Category Archives: Atlus games

Persona 4 Vs Persona 4 Golden: Part 4

One more thing that got a huge tweak in Persona 4 Golden is the Persona Fusion system.

In the Persona series, you use magic and more powerful physical skills in battle by using a Persona, which you can equip on your main character for different move-sets and strategies. You can obtain weaker Personas in random encounters, but the way to make stronger ones with better skills is by fusing two or more together in the Velvet Room area.

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In the original Persona 4 game, you fused Personae to make a higher level one, and it could potentially inherit some skills that the used Personae had, if they were compatible. The catch was that you as a player couldn’t choose exactly which moves would carry over, and you had to jump between menus to shuffle what skills you wanted. For a Persona that could inherit a lot of skills, this could take minutes or even an hour to stumble upon the perfect fusion result. This was frustrating for people who wanted a very specific set up for a Persona, but it did act as a sort of barrier to creating extremely powerful combos with the right fusion. The amount of time needed to make something “perfect” deterred most people after a while.

However, in Persona 4 Golden, this issue was removed. Now as the player previews the Persona they are about to fuse, they can hand select the skills that can be passed on. As long as the Persona can inherit the skill, it can be transferred easily.

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Here’s an example of a fusion preview screen.The dotted lines are the two open slots to select the skills that will be passed on. A Persona can inherent a fixed amount of skills, but they can still be chosen instead of randomized.

This alone I considered an improvement to the original system of Persona fusion, but only if the game compensated for this new feature. But on top of this change, Skill Cards were also introduced.

Skill Cards are items that can be extracted form Persona or found in a Dungeon, and then can be copied and sold in the Velvet Room. Using a card on a Persona would teach it a certain skill based on the card. What makes this so game breaking is that it allows you to teach skills that would be difficult or near impossible to get a Persona to learn by a regular fusion. And once you get a card, the only thing stopping a player from using them is how much money they want to spend.

Skill Cards, combined with the revised Persona Fusion system, make it way easier to create strong Personas at earlier levels simply by taking a lot of the randomness out of the process and giving players barely restricted access to other skills. Dungeons don’t really make up for this change in terms of enemy strength or improved AI, so battles become significantly easier once a good combination of skills is found.

-Alyssa

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Persona 4 Vs Persona 4 Golden: Part 3

Sometimes after a well executed random battle in Persona 4, you will enter a mini game after the battle results screen where you have a chance to get extra rewards or even detriments depending on your luck and skill. This is what’s called Shuffle Time.

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In the original Persona 4, Shuffle Time’s rewards were rather limited. You either got a new Persona, nothing extra, or a penalty where you lose the money and experience points you got from winning the fight. The mini-game was structured like simple card games, where you have to select the right one after it was shuffled in front of you to get the desired prize. This got more difficult the longer you played the game, but the chances stayed random and fair for everyone because it could not be manipulated for certain awards. What you could potentially get was randomized by the floor of the dungeon you were on, and you were only allowed one prize per Shuffle Time.

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Here’s the original Shuffle Time screen, with all the cards revealed to the player.

This all changed significantly in Persona 4 Golden. The prizes were expanded to include extra EXP, money, and other beneficial and detrimental effects based on the different Tarot Card Arcana. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the cards were still shuffled and laid face down to be chosen from. Instead, you get a set of cards face up, and you can pick a certain amount out of them. Some cards give you bonus chances to pick cards up, and if the player picks them in an order that allows them to collect all five cards at once, they get a Sweep Bonus.

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An example of Persona 4 Golden’s Shuffle Time

A Sweep Bonus ensures that the following battle will result in another Shuffle Time event, where you can potentially get a Sweep Bonus again, and the cycle continues. Once a player figures out how to abuse this system, they can exponentially boost their EXP and money gains. This makes grinding for levels and spending cash much easier, and the player now can spend less time in a dungeon without being under leveled and broke. Persona 4 is all about balancing the time inside and outside of dungeons, and if the dungeon aspect becomes so easy, the player can spend even more of their free time boosting their social links and stats, further increasing their power.

This infinite loop of potential can destroy the later game difficulty, which is not quite balanced to take this strategy into account. A Persona game needs to have some kind of anti-grinding effect in place, or players can just power level to victory with little effort. Even if the solution is to make leveling slower after a certain point or more boring, that’s still better than just leaving such easy loopholes around to use.

