Developer: Atlus / Publisher: Atlus / Played on: PS Vita / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Mature
If you missed the original Persona 4, it’s probably because it was released on PS2 in December 2008, two whole years after the PS3 had stolen the spotlight and three years after the launch of the Xbox 360 ushered in the seventh console generation. PS2 was, when Persona 4 arrived, truly retro.
That it arrived years after the passing of its console generation is a crying shame, because even without newfangled HD visuals, season passes and Achievement points, Persona 4 was absolutely one of the best games of the year.
Now it’s back and thanks to significant Vita upgrades, it’s not quite so retro. ‘Yet another port’ may be the last thing you’re after for the Vita, but Persona 4 Golden is no simple remake. It’s a fantastically enhanced re-working of one of the best Japanese RPGs of recent years.
You play the role of Yu Narukami (according to series lore, but his name is user-defined in-game), a teenage boy who moves from the big city to a Inaba, a small rural town. Not long after you settle into a new life with your uncle – a local detective – drama strikes the town as a series of strange murders occur.
You and a band of school friends set out to solve the mystery of the victims, whose bodies are found dangling from telephone poles. As you unravel the paranormal plot, you find yourself traveling to dark alternative universes and battling evil creatures by summoning Personas, powerful beasts which can be collected, merged and strengthened (think Pokémon, but without the cutesy looks and animal cruelty). Also similarly to Pokémon is the elemental system used in battle, demanding that you learn the weaknesses of enemies and how best to attack them.
What makes Persona 4, and other games in the Persona series, special is its multi-layered gameplay. It’s one part dungeon crawler RPG and one part life sim. The game takes place over one year, during which not only are you fighting evil beasts and conquering dungeons, you eat, sleep, hang out with friends, get a job and even go on dates.
All of this is governed by a totally engrossing stat system that’s affected by your every decision; everything from what you eat for dinner and what job you do to how you choose to treat people or how you answer questions at school. These decisions allow you to indirectly increase stats such as courage, knowledge and understanding, which influence how you get along with others. Your actions allow you to form ‘Social Links,’ developing strong relationships with members of the game’s endearing cast of characters, from close buddies to girlfriends. Except Chie, she’s just annoying much due to her high-pitched, over pronounced voice during dialogue.
On the other hand, you have all the things you’d expect from a more traditional RPG, including a deep and multi-layered turn-based battle system, which has you collecting and modifying your fighting Personas, and exploring dark, gloomy, randomly generated dungeons.
Persona 4 Golden, however, is no simple port. Apart from shiny new visuals (it looks great on Vita’s wide screen), there’s a significant serving of new content in here, enough to make it essential even to those who have finished the PS2 original.
There’s a new town (and new scooter motorcycles for travel), a new Social Link/character named Marie, enhanced battle mechanics and controls, new shops and the ability to buy your cast new outfits. It’s a Japanese game, so of course that includes bikini outfits for the ladies.
There are also new anime cutscenes with full voice acting, and you can bury your head further into the world of Persona with a TV mode that lets you watch ‘channels’ showing Persona concerts, music, and videos from the older games. For a fan, this is fantastic.
There’s also new online features, one which lets you call for the help of another player during tough battles, and another called ‘Vox Populi’ which lets you pull up a list of the most popular actions players took on that day of the in-game calendar. Sadly, I couldn’t test either since I reviewed the game before its public release, but they sound like neat ideas.
Persona 4 Golden is a fantastic modernized expansion of a brilliant RPG that many will have missed simply because it released out of sync with its original console generation. Some of it’s low-tech PS2-era roots sneak through in places, such as the stiff-looking run animations and odd gestures, and some of the slower sections of the game feel like lulls in the action. It takes a while to really get started, as you spend the first few hours stuck in a linear sequence almost void of actual gameplay as the game slowly introduces you to its world and mechanics. But it’s a small hitch.
For those who allow themselves to become emotionally invested in the world, its characters and its events, this is an engrossing life sim with a gripping turn-based RPG story to keep you hooked, and a meaningful decision-based consequence system that introduces enough variables to warrant multiple playthroughs.
And if you’ve never played a Persona game now’s a great time to start; you’re missing out on something truly unique.
+ Fantastic story
+ Engrossing life sim
+ An under-appreciated classic
9 / 10