Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Persona 4: Down, Dizzy, and All Out

Well, here I am, writing about a Persona game again. Persona 3 was easily my favorite thing to write about last year, so this was probably inevitable. Actually, I think I may be addicted to Persona 4 already. In many ways, it even manages to surpass its predecessor, which already stood as one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Persona 3 and Persona 4 are extremely similar games regarding their game structures, battle systems, and such, but their similarities only highlights the large number of little improvements made in the newer game.

One such improvement is the change to the way the Down condition works. I really liked the One More/Down/All-Out Attack system in Persona 3, so I was surprised and disappointed when I read in the manual that they actually changed it for Persona 4, but when I actually played the game I was impressed to see how well the change works. You see, in Persona 3, whenever you hit an enemy with either a critical hit or an element that enemy is vulnerable to, that enemy is knocked down and the character who made the attack can take another action. An enemy who is knocked down wastes a turn getting back to their feet (unless they get attacked, which means they stand up), and if all enemies are knocked down you can launch a powerful All-Out Attack, which does a lot of damage to all foes but also returns all enemies to their feet. This creates a great trade-off between relying on All-Out Attacks for damage and knocking enemies down in order to prevent them from attacking, and made targeting enemy weaknesses a very important strategy.

Persona 4 keeps that system, but changes it in three very important ways. The first is that knocking an enemy down no longer forces that enemy to waste a turn getting up, the second is that hitting an enemy who is already down doesn't cause them to get back up, and the third is that you can hit an enemy who has been knocked down in order to trigger the dizzy condition, which causes the enemy to lose a turn and remain in the vulnerable downed state until the start of the turn after the lost one. All-Out Attacks still returns all enemies to their feet, though. The reason I first thought that this new system was worse was because I didn't know about the second change, but with that change it vastly improves the choice to not make an All-Out Attack.

With the Persona 3 system, you pretty much have to hold back on attacking downed enemies and only attack standing enemies with their elemental weakness if you want to use the down condition to prevent enemies from attacking, but by doing so you can totally shut down their ability to attack. In the Persona 4 system, you can only prevent every other attack (because the Dizzy condition only ends at the beginning of a character's turn), but you can attack freely while the enemy is down and dizzy (and can deal a lot of extra damage that way). The value of All-Out Attacks is the same in either game, but now the alternative is a lot more fun. After all, it always more fun to go wild and attack rather than to sit back and wait for the enemy to get back up. At the same time, it adds a bit to the challenge because it is impossible to completely shut down an enemy just by using elemental attacks. It also adds some extra flexibility to enemy and boss design, because a boss can be allowed to be knocked down without fear of it being totally crippled, which means it is not as problematic to give bosses elemental weaknesses. The fact that down and dizzy are separate conditions, so an enemy may be susceptible to being downed but not dizzied, only adds to the flexibility.

I also have to mention that this change is also an improvement when you consider how it changes the way allies are affected by critical hits and hits against their weaknesses. In Persona 3, getting knocked down by an enemy is one of the most annoying situations you run across frequently. It means that either the character lost their turn, or you have an ally waste a turn in order to get rid of a condition that only makes you lose one turn. The skill that clears the down condition, Re Patra, is a waste of a valuable skill slot in that game. In Persona 4, however, merely getting knocked down is not a problem at all, since it won't cause an ally to lose a turn, but getting knocked dizzy causes an ally to both lose a turn and be vulnerable to attack for a period of time, making it worse than the old knocked down condition. As such, a skill like Re Patra isn't really needed to restore the down condition, but might actually be worth using to help a dizzy ally. Far more importantly, unless an enemy is particularly aggressive in attacking a downed ally, allies losing turns is a rarer occurrence in Persona 4 than in Persona 3, which helps reduce the chance that a single enemy attack can damage the team beyond their ability to recover and thus lead to a Game Over. This seems like a pretty good design move to me.

As a final side note, I have to say that I am happy that they changed it so you can get a One More attack even if you hit a weakness with an all-enemy attack. It makes enemies that use such attacks a bit more dangerous, but it also avoids a number of frustrating situations and slight ability imbalances that plagued Persona 3. It is amazing how much these minor changes can affect the game.

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