In case you missed it the first time around, Persona 4 was an RPG for the Playstation 2 in which you followed a year in the life of
Souji Seta Yu Narukami Charlie Tunoku, a Japanese high school student sent to live in the tiny mountain town of Inaba while his parents worked abroad. A series of paranormal murders began upon his arrival, pushing Charlie and his new friends into forming their own “investigation team” – one that involved physically entering television sets and fighting the shadowy aspects of mankind’s collective unconscious.
It was perhaps the biggest hit for Japanese developer Atlus ever, one that has seen its story retold in an array of different media since then, including its own anime series. Now, the remastered Persona 4 Golden has arrived for the Playstation Vita, becoming simultaneously the definitive version of Persona 4 and also the only truly compelling reason to purchase Sony’s troubled handheld aside from the recent expansion of their Playstation Plus service.
Having read those introductory paragraphs, you’ve most likely (and very correctly) guessed that our review for Persona 4 Golden will be almost entirely positive. Congratulations, your Understanding has greatly increased. So with that in mind, let’s focus mainly on Golden’s changes and additions from here on out.
First, the big stuff. There are two new Social Links for players to indulge in. The first is with Marie (pictured above) who falls somewhere between Elizabeth and Margaret on the Persona scale; an outsider who, while naive, isn’t completely removed from the real world. Marie is thankfully the beneficiary of some very strong voice work. The second is Adachi, a familiar face for P4 veterans. Both are important to the overall story rather than being mere side characters.
Both Chie and Teddie have retained their new voices as introduced by Persona 4 Arena and the anime’s English dub. This is a good thing, as both those products are still very recent and switching up the actors any further would be an awkward blow to continuity. That said, I will always prefer the somewhat more mature portrayal of Chie in the original Persona 4, though I do realize that recasting her was a necessity which also opened up new dialogue opportunities with Golden that would’ve been impossible otherwise.
Online functionality has also been added in the form of the Voice and SOS options. It’s not true multiplayer – which is a good thing as such a mode would never fit into Persona 4’s existing structure – but something more akin to Dark Souls and its predecessor. Tapping the Voice button will fill your screen with speech bubbles that indicate what other players did in your current position, which can be useful for weighing your daily options at a glance instead of wandering around town looking for something to do. However, as different players progress through the social aspect of Persona 4 Golden in different ways, there will usually be a few bubbles that won’t reflect your own situation, and you’ll likely have avenues of your own that aren’t shown either.
Touching the SOS button while in a dungeon will send a distress signal over the Playstation Network, which will provide HP and SP regeneration at the beginning of your next battle if responded to by another player. This works basically the same way as the Invigorate skills already in the game, but depending on how many players respond it can be dramatically more effective. If used liberally, SOS could allow your party to remain in the TV world indefinitely without spending any yen or items on healing, depending on your play style. It could also be a huge boon to players using the Very Hard difficulty setting.
Unfortunately, SOS pauses the game for a moment while the signal is going out, which delivers a slight hit to immersion. This naturally becomes more of an issue if your Wi-Fi network is prone to interruptions or if PSN is on one of its little sabbaticals. Of course, Voice and SOS can both be disabled entirely at any point and the game prompts you to make this decision on every startup.
Voice and SOS are also Persona 4 Golden’s only use of the Vita’s touch capabilities, which could be good or bad depending on your outlook. No one likes control gimmicks that feel tacked on, yet minor uses of such functionality often feel like missed opportunites or wasted potential. Personally, I just dislike getting fingerprints on the screen. It’s for that reason that I wonder if this feature could’ve been mapped to the rear touchpad instead, which like most Vita titles, sees no action at all in Persona 4 Golden.
Tweaks to Persona 4’s existing mechanics are almost too numerous to mention although several stand out from the pack as critical. Chief among them is the ability to cherry-pick your new Persona’s skills before fusion, rather than “The Nose” giving you a random assortment of inherited abilities as he did before. This means that the days of backing in and out of the fusion screen until you get the skills you want, a frustrating limitation of this system since its introduction in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, are finally at an end.
Another welcome addition to the fusion system is the Fusion Search screen, wherein a list of all the Personas you can create with your current stock are given to you straight up. You can still select two or more of your Personas blindly the old-fashioned way, but with Search, there isn’t much reason to unless you’re intentionally going for a huge multi-Persona fusion job. This isn’t as big a deal as the skill picker, which had me jumping out of my chair and DX crotch-chopping when I first read about it, but it is nonetheless very nice to have.
Skill cards have also been added to the mix. Obtained via the revamped Shuffle Time minigame, you can register skill cards in the Velvet Room in the same manner as Personas which allows you to purchase them later and apply them to any Persona on your active roster. These cards contain skills ranging from the expected staples to exotics that I don’t recognize at all, some of which could be new to Golden.
In battle, Persona-based combination attacks can now be triggered by All-Out attacks, forming a one-two punch capable of laying-out most basic enemies. Furthermore, S-Link progression now unlocks new skills for your party member’s Personas; for instance, Yukiko’s Persona can now learn Mudo fairly early on, which only helps the never-ending search for enemy affinities and weaknesses. However, a lot of rebalancing has also been done to prevent the player from steamrolling over everything, particularly in the case of bosses, though rest easy knowing that Chie is still perfectly capable of punting a mid-boss into orbit.
A balance pass has also been made over the non-combat gameplay to account for all the new timesinks. New books, new jobs, and new side activities have all been added, many of which can raise more than one social characteristic at once, and the options in this area which already existed have also been improved. Finish reading that Knowledge-boosting manual early on and every subsequent study session will be doubled. Being able to explore the town at night also grants new methods for boosting stats like Diligence and Courage, as does taking a ride on the scooter to neighbouring Okina City.
With so many enhancements made to Persona 4’s already winning marriage of story and mechanics and with nary a strike to be made against it, Persona 4 Golden becomes the definitive edition of P4 – and the strongest weapon in the Playstation Vita’s wanting arsenal – pretty much by default. Fans of Persona in particular and RPGs in general, with a “J” or otherwise, should consider this a no-brainer addition to your library if you happen to own a Vita already. If not, it’s your best justification yet to grab that new chunk of hardware.
For non-fans or the unfamiliar, consider the following words and phrases: steak; TV world; the Meat Dimension; luchador masks; Mysterious Fox and Funky Student; “the secret animal cracker.” There are so many more, and so much depth beyond just the comical aspects. If you want to discover what any of that means for yourself, Persona 4 Golden the best way to do so.