-Alyssa

Persona 4 vs Persona 4 Golden: Part 2

I’ll start off with one significant change that Persona 4 Golden makes: It re-balanced the difficulty of many of the story-line bosses. Some of those changes I did agree with, as the first two main dungeons in the game do have a high difficulty curve due to your limited resources and the lack of weaknesses to exploit.

Spoilers below if you plan to play these games:

The two bosses I personally felt were weakened the most were Shadow Yukiko and Shadow Kanji.

In Persona 4 for the PS2, these two were what really made some players struggle their first time around. But with good preparation (after a few deaths as learning experiences), they could be defeated reasonably with your set party of the main character, Yosuke (who’s weak to electric but strong with Wind), and Chie (weak to Fire but strong with Ice).

In the original games, neither boss had an elemental weakness to exploit for more damage, but in Persona 4 Golden, they and their summoned allies are given a weakness, along with shifts in move-sets and possibly AI behaviors.

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Shadow Yukiko is now weak to Ice attacks, which allows two out of three of your party members to hit her for extra damage and waste her turn by knocking her down a few times. She also now gives a text based cue for when she’s about to use Burn To Ashes, a really strong Fire spell that is guaranteed to do a lot of damage to the party if no one takes a turn to Block (this is even worse for Chie since it’ll knock her down or kill her if you’re caught off guard).  Now this alone I thought was acceptable as a way to even the playing field, but Golden went even beyond that. It dropped a couple of the Boss’s stats by a point or so, weakening her offensively and defensively, and even with her raised HP, the loss of defense combined with that Ice weakness means she takes way more damage and at a faster rate than before.

Shadow Yukiko also summons a helper during the fight, and while it does about the same thing in Golden as it did in the original version (debuff, buff, and occasionally heal the Boss), it’s far more beneficial to waste time killing him now, since he’s weak to Electric (something you should have access to), and when you run him off, Shadow Yukiko wastes a turn of hers trying to bring him back, and it will always fail. That’s another free turn for you to heal yourself and/or do more damage.

With all of these changes in place, it feels a bit like overkill in terms of assuring the player can win.

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Shadow Kanji is a bit more interesting in terms of changes. His stat points were also rearranged, though he gains agility and loses some points in magic damage. Agility seems like a pointless upgrade considering it doesn’t allow him to do much more. What I did notice was that his move-set shifts to remove his strongest physical move, which is certainly a nerf to him. He gains a couple of weaker ones to try and compensate, but he mostly gains new support moves and a weaker Electric spell. This means that Shadow Kanji is less likely to do as much damage per turn.

He has two helpers, Nice Guy and Tough Guy, and in the original Persona 4, One focused on healing Shadow Kanji, and the other one did extra damage with some physical attacks and removed any stat buffs you built up. Together, they could be really annoying when trying to fight the main boss, though they didn’t need to be defeated to win.

In Golden, Nice Guy no longer has any healing abilities, meaning that Shadow Kanji can’t recover, and he can be knocked down with a weakness to Ice. Tough Guy had his debuff move taken away and also gained a weakness to Fire. This combined with their lower overall endurance makes them way easier to remove from the fight earlier, as they are no longer resistant to most tactics.

Once again, I feel like this boss was stripped of a lot of the bite that made him so respectable. Maybe the stat rearranging and altered move-set for Shadow Kanji were enough, but the rest feels like piling on too much.

These two Boss examples are only the start of this game’s remake that I found unbalanced when taken into account with everything else that was streamlined.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about how the reward mechanics after battles have changed to further benefit the player, and how that fits into Persona 4 Golden’s overall difficulty problem.

-Alyssa

 

Can a Game Be Too Easy?: Persona 4 vs Persona 4 Golden

This may seem strange to some, but it is possible to streamline a game so much that it loses a lot of challenge. The correct level of difficulty is more of an opinion based thing, but I do feel like some games go overboard to be accessible, sacrificing the difficulty that makes playing so worth it in the first place. And one of the examples I’ve run into firsthand is in Persona 4.

