Four years ago, IGN deemed Persona 4 “amazing” on the PlayStation 2. Today, I’m saying the same thing about Persona 4 Golden on the PlayStation Vita. With its slick HD visuals, peppy voice actors and engaging story, the Japanese role-playing game stands among the best titles on Sony’s handheld, but when you toss in how deep the gameplay is and how much there is to do, Persona 4 Golden becomes the stuff of legend.
Persona 4 Golden is equal parts high school drama and dungeon crawling action. Our protagonist moves to the countryside town of Inaba, makes some friends at school, and – bam – a woman’s murdered. Over the course of the game, the protagonist and his buds uncover a serial killer tossing victims into another world via TV screens, and the group of high schoolers is the only thing that can save the day.
Think of this as a tale of super-powered, high school-aged detectives. See, the kids are the modern day Monster Squad because they wield Personas, which are kind of like spiritual Pokemon. When a turn-based battle kicks off, the kids can call in a Persona to attack with ice moves, fire punches and so on.
That’s the basic line on Persona 4 Golden, but there’s so much more going on. That’s the strength and weakness of the game – it’s dauntingly huge.over 150 Personas to collect, and getting them all will require you to fuse different ones together. Now, when you’re fusing, you’ll need to check the fusion forecast and see what days of the week will get you what Persona bonuses, but then you need to keep in mind your Social Links, too, as those will influence the number of moves Personas get. Of course building those relationships comes down to properly managing your afterschool time.
That’s a mouthful, and if you’re just trying to grind out a dungeon, it can be a bit much. I’m not against intricate systems playing off one another, but Persona 4 Golden could do more to explain the ins and outs of what it’s up to.
But in the end, that doesn’t matter. Even I, IGN’s village idiot, figured out what books my character needed to read in order to improve his Diligence (one of the five upgradeable traits that influence your conversations) and what people I needed to spend time with to make my Jack Frost Persona more powerful. If a game’s biggest problem is giving you a lot to do and not bogging you down with tutorials, it’s sitting pretty, and Persona 4 Golden is approachable regardless of your JRPG expertise.
Persona 4 Golden is perfectly at home on the handheld and should dominate your free time.
That’s always been a hallmark of the series; anyone can jump in. You don’t need to have played another Persona to understand this one as the characters and setting are brand new. Even though the action is otherworldly, the story is relatable. Trying to make friends, fit in at school and get a significant other are themes we all understand, and that’s why the non-combat stuff is as good as the fighting.
Living in Inaba, you’ll attend school and take pop quizzes. You’ll have part-time jobs. You’ll join sports teams and clubs. You’ll choose dialogue responses that affect relationships. The Walking Dead: The Game is getting a lot of attention right now – deservedly so – for giving players choices and allowing them to mold the game into a personal experience. Persona 4 does that; it’s not as drastic as The Walking Dead, but you can tell people off, make bold plays on girls if you’ve built up your Courage, and build your party as you see fit.
Everything you’re doing in the game is building your character and your party so that when you enter one of the game’s dungeons, which are visually varied and based around the kidnapped character, you’re fighting the way you want to. You’re entering these turn-based encounters where you need to analyze enemies to determine the element they’re weak to and then unleashing the pimped out Persona you’ve been building your character around. It’s a rush to grind and grind only to find that your squad is powerful enough to topple an enemy that used to give you trouble, and that’s a rush you’ll find again and again in Persona 4 Golden – especially seeing as how a playthrough can take 60 hours and then open New Game Plus.
Now, every lovely thing IGN said in its 2008 review of Persona 4pretty much applies to Persona 4 Golden – from the detailed rundown of the story to the little stuff like your inability to get tired in a dungeon (you can explore until your heart’s content). But that does mean the game can feel antiquated as it’s 4 years old. You can only save in certain spots, side quests don’t hold your hand like the ones in Mass Effect, and while there are cutscenes, most of the story is told through images, text and some really well done voice work. I find all this charming, but it’s worthy of a heads up.
If you’re looking for what the Vita version of Persona 4 adds to the 4-year-old game, we’ve already covered the major stuff with the redone visuals and new lines of dialogue. However, Persona 4 Golden adds some online functionality to the mix, but none of it’s all that newsworthy. At times, a “voice” icon will appear, and you can see how other people have spent their time in the game at that moment. It’s a nice idea, but it’s just a bunch of word bubbles that pop on the screen. There’s no helpful information. Meanwhile, in dungeons, you can send out an SOS and then get words of encouragement from online players and a stat buff at the beginning of the next battle.
There’s a new character in the Velvet Room’s Marie who comes complete with her own Social Link to max out and story to investigate. She’s an interesting addition, but I don’t want to ruin her tale for you.