US Vita owners were able to get their hands on Persona 4 Golden last year, Europeans officially had to wait until February 2013. Was the wait worth it?
Yes! Yes it was. Persona 4 Golden is without a shadow of a doubt an instant classic, a true joy to own and play with a huge amount of content that should see you get over 100 hours of gameplay, depending on how much of the world of Inaba you wish to discover. To be honest, it is a game that you’ll never actually want to end.
The game follows you as you arrive to live with the Dojima’s in the quiet town of Inaba. You start a new school as a new mystery starts. A bizarre series of murders forces you and your friends Chie and Yosuke on a mission after Yukiko is launched into the Midnight Channel and her life ends up in danger. The mystery deepens early on and your group is eventually joined by new members the further the story goes.
Initially the game comes across as a simple RPG, as you trawl through the dungeons on the midnight channel, however as veteran Persona players will know, it is much more than that. The game combines RPG style gameplay with a wonderful story and some amazing writing. There are elements of dating sims with the relationship building that is vital to the RPG elements, as well as other areas that help build your character. It all comes together in a way that hasn’t been executed by others games in such a glorious way before.
After an initial opening couple of hours, which are glorified cut-scenes, the game really opens up and give you full control. Yet those opening moments aren’t as dull, or drawn out like some games. It is here the game teaches you the basic layout of the world around you, introduces the game’s main characters and shows off the mechanics, battles systems and the like. In other games veterans would likely be bored of yet another glorified tutorial, but in Persona 4 Golden, it is much more than that. The writing is so well done, that on a second playthrough, or even a third you are happy to sit through again. Much like watching your favourite TV series again and again.
The game is essentially broken into two main areas. One is the Midnight TV channel where much of the ‘action’ takes place. You will battle through various floors of areas within the channel, battling shadows as you progress to your goal. You wander through the floors and rather than random battles just happening, you’ll see the shadows as you move through. Attack them before they see you and you gain an advantage going into battle, however should they see you, then they get the advantage.
Battles are turn based, but never slow moving. You’ll take on all kinds of weird and wonderful monsters, each with strengths and weaknesses. You will use you Personas (more on them later) to battle, utilising their powers to defeats the shadows. Some battles will be over very quickly as you breeze through the enemy, others will become drawn out strategical battles, that require all your attention and knowledge to overcome. At the end of each you are rewarded with money and EXP based on the level of monster you have defeated. Perform well and you can even select bonuses that will give you special skill cards, new personas and much more.
Ah, those Personas! As described by the game, a Persona is a manifestation of one’s true self. It is these Personas which are the key to battle, they are used for the main and most powerful attacks and need to be managed as the game goes on, so you can get the best from them. This can be done either by earning EXP during battles, gaining bonus cards or by gaining and improving social links.
Social Links bring us nicely to the other main area of Persona 4 Golden. Away from battles you will find yourself spending most time at school and interacting with other people around Inaba. Should you have a close enough relationship, you will earn a social link, which can then give bonuses to certain types of Persona, which can either be earned by winning bonus cards in battle, or fused in the Velvet Room.
In many games, the side actions are never as important as the main quest, yet here in Persona the developing of relationships is as vital as actually being in the Midnight Channel. Going for food with friends, joining groups, reading, working, along with others will start and strengthen bonds. As these bonds get stronger, you will earn new ranks which will also earn your Personas new bonuses and powers. Simply ignoring the social aspect of the game and concentrating on the Midnight Channel will see the game end all too soon and likely make battles a frustrating experience later on as you struggle to overcome the shadows. Regardless of added difficulty, you won’t want to ignore the social side, as it is just so damn fun.
Again another side of the game that is common across other RPG style games, is the managing of an inventory, whether that be managing the Personas you carry, the weapons, armour, items, etc. Instead of being purely another menu to play with, some of this is embedded in the story. Managing Personas is done within the Velvet room, where you will fuse Personas, register new Personas, buy skill cards and even get some additional quests. It is something that is common to all the Persona games and is something that works amazingly well.
Persona 4 Golden isn’t a good game based of a few things working well. It is one of the finest games you will play because of just how perfectly every element of the game knits together. Even visually it stands out from the crowd. Originally a PS2 game, Atlus decided against simply re-releasing the game, they put the effort in to port it over to the Vita adding in extras along the way. We could easily wax lyrical about how well the game is presented, how wonderfully crafted the characters are, however anyone picking this up deserves to be wowed by the visual greatness on the Vita’s OLED screen.
Persona 4 Golden isn’t just one of the best games on the Vita to date… Actually scratch that. It is THE best game on the Vita and it is one of the finest games you will ever play. It is a lesson in craftsmanship, there is no weakness at all, at no point is there a moment where your interest falls away. Persona 4 Golden is a system seller, you must own this, even if you need to still buy a Vita to do so.