Review: Persona 4 Golden
By: Jeff Rivera
I like RPGs, but I rarely find that I have the patience necessary to finish many of the JRPGs that are out there. With their lengthy story sections, slow pacing, and sheer length, it takes a truly special game for me to keep with it. Persona 4 Golden for the PS Vita is that game, and I find myself wondering how anything in the near future is going to top the gaming experience I've just had in the RPG genre.
Persona 4 Golden is an updated remake of Persona 4. It brings a handful of new features to what was already considered a solid RPG. Refinements, new characters, new scenarios, and streamlining make the game feel like a director's cut done right in every way possible. If you're wondering whether to save a few bucks and pick up Persona 4 on PS2 or get the Vita version, the latter is the far better choice, regardless of price difference.
So what makes Persona 4 Golden (P4G) so good? I believe that due to the slow pacing and often repetitive nature of combat in JRPGs that the storyline is tasked with keeping gamers engaged. P4G has a storyline that is well told, has an interesting and unique premise, and is full of surprises from start to finish. The game relies heavily on character interaction, where you work to level up Social Links with other individuals in the game. Leveling up these Social Links makes characters in your party stronger, allows you to create strong Personas (summons that cast magic), and determine whether or not your character gets involved with a more intimate relationship.
The game balances itself between dungeon exploration where you'll search out the game's bosses and enemies with periods of time where you basically choose how to spend your free time. The main character is attending a high school and as a high school student, there are plenty of things demanding of his time. You'll need to choose who you want to hang out with, if you want to take on a part time job, if you want to play a sport, if you want to join a school club, and all sorts of other random activities. While it sounds mundane, the social side of Persona 4 Golden are some of the strongest moments of the game, thanks to their overall impact on the character's progression and the fantastic writing that went into the game's narrative.
The battle system is quite solid. It doesn't really do anything truly revolutionary, but it's a well built battle system that is reliant on good strategy and patience. You can do normal physical attacks, or you can summon your persona to perform magic attacks. Using your persona uses SP (the game's mana system) for magic attacks, or it might draw HP for some special physical attacks. Leveling up your personas will increase their effectiveness and give them more skills. Individual personas have their own strengths and weaknesses, so if you're fighting enemies who are focusing on fire-based attacks, you'll want to equip a persona that is strong against fire. The main character can swap personas in battle, but all of the secondary playable characters will be locked to a single persona.
New personas can be created by fusing existing personas. You get special bonus XP for newly fused personas based on your social link progression, making for a strong tie between the game's battle systems and the game's social systems. It's nice that you can be rewarded in battle for the stuff you spend time doing in the other moments of the game.
I also appreciated that P4G never became a grind fest. I never ran into a moment where I wasn't leveled up enough to deal with the monsters or bosses in the game, because the game does a good job encouraging you to do additional exploration in dungeons aside from just hunting down and defeating bosses. There are certain fights that you may not be able to handle, but they're usually extra content types of moments, and you can always come back. I never had the storyline set aside for me so that I could grind, but I never felt like the big boss encounters were easy, either.
Visually, the game is quite striking. Sure, those of us who aren't fans of anime might bristle a bit at the character designs, but they'll grow on you over time. The game's environments are very detailed and quite varied. The enemy design is imaginitive, and the world is cohesive and believable. Combine those visuals with some fantastic voice acting and catchy music, and the overall presentation is top notch across the board.
Persona 4 Golden is pretty tough to explain. You can break down its individual aspects and it will score well, but this game is one of those instances where the sum of its parts if far greater than you'd expect. Even for the RPG wary folk out there, Persona 4 Golden ends up offering a deep, satisfying, and engaging experience from start to finish. If you have a Vita, it's time to experience Persona 4 Golden, because as of right now, there's not a better game available for the handheld.
5 Stars out of 5