Coming off of the excellent Persona 3 Portable, I have never had the opportunity to play Persona 4 before. I heard it was a significant improvement, but being one of the few lacking a PlayStation 2, my first opportunity to play such a supposedly amazing RPG has only come about with the release of Persona 4 Golden, a remake of the original that adds a bunch of new content. And after playing through this beast of a role-playing game, it is impossible to continue this review without saying that yes, it is everything I could ever ask for.
The later games in the Persona series are turn-based dungeon crawling RPGs with an equal dose of social sim. Starting as the new transfer student in the small town of Inaba (from Tokyo), you are a teenager who is trying to fit into Yasogami high and make the most of your new surroundings. As you’re settling in however, there are murders that begin to pop up around town, and a new urban legend about the “Midnight Channel” that allegedly shows the darker side of others (and has a connection to these murders) that turns out to be true. While trying to figure out the truth, you and two friends end up entering a strange dimension that can be entered through the television (which is the source of the Midnight Channel) and fight the shadows lurking within in an effort to save the souls of victims using a power that summons your “Persona”. The story is easy to follow yet complex, and is paced very well through the 70-plus hour game.
Like before, the game is primarily a turn-based RPG. You take four people into various dungeons within the realm, collect items and treasure, and fight Shadows, a classification for the many monsters that lurk within. You fight these monsters using your Personae, monsters that can be summoned into battle. Like Pokemon, doing well in battle against the shadows (and the sometimes very-tough bosses) is based entirely on exploiting enemy weaknesses by using elemental and physical attacks. There is levelling up that allows you to obtain stronger Personae, but obtaining stronger Personae requires a method of fusing your pre-existing fighters into stronger ones. It presents an aspect of collecting that is very much in the vein of Pokemon, while remaining just as deep.
The other half of Persona 4 Golden comes in with the social aspects of the game. The game takes place over a year, and requires a careful balance between building your social life and making progress in dungeons. There are shops to go to and various clubs and activities available to participate in, but the most important aspect comes in with the Social Links. Over the course of the game, you will be (practically) required to build friendships and even intimate relationships with various people in the game. Gaining a stronger relationship levels up your Social Link with them, and allows you to fuse stronger Personas (and new ones only available to certain levels) as you progress, acting as a second way of leveling up and providing an interesting alternative to the combat-exclusive experience in other games. And because the writing and design is so excellent, the relationships feel like they are really being built, and the activities that can boost stats like Learning and Courage (that opens up more Social Links and dialog options) feel more like a way to enjoy time than a grindfest. Though the game provides plenty of opportunity to do what needs to be done, time-management is crucial. Spending too much time on Social Links will leave you underleveled and may cause a game over if you wait too long, and simply grinding to no end will leave you under-prepared for the boss with significantly worse Personae.
On the new side of things, Persona 4 Golden adds new harder and easier difficulties, new school events, holidays, trips, Personae to collect, locations (like the Ski Resort), a new method of transportation, Social Links (including a new character named Marie, who can be dated!), and much more. Because I’ve never played Persona 4 before, I actually had to do research after the fact to see what had been added, and what was surprising to me was how well everything came together and was so well-polished that it felt like these new things had just always been there.
The game also adds a new online mode, and the first in the RPG series’ history. Almost like the The Walking Dead game, social choices you make (like what you choose to do after school) can be compared with other players, and a series of the most frequent options appear on screen at the press of a button. In addition, there is a new SOS function that allows you to request help from other players in dungeons when your party is barely hanging on.
Technically, Persona 4 Golden looks way better than something on PS2. While Persona 3 Portable didn’t allow free exploration and streamlined the game to fit it on the system, Golden is the full experience. You can walk around and everything, and the graphics are some of the prettiest on Vita. The music is also the same kind of catchiness found in Persona 3, though I couldn’t say that one soundtrack is better than the other. The voice acting is really good too; though, like all translated games, a couple will grow a bit grating at times, but the experience was never impacted because of it.
Persona 4 Golden is a monster of a game. A follow-up to one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, Golden manages to provide a superior sequel in every sense of the word. And, if you’re a series veteran, I imagine you might enjoy this even more than I did. This is not just a game for fans of social sims and dungeon crawlers; this is a game for people who like great video games.