Persona 4 Golden Review

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Way back in 2006, a little game called Persona 3 was released on the Playstation 2. By now, the PS3 was just around the corner, and the world was knee deep in the hype for the seventh video game console generation. Who wanted to pay attention to a new game on some old, outdated console? Even so, Persona 3 became a huge hit. The loveable characters, unorthodox setting for a JRPG, and solid gameplay mechanics all came together to make an excellent experience. So much so, that Atlus decided they would release the same game, with additional content: Persona 3 FES.

In 2008, a year after that, the sequel was released. Persona 4 was an instant classic, better than its predecessor in nearly every way. Four years later, it seems Atlus is trying to pull the same trick they did with Persona 3, Persona 3 FES, and Persona 3 Portable: whipping out an updated release of an old game, putting some new bells and whistles on it. The question is, how did it turn out? It’s still Persona 4, of course, but is it worth playing the same game over again, spending your time on something that came out four years ago? It’s just a new coat of paint, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that Persona 4 Golden is just that: golden.

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Persona 4 Golden (Playstation Vita)

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: November 20th, 2012 (Oh ye gods I’m so late with this review aren’t I)
MSRP: $39.99

Story:
Persona 4 Golden is fundamentally the same game as 2008’s Persona 4. The protagonist (named by the player but officially named Souji Seta Charlie Tunoku Yu Narukami in other material) is a fresh transfer student to the rural Japanese town of Inaba – his parents are overseas on business, so he’s staying with his uncle and attending the local high school. A sudden string of murders makes things a bit more complicated, and by a quirk of fate Narukami and his new classmates are the only ones who can discover the true culprit. Commence the murder mystery as the newly-formed Investigation Team scrambles to prevent new murders before they happen, while still keeping up appearances and socializing in high school.

Of course, a fairly large portion of people interested in this game already know what’s up with Persona 4, having played it on the PS2. As it was with Persona 3 FES and Portable, this roll around it’s all about the new stuff. Pretty much all of the story beats in P4G are identical to the original game, but there’s plenty of new bits. This mostly means several more events with the rest of the Investigation Team, such as a trip to the ocean or a weekend spent at a ski resort. The larger timeskips of the original game (most notably, the months between Christmas and the actual ending) are filled in with more fun and socializing. Basically, if you feel like you’re buddies with the cast and wanted to spend more time hanging out and having fun with them, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this game.

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On the more serious end of the spectrum, there are two new Social Links: one with bumbling cop Tohru Adachi, and one with new character and mysterious waif Marie. They’re both quite good, and though I don’t want to spoil, let’s just say that one of them might affect the story of the game in significant ways. Right when I was reaching the point in the game where I figured I remembered exactly how everything went, shit got crazy and new material pulled me along by the nose right up until the credits rolled.

And if you’re worrying about all of new shiny new content just being tacked on, don’t – most of it is integrated seamlessly. For example, a much-hyped addition was the entire Investigation Team getting scooters to ride around Inaba’s countryside. So, where Yosuke once said “You know I’m saving up for a motorcycle”, he now says “You know I just bought a motorcycle, I’m broke!”. Since a fair bit of dialogue was rerecorded, it’s practically impossible to tell what was changed without a side-by-side comparison. It’s all tweaked just enough to accommodate the new content.

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Gameplay:
The gameplay in Persona 4 Golden is, as you might expect, largely the same as in Persona 4. You attend Yasogami High School during the day, receiving lectures from various teachers and making sure to study for exams. In your off time, you socialize with your friends or do various other activities, mostly to do sidequests or raise your attributes (Courage, Knowledge, Diligence, Understanding, and Expression) so that you can spend more time hanging out with your buddies. Or eat some Rainy Day Beef Bowl at Aiya. Everyone loves the Rainy Day Beef Bowl.

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Otherwise, you’re heading into the Midnight Channel – a mysterious parallel world inside the televisions of Inaba, filled with “Shadows”, the repressed psyches of humans in reality – to search for kidnapped persons and maybe do some dungeon crawling. There are various dungeons inside the TV World, each with multiple floors. You climb up them, fighting Shadows along the way, leveling up like in any typical JRPG. The main gimmick of Persona‘s battles (and perhaps all Shin Megami Tensei games) is based all around elemental weaknesses. If you hit a Shadow’s weakness, it gets knocked down, and that member of your party gets an extra turn to beat up the bad guys. If you knock down all enemies at once, then your party can perform an All-Out Attack, dealing heavy damage to all of them. That said, enemies can take advantage of the same mechanics, knocking down you and your party. Even run-of-the-mill random battles in Persona can completely wreck you, if you’re not being careful. Hell, even if you are being careful, you can still get unlucky.

