(Missed yesterday’s discussion of Yukiko as my favorite character from Persona 4? Check it out here: [Persona 4] Reaching Out To The Truth Pt. 4: The Treasure of Yasoinaba, Yukiko Amagi)
Gameplay, A Balancing Act
(If there are spoilers, they’ll be light and noted in-text)
So, at the end of yesterday’s piece, I referred to gameplay as “a balance of serenity and insanity”. I feel I didn’t exactly word my thoughts on the gameplay of Persona 4 correctly, so let me attempt to re-phrase my original meaning. Gameplay within Persona 4 is a balancing act, both in the day-to-day real life segments and the battles within the TV world. There are always gives and takes and different options that you will need to balance within both sides of Persona’s gameplay. It’s a style of gameplay that leads to tons of meaningful decisions to be made at all different points throughout the gameplay of Persona 4. Through this lens, I’ll try to disect what it is about Persona’s gameplay that makes it just so addicting and rewarding at the same time.
Throughout Persona 4, with each new person that is thrown into the TV world starting with Yukiko, you will have to complete a dungeon in order to rescue these characters. Dungeons are less punishing to navigate than Tartarus in Persona 3, as there is no fatigue system within dungeons. The drawback to this feature is that, unlike Tartarus, Social Links cannot be acquired on the same day as the player chooses to venture into the TV World. This makes the player decide between using a day to grind dungeons for valuable resources and experience or use that day to advance their social Links. Dungeons are filled with Shadows that you can combat as well as treasures hidden about each floor.
Another example of this sense of balance comes through the combat system of the Persona series. Most enemies have one specific element that they are weak to, whether it is one of the four basic magical elements or physical attacks, which will cause that enemy to be knocked down. Each character generally has one element that they are particularly proficient in, such as the Protagonist’s starting Persona acquiring Electric abilities and Yukiko’s Persona excelling in Fire magic, and this affects how the player chooses to use each character within each battle. While the system of weaknesses and strengths seems easy enough to exploit for easy victories, the real decision-making of Persona comes down to SP usage. SP-recovery items, like Snuff Soul and Soul Drop, can only be found within dungeons and cannot be purchased. [PERSONA 4 GOLDEN SPOILERS] This is accentuated within the Golden-exclusive dungeon, Hollow Forest, where your SP is halved after each battle. [SPOILERS END] This makes battles and SP management a constant decision process, forcing the player to decide between whether or not to conserve SP.
The majority of Persona 4 will be spent exploring the overworld of the small, rural town of Inaba. As a new transfer student, you’ll meet with several different residents of the small town, both classmates and townsfolk, as well as a few oddities like the mysterious group within the Velvet Room. With a majority of these townspeople, you will be able to establish Social Links, which strengthen your ability to fuse Personas. You’ll get to follow the stories of as many or as few of these characters as you choose, learning about their distinct personalities’ and getting an inside look at their lives and their backstories. For me, the Social Links are one of the best parts of Persona 4 and there are so many different ways to become closer with your friends within the game. Aside from the standard ways of talking to them after school, you have the ability to prepare and eat lunch with your school friends, [SLIGHT PERSONA 4 GOLDEN SPOILERS] take them to a movie in Okina City, and go to a hot spring (both after acquiring your motorcycle license) [SPOILERS END]. The variety of characters and options give players meaningful decisions in who to get closer and how to accomplish that goal.
However, the options for your daily life don’t stop there as tons of other options open up within Persona 4. Within the small town of Inaba, there are several and varied options for how to spend your after-school times. The player can choose to go to the Chinese buffet Aiya and eat one of their famous beef bowls, increasing your personal stats. You can join and participate in a school club, one sports and one cultural, which will establish a Social Link as well as increasing a statistic related to that particular club. The player can take on multiple different part-time jobs, such as an assistant job at the daycare. As well, each evening has multiple different options, allowing the player to choose between reading in their room, studying, spending time with Social Links, and much more. The amount of choices and options within Persona 4 make the town of Inaba feel alive and make each day that passes feel different and unique from one another.
Persona 4’s modus operandi with its gameplay is a sense of balance. You as the player are always performing a balancing act at each point within the game. During the daily live segments, you are balancing your home life, school life, and role with the Investigation Team. Each day, you’ll make a choice whether to interact with your friends, play the model student and study, or go on adventures within the TV World. These choices each have meaning and affect your experience within the game. This sense of choice extends to within the TV world, where your decisions will shift more towards your actions in combat and your methods of exploring each of the game’s numerous dungeons. There are always a slew of available options to choose from at every turn and Persona 4 does a fantastic job of making each option seem appealing and valuable. Now that we’ve spent some time on what makes the gameplay of Persona 4 so interesting, we’ll go to the best aesthetic feature of the game in my opinion, so stay tuned!