I don’t need to tell you how good Persona 4 Golden is, critically acclaimed by reviewers and gamers to a degree where Atlus felt comfortable releasing a trailer goading over their success. Regardless with the European release finally at hand, it’s time we delve into our TV sets for a battle quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
Persona 4 Golden embarks at a steady pace, crafting the world around you before getting to the meat of the campaign. It’s a U-turn from the “all-in” approach taken by its predecessor, but compliments the murder mystery ravelling around you.
The protagonist (lovingly named after myself in a desperate bid to fuel my ego) has moved from the hustle and bustle of city life to the rural town of Inaba. Slowly he acclimatises to his new surroundings and the bonds of friendship start to form.
Things spiral out of control when a tragic chain of murders grip the town, a mysterious TV show called the ‘Midnight Channel’ is rumoured to reveal your true love and inter-dimensional travel is achieved by falling into a TV set. How these events are intertwined is the driving force of the story, accentuated by a myriad of individual tales encompassed throughout. These make the residents of Inaba feel alive and despite having more teenage angst than your average Twilight film, it’s delivered with heart and soul that make it more than a little endearing.
Occurring throughout the 2011/2012 academic year, you tailor how you play with choices filtering into other key aspects. More often than not your day begins at school, where teachers bombard you with various trivia where correct answers boost your stats and present opportunity for unique plot elements.
At this point onwards the day becomes your own. How shall I spend this evening? Advancing my personal skills? Working part time to earn enough money for new armour? Progressing the social links I’ve built with my peers? Or perhaps I should venture into the world beyond the TV, honing my skills with the aim to rescue those trapped on the other side.
It’s a memorable experience, largely down the scripted events and hilarious contributions from the supporting cast. Characters reveal their emotional turmoil after spending time with the protagonist, as these links’ progress characters unlock new skills or abilities, provide recipes for new a persona or even declare their love for you. For such a small hamlet, there’s a lot of choice regarding how you spend your time, opening up the opportunity for multiple playthroughs.
Combat takes place within the TV on stages constructed by the sheltered desires of the kidnapping victims. It’s an interesting premise as I clambered through Sauna’s, Stripclubs and Castles (to name a few) clashing against their “shadow” at the pinnacle. In what becomes a mildly tedious recurring theme, the victim’s ‘strength of heart has been made manifest’ attaining the ability to call forth their Persona – a manifestation of their true self.
Yet the protagonist is an anomaly to this rule, able to maintain, utilize and combine multiple personas. You can switch almost anywhere, but fusing persona’s requires a trip to the Velvet Room. Fusion provides to opportunity to create new persona’s that exhibit facets of their previous existence, emphasising the importance of putting the time in to develop a persona’s potential. Building a ‘dream team’ became one of my inherent goals, made difficult due to the constant introduction of new persona and the advancement of my social links.
Shadows wander the grounds, drawn to those trapped within this alternate reality and how you engage them can result in advantages or disadvantages in battle. unsuspecting enemies will be taken by surprise, emphasizing the importance of strategy when planning a route to the target. On the flip side, a mistimed slice of the sword can result in the enemy getting the jump on you, unleashing an unparalleled assault before I was able to react.
Enemies have distinct strengths and weaknesses, finding and exploiting these can turn the tide of battle, but it’s imperative to remember your team is far from infallible and you need to safeguard against your own failings.
Irritatingly a party member who falls in battle can be revived through varying means, but if the main character’s HP drops to 0, its game over. It’s infuriatingly rage inducing, but promotes the risk reward combat system. Valiant battles are awarded with tarot cards, which empower or hinder your development.
Awash with bright colours, the inviting colour palette is a welcome change from a market oversaturated by browns and greys. The jump in hardware has meant the experience needn’t be watered down, with great looking 3D models that combined with iconography and facial portraits are able to express a wide range of emotions. Couple this with some fantastic cut-scenes and you’ve got a visual masterpiece that is as charming as it is powerful.
For a remake, there’s a staggering amount of new content in Persona 4 Golden. Marie and Adachi have been introduced as new social links, there’s more brilliant voice acting and new scripted events that bring you from the sunny beach to a snowy ski resort, with beautifully rendered cut-scenes, as just a portion of what the ‘Golden’ part offers.
Most interestingly is the inclusion of two systems that utilize PlayStation Network – SOS and VOTP. SOS allows you to send out distress signals and those who respond provide a small boost to health and magic. Voice of the People is my favourite networked feature, showcasing the actions other users took when presented the same situation and providing insight when I was at a loss with how to spend my time. The most useful new function would have to be the skip option, allowing you to fast forward through scenarios at whim.
Persona 4 Golden works surprisingly well on handheld, frequent save points combined with the Vita’s strong standby life allowed me to either pick up and play, or entertain a late night binge and the resulting bleary eyed morning. I’m not just asking for you to spend money on a game, with a campaign stretching over 60 hours, I’m asking for your time. I endeavoured to capture every moment with Persona 4 Golden, that’s why every photo in this article comes from my personal playthrough.
I don’t need to tell you how good Persona 4 Golden is, but I damn well want to!
Persona 4 Golden is out now exclusively on the PS Vita.