Thou art I… And I am thou… Thou hast established a new bond… It brings thee closer to the truth… [Social Link: Rank 1]
JRPGs have been stuck in a bit of a rut in the current console generation. While their Western RPG cousins have gone from strength to strength, there haven’t been many JRPGs that can be truly classified as generation defining. Some might say that Persona 4 is the product of a previous generation due to being released on last-gen hardware, but it was also released at a time when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were in full swing. In an effort to bring it forward in time, Persona 4: Golden attempts to do for the PlayStation Vita what Persona 3: Portable did for the PlayStation Portable. In many ways, it excels and exceeds all expectations. [Social Link: Rank 2]
Narrative is what JRPGs tend to be good at, but Persona 4’s was exceptional compared to many recent efforts. Combining the mystery of a serial murder with a supernatural twist and the everyday life of a teenage lad is one thing, but to make every action meaningful within a tight schedule is astonishing. On the one hand, things take ages to get going; but on the other hand they serve as an easing in period that allows you to cope with the busy schedule for the year ahead. What set Persona 4 apart from the rest was the concept of facing characters facing their darkest side in supernatural locales and how they change after that event – the many catalysts behind their development as characters. Those who never see the TV also learn something about themselves, making each of the social link events a new chapter in captivating side stories.
Persona 4: Golden takes what made the original so good and expands upon it by featuring new events in the calendar year, but these fun trips are merely the icing on the cake. New night-time activities make time management a little easier; while new social links expand not only on the amount of sub-narrative, but also directly impact the events leading up to the conclusion. One particular late-game sequence adds a new level of complexity that shakes things up even for veterans of the PlayStation 2 original. Funny thing is, none of it feels out-of-place in the slightest. Two brand new ending sequences round off everything that has changed in the updated version, but the best additions are yet to come. [Social Link: Rank 4]
Each of the character that joins you in solving the murder case has their own Persona, but the main character has the ability of the wild-card. Imperative to success is your ability to fuse Persona together to create enhanced ones to aid you in battle. Each one is affiliated with a particular Arcana that grants additional bonuses whenever you rank up that Arcana’s particular Social Link. As you spend your day-to-day life managing between ordinary school-life and your adventures into the occult TV-based setting, you will be ranking up Social Links. The system itself is fairly elegant, with the result being that you’ll care just as much when you are not in the TV as you will dungeon crawling to save those thrown in the TV.
But this isn’t anything new for the Persona series since the revolutionary third game in the series, so Atlus have changed things up a little bit for the PlayStation Vita remake. While creating new Persona, you now have the handy ability to manually choose which skills created Persona inherit from their progenitors. This level of convenience means that you won’t have to rely on luck when creating new Persona to get the abilities you want! Aside from this, the two new Social Links give rise to two new Arcana, meaning new Persona can be fused. Increasing the Social Links of your partners now teaches them new moves they wouldn’t otherwise learn, while taking them to the hot springs (when you can) can teach more new moves or help them relearn forgotten moves. Finally, you can now obtain Skill Cards in battle which can be handed into the Velvet Room for the ability to buy as many as you can afford, meaning that even if you don’t get what you want, you can always change things provided you have the cash. [Social Link: Rank 6]
Battles themselves remain largely unchanged from Persona 4, meaning the turn based battles can still be operated either by choosing tactics for your fellow party members or manually controlling everyone. One important point is that difficulty settings affect how much damage you receive and give, as well as how much cash and experience you get per battle. As you progress though, certain party configurations allow for follow-up attacks after All-Out attacks, while the opportunity attacks from Persona 4 have been upgraded to allow for Cavalry attacks featuring non-party members. The “Shuffle Time” mini-game has also changed drastically to one that feels less reliant on luck. All of the new features, combined with the reduced default difficulty make the game far less punishing than before, meaning that you can enjoy it a little more without having to stress about party management.
Where the bulk of the changes in the game are however, are for those moments where you are not in the TV. The town is still a quest-filled playground where selling loot obtained from the TV to a collector will “inspire him” to create new gear for you to use in your investigation, but the new additions make it feel more like a thriving community than a mere hub-world. Night time activities are now open to you, meaning you have a little more free time to help boost social links, read the increased library of books, or swap the all-new precious jewels obtained in battle for useful stuff at the pub. In addition to fishing, you can now go bug-catching with a net, or cultivate a garden outside your house with the Dojima family. In school, teachers will ask new questions that actually seem relevant to a school curriculum. The best bit is being able to venture outside of Inaba by driving a scooter to locales such as Okina city, where you can drink coffee to extract skill cards or take in a movie with a party member to level up their Persona. It does seem like a heck of a lot to take in all at once, but each activity directly benefits you in some way, making an ill-advised decision feel less like a missed opportunity. [Social Link: Rank 8]
Perhaps two of the most bewildering additions are the two Wi-Fi enabled options. Vox Populi (Voice of the People) allows you to discover what other people around the world did at that period of the day in question in the form of thought bubbles. They don’t really act as hints per-se, but if you are stuck for ideas they do give you a little inspiration for what to do next. As for the dungeon based SOS option, pressing it will send a signal to someone else playing the game with the Wi-Fi enabled to get them to “encourage” you (read: Heal a tiny bit of everyone’s HP and SP, depending on how many people answered the SOS call). Neither of these really have much of an impact on gameplay, which is feels like a missed opportunity, but essentially doesn’t spoil any enjoyment of the game. Extras that are also included this game fall under modifiable difficulty settings in the New Game+ option that allows you to transfer many things from your first play through and a brand new TV listings option that contains the usual unlockable artwork, soundtrack, and mini-game options; and are a nice touch as a result.
Where Persona 4: Golden really does outshine its PlayStation 2 counterpart is in the presentation though. The upscaled visuals look glorious on the PlayStation Vita’s OLED screen, with brand new cut-scenes and locations looking fantastic. Some may express minor disappointment with the change of voiceovers for Chie and Teddy, or indeed a lack of the Japanese dub, but the localisation is top-notch across the board. While dungeons can occasionally feel like dungeon crawling, they never outstay their welcome and always feature drastically different locales that are themed around the trapped victim’s shadow self. Having costumes for each of the characters to wear in dungeons, based either on a general theme or a particular event in the past, is also an appreciated extra – especially those like the Gekkoukan High School uniform from Persona 3 that alter the character’s victory poses! Music as always is wonderfully presented, with the new tracks fitting in well with the original soundtrack. [Social Link: Rank MAX]
Yes, Persona 4 was a massive JRPG to begin with and Persona 4: Golden only increases this exponentially with a ton of extras, but this really does make it the definitive version of that game. Not only have many of the more cumbersome systems been modified for practicality’s sake, but brand new options expand the gameplay in a way that encourages those who had the PlayStation 2 version to come back once more. The plethora of options available to you, with a varying level of relevance and practicality, mean that Persona 4: Golden manages to do something that Persona 3: Portable could not on the PlayStation Vita: Be the definitive version of that game. Those with a PlayStation Vita owe it to their underappreciated handheld device to grab this exceptional JRPG time sink. The best JRPG in recent years just got even better.
Thou art I… And I am thou… Thou hast established a genuine bond… The inner most power of the Arcana have been set free. We bestow upon thee Persona 4: Golden, the ultimate form of the JRPG.