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Persona 4 originally came out in… 2008 for the PlayStation 2 system, and I actually own a copy, as it’s still available to buy in various places in that version, which many people refer to as Persona 4 “Vanilla” to distinguish it from what came later. I’ll get to that in a second.

Persona 4 is a solid Persona game, and an indirect sequel to Persona 3, taking place in the same world but later on, in a different town. The battle system has changed quite a bit, allowing players the option of directly controlling their team just like a regular RPG instead of using AI tactics. It also toys with the battle system itself, simplifying some spells and customization aspects, and then changing the mechanics used to regain health and magic in dungeons. I may disagree with some of these shifts, including some that I haven’t listed, but overall, it was received by the majority as a balanced game. It was difficult in spots, but once you grasped how everything worked, you could make some good strategies to get past the monsters you fought, and to me, that is what makes a good Persona game. It shouldn’t be all about raw power, but the way you approach an issue that decides if you win or lose.

Now let’s talk about the remake, Persona 4 Golden.

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Even the cover looks fancier compared to the first game case.

It came out in 2012 for the PlayStation Vita, and had a number of altered features, adding in new characters and events, and even a new “Golden” ending to look for. It also tinkered with some battle and out of battle features that many found clunky or annoying, and added some new difficulties to try.

This sounds great, right? Well… it was actually too great, in an interesting twist. Newer people who played this game before the original may have thought it was okay, but if anyone upgraded from Vanilla to Golden, they would immediately begin to see just how badly the game’s balance suffered with all these changes.

To better explain my concerns, the issues were not with the changes themselves, but the fact that the game’s challenges were not redone to even the playing field again. If you give your player a brand new set of weapons and features to make getting stronger easier, then they’re going to effortlessly crush everything in front of them as soon as they learn to maximize these advantages. There was no large buffs given to enemies to compensate, and so the balance was killed.

In the next few posts, I’m going to be focusing on some of the features that served to break Persona 4 Golden so badly compared to its predecessor, despite being considered the definitive way of experiencing Persona 4’s story.

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Tune into the Midnight Channel…if you dare.

-Alyssa

 

Indirect Strategy: Tactics and Difficulty

RPGs that have you control more than one character as a group or “party” are fairly common for the genre.  You decide what action each character is going to do, and then they follow your commands when their turn in battle arrive. What’s a little less common is when you are given team members that you can’t order around directly.

In a situation like this, you have control over the designated main character, but everyone else you can only give suggestions to. One of the few games that I’ve played extensively that has this restriction is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 of the SMT Persona series.

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One of many much harder than average games Atlus has produced over the years.

In Persona 3 (in the original PS2 release and FES versions), you are given control of your main hero who you can fully tweak and customize the battle style of to fit the role you want to play. However, you can choose between a variety of around 8 other party members with their own fixed strengths and weaknesses and elemental affinities. With a maximum party of 4, including yourself, you can construct a very well rounded or focused group to kill the creatures known as Shadows as you climb Tartarus together.

 

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It’s quite a few floors of exploring to reach the top, but as long as you play smart with your strategies, you can fight in just about any way in this game. But just like real people in a life threatening battle, you can’t just order your team members around and micromanage their exact moves every turn. Instead, Persona 3 gives you a Tactics menu.

The default tactic for every party member is Act Freely, and your AI friends will fight alongside you in whatever way they think is efficient. Sometimes they will heal the team or attack an enemy’s weak point without your guidance, but maybe you want them to do something more specific than “kill the shadows and try not to die in the process”. That’s when you open up the Tactics menu as you decide your actions for that turn. Changing tactics does not use up your attack for that round, so you can switch them around and take your time deciding what you need everyone to do. Be wary that you can’t mess with them once you take your action, and you’ll have to wait until it’s the main character’s turn again to change tactics once more.

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Here’s a screenshot of Persona 3’s UI when fighting enemies.

You start out with a small list of Tactics, but as you defeat bosses, the trust between you and your team will rise, and they will learn new tactics to take advantage of. Persona 3’s AI system is actually more complicated than it looks, and your team members will even behave differently when you make an effort to scan shadows with your navigator’s ability, taking advantage of any revealed weaknesses if they can.

Here’s a basic list of Persona 3 Tactics that apply to all characters. There are a few more that are special to certain characters you can have in your party, but we can just stick with this list for simplicity.