And, of course, hanging out with your friends has more benefits than just… well, hanging out with your friends. The crux of the matter is your Social Links, the bonds with others that provide your strength of heart. More Social Links means you can fuse more powerful Personas in the Velvet Room, a mysterious blue limousine staffed by the ever-mysterious Igor and his foxy assistant Margaret. Whenever you spend time with your friends, the specific Social Link (represented by the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck) tied to them will rank up, providing you with bonus experience when you fuse a Persona of that arcana. And on the subject of fusing new Personas, that’s been revamped as well: most notably, you can pick what skills inherit onto your new Personas instead of endlessly rerolling to get what you want. If you have any previous experience with Persona, then you know that once you fuse this way it’s impossible to go back to the random style of the original.

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As for new things added to Golden, there are plenty of tiny little tweaks to gameplay. The Shuffle Time mechanic that provides rewards after battles has been retooled to provide a whole bevy of new options – the Minor Arcana cards (Cups, Wands, Swords, and Coins) from Persona 3 make a comeback, and there are Major Arcana cards that provide various other bonuses. The bonuses your party members get from ranking up their Social Links have been tweaked slightly so that everyone gets several new skills. The scooters everyone gets also allows the members of the Investigation Team not in your active party to perform their follow-up attacks, and opens up a couple new areas to explore (and new date opportunities with your buddies).

Other new additions include the ability to sneak out at night – in the original game, you could only leave the house to work at part-time jobs or go fishing. Now, you can… pretty much work at part-time jobs or go fishing. Your schoolmates might also be hanging around at night, providing yet more opportunities to boost your Social Link points. You can also start a small garden right by the Dojima residence, which basically means a few extra potions and boost items every couple of days.  All in all, there are no major changes, but a ton of small ones that end up making the game feel completely different.

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Presentation:
Graphics-wise, Persona 4 Golden looks more or less the same as Persona 4. Are you noticing a common theme here? It’s almost as if this is the same game or something! Weird, right? Not to say that it looks completely the same, of course. Everything’s upped to HD resolutions (or whatever the resolution on the Vita’s screen is), and most of the backgrounds of the areas depicting Inaba’s idyllic rural countryside have been completely revamped to show more detail. Not that much more detail, though – and that’s the main issue with the graphics of this game. It’s still very much an updated PS2 game, and all of the key character models still reflect that. There’s a distinct lack of detail that was present in the original game’s models, and it’s all the more obvious here since the screen’s right up in your face. All of the character models still have static faces and go through the same half-dozen canned emotional  movements. It’s an understandable shortcut that was perfectly acceptable four years ago and makes sense given Golden‘s remake status, but it’s still rather disappointing.

Even so, Persona 4 Golden isn’t a bad looking game by any means. Shigenori Soejima’s artwork and the general aesthetic style still look incredible. Each main character gets a handful of new dialogue sprites (mostly for the winter months), and there are a gaggle of new costumes (sans sprites, unfortunately) to unlock for use in the Midnight Channel. There are also several new animated cutscenes sprinkled throughout, courtesy of Madhouse, who also did the anime bits in Persona 4 Arena. Notably, they  look way better than the original cutscenes done by A-1 Pictures (which are still in the game) and lend a bit more fun (and fanservice, of course) to the new events in Golden.

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As we’ve all come to expect from Atlus and their localization team, the writing and the voice acting is still absolutely top-notch. There was a bit of controversy about Chie and Teddie being replaced by all-new actors, but Sam Riegal’s performance is barely even a hair off from Dave Wittenberg’s, and while I do very much miss Tracey Rooney’s old performance, Erin Fitzgerald does a good job capturing Chie’s peppy youthfulness. New character Marie has an appropriately aloof voice, and they even got Laura Bailey to do a decent dub of Rise’s image song from Persona 4: The Animation (which is one anime you should absolutely not watch, by the way). Lastly and most egregiously, there is indeed a reference to Gigi Digi’s ever-infamous Persona 4 parody comic shoehorned in there somewhere. I can’t be the only one who’s supremely tired of those.

On the music side, that’s all mostly the same. All the tunes you know and love from the original Persona 4 play right where you remember them, though there is a new OP sequence to a new song titled Shadow World, and the default battle theme has changed to the peppy Time to Make History. Don’t worry, you can still listen to the old battle theme when you get a Player Advantage against enemy shadows, which is child’s play. The Reincarnation album versions of I’ll Face Myself and Never More also play, though I won’t spoil where (hint: the end credits song plays over the end credits, who knew?). There’s also a jukebox feature from the main menu’s TV Listings where you can listen to all the tunes you want – a welcome feature thanks to P4‘s excellent soundtrack.

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Overall Value:
Look, I’m gonna say it straight: buy this game. If you have a Playstation Vita, this is a must-own. There are enough new bits and tweaks to the old game that even people who played and loved the original Persona 4 (like yours truly) can derive tons of all-new enjoyment from Golden. If you’re new to the Persona franchise as a whole, then there’s no better time to get into it, what with P3 and Persona 4 Arena both readily available and Persona 5 just beyond the horizon. This is one of the best RPGs, hell, one of the best games of the generation. Don’t miss out – take the plunge into the Midnight Channel and prepare to face yourself.

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