Persona 4 Golden – Game Review
Title: Persona 4 Golden
Alternate Title: Persona 4: The Golden (Japan)
Developed By: ATLUS
Published By: ATLUS USA (North America), NIS America (PAL), Namco Bandai Partners (Australia)
Based On: ATLUS’s Persona line of games
Console: Playstation Vita
Review Conditions: Playstation Vita, Physical Media
Special Thanks: A copy of this game was purchased out of my own pocket
In the small town of Inaba, a high school student has been sent to live with his uncle when his parents go away on extended business. Soon after arriving, people begin to turn up dead under mysterious circumstances, and at the center of it all is a strange fog and the bizarre “Midnight Channel” that appears on blank TVs on rainy nights. The kids in town soon discover that they have the ability to enter a dark, twisted world inside the TV, and they may be the small town’s only hope of solving the mystery.
The Playstation 2 was home to many great RPG’s that myself and I am sure many others spent hundreds to thousands of hours playing through during the consoles long lifespan. When the console was losing momentum as the Playstation 3 and other current-gen consoles were at that time released, ATLUS USA released the English localized version of Persona 4, following their previous releases of Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES on the same console. It was a spontaneous purchase for me – I was bored one day, went to my local EB Games store and picked up the game… that version has since logged between 150 – 200 hours, several replays on all difficulties and practically everything expect a solo battle with Margaret.
2012 has definately been the year for Persona 4 fans – with Sentai Filmworks releasing both collections of Persona 4 the Animation over the year, the release of Persona 4 Arena and finally the long awaited Playstation Vita port of the game (Uh…. those in PAL regions can treat 2013 the same way). While the original PS2 release was a complete game – Persona 4 Golden doesn’t add so much upon it as P3P did but instead provides the same game with incentives to replay for those who have logged the hours (and without altering the gameplay to fit the smaller UMD Disc space capacity). But enough talk… let’s dive into the review!
You play as the Protagonist *INSERT NAME HERE*, who for the purpose of this review I shall refer to as Yu Narukami. Having had to change schools quite often during his youth due to his parents work, he finds himself living the next year with his Uncle Dojima and cousin Nanako in the rural town of Inaba. While initially it seems like it would be a boring year for Yu, on the first day of school they are alerted that a reporters body was found hanging from an antenna. While this initially sounds as a creepy once-off occasion, the corpse of the high school girl who first witnessed the body was found hanging in a similar fashion a few days later.
Strangely enough, this followed her being seen of a mysterious television program known as the “Midnight Channel”, a channel which appears on blank television screens on rainy nights at 12AM. Upon discovering the link and his ability to enter televisions to the ‘TV World’, he and his friends work to discover the cause behind it and rescue fellow students who have been thrown into the television – aided by the power of ‘Personas’.
The storyline plays out as a high school drama with mystery elements mixed into it, and while it does sound simple at first it actively works at dragging you into the world as the mystery unveils itself and you go from a party of just two characters to a party of eight, each of who are progressively developed through the main storyline and through ‘Social Links’. Between rescuing all the other characters from labyrinths generated and themed after their psyche and boss characters based on other side of their personality, the game throws a number of school events and everyday events your way throughout the game.
Persona 4 Golden plays its part and introduces several new events from something as simple as helping Nanako make flowers for her father, taking a trip to the beach and extending past the original Christmas Day limit to grant you access to more events in the new year. Nothing included impacts upon the main storyline, but provides solid incite for returning gamers to purchase and play this port – and I think there is enough content here to warrant a replay.
The storyline is a mixture of seriousness, comedy and characters passing out over bad cooking… but you are not just limited to the linear experience provided. As Persona 4 is set on a day by day schedule, outside of traversing dungeons and storyline events you are given free roam of your school and certain areas of Inaba. This is where the Social Link system comes in – where many main and side characters in the game are associated with a specific Arcana Type and you can interact and socialize with these characters to improve your Social Link standing, giving the game a sort of real life feel to it and granting you bonuses when it comes to fusing Persona.
The system isn’t half-assed and for each of the 10 levels to the social links there is plot (With decision-making) and it provides solid character development and interesting reading. Unless you plan very carefully, this will quite likely take you multiple playthroughs to go through each individual characters social link (HINT: There are 23 in total). Persona 4 Golden comes with two new social links – Marie with the Aeon Arcana and Tohru Adachi with the Jester Arcana. Unlike P3P’s Female playthrough these two do not replace any previously existing social link and in-fact provide new additions to the game from new endings to new dungeons if you choose to improve their rank. Most of the social links stand out from one another, and the plot for these two characters remain equally interesting.