  • Act Freely: The AI is free to do what it wants. If there is an enemy that can be killed with a normal attack, it will use a normal attack against that enemy. If more than one ally is in bad health, it will use a party-healing spell. If they only have a single heal spell, it will use a single target healing/item on the one with lowest HP. If an ally is in bad health, it will use a healing spell. If low on SP to cast a spell, it will use a healing item instead. If there is an enemy weak to an element, it will cast that single-target spell to that enemy. If no enemies can be knocked down with weaknesses, it will proceed to do multi-target attacks if there is more than one enemy, or the most damaging attack if there’s only one left.
  • Heal/Support: If more than one ally is in bad health, it will use a party-healing spell. If they only have a single heal spell, it will use a single target healing/item on the one with lowest HP. If an ally is in bad health, it will use a healing spell. If low on SP to cast a spell, it will use a healing item instead. If everybody is in good health and they can raise the party’s stats or lower the enemy’s, they will cycle through their available buff and debuff spells. After everyone is buffed or all debuffs are in effect, they will attack as if on Act Freely, except they will use a break skill if the enemy nullifies an element  they want to use.
  • Conserve SP: The AI will try not to use SP, so no magic spells will be used.
    If an ally’s in bad health, they will just use healing items, and as long as the enemy doesn’t null physical attacks, the AI will use the strongest physical spell they have. If an enemy does null every attack, they will waste a turn by choosing to wait.
  • Knock Down: In this Tactic, the AI is determined to put every enemy into ‘Down’ status. Doing this to all enemies in one round will allow a more powerful group All Out Attack.
    If an enemy is weak to an element, it will use a single-target attack of that element.
    If no enemies are weak to any attacks available, they’ll use a physical attack hoping to score a critical hit to knock them down. If the enemies null every attack available, even the physical attacks, and there is an ally in bad health, then the AI will try to heal with a spell or item, with the same priority as the Heal/Support Command. If nothing else is possible to do, they will wait.

    Using this will ensure the The AI will never attack an enemy already knocked down (allowing them to get up again), use a spell that doesn’t knock the enemy down, use a multi-target attack or spell, or use buff/debuffs.

  • Full Assault: In this Tactic, the AI will focus on dealing the highest possible damage.

    It will act the same as in Act Freely if an enemy has a weakness they can exploit, but if no enemies are weak to elements available, then they will attempt to use spell combos and physical moves that will do the most damage. The AI will prioritize multi-target skills if there is more than a single enemy. If the enemies nulls everything, they will either use a spell to buff themselves, try to inflict a status effect, or do nothing.

  • Same Target: This is Full Assault on the same target you are currently attacking.
  • Assign Target: You select an enemy to focus on, and they will act on Full Assault rules until it dies, and then switch to a random target after that.
  • Attack Fallen: This prioritizes killing enemies that are currently Down and unable to attack, acting on Full Assault for the most possible damage. If nothing is knocked down, they will act as if given Knock Down tactics until they have a target that fits the Attack Fallen parameters.
  • Wait: This just tells them to skip their turn manually. It’s good for waiting out an enemy’s negative effect or protective shield, or timing attacks for a strategy.

Using these preset AI strategies, you can guide your team mates into doing what you think is best for a situation. Some players think this is a tedious way to create artificial challenge, and end up personally covering for their teammates by customizing their main hero to fit in any role, but I personally found this a really interesting system to use.

It makes the various characters you fight with feel more like other people instead of your minions to boss around, and it forces you to predict a little farther ahead in battles to figure out what the best tactic is. Instead of just using everyone as puppets, you have to have a sort of genuine teamwork going and trust that they will do the right thing. It made your party members appear more alive and aware, in my opinion. They had personalities and skills I had to take into account when using them, and that really adds to the RP part of an RPG game.

And if anything is focused on in Persona 3 and the sequel games as a recurring theme, it’s that you can’t be strong by yourself. You need the bonds you spent so much time cultivating between the people you met on your journey if you want to make it out alive… mostly. You’ll still probably die a lot, but it’ll be more fun if you make friends to soften the blow.

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Memento Mori: An old Latin expression that means “Remember you must die.” This is most of the Shin Megami Tensei series in a nutshell, so… good luck with that.