Platforms: PS Vita
Release Date: US – November 20th 2012, EU – February 22nd 2013
Welcome to the world of Persona and the quaint Japanese village of Inaba. You’ve just moved here and preparing for your first few days at high school but very quickly you become embroiled in a series of kidnappings and murder cases. Like any good high-school drama it’s up to you with the help of your friends to find out what’s going on and solve the case.
At the outset it sounds like your typically mid-summer B movie but Persona 4: Golden quickly moves itself out of that realm and into one of a select few titles that has sucked hours and hours of my time. After being in-game for a little while and seeing that you can use the TV to enter an alternate world you start realising how big a role you have in the case. It’s from here that Persona 4: Golden gets it’s claws into you.
For those who aren’t aware Persona 4 originally came out for the PlayStation 2 back in 2008, but it’s re-release for the PlayStation Vita couldn’t have fitted better, it’s pick up and play style is a perfect fit for a handheld system.
For the Vita owners it’s the start of a very busy few months and in a way (along with Ni No Kuni) hails the return of the JRPG in the west, a category of games that dominated the last generation of consoles but has been left on the wayside in recent years.
The two main aims of Persona are to get you to build relationships with other characters and to improve your Personas in battle to become stronger and ultimately solve the mysteries going on in Inaba. Everything you do in Persona will make you stronger and more confident but depending on what you choose will vary the ways your character, party and Persona’s grow.
The game is English voiced as well for those who feared an onslaught of Japanese actors to go with reems of text. For a game with this much text it was interesting to see that I couldn’t tap the screen to continue, perhaps that’s the influence that 30 hours with Virtue’s Last Reward had on me but I found constantly tapping the X button to be slightly more annoying. I’m aware that this is nitpicking a bit but none of the Vita’s touch features were used and for some of you I’m sure that’s a good thing.
Building relationships with characters wouldn’t be any fun if you didn’t feel at home with them though. Luckily that’s not the case, everyone you meet in Persona each has their own quirky and unique style that they bring, you won’t find any doubles or copies here. For much of the game I was driven by learning about the world and wanting to help the kidnapped individuals and ultimately find out just what was going on. It’s not an Oscar winning performance or narrative but it certainly kept me coming back along with the battle system.
It’s turn based battle system is one of the most fluid I’ve ever seen and really allows you to express exactly what you and your team would want to do. Without even thinking about it I was replaying dungeons to level up my team not because I wanted to grind but because I was having fun. For me the term ‘grinding levels’ has negative connotations, why would I want to waste time re-playing the same level if I’m not having fun? It’s a difficult balance to strike as grinding is an easy way to increase the gameplay time but luckily Persona 4: Golden kept me wanting to fight, wanting to battle and wanting to become stronger.
But just simply replaying dungeons and levelling up isn’t the only way to become better, there is a huge emphasis put on managing your Personas. In simple terms you can think of Personas as Pokemon, you go into battle with a selection of Personas and can use the skill of one Persona when it’s your turn. But in truth it’s a lot more in depth as you have the ability to combine and upgrade Persona’s making them more powerful and more attuned to your style of combat. It’s a deep and rewarding system which with a little bit of thought can really help you when it comes to facing tough foes throughout the story.
As you can probably tell Persona 4: Golden is a very Japanese style looking and sounding game. But while thoughts of J-Pop mixed in with a very foreign anime look may turn some off it actually works really well. I personally don’t have an issue with the artistic style but I did raise my eyebrow slightly when first hearing the soundtrack. But my way of thinking quickly changed once I had got accustomed to the style and panache that comes with Persona 4: Golden. It’s a soundtrack that is amusing and highly motivating especially when it comes to battle situations. Even just roaming around the shopping district I found myself happily humming away and getting lost inside the overwhelming world of Persona.
And perhaps overwhelming is the ideal word when nitpicking Persona 4: Golden. At the start Persona 4: Golden doesn’t throw you into a huge open world and make you feel lost straight away, it eases you in gently introducing you to the local characters and amenities that you’ll frequent often.
But before you know it you’ll have daily issues of deciding where to go and what to do. Should I hang out with Yukiko and enhance my relationship with her? Work on creating envelopes to increase my diligence or read a novel to boost my courage? I never once got away from the feeling that I might be missing out on something all the time, but that’s what keeps you going. You want to find out more, you want to improve your character and Persona does a truly wonderful job at making you feel in control as a player but just out of reach of being dominant in all aspects of life within the game.
Much like it’s soundtrack, Persona 4: Golden is visually appealing. The Japanese artstyle is alive and well here and compliments the atmosphere of the game nicely, it’s a light and fluffy world on the outside but delve a little deeper and it’s dark undertones quickly seep through.
It’s PS2 origins can be seen in places however with some rather ghastly looking backdrops that don’t show up to well on the Vita’s OLED screen. Add to that that Dungeon’s on the whole repeat their look on every single floor and it can get a bit repetitive.
A single playthrough of Persona 4: Golden could potentially take up to 70 hours, if you add in New Game + plus then your easily looking at over 100 hours. If you wanted a reason to bust out your Vita this is it.
From the outside Persona 4: Golden looks like a niche title that only certain old-school gamers could get on with. But in truth Persona 4: Golden is a truly remarkable title that will forever hold a place with me when I think back of the time I spent with my Vita. While the wait for European gamers has been excruciatingly painful it’s a wait that will be well worth it, Persona 4: Golden is THE game for the PlayStation Vita. Buy it.