While this review only touches upon the storyline provided in the game, given their goals to replicate a high school experience while incorporating supernatural mystery into the mix… the Persona team have done a stand-out job with this game. While the storyline may not appeal to everyone, I think it certainly worked well for the experience they were trying to deliver, and unless you work hard at not seeing optional plot events you are delivered a consistent stream of storyline from start to finish.
The visual quality for Persona 4 was of good quality for a game on the Playstation 2. As you can see in more detail within Udon Entertainment’s release of “Persona 4: Official Design Works” a lot of work was evidently put into initially designing the characters and the environment designs were of sufficient quality as well. In particular, one of the highlights were with the Persona designs – with the protagonist having access to a “Gotta Fuse em’ All” system where he has access to around 150-200 Persona’s all of which come with different designs and are overall interestingly thought out.
There are a couple of new additions to Golden such as the inclusion of even more Persona designs, but as they did with P3 FES /P3P you are able to dress up your characters in different costumes within dungeons which makes a change from the otherwise two school uniform designs you had access to in the original release. Unfortunately they didn’t go all the way with this costume system, and outside of dungeons and during in-dungeon cutscenes they will remain wearing their normal uniforms. Either way it was a nice touch and they offer several costumes unlockable through in-game events and through shopping.
Granted the whole game has received an anime release, they still decided to include new animated cutscenes in this release which mostly focused on events newly introduced to this game. This is game-exclusive animation and none of it carries over from the anime series, and is of sufficiently high quality and I think the correct scenes were chosen to receive such treatment.
The same limitations of the original release also carry over to Persona 4 Golden, for example the randomly generated dungeon designs which are essentially the same looking corridors for each dungeon. However, in terms of being a Playstation Vita game – none of the original content was cut (In-dungeon or Out-of-Dungeon designs) and looked impressive on the Vita’s screen.
The new opening sequence for Persona 4 Golden
Music / Voice Acting
As you can see above, Persona 4 Golden comes with a brand new opening animation sequence by Madhouse and new theme song to go along with it. Many Persona releases over the years have had interesting animations go alongside it, and while this one certainly isn’t bad by any means it didn’t live up to the standard set by other recent Persona releases.
Those who have previously played Persona 4 games will be familiar with the style of music included in this game, including many tracks that feature J-Pop (Including many with English lyrics which are not from localization). The entire soundtrack has returned alongside a couple of new tracks to add to the mix. Unlike Persona 3 Portable these are not played depending on gender selection or your actions during the game, but are played during new events, new sections of the game or are used in alternation with or replacement of previously existing tracks. The new battle theme ‘Time to Make History’ equals the original ‘Reach Out to the Truth’ in quality which it alternates with. You can replay any previously played track at your leisure through the HEE! HEE! HOO! Music King segment through the new TV Listings.
Most of the original voice cast returned (Eg. Yuri Lowenthal – Yosuke, Amanda Winn Lee – Yukiko and Troy Baker – Kanji) and any new scenes with their characters in them have been dubbed into English. Given it has been several years since the original voice recordings, I am happy to report that most characters retained the same or similar voices as they provided originally and it isn’t that noticable they were dubbed at different times.
The two original voice actors who were unable to return for this game (Tracey Rooney – Chie and Dave Wittenberg – Teddie) were replaced by Erin Fitzgerald and Sam Riegel respectively. As their voices are considerably different from the originals, ATLUS USA chose the more costly method of redubbing all lines for both characters – and I think they did a solid performance for both characters. Most social link characters who were not storyline important don’t seem to have had any additional voice lines added to their scenes and unfortunately still remain primarily quiet.
Unlike Persona 4 Arena, only the English dub is included in this release but I think the dub is of a very high quality overall.
A number of times throughout the game, a character will appear on the Midnight Channel and Yu alongside the rest of the Investigation Team will have to travel to the TV World in order to rescue them. Each character has a themed dungeon developed after one aspect of their personality. Each of these dungeons consist of 10 or so floors are in true dungeon crawling fashion you are required to travel to the end of them to reach a boss. Hindering your way are a number of enemies which you battle using a simple turn-based battle system where you determine the enemies weaknesses (There are seven types – Physical, Agi, Garu, Bufu, Zio, Hama, Mudo) and setting your characters Persona upon them.
Each of the party members besides Yu have a single Persona which generally have one or two specializations for attacks as well as select strengths and weaknesses against certain types of attacks. Yu on the other hand has the ability to switch Personas at will meaning that as the “Jack of all Trades” character he is required to fill in missing elements to the arsenal while being mindful of his own strengths and weaknesses. Attacks strong against the other party may net you extra turns or the ability to perform an “All-Out Attack” while attacks that are weak can restore health to the other party, be reflected back or just have little effect.
