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Review: Persona 4 Golden

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It’s not hard to say that out of all of the Persona games, the fourth installment seems to be the most popular; it received an anime, a manga, a light novel and even a fighting game spin off  which is heading to Europe this May. I’d imagine that because of its popularity that for many players, this may be their first Persona game – It’s certainly my first Persona game, but after playing Persona 4 Golden for the Playstation Vita, it certainly won’t be the last.

Persona 4 Golden (PSVita)
Developed by Atlus, Published by NIS

Persona 4 Golden stars a young, unnamed protagonist, starting a new year as a transfer to a new high-school in the small rural town of Inaba. He soon finds friends in Yosuke, Chie and Yukiko, and what begins as a simplistic year at high school turns into something much more complicated as word spreads of a mysterious urban myth; the “Midnight Channel”, a mysterious TV channel which only appears at midnight during heavy rain, which allows you to see your soul mate. However, when they learn that this Channel is actually real, it leads to the gang actually entering a world via television, and soon finds them wrapped up in a murder mystery beyond the real world’s comprehension.

Soon after you begin to truly explore the world of the Midnight Channel, you get to the titular mechanic of battling; the Personas. Personas are a manifestation of a person’s personality, and our player character has the ability to hold multiple of these at a time, able to swap one out for another to use its special abilities.  The Personas’ abilities essentially match up to a character’s magic in any other JRPG, and in like any other JRPG, the enemies, which in this game are known as Shadows, are weaker to specific abilities, such as Fire and Electricity. In fact, acting upon an enemies’ weakness causes it to miss a turn, and in return giving you another move.

This is my favourite part of the battle system – linking together attacks in a chain, causing enemies one after another to falter weak without letting the enemy have a turn, until all enemies like that, when you can choose to go for an all-in beat down with your party of four. What is nice about the battle system is that you can choose what each individual party member does, giving you the option to either control them yourself, do whatever they feel is right, or conserve the MP of the game known as Soul Points, among other features.

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One of the most interesting features of these Personas is the ability to fuse – by entering the Velvet Room, a mysterious limo-like dream world, you can talk with Igor and combine Personas to make stronger, better ones, in which you can imbue a few powers of the original Personas which are being fused. This is an essential feature – it cuts out a lot more grinding, as it usually results in a higher-leveled Persona, and by giving it the powers of the Personas pre-fusing, you can try and make the new creation as rounded as possible with as many elemental and defensive attacks as possible, making it not only a more well-rounded Persona, but also a more powerful one.

Other than that, however, the battle system is pretty simple, and, while it never really gets annoying, it’s massively irritating that while the rest of your party can die without the game being over, you can’t; you die and it’s back to the title screen – except in Golden, where they added a new feature (In normal at least) to start back on the floor you died on – very handy for boss floors, where it’s essentially just restarting the battle. This is particularly annoying when you’re grinding though – which you’ll be doing a lot of, and as said, while it doesn’t get annoying, the battle system never really changes, which is a bit disappointing.  At the very least, you can fast forward through cut scenes you’ve already seen by pressing Start, making the pain of losing what could possibly be a large chunk of playtime a little less painful.

Persona 4 makes up for its ho-hum battle system with not only the Persona function as mentioned previously, but also its cast of varied and interesting characters. The characters in Persona 4 are as memorable as you can get in a video game; no one character is the same – everyone has their own distinct personalities, interests and traits. This was where the game truly won me over; if the game did not feature the cast it currently features, and then I definitely would have played it with a lot less enthusiasm. Maybe it’s my inexperience with the JRPG genre, but Persona 4 really does feature one of the best casts of characters I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with in a video game. In some way, each character has a relatable trait which everyone can feel attached to in some way – they feel so human, and in a game based in such an odd, supernatural universe, it’s a very interesting contrast.

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However, the reality-based characters and the odd world of the Midnight Channel come crashing together in a flash of brilliance with the Shadows. Many of the bosses in the game are not just shadows, but darker versions of people you meet, sucked into this world and forced to come face to face with their deepest, darkest sides of their personalities – and if they don’t accept them, they die. In fact, dungeons will take their designs based on certain shadow’s personalities, such as a castle for someone who considers themselves akin to a “princess”, locked away, waiting for a prince.

After fighting a shadow such as this, it really is heart-warming to see the person in distress take control and admit to their faults – and to better them. It’s at this point where you yourself are most likely to feel a closer connection to a character or two. That’s how I certainly felt during a certain character’s segment – one which I felt that I related to so much that it nearly brought me to tears. It really was then that I realized that Persona 4 was such a fantastic game in the character department.

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A majority of the people you engage within the game are part of your party, or at the very least help you in your quest in a way that you wouldn’t expect; when you begin to get to know a character or a group for the first time, you will create what Igor calls a “Social Link”. Social Links are one of the most important features of the “real world” in Persona 4; the more you interact with friends, the bigger the link gets, and the bigger the link gets, the better your fighting skills in the Midnight Channel will be – for example, growing your social links with friends in your party will give them more abilities in battle, such as helping party members up when they are knocked down, or healing other members when they fall under certain effect ailments.

