Persona 4 Golden (P4G) is a JRPG for the PlayStation Vita. The game was developed and published by Atlus. Persona 4 Golden is an enhanced port of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 originally released and developed for the PlayStation 2 released back in 2008 well into the life cycle of the PS3. While the PS2 obviously had a big built-in fan base and the PS3, at the time, was backwards compatible with PS2 titles, it likely that a good number of people missed the game or skipped out on it despite it selling quite well on its release. That is why Persona 4 Golden is perfect for anyone who has not or who has played the original Persona 4 because it features additional story elements, new characters and personas, as well as, new lines of dialogue and animated cut-scenes, among other additions. Persona 4 Golden is the fourth installment of the Persona side-series in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise.
As the protagonist starts attending his new high school, he quickly makes friends with his classmates Yosuke, Chie and Yukiko. Quickly upon settling into life in a much smaller town, the protagonist and his friends learn of a rumor about a “Midnight Channel”, where if watching a turned-off TV at midnight on a rainy day will reveal the person’s soul mate. Chie and Yosuke end up seeing a blurred female student on the television. During this time, someone finds the dead body of a TV announcer strung up on a TV antenna causing panic in the small town. Eventually, the protagonist learns he is able to enter televisions when hanging out with Chie and Yosuke in the electronics department of the big box store, Junes. By accident, the gang ends up entering the TV World and meets a giant plush teddy bear with a giant zipper along his neck named Teddie. After Yosuke learns that his murdered classmate and friend, Saki-senpai found the dead body of the announcer and was the one on the “Midnight Channel”, he begs the protagonist to take him back into the TV World to find out what happened. As they explore the TV World with Teddie, Yosuke must face his other self and accept it thus awakening his Persona. Once they recover from the fight and shock of Yosuke facing his other self, the two promises Teddie to find out who has been sending people into his world. Thus, the protagonist and his other friends endeavor to find out who is trying to murder people by throwing them into the TV.
The story in P4G is brilliant, full of clever twists and turns while the player tries to uncover who is behind the series of murders in Inaba. P4G explores some rather heady and mature themes dealing with the tough time of adolescence focusing on various aspects of identity, and touches on these themes with a deft hand making for a touching and relatable experience. Never once does the game let natural assumptions remain by throwing in several curve balls and red herrings along the way to the ultimate answer. In a story where a sprawling crime is the thrust, it is easy to focus simply on the mystery while slacking on characters and character development. However, P4G never rests on its laurels and in addition to creating an intriguing plot, it has so many compelling and complicated characters that only get deeper as the player progresses through the game. By building “Social Links” with various characters, the player/protagonist will slowly gain more understanding of them as people and the characters in P4G are so different that it makes forming “Social Links” as compelling as the gameplay.
P4G gameplay is a split between combat while exploring themed dungeons and maintaining relationships with characters via “Social Links”. The game features a style of combat that does away with random battles in favor of having enemies pop up throughout the corridors of dungeons that the player can choose to engage or try to sneak away. It is in the best interest of leveling up and general lootery to engage the enemies propagating the multi-floor dungeons, so that when players inevitably face the boss for each dungeon they are sufficiently strong enough to defeat them. While sometimes the idea of knowing when a player will enter battle due to enemies appearing on screen tends to feel boring in certain JRPGs/RPGs (cough, Final Fantasy XIII, end cough), it never does in P4G and there is always a sense of excitement when entering battle. Plenty of that has to do with clever turn-based combat, huge variation among the player’s various Personas (which they can switch out once per turn), and figuring out what Persona is best for fighting any given enemy. In addition, to see what Persona pairs well with the other character’ singular Personas, that develop certain element and specific specialties as they level up, to form a deadly team for clearing out Shadows. The ability to analyze enemies freely during battle helps and allows for much more strategy when facing familiar enemies and experimentation when facing enemies for the first time. Each dungeon’s theme is based off the hidden self of the kidnapped person or what they are currently hiding/repressing from themselves leading to some interesting level designs.
After facing their “other self” and awakening their Personas, the player is able to form deeper relationships with the kidnapped characters leading to the formation of “Social Links”. By finding characters “After School” or on days off that have a purple exclamation point above their head, the player can begin to spend time with various characters and learn more about them. The benefit outside of character development is that for each rank up in the “Social Link”, a benefit will be conferred to the player in the form of more experience either when fusing Personas of a certain order or for playable characters extra moves during battle. Each “Social Link” has 10 slots, which the player can level up by spending time with the characters and there are dozens of characters that the player can form “Social Links” with, so it leads to plenty of hours learning more about the people of Inaba and spending time with various friends, acquaintances and family members. There is a lot to do in P4G, both in combat and during the time between battle that is rich and rewarding in its own way. It is highly recommended to explore “Social Links” as much as clearing dungeons for experience, money and materials.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, the game is not too dissimilar from the PS2 version; the 3D models look much the same (maybe with some smoothing out). The hand drawn character portraits are still beautiful and creating Personas to see the gorgeous portraits is addicting. Inaba’s various areas are rendered well, and while featuring an over map, do convey the small town feeling well. The 3D models have a charm to them and while remaining much the same as a PS2 game from 2008, they do look quite good. Adding in some more animated cut scenes is a treat and if anything should cause some added interest to the Persona 4 anime.
The music in P4G is amazing. Shōji Meguro with the help of Atsushi Kitajoh, Ryota Kozuka and Shihoko Hirata have composed a memorable and incredible soundtrack. From the return of the Velvet Room theme, “The Poem for Everyone’s Souls”, this sets the tone for the Velvet Room encounters perfectly and is stunningly beautiful, to the overarching battle theme, “Reach Out To the Truth”, which will pump up the adrenaline and pairs so well with the numerous battles players will have to overcome. The P4G (and by extension the Persona 4) soundtrack is a joy and has many memorable songs. In addition, the voice acting is top notch and the expanded voice work in P4G is a treat.
While the PS Vita has had its share of problems since its launch back in Mar 2012, there have been several excellent games to come out for system since its initial release, specifically during the holiday season of 2012. Persona 4 Golden gives the beleaguered PS Vita a much-needed shot in the arm and much like its original PS2 release the game is incredible. Persona 4 Golden features richly complex and well-written characters that come alive thanks to brilliant voice acting. The story is deep, evolves smartly overtime with clever twists, and turns as the player tries to find out the person responsible for the Inaba murders. With gameplay that is addicting and fresh emphasizing both social bonds and excellent combat, there is not a dull moment in P4G. The soundtrack is sublime and full of memorable songs. Persona 4 Golden is not the only reason to own a PS Vita, but it is certainly hard to argue against people buying a PS Vita to play P4G because the game is a masterpiece.