In 2008, Persona 4 was released to the masses on the Playstation 2 console. It was widely considered to be one of the finest RPGs around, and for good reason. The storytelling was gripping and engaging, the characters were interesting, and, most importantly, the gameplay was memorable. Now that this game has found its way to the Playstation Vita, Persona 4 is looking better than ever. Thankfully, this port keeps everything that made this game great and added a few elements that are sure to make you want to play the game over and over again.
The story takes place in modern-day Japan. You are a high school student whose parents just left town. Instead of leaving you alone, they send you out into the countryside with your uncle and cousin. Once you arrive, strange things start happening, and you find yourself in the middle of multiple murders and odd, supernatural events taking place around you. You and your friends learn that TV sets around the town are broadcasting a supernatural show that is controlling the minds of the townsfolk, making them do things they normally wouldn’t do. You and your friends try to tap this supernatural force with personas, with the goal being to stop these mass murders and get to the bottom of this terrible situation.
What makes this game stand out is the way they approach the user experience. In big, Western-style RPGs, combat is a necessity and moves the story forward. While Persona 4 Golden has its fair share of combat, there is an inter-personal element that demands your attention. This timeline concept is a classic component of Japanese RPGs, and generally, it isn’t received well by Western audiences. However, Persona 4 Golden finds a nice balance that keeps the game interesting while keeping you involved with the timeline of events.
Speaking of the timeline, this concept is crucial in your understanding of the game, and it ultimately determines how successful you are. When you arrive at your uncle’s house, the timeline begins and it ends when the school year is over. As you move through the timeline, you’ll see patterns that emerge and deadlines that pop up. These events can range from personal dates to events relating to the strange killings. There is an equal amount of importance placed on every event, so it is important to keep yourself current to get the best ending and be as successful as possible in the game. This timeline gives the game a good pace, and you never feel like the game is moving too fast or too slow. You always know how much time you have left and what you still need to do. It works quite well and manages to convey a sense of importance to every event, and the feeling of dread is always lying under the story of the game. Without the timeline, these feelings would be lost and the game would suffer because of it.
In addition to having keep track of events of both a personal and intellectual nature, there are opportunities to earn additional bonuses through the use of social links. By just spending time with your friends or connecting with people in general, you can earn additional boosts to your stats that can make the difference between life and death in the game. The “social links” feature, specifically, allows you to combine personas with other people to summon powerful attacks. If you manage to create a social link with your teammates, there are additional benefits, including new skills and stat modifications. This system is very important to the combat system, so it makes you really plan out how to use your free time in the game. This system may sound unappealing since most people just want to get to the fights and take down the bad guys, but if you skipped right to the combat, you’d be doing yourself an injustice. All the characters in the game are engaging and offer plenty of distractions, which can be quite welcome at times, and there are genuine moments of connection between two characters. It is in these relationships that the best parts of the story are played out and you get a unique look at a set of events shown from a different perspective. This style of storytelling is something not often seen in gaming, and in this game, it is used compellingly. You will want to see what happens to certain characters, and that feeling of attachment makes this a special game.
While you will spend plenty of time developing relationships with your classmates, you’ll spend plenty of time in the TV world. It is here that you will explore all the dungeons and get your fill of combat. Persona 4 Golden uses a turn-based RPG system that should appeal to most RPG gamers, especially those that miss the old style of Final Fantasy. There is an elemental system in place where if you use an attack that takes advantage of your opponent’s natural elemental weaknesses, you can earn extra turns and deal extra damage. In addition to the elemental system, there is, of course, the persona system. Each character will have a persona available to them, and this persona is with that character from beginning to end. However, your lead character has the ability to transform into different personas in the game, adding another level to the battle system. No matter which persona you choose, your main persona will gain experience from your battles, keeping it just as powerful as you are. This system also allows you to choose which persona is best for the situations you are facing without penalty. Eventually, you will max out your personas, but this opens up a new area of persona development. At this point, you’ll be able to fuse two personas together to form stronger and more versatile personas. With careful planning, skill selection, and proper social links, you can create extremely powerful allies in battle. The system works great, and you’ll soon be a professional with just a little practice.
Now that you have an idea of how the game works and how great it was to start with, let’s talk about how much extra content you get and all the adjustments that were made that make the game better. First, you’ll notice the addition of skill cards, rare items found throughout the game. These cards can give your personas new abilities, which can prove to be invaluable, especially if you need to do extra damage against certain enemies. Simply apply the new skill to your persona, and you instantly have the ability to attack new foes efficiently. You will also notice that when you fuse your personas, all the skills from both personas contribute to the new persona. Back on the PS2, the skills that transferred were randomized and you didn’t always get everything you wanted. They also made social links even more important than before. Depending on how high your social links are with certain characters, they will find their way to you in battle and perform additional actions for you without being prompted. They will be able to support you by curing status ailments or executing additional attacks or skills to help you out. The card system has been overhauled, this time around giving you better cards after battles instead of random useless items. Finally, there is a function that allows you to request help from other players on the PSN who are also playing the game. This help isn’t a way to have your friends join your game, but it does help you recover lost health and skill points quickly.
There are several other small improvements to the game, but the biggest improvement can be seen where the original game initiated a time jump. This jump cut a significant amount of time from the game and forced you to complete it faster. Persona 4 Golden removes this time jump and gives you that extra time to work on your social links, level up, or just explore the vast world. All this extra time is supplemented with some new characters, story elements, and situations that lead to new possible endings for the game. Needless to say, there are a lot of changes, and the developers really wanted to add extra content for the fans. Luckily, the changes made were overwhelmingly positive, and you get a ton of value for a cheap price.
This brings us to the one fault of the game. If you are looking for a game that is just going to let you run right from the beginning, this isn’t the game for you. The game takes a few hours to open up to exploration. It really isn’t a big deal, but there is a lot of story and setup you need to see before the game has a chance to show you how good it really is.
All in all, Persona 4 Golden is a solid JRPG. You don’t need to play the other games in the series to be able to appreciate what this game is trying to do. It paints a beautiful and intriguing world, full of characters that you are going to care about. The story is engaging, and you’ll find yourself getting caught up and spending hour after hour in the world without even realizing it. Sure, it takes a little while to get to the meat of the game, but with a little patience, you are treated to a game that is sure to please even the toughest RPG gamers and critics alike. We urge you to take a look at this game and try it for yourself, even if you don’t like JRPGs; if any game is going to sway your opinion, it is this one.
This review is based on a review copy of the Playstation Vita version of Persona 4 Golden by Atlus