Whilst being a simple system, it does provide some challenge especially in the later stages where enemies can hit hard and have varied weaknesses. While you are given access to an Analysis service which highlights known information about the enemy, at least for the first part of the game it is near impossible to tell who is weak against what without trial and error. Fortunately with Persona 4 Golden, Rise gets access to several abilities earlier through her social link so it is a less trivial system. Either way, the gameplay remains mostly unhindered by the port and while it can come down to a grind at points it never really feels overly easy unless you overlevel.
Persona 4 Golden includes several additional features when it comes to the battle system. Rise can make appearances in the middle of battle to strengthen your characters rather than just remaining morale support during battle, you can bring scooters into the battle environment to perform added bonus and certain sets of characters can form fusion attacks (Eg. Chie and Yukiko). Given the increased difficulty options for the game, it doesn’t so much break the balance of the game as it does provided an added layer to strategy. Most if not all other battle system aspects make a return from the original.
To incorporate online functionality into the game, ATLUS have included an SOS function which when used allows other Yu’s in parallel universes to provide morale support and slightly increase the HP and SP of your characters. Given the most responses I have ever had for an SOS alert is 3 and the restoration so little…. I don’t really see the point of having the feature in there.
Quite a lot of time in this game will be spent not defeating shadows in the middle of dungeons but instead spent developing Yu as a person and forming relationships with the wealth of characters included in the game. As mentioned several times above, Social Links are a key aspect to the games storyline but also to the gameplay itself. Upon reaching each Social Link rank, for every Persona you fuse under that specific Arcana you will obtain added experience points which can level the Persona up past even the limits set by Yu’s level. Upon reaching Rank 10 for your party members their Personas will upgrade into a second form (The game includes a new third form later down the track) which provides Evade Skills for the characters element weakness. In addition, with Persona 4 Golden the party members will also be able to learn new skills otherwise unlearnable and gives them an additional edge in battle (Naoto is not so useless at boss monsters who are immune to Hama and Mudo skills).
Outside of social links you are required to develop Yu as a person in five separate categories – Knowledge, Understanding, Diligence, Expression and Courage. These unlock bonus social options and other gameplay features and can be built through everything from reading books, sport/cultural clubs and undertaking jobs to name a few. It provides you with a lot of choice which helps immerse you in the High School life experience limited only by the schedule of everyone else and your funds.
This is the area which has been improved upon the most by Persona 4 Golden. You can now take scooter rides by yourself and with other characters, take advantage of several new shops at Okina City (Promoted from appearing just in cutscenes) and take party members to the cinema which can improve your characters stats. In addition to these, you can take part in side-events such as Bug Catching and Gardening. At night, you are given more freedom than before and can take a new night job and socialize with friends who are at the Shopping District which brings it a bit more into line with Persona 3 Portable.
From early in the game access to Vox Populi (Voice of the People) is granted. Given there is so much to do in one playthrough this provides some ideas by providing you with a look at what other characters did during that day – as well as providing you with a look at what Personas people have fused on that specific day. The usefulness of this decreases as you make your way through the game as it doesn’t take into account where your standing is with other characters, so if you have already maxed Yosuke for example it will still tell you to consider talking to him.
Following along the lines of numerous other Shin Megami Tensei games, Yu is given the ability to summon and switch between Persona during battle. There are a handful of ways to obtain Persona, from obtaining them through a simplified “Shuffle Time” segment at the end of battle to fusing them. The system remains unchanged from the original release, where you select two or more Persona to merge together into a stronger one – taking advantage of skills carried over and social link experience.
While it is a system you may initially only use a few times during your first playthrough, there is quite a lot of depth to this system and provides ample replay value.
The TV Shows
As a new feature to Persona 4 Golden, you are provided with access to an “Extras” menu of sorts in the form of TV Listings. As you progress through the game you will earn access to bonus channels which range from music and animated cutscene viewers to footage from Persona Music Live 2008 and 2009. Most notable is the inclusion of ‘Mr. Edogawa’s TV Classroom’ which provides you with extended information on the themes of the game and the ‘Midnight Miracle Quiz’ which is an interesting and fully dubbed quiz show which quizzes you on some of the more obscure facts about the game – from a specific low-level move to the name of a teacher you never really paid attention to.
Persona 4 remains as one of my personal favorite RPG’s and Persona 4 Golden has only further supported this claim. While it still suffers from a few of the limitations it had in the 2008 release, ATLUS brought everything that made the original game great and built upon it – making it a fun play for both newcomers and veterans alike. While I don’t think I will be putting another 150-200 hours into the game as I did the PS2 release… I will be picking it up for a second playthrough in the near future.
Storyline/Character Development: A
Music/Voice Acting: A
Personal Opinion: A
Overall Score: S