Shin Megami Tensei’s cult classic series Persona has been offering hours of storytelling entertainment for years. It’s a series that’s both unique and intriguing each, and every, time you play. And now Persona 4 is back from the days of the PlayStation 2 for a new audience on PlayStation Vita. However, I’ve never played a Persona title before and thus was interested to see what all the fuss was about around the arrival of Persona 4 Golden. I’m sure you’d like to know if it matches up to the PlayStation 2 original, or if it’s nothing more than a game show that shouldn’t have strayed into the palm of your hand.
Persona 4: Golden is, what some would consider, a port of the PlayStation 2 original. However, enough changes have been made to warrant that added subtitle of ‘Golden’. It’s been enhanced and rebuilt from the ground up for the PlayStation Vita. Telling the story of the initially unnamed protagonist, who only gains a name when you give them one – although fans of the franchise know him as Yu Narukami thanks to his name being in Persona 4:Arena. You’ve just moved into the town of Inaba where mysterious murders are taking place when the weather descends into fog and rain. Luckily you manage to make new friends in such a grave situation thanks to staying with his uncle and cousin. These new friends inform you of a perplexing channel that only appears at midnight on rainy nights; it doesn’t take long for your group of friends to realise that they can teleport into another dimension within televisions. This dark and scary world is inhabited by deadly shadows and a rather helpful character known as Teddy. The entire adventure revolves around figuring out the connection between this mysterious midnight channel and the disappearances and murders surrounding Inaba.
When you boil it down, which is quite a hard thing to do with something so mammoth in scale, P4G offers so much in the way of gameplay and features that you’d think your Vita memory card would explode from having so much stuffed into it. It’s an RPG at heart so you’ll have to make sure your team always has a good weapons loadout, you’ve got the right items you need and your heath is in good condition too. And as the story is driven by context you’ll have to pay close attention to changes with the weather as that shapes story events and available activities. It also all takes place over the course of a calendar year, meaning that every single day is as important as the last. After a little bit of hand-holding in the first month or so, you’re left on your own to work your way through the rest of the yeah. You can get a job to earn cash, which is your gateway to buying weapons, armour and taking part in social activities with friends – which can become very expensive.
Socializing may sound rather pointless, but it’s actually a very important part of the game. Eating out, going to clubs or taking part in after school activities with others forms ‘social links’ that serve to strengthen your Persona. Each character’s Persona resides within their heart and can be summoned for battle. However, only you can switch between Personas at will, meaning that strengthening each one is key. Social links help you create or forge new high-level Personas and grant you bonuses too. They also assist in determining if you get a ‘bad’, ‘good’ or ‘true’ ending for P4G. Important stuff.
When you aren’t spending your time socializing, you can embark on side-quests that litter the high school and town. Or, if you fancy, you can go inside the TV world and complete other quests to level up. There are more ambient activities that’ll help you level up, such as studying or reading books, but side-quests are definitely more interesting. Heading into the TV world also provides you with a unique set of challenges to take part in.
As you can guess, this is an RPG that lets you relish in choices and that’s no different when it comes to combat. You’ve got the opportunity to let the AI do as it pleases, however I strongly suggest that you take charge of everyone as it allows for personal experimentation with each of your companions elemental attacks, which ultimately helps you discover shadows’ weaknesses. This is key as downing all enemies with their weakness means they become stunned, thus allowing your team to go all-out against them in a comic strip style dust cloud of arms and legs. Killing enemies in this way activates ‘shuffle time’, which sees you being rewarded with XP, +1 attributes, money etc, in the form of a card game. Occasionally you’ll be able to choose multiple cards, but be warned, not all cards are helpful. Saying that, you’ll snag an extra bonus if you clear all cards from the screen.
Personas themselves revolve around your character and their level. As you level up you’ll be able to hold more Personas and create some that are equal to your level. Depending on their arcana or element type you can combine Personas together in the ‘Velvet Room’ to gain various effects to their power. Depending on what time of the day you head down to fuse your Personas together means that you can gain different bonuses or effects too. Don’t worry though, you’ve got a lovely compendium on hand to keep track of everything you’re creating and registering. You can also boost Personas through Skill Cards that you gain during battle, and you can replicate – for a cost – the card as many times as you like as soon as you’ve registered them inside the Velvet Room.
As this is a Vita game, it wouldn’t be acceptable unless it utilised the Vita features in a meaningful way. Thankfully P4G doesn’t shoehorn in needless touch gimmickry, but utilizes PlayStation Network in an interesting way. Featuring ‘Voice’ and ‘SOS’ onscreen buttons, these allow you to find out what others playing did with their time and calls other in for additional support respectively. P4G also makes use of the improved graphical prowess that the Vita offers over the PS2 by creating, what is arguably, the most beautiful game on the system.
Aside from Vita specific features, P4G hasa raft of new in-game additions that make it the definitive version of Persona 4 to play. You’ve got new difficulties, unlocked via New Game+; there’s new quests, bringing the total to well over 70; new social links have been introduced alongside a new Personas and characters, namely Marie and the category of Peronae. New combat options have been added to support team attacks; a new evening time period has been introduced to let you spend more time around town, including an optional garen to tend to, and scooters have been added to let you explore the far flung locales of Okina City and Sichiri Beach. If that wasn’t enough, costumes now change your appearance within the TV world and there are more endings available to discover. You can also extend the game beyond its February end, depending on how your game ended, which allows for more social links to be built. The addition of TV channels to explain progress and house special features is a nice touch, as is the ability to skip scenes for those who have previously played the game before. You’ve also got a new music player and additional events and animated cutscenes to enjoy.
Persona 4: Golden is essentially the definitive version of the cult classic PlayStation 2 title. Its engaging story, likeable characters, great voice acting and fantastic soundtrack all come together to create something, well, golden. If you’ve already polished off Persona 4 then you’ll still find a ton of brand new content to enjoy and occupy yourself with, and if you haven’t experienced it before then you’ve got an absolutely huge game to devour. P4G is exactly what many Vita owners have been yearning for: a deep game that recreates that console experience right in their hands. Aptly, it’ll suck hours of your life away into the the world beyond the Vita’s screen. However, you won’t regret a second of it.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: Visually amazing remaster with superb voice acting and soundtrack.
Gameplay – 5/5: An entire experience itself, it sucks you in never lets go.
Innovation – 5/5: Adding even more features, gameplay and bonuses makes this a jaw dropping, mind boggling, game.
Value– 5/5: Multiple endings, incredibly lengthy story, tons of extras and difficulties. You’d be hard pressed to find a handheld game offering more.
Final Score: 5/5