Social Links do just more than boost your party – they are required to make bigger and better Personas. Each Link is based on a type of Persona, such as the Fool, or the Magician, and each level will also benefit that particular type of Persona, and interacting with certain party members at certain times will give their Personas special abilities only available when you achieve another level in your social link. Also, spending enough time with one of the female characters in the game will make them your love interest. As I said before, the characters are really the heart and core of the game, and it’s always a pleasant surprise to be able to grasp at the chance to create a new social link.

p4g_screens_firstenglishbatch_01The real world has a bigger part to play than one would expect; as you are in Inaba for a year, every day since your arrival is shown – most days except Sundays you’ll have to go to school until the afternoon, when you can go out and do what you want. This can either consist of visiting the Midnight Channel to grind or progress through a dungeon, or spending time doing your own activities in the real world. It’s this particular time where bigger decisions come – and it can’t always be easy; while it can be tempting to duck out of the Midnight Channel to improve your social links to improve your own stats, sometimes you are on a time limit – if you let a person be succumbed to their shadow, it’s game over, and you are sent back a week to try again. Many times during the game, they do ensure you that while you have a time limit, don’t rush things – if you’re doing things right, more often than not they’ll tell you to chill out on the dungeon exploring and spend some time in the real world- which, as it can improve your social links, is important to improving yourself in the Midnight Channel.

There’s more than just the social links, however; the Player himself has certain stats he must improve in, such as Intelligence, Courage and Expression. These can be improved by answering questions right, riding your bike to new areas and generally picking the right line in a conversation. Improving your stats gives you more choices in what you can say in dialogue, and it can also improve your social links – making it an important feature. For example, it’s important to study for an exam (yes, actually study) so you can get the higher grades (although it also helps to remember past questions that teachers have asked you). The higher marks in turn make you more popular, and open up more possibilities in social links. All of this real world stuff is just as enjoyable as the RPG experience – living out a “real life” is a lot more fun knowing you and your buddies have your very own secret world that you’re looking to better yourself for.

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The 3D graphics aren’t the most impressive on the Vita – it certainly doesn’t help that the game is a 5 year old PS2 game.  They’re sort of blocky, and it feels at times that the character designs may not have as much detail put into them as they deserve. However, while it may still look like a PS2 game it’s still a very good looking PS2 game – the monsters are imaginative, and the worlds and the battlegrounds look so demented and amazing, that it doesn’t matter that they’re 5 years old.

The 2D art is phenomenal, full of colour and life. The animated sequences sprinkled are particularly beautiful; the new opening truly a work of art, bringing together a glorious shower of colour and different styles. I’m glad it’s the first thing you see after the logos you see when you load up the game, as it really is a perfect introduction as to what you’re getting into – a spectrum of interesting ideas, combined with colourful characters.

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While the graphics may have been a mishmash of decent to excellent, the sound design in this game is always excellent – the music is absolutely superb. Shoji Meguro has composed a memorable soundtrack, full of jaunty tunes and themes that really will stick in your mind as you play through the game. None of the music stuck out as being bad, jarring or grating. In fact, the theme that plays when you launch a surprise attack on an enemy is pretty much my sole reason for actually launching a surprise attack.

Not only is the music excellent, but so is the voice acting- and there is a lot of it. 95% of the dialogue has voice acting to accompany them, and it’s a good thing that all of the actors and actresses do fantastic jobs in making the characters feel more human than many other robotic or campy voice actors there are in JRPGs.  The dialogue is well adapted to an English audience while leaving in some traces of its Japanese origins, and it’s so nice that when the characters say Japanese names and phrases such as “senpai” it sounds like it just rolls off the tongue, and it just builds on the immersion the game creates – the feeling that the people in Persona 4 are more than just characters, and are more akin to real people than one would not realize.

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The Vita’s touch features don’t really add much to the base game; barely anything is touch-based, except for three new features; the SOS feature lets you to call other P4G players on PSN to give you their “encouragement” during battles, providing you with HP and SP bonuses, and such. Another touch feature introduced is the “TV Listings”, which lets you view bonus content that is unlocked in the main game – both of which are labelled as “shows” to fit with the TV-heavy theme of the game. This is brought up by double tapping the screen and pressing the icon. “Vox Populi” allows you to see what other players on the PSN did at certain times of the game – which can help players if they’re not sure how to, say, spend an in-game school day. Honestly, it’s not a concern that the system barely uses any new Vita functionality; this is a game where you want to kick back and relax while playing, and not having to worry about touching here, there and everywhere on the screen.

I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to be able to play Persona 4 for the first time on the Vita; without a doubt, this game is the killer app for the system. It may be a port of a 5 year old PS2 game, but for players who’s never experienced Persona like me; it will introduce them into a beautiful world of interesting characters, bizarre but awesome creature and world design, and an experience like no other. However, while non-JRPG fans such as me may not find the battle system to be too troublesome, bigger JRPG fans may find it to be disappointed and possibly even slightly annoyed at the simplistic and mostly antiquated mechanics of the battle system.

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Persona 4 Golden is one of the reasons I bought a Vita, and it certainly made it worthwhile, as without a doubt it is one of the greatest games I have ever played. While I haven’t been a fan of the franchise before, I certainly am now, and I am anxious to not only play Arena, but the previous games in the series as well.

To put it simply, Persona 4 Golden is a breathtaking experience, one that should be experienced by everyone who owns a Vita. It’s not just a recommended buy for the system – but it’s a necessary buy.

Final Score: 9.5/10

 

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