Review: Persona 4 Golden

With some time having passed since the last Persona title was released, publisher Atlus chose the widely popular Persona 4 (2008) on Playstation 2 from which to bring a new, definitive version to the Playstation Vita. With expectations running high, Persona 4 Golden had to deliver something extra special to turn even the heads of long-standing Persona fans. Thankfully for both newcomers and existing fans, P4G is of a calibre high enough to be considered a system seller.

As the young protagonist, your character is unceremoniously shipped out to a sleepy village in Japan. Life moves pretty slow in Inaba, at least to begin with. You’ll spend most of your time meeting with plenty of NPCs as you go through the motions of the daily grind of school/home life. It might not sound too exciting, but nearly every interaction you make is meaningful, as the building of social links is the bread and butter of the P4G experience.

Trust and friendship can be gained through fairly routine tasks – just hanging out with friends and family can be enough to keep you in their good books – and by doing so you will be aided within the mysterious world that exists beyond TV screens in the game. Macabre happenings are going seen (and unseen) in Inaba, so you’ll need all the help you can get.

The school week runs from Monday to Saturday, so you’ll only have evenings and Sundays free for non-school activities.

Being a representation of each character’s true self, Personas are used when battling the evil forces that lie within each of the dungeon settings that you’ll be tasked to traverse through. By strengthening social links in the real world, you as the protagonist are then able to fuse Personas with heightened abilities aligned with those of the characters you have befriended.

As you progress, characters will join you in your quest with their own Personas in tow. Although their range is fairly limited as each character tends to favour specific elemental attacks, you are able to hold a deck of as many Personas as your character level will allow for. This gives you the ability to build a team of Personas ready for anything that gets thrown at you.

Turn-based battles are the order of the day, triggered by running up to/being pinched by enemies roaming the (loosely) randomly-generated dungeon floors. Combat is fairly breezy and fun, if not a little repetitive at times, but some positive reinforcing chants and fun animations from your team help to keep interest levels up.

Strike it lucky in battle and you’ll be able to perform some killer special moves.

The core Persona 4 experience has been expanded upon with the addition of several features: an entirely new character, two new social links, new Personas, new dialogue, costumes and new animated cutscenes.

As if this weren’t enough, using the Vita’s wireless functionality, it is possible to ‘ask’ for help within the dungeons. This equates to you pinging other P4G players, who need only tap on a prompt at their end to acknowledge your request. As you step into the next battle, you will see a slight boost to your health and magic bars. Pretty handy!

It’s also possible to see how other players are spending their time each day. It’s not exactly stretching the Vita’s networking capabilities, but sits nicely alongside the single player nature of the game.

The streets of Inaba are sparsely populated, but there’s plenty of activities to keep you occupied.

The Playstation 2 original won countless plaudits for it’s supremely crafted story, which deals with the often difficult passage of childhood to adulthood: the weight of new responsibilities as a result of absent authority figures, sexual realisation and all the confusion it brings, etc. This is where Atlus excels – the writing is smart, yet doesn’t condescend the player in the slightest. Adult themes are handled responsibly, giving a real depth to all of the characters you’ll meet along the way.

P4G expands greatly on the source game. The extras exclusive to this version do nothing to diminish the quality of a landmark title in videogaming, one that flips the perception of what a Japanese RPG should be on it’s head. Being suited to bite-sized playing sessions, the Playstation Vita is the perfect home for P4G. Here’s hoping a copy finds its way into the home of every self-respecting Vita owner.

Persona 4 Golden is released in the EU on February 22nd 2013

Jim Smale

Gaming since the Atari 2600, I enjoy the weirdness in games counting Densha De Go and RC De Go as my favourite titles of all time. I prefer gaming of old where buying games from a shop was a thing, Being social in person was a thing. Join me as I attempt to adapt to this new digital age!