Console: Playstation Vita
Release date: November 12, 2012
When Persona 4 came out in 2008, it quickly became a beloved cult classic. It spawned a full length anime and manga series. It even was the basis for a fighting game called Persona 4: Arena and even more games are coming out based on its universe. While most casual gamers have no clue what Persona 4 is, that doesn’t diminish how great of a game it was. But how does that experience translate to the smaller Vita screen?
Incredibly well, actually.
For this review, I will assume you never played the original Persona 4. In Persona 4 Golden, you play as a high school student who moved from the big city to a small Japanese town called Inaba. The town is full of small family-owned stores and everyone know each other. You move in and instantly make friends with some of the very unique, but friendly locals who attend your school. Very quickly after your arrival, however, a woman turns up dead. The murder has no witnesses and the body shows no evidence of assault.
Soon after this, you learn that you have the power to go into TVs. In this TV world, you find that you are extremely powerful and have the power to control “shadows,” which are similar to Pokemon. A link is made between this TV world that the rest of the town is oblivious to and you become aware that you and your friends are the only people who can solve the murders that are occurring.
The combat of Persona 4 Golden is a blast.
First, this game is extremely long, spanning well over 50 hours if you choose to seek out everything the game has to offer. I recommend doing this because some of the game’s richest story lines come from the game’s “Social Links,” which are relationships that you make by talking to your friends in the game. Everyone has a story to tell and they are all surprisingly interesting and some of them very deep.
The game is smooth and you should be able to effortlessly traverse the town of Inaba to visit the stores and hangout with your friends. While you are exploring the dungeons, the game slacks a bit as you run down predictable hallways and fight shadows that are aimlessly slithering around. However, when you get into a battle with a shadow, the game gets very fun. The turn-based combat is an absolute treat. Enemies can be weak or strong to elements. Some enemies can even absorb and reflect attacks back at you. You can be hit with a number of status afflictions like poison, fear, enervation, and more. The combat gets even deeper than that as an attack that is strong against an enemy will knock it to the ground. If a downed enemy is attacked again, there is a chance to make it “dizzy,” which makes it unable to attack for a couple turns. Also, if all of the enemies are downed at the same time, your entire party will join together and perform a special attack that does a ton of damage.
Outside of the dungeons, you will be wandering around the town of Inaba. You make friendships, which the game calls “Social Links,” and these links hold most of the story for each character in the game. If you skip them, which you can, you will not know the game’s characters well and you will miss out on a huge part of what makes Persona 4 Golden so great. P4G actually adds a new Social Link that the original did not have. Also, the Social Links for your party members will cause them to gain extra abilities that will help you in battle.
Between the Social Links, collecting the skill cards, building your monster compendium, and completing the secret dungeons, you will spend a lot of time on this game. This sounds daunting, but I enjoyed every second of my 50-plus hour first play-through. If you enjoy JRPGs, you should too. I will warn you, though, that the game does start a little slow.
Graphically, the fact that P4G is a PS2 remake is obvious, but the game makes it work. While there are small points in the game where the level design is shoddy and lazy (like in dungeons), most of the game is vibrant and detailed. The game also uses anime as an influence and giant, well-done character models accompany each piece of dialogue so you get a sense of the characters’ emotions and reactions. The developers really did put a lot of effort into the town of Inaba and you actually feel like it is a real town and not just stuffed with useless background. Most of the game takes place in Inaba, so it’s very good that they put so much care into it.
The characters are all very different from each other and are believable, unlike the usual JRPGs that feature purple-haired people with impossible hairstyles. Everyone has distinct looks and styles as well. Kanji wears a leather jacket and is very intimidating, whereas Rise dresses just like the pop star that she is supposed to be. None of the characters could have been swapped for each other and that is refreshing because many games can’t pull that off.
The lulls in graphics are noticeable, especially as you run through the bare and undetailed hallways of dungeons, but it really doesn’t detract from the experience. If anything, it just reminds you that this game was originally on the Playstation 2. The graphics are so stellar through most of the game that these small blemishes are forgivable.
Giant character drawings accompany each piece of dialogue.
It probably isn’t a surprise that the story is where Persona 4 Golden really shines. This game will suck you in and not let go. The high school setting of the game makes it extremely nostalgic. Everyone in the game cares about what the other students think. The guys are always trying to impress and get with girls and the usual high school drama affects everyone including your party. Each character is unique and is struggling through his or her own issues. You will feel for every character in your party if you give them a chance. After every Social Link and story dialogue, they will feel like friends and that is amazing considering the game is played on the small screen of a Vita. The non-party characters are still intriguing, but you won’t feel for them the same way. I didn’t care for Ai Ebihara at all, but I don’t think I was supposed to. Also worth noting, Teddy starts off being pretty annoying, but if you are like me, he will grow on you. I loved Teddy by the end of the game, but it did take a little time.
Aside from the stories of each character, there is the bigger story of the murders in Inaba. It is a very strange plot and it definitely has a Japanese feel to it. That being said, it was very interesting. Between living with your uncle who is in charge of the investigation (and who also sort of suspects you) and hearing the other students and townsfolk reacting to the events happening, your interest in the story won’t let up. The town of Inaba is a small and boring town with literally nothing of note except beefsteak. Because of that, the murders are especially gripping because no one can believe it. Another thing that makes the story interesting is just how strange it is. Your character can travel through TVs to a different world and this world has a connection with the murders. You have to use your power to stop the culprit. I honestly have never played another game or even read a book with a similar plot.
The game also has a bonus dungeon and other things that can’t be accessed or acquired until the second playthrough. This makes you want to play the game a second time to see the extra content. That content isn’t so important that you would have to force yourself to beat the game again, but if you want to, like I did, it is a great bonus and I personally loved the second playthrough even more because there were Social Links I didn’t finish the first time through. The second playthrough is also a New Game +, so you take many things with you from the first playthrough, which is very nice because it allows you to get through the game faster.
Persona 4 Golden is one of the best RPGs ever made, not just for the Playstation Vita, but for any console. Other developers that are interested in bringing older games to newer systems should take notes. With extra content and bright colorful graphics that really brings the Vita to life, Persona 4 Golden is the marquee game for the Vita. This is the game that justifies buying a Vita and this is the game that proves there is a bigger need than ever for JRPGs, despite the fact that every developer is going away from them. This game easily should be on everyone’s “Top-10 RPGs Ever” list.
-Incredible and gripping story
-Strong cast of unique, independent characters
-50+ hour campaign and high replay value
-Very fun and engaging combat system
-Rare inconsistencies in graphics