Disclaimer: This being final thoughts, there are a lot of Spoilers ahead. You've been warned!
Confession time: I absolutely loathed Persona 3 Portable. Being told it was a must have as a PSP/Vita owner, bought it when on sale and was severely dissapointed, mainly because climbing Tartarus is such a chore: after grinding through 80 floors, finding that there were still another 160 floors to climb was reason enough to vanish it from my memory card.
Anyway, Persona 4: Arena appeared at a later date, and as a BlazBlue fan decided to give it shot. Being thoroughly confused by the storyline, went on to see the anime adaptation to at least have an idea of what was happening, and was gladly surprised. Not the best show ever, but it was fun and pushed me to give the RPG version another try, along with reading that it improved over many of Persona 3's shortcomings.
So, after a few weeks of giving eye to a used copy of Persona 4 - Golden on a non-franchise games store downtown, I finally decided to cough up the money before someone snagged it for a last minute Christmas present; and because of holiday break, blazed trough it on two weeks flat. Here are some of my last impressions:
I really liked the battle system this time, specially on bosses. In most J-RPG's, it usually ends up with spamming the highest damage spell your party has, if null elemental even better, curing as needed and ignoring status effects at all, since battles end up so quickly as to make them not worth their use. Prepare to be erradicated on the TV world following this mentality.
The game forces you to pay attention to enemy (and you party's) weaknesses, and status boosts and lowerings are devastating. If an enemy begins to focus, DEBUFF IT -can't stress that enough-, as a fully charged Megidolaon spells death on most cases. For the first time in ages, the Guard option is useful! End of dungeon bosses can take some time because of this, but overcoming each feels rewarding as a result.
Mitsuo's dungeon drives this point home mid-game. It's also prety cool, having a retro videogame look to it, with the boss selecting his attack options from a menu, leveling up during battle and moving jerkily, akin to frame limitations of the era. Even the boss battle theme gets an awesome eight bit remix!
On the other side, Marie's dungeon is terribly annoying: you can't bring over items, weapons or money, and have to make up with what you pick up on the road. That sounds like a great change of mechanics in order to mix things up after many hours of gameplay, but ends up unamusing as a result of enemies being extremely weak and giving so little experience, I ended up running from most the battles. Shadows being invisible on some floors seals the deal. The boss, while easy, makes for a compelling battle due to plot reasons. Felt so sad and guilty fighting it!
None of them holds a candle to Nanako's dungeon, though. A pivotal moment in the story, taking a leap onto the true feelings and thoughts of this sad, lonely child is heartbreaking, thanks in big part to what become my favorite track from the game, Heaven
The lyrics, along with the calm depiction of the atmosphere (a child's interpretion of the afterlife as a beautiful place for her deceased mother to rest), make for a very emotional chapter. Would have liked for the theme to continue even while inside battle (like it happens with the one against Gwynn in Dark Souls), but maybe that would have been to much for my poor aching heart.
Moving onto Social Links, I liked Ayane's the most. Having felt very much the same way during my high school years, her issues felt so relevant and hit close to home. It also has a touching resolution, lover's route or not. Ai's is also one I liked a lot, along with Sayoko's -which is also really funny on her first interactions-.
Found the main cast links the most boring somehow, and completed them only to get their final Persona forms... I can't stand Rise's voice actress (since the dreaded EMIL! shout crept to my poor ears some time ago), but she's so useful in dungeons, I had to soldier through it. That SP after battle is almost worth it. Almost. Speaking of that, the Rescue System is really nice and ties nicely to the theme of the game. Receiving encouraging messages from other players -sadly automated- and a very big YOU ARE NOT ALONE prompt before battle makes for a nice touch.
The final battle against Adachi and Ameno-Sagiri was really cool, and would have made for an awesome canon ending to the game. For some reason, to me the extra Izanagi arc feels anticlimatic and cliche, being almost identical to battling Zeromus at the end of Final Fantasy 4 (using an item to reveal the boss's true form and being revived by an apparition of all your friends made through the journey). But maybe that's just tiredness from it being such a long game and having faced three red herrings already.
Didn't get the Accomplice ending, so that's something to look for in a next playthrough sometime in the future, along with finishing the Social Links I couldn't manage to level -most of the secondary cast, like the Old Lady, the Step-Mother and the Tutored Student-. Also, curious about what taking some of the attribute-gated responses will end up in. Seeing the "not enough Courage" message was a bummer many times.
In all, I had a nice time with Narukami and friends, and are looking up to seeing them again on Suplex and Dance All Night (no Persona Q at launch because of current lack of a 2DS :/ ). Also, maybe those Persona 3 Movies may prove to be enough motivation to take the challenge of Tartarus again (not really!). Thanks for reading!