but boredom is driving me to force him into further affairs (he recently turned down Chie, Yukiís best friend, back when I still gave a damn about role-playing). A visit to the hospital usually elicits in a few fey hints at some upcoming action, followed by a fade to black. There will be, I realise, no ramifications from this, only stat benefits.
Itís these visits, I think, that best encapsulate how uninvested I have become in the game world and its characters. I am 34 hours in, and I havenít actually done anything substantial in at least four hours. The story hit a critical turning point some time back, and the game has entered the longest of its many lull periods. So Iíve had to make do with the numerous systems at the gameís heart that are far removed from smacking monsters in the face Ė the friendship system, the relationship system, the jobs, the development of your attributes, all the stuff that, it turns out, was only really fun before because I had to find a way to cram it into Yuís previously busy schedule.
Up until this point, Persona 4 had been designed to distract me from just how little there actually is to these various systems. The way the game limits your time based on the in-game calendar means that once an upcoming test is announced, or someone gets captured and requires your dungeon-crawling abilities, the way you spend this time suddenly becomes a matter of such great focus that the edges begin to blur. How much time can you dedicate to building the relationships that will help you in the dungeons, and how much do you spend trawling through those same dungeons, fighting? The tension the game generates is enough to trick you into thinking that the game is treating your actions with grave seriousness.
And now, deep into the game, Iím forced to spend several hours enduring Yuís school holidays. He has hung out with his friends, going to festivals and eating watermelons. He has started his relationship with Yukiko and his affair with the nurse. He has nodded along to peopleís banal stories, he has gone to the beach, and he has forced me to click through reams and reams of dialog.
Iíve noticed that, when talking about games, the term Ďgood writingí often simply means Ďthe story makes sense, more or less, within the context of the game worldí, rather than Ďthe writing is genuinely goodí. Thatís about as far as you could go with Persona 4, I think. There are words Ė many, many words Ė and all of them make sense. But so many of them are wasted on excessively uninteresting conversations, and when the game has a message it wants to get across, it does so by blaring the message through a megaphone for fifteen minutes straight.
This is fairly common in Japanese RPGs, but itís taken to extremes in Persona 4. The game has been compared to a visual novel by many, but truthfully the story at the heart of it is only interesting because the central mystery isnít easily solvable. The fantastical elements feel thrown together, the characters, by and large, lack depth (although a few are faintly likeable), relationships rarely ring true, the symbolism is overdone, and the prose is, at best, competent. I started to wonder why I was spending so long enduring this dialog when my pile of incredible unread books is so high.
Subtlety and nuance donít exist in the world of Persona 4. This is problematic because the game is, in large part, about friendships and relationships, which are traditionally best portrayed with a great deal of nuance. Itís also a game about high school friendship, the time when your friendships seem to mean so much but are, you later realise, born in part out of necessity. Itís common to realise after high school that you actually didnít like a few of the people you had to spend so much time with; in Persona 4, this realisation comes well before the game is over.
There are, as I see it, a few problems with the way the game portrays these friendships, not least of which being the way almost every other characters loves you both unconditionally and excessively. Your girlfriends profess their love for you on the second date. Thereís very little recourse for being rude. Everyone in the game will eventually accept you as a great friend if you pay even the slightest attention to them. This carries through the dialog, rather than the mechanics, but itís clear that even characters who you havenít developed a strong Ďsocial linkí with yet think very, very highly of you. Which is a bit boring really, isnít it?
At some point, as I watch the characters sitting around, eating watermelon and talking about how great it is to be together and make each other feel good, I reflect on what Iím doing. Iím lying on my bed, playing a Vita in a dark room. The weatherís nice, and I probably have friends who would be free to hang out if I picked up the phone. Why, I wonder, am I spending time with these characters instead? I like my friends because our relationships are complicated and multifaceted. We can argue over things. We can agree over others. I can tell them about my problems and they can tell me about theirs, and the conversation will mean something to us both. Too often stories about friendship turn into celebrations of the very concept of having friends, which is a particularly boring way of exploring it.
In part, Iím annoyed that the game has chosen these friends for me, which wouldnít be a big deal if friendship hadnít been the only real theme of the last few hours of gameplay. I wouldnít be able to deal with Yosuke in real life, for instance. His sexual politics are appalling, and the guy is prone to bouts of gay panic Ė not at all uncommon for a kid his age, but itís often left unchecked, with no commentary (this is, in fact, one of the gameís biggest ongoing issues Ė thereís a great many scenes of intolerance and abuse that pass by unchecked). There is no option to tell Rise that her near-constant flirting embarrasses or bothers me, and so I find myself contemplating an affair with her, in the hope that maybe itíll yield some decent dialog.
I lived out each day, growing weary and suspicious of those around me and their constant upbeat attitudes, detached from their emotional outbursts, increasingly uncaring but aware that I canít turn these people against me. I am, I realise, composing the sort of alienated internal dialog you might see the protagonist in a Bret Easton Ellis novel spouting.
Other things have started to grate as well. Iím sick of the town of Inaba, with its unchanging locations and surprisingly few points of interaction. The soundtrack, catchy as it was for 25 straight hours, now bores into my skull like something out of an old Turok game. The shop owners never have anything exciting to sell me, and it becomes more of a problem that all the activities offer stat-boosts but no actual extra gameplay.
Perhaps there are more good times on the other side of this lull. The battle system in Persona 4 is genuinely entertaining, if not particularly deep, and that sense of tension at the gameís heart really does a good job of stopping you from putting the game down. But right now, I feel as though the game was simply tricking me into liking it, and Iím not sure how to justify either the lengthy play time or the immensity of the gameís critical acclaim.
Comments on this Article
Post Your Comment
Recent News Entries
The Weekly Update - Fighting Game Fun
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag hoists new trailer high
EA doing away with Online Passes
Grand Turismo 6 official, coming to PS3 later this year
Nvidia Shield available in the US in June