‘Persona 4 Golden’ Review

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Back in 2008, Atlus released Persona 4 to almost universal praise. Being one of the final major titles to release for the PS2, it stood with a few other games as the pinnacle of what the system was capable of. It took the extremely deep combat mechanics and well-rounded storytelling of previous Persona games, and made them more accessible to those unfamiliar with the series’ past. Now, Atlus has decided to re-release the award-winning game on the Vita, and have done a great job at doing so. Not only does the game run well on the Vita, the core game still holds up over four years later. And, there’s plenty of new content to excuse another playthrough for veterans of the series.

For those unaware, Persona 4 places you in the shoes of an unnamed protagonist who must spend a year living with his uncle in the rural town of Inaba. While there, a series of gruesome murders occur, so he and a group of friends decide to solve the mystery behind them. Along the way they discover they have the ability to enter another world within televisions, which functions as a universal consciousness made physical. All of this is discovered through an urban legend revolving around the cryptic “Midnight Channel,” and the craziness continues from there.

The player’s exploits in each world revolve around two types of gameplay. During the day you’re a regular high school student building relationships, or “Social Links” as they’re called in-game, in a manner similar to dating sims. Each passing day is broken up into sections, and it’s up to you to decide how you spend the time allotted. Who you spend time with affects which links advance and this directly affects combat later on. Then at night, you enter the T.V. world to fight off an impending evil, in classic JRPG turn-based combat. Along the way you collect different Personas, which the protagonist can then equip.

The combat itself is still as deep as ever, with an almost paralyzing number of Persona to collect, each falling into one of a multitude of types. These types correspond to the Social Links previously described, and effect the strength of the individual Persona. Fusing multiple Persona to create new, more powerful beings still exists, but with a few tweaks. Abilities carried over are no longer random; they can be chosen from a pool of the previous Persona’s skills, and Atlus has also introduced skill cards to enhance the customization. Skill cards can be found in dungeons, or withdrawn from possessed Persona, and then given away freely to others within your collection. The important thing is, the interaction between these two styles of gameplay still works. Everything you do is in service of the greater story, and strengthens your party. It’s this cohesive nature to everything in the game that makes the time invested feel worth it.

Most of the remaining changes in Golden are minor, but serve to make the experience more streamlined. Behind-the-scenes calculations when dealing with the social aspects of the game are more transparent. Overall, there’s just more for the player to do during the day. New locales open up as you progress through the game, which introduce a few new stores, restaurants, and other places to spend time. But the biggest difference story-wise for those familiar with Persona 4 will be the addition of new Social Links. At least two new Links are available, in addition to a smattering of new dialogue between the main characters. It’s worth noting that a few of the original voice actors were not available for Golden, and this becomes noticeable during some of the new scenes.

Golden also takes advantage of the online capabilities of the Vita. At any time, players have access to a pool of data which shows off the decisions made by others at that given moment in the game’s story. And, if willing to connect to this system, you also gain access to the SOS feature, which will send out a cry for help when in dire straits. Other players can then choose to aid you, providing much needed health and SP when you’re knee-deep in enemies.

As for bonus content, Atlus really threw everything it could into Golden. At one point I found myself watching a live performance of a song from the Persona 3 soundtrack. It’s not something I anticipated, or actively desired, but that “kitchen sink” mentality is how re-releases like this should be handled. There’s something to be said about a developer that’s willing to take the time and gather this type of content. While it may not directly improve the game itself, it give fans such as myself something new to experience.

Visually, Golden still looks like a slightly upgraded PS2 game. That being said, the artwork has been enhanced for the Vita and looks sharper than ever before. Dealing with a smaller screen doesn’t hamper the combat in any way, and once you become accustomed to the smaller button layout, it’ll play exactly like it’s PS2 predecessor. My only gripe with the platform is the sound. The tiny speakers planted on either side of the Vita do not do justice to the occasionally brilliant soundtrack of Persona 4. My desire for cheesy Japanese hip-hop and jazz was left quite unfulfilled by the often empty-sounding  speakers.

Persona 4 was, and still is, an amazing game. In a genre rife with archaic entries, it has risen to to the top as one of the only JRPGs willing to adapt and modernize. While doing so, it manages to retain what makes it truly unique. But most importantly, the structure of the game fits a handheld device. It’s an RPG capable of being played in fifteen minute chunks, and with over 80 hours of content, there’s plenty to keep you engaged and entertained. This, combined with all of the improvements and bonus content, makes Persona 4 Golden an amazing game for fans and newcomers alike.

Persona 4 Golden was developed and published by Atlus. A Playstation Vita copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.

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