Game Review: Persona 4: Golden (Vita) | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Game Review: Persona 4: Golden (Vita)

‘I am thou…thou art I’ the theme of personal acceptance is integral to Persona 4: Golden, a Vita remake of the PS2 JRPG

‘I am thou...thou art I’ the theme of personal acceptance is integral to Persona 4: Golden, a Vita remake of the PS2 JRPG. It’s something lots of games touch upon, but it’s essential to your progression here. Characters must face the part of themselves that they are keeping in the shadows in order to unlock their potential. This potential comes in the form of Persona, the physical manifestation of their ‘true self’ used to do battle with enemies. Rather than being a separate creature, like catching Pokémon for example, the direct link between character and Persona is what makes this such an interesting take on the genre.

Set in rural Japan, Persona 4: Golden is a murder mystery at its core. Investigating a series of kidnappings and deaths in the small town of Inaba, you find your team delving into the impossible from the start. A supposed myth that involves seeing your true love on TV on rainy nights leads to the discovery of the Midnight Channel, and the TV World it originates from. All of the basics for a classic RPG tale are there, an outsider who finds himself involved in a massive adventure, plucky young heroes that defy the odds to succeed, and enough double and triple crossing that soon you’ll have no clue who the true bad guys are. It’s a surprisingly deep take on the genre that repeatedly goes to some real introspective and emotional places, whilst retaining a refreshing Japanese charm and style throughout.

There’s been talk of games becoming a ‘second life’ for players, but Persona 4: Golden takes this concept to a whole new level. Though half of the game is spent in the TV World, battling enemies, searching through dungeons for rare loot and powering up your Personas, the rest of your time is spent building up social links with other characters in the game. Decisions like which armour to equip eventually come second to choosing whether to spend the day playing on the basketball team, or going for ramen with your best friend. Do you spend the evening with helping your cousin Nanako with her homework or earn some extra cash working as a janitor at the local Hospital, building up your courage in its silent corridors? Spending time with a friend boosts your social link with them allowing for more powerful Personas to be summoned in battle, though it also uses up one of your allotted days.

Time management is key to playing Persona 4: Golden effectively, with important events happening on certain days you need to be able to juggle the many opportunities that present themselves. So much of Persona 4: Golden is ‘optional’ though, meaning you could spend 60 hours completing the game and yet never encounter certain characters you can form relationships with. Acing your school exams becomes as important as it would be in real life, with many questions about Japanese culture that would be common knowledge in their country you genuinely feel like you are learning by listening to in game lectures.

It’s difficult to find anything at fault in one of the greatest RPGs of the last decade.
It sounds crazy when written, but experiencing this day to day life makes the entire experience so much more engaging. Certain character’s stories are heartbreaking, a nurse dealing with the loss of one of her patients; a high schooler coming to terms with his sexuality; your uncle trying to move on from the death of his wife, his daughters face reminding him of her everyday, things can get very intense here. It never feels forced though, the natural progression of each of these stories over separate encounters means that the pacing is perfect. Soon you’ll be spending time with those characters whose you connect to, rather than those that could ‘help you’ the most, a remarkable achievement that is a testament to the excellent writing and localisation here.

Of course all of these things were in the original PS2 game, so what makes this Golden version the essential one? Of course there are major changes that will tempt newcomers to pick up the Vita version, such as 2 new Social Links including one that leads to an all new ending, a new dungeon and dozens of extra cutscene events scattered across the adventure. It’s not these that leave the strongest impact though, instead it’s the subtle tweaks that will have fans of the original falling in love with the game all over again. Being able to pick the skills a Persona retains during fusion as well as search for available fusions from those you already have streamlines what was an incredible complicated portion of the game into a simple and enjoyable feature. The post battle card shuffle mini-game is changed too, making the game more accessible, while being able to retry the floor of a dungeon reduces the amount of times you’ll have to reload a save after an unexpected defeat. (And reduced the amount of times this editor threw the controller across the room in frustration down to zero) In short, returning to the original game after playing through Golden would be much more awkward than you could have imagined.

This is the main sentiment you are left with after playing through Persona 4: Golden. Other developers need to take notes from what Atlus have achieved here. They've taken an already brilliant game and turned it into a genre defining one. It’s difficult to find anything at fault in one of the greatest RPGs of the last decade. It’s most definitely the most complete experience on the PlayStation Vita and worth owning the handheld for. Emotionally poignant, genuinely funny, deceptively addictive and instantly accessible, Persona 4: Golden is essential.


5th March 2013 at 4:20 pm