Persona 4 Golden is a remake of Persona 4 which was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2008 by Japanese game developer Atlus. I never played the original Persona 4 or any other entry in the series so I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew it was a JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) but didn’t know if I would like it.
I loved it.
Persona 4 Golden is one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played and offers well over 80 hours of gameplay.
You play as a high school boy from the city that has just moved to a small town in Inaba, Japan. The town has been quiet until recently when bizarre murders started occurring. Now it gets interesting; you find you have the ability to go through television sets into another world occupied by monsters you have to defend yourself against. From here it is up to you and the friends you make to figure out the link between this TV world and the murders occurring in your own world. Of course you can’t spend all your time fighting; you will have to balance this with school, socialising and a whole plethora of other activities that will occupy your valuable time each day.
This is where Persona 4 stands apart from typical JRPGs. It isn’t all about fighting monsters to gain experience points. Half of the game is spent building social links with inhabitants of the town and performing other normal activities, so you will have to learn how to manage your time. Persona 4 follows a calendar, breaking up most days into School, Lunch, Afternoon and Evening. Any activity you choose to do will move time forward, so you will become used to having to make decisions like will you go to your part time job today to raise your level of Diligence or will you spend it becoming closer to one of your friends? Heck you can even decide to spend it at a local diner trying an ‘all you can eat’ challenge. Time is finite; you are only in Inaba for one year so each day feels precious.
The typical routine for each month is going through a dungeon in the TV, fighting the boss and spending the rest of the time going to school, work and building up social links with the town’s inhabitants. The closer you become to people, the stronger your Persona fusion ability becomes and this is what you use to fight in dungeons. You can collect Personas and fuse them together to make stronger ones. This is slightly reminiscent of Pokémon, but then any game that has monsters you can collect and train tends to remind me of that. They don’t go out to battle in your place though; you equip them to gain their strength and abilities. Setting up a balanced collection of Personas will be one of your goals when it comes to the more difficult fights. Having a deck of Personas that all have ice element attacks would be no good for example. The combat is turn based, you can directly control what action each party member does or you can allow them to act on their own.
Atlus games have a bit of a reputation for being difficult and unforgiving to the player. Persona 4 isn’t truly like that, there are 5 difficulty options from very easy to very hard so it’s really up to you how difficult you want the game to be. I played it on normal and there was only one point where I felt the difficulty harshly spiked. It is game that will require you to level up your party at times and anyone familiar with JRPGs will know that some of your time will be spent going back to different areas or looking for fights to increase your level. A nice addition for this activity is the Rush function, it causes every character to automatically use their physical attack without you having to direct them. This will save a lot of time in fights against weaker enemies and if you find yourself suddenly losing you can switch it off mid fight to regain control of the situation. A similar option is also available outside of battle for the dialogue, if you want to get straight through a scene without reading or listening to the dialogue then you can fast forward right through it. This is a useful tool when replaying a section after losing a fight or if you are playing through the game again and know you don’t want to see a particular scene for the second time.
It is worth mentioning of course that the dialogue is great; how all the characters speak and react to each other is part of what will keep you hooked to the story. A key part of this story is that each dungeon in the TV is a manifestation of a character’s fears and doubts about themselves. Going through each dungeon and seeing characters try to face a part of their personality they don’t want to accept means you see everyone’s personality change and mature the further through the year you progress. This continues outside of dungeons of course, the more time you spend with an individual, the more is revealed about them. I found myself wanting to spend more time with particular people even when I had maxed out their social link, meaning it would offer no advantage to my Personas. Even after 60 hours of playing, I didn’t want this story to end. For those of you who enjoy it as much as I did, there is a new game + option which allows you to carry over your attributes and Personas, as well as offering more content to unlock.
My only gripe with it was I wish the option to play as a female character was available. This was an option in the remake of Persona 3 on the PlayStation Portable so I thought this would be continued on through the series. Realistically it would have meant almost all conversations and character interactions would have had to be changed, essentially making another game altogether so I understand why this couldn’t happen, I just would have loved if it did.
Persona 4 also has a small bit of online functionality. While in dungeons if your Vita is online you can send out an SOS signal, other players online in dungeons will see this SOS and can respond to it. They won’t enter your battle themselves but in your next fight you can get a health boost. Afterwards you can then see the name of the player that answered your call for help. Outside of dungeons you can select the Voice option when online. Several dialogue bubbles will appear on your screen showing what other players did on that particular day of the game. This is great for seeing what the most popular choices were or seeing options available that you didn’t even know existed yet. The online functionality doesn’t have a major impact on the game but it is a nice touch to see what other players are up to.
The game’s presentation is striking right from the beginning. You’re welcomed with a fun and upbeat tune along with a colourful and slightly goofy intro (the main cast dancing, one of them with a bin). The soundtrack to this game is great, music is very subjective of course but this one really caught my attention. There are bright and light hearted melodies when socialising throughout the game year and of course heavier tunes for the darker and more intense scenes. It really adds to the atmosphere well, especially in the dungeons. This was one of the few soundtracks I ended up adding to my music collection once I had it completed.
Visuals are a mixed bag, the cut scenes are presented in the style of an anime cartoon and look good. All of the menus are a bright yellow with everything clear and very easy to read. I was impressed with this during battles, the characters heads are all to the side of screen with health and magic bars. No unnecessary statistics are on display which can be a danger with JRPGS, causing some of them to take up a good chunk of the screen. Character designs are lovely and there is nice variety in the facial expressions displayed for each character over their dialogue boxes when they’re speaking to you. The majority of conversations are excellently voiced too I should mention. The downside really is the CG graphics; this is a PS2 remake so the actual town and character avatars aren’t impressive. You’ll really start to notice this when going through the dungeons; the layout of each is pretty much the same. Your party go up through several floors of corridors, each floor looking the same as the last, with enemies and treasure boxes on every one. This will start to feel repetitive as graphically the dungeons don’t look too good so there is nothing to distract you from noticing that each dungeon feels the same in terms of layout.
Persona 4 Golden isn’t perfect, but it comes pretty close. With great character designs, music, a deep story that offers multiple endings and a fun battle system, it is easy to recommend this game. Anyone with a Vita and the slightest interest in JRPG’s has no excuse not to get it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my new game +.