Persona 4 Golden Review

persona 4 feature

Persona 4 Golden is not only the best RPG you’ve never played, but is also the perfect example of a remake done right – not just a visual upgrade. With new characters to meet, more voice acting and additional personas to collect, it’s well worth the $60 investment, especially if you missed it first time round (in which case you’re in for a real treat). The game’s only major barrier is that it’s too big, scaring away many would-be-gamers because they simply don’t have the time. Just to clarify, we’re talking up till 6am, every single night for weeks on end type big.

Thankfully, the breadth of Golden’s sheer size is complimented by a rich, character driven narrative; one that results in the best of the series to date. Unnamed city-boy hero ‘X’ has recently arrived in the small Japanese village of ‘Inaba,’ a sleepy country town known for absolutely nothing. The moment he arrives, people start getting kidnapped before ending up dead, attracting both media attention and major celebrities.

persona4 screenshot2 Persona 4 Golden Review

Where’d all my friends go?

‘X’ and his small group of friends set out to discover the next batch of victims and eventually track down the culprit. It’s a slightly darker story than usual for the hugely successful Japanese franchise, comparable to a light-hearted Japanese horror flick. Humour peppers the affair with jabs at atrocious vampire novels, teachers who refer to their students as assholes and a teddy bear with a boner for one of your team members. Throughout the journey you’ll build relationships with those around you, strengthening your connections with the game’s central thesis – the persona.

Personas are figments of your psyche, used to battle opponents (basically Pokemon without the balls). They level up, gain skills, can be fused together to become more powerful and are directly linked to people you’ve built a relationship with. These links infuse them with strength, so the deeper your relationship with a specific character, the greater the level bonus you’ll receive for associated persona classes. It’s an intelligent levelling system that rewards your playtime regardless of whether your interests in the game lie in the combat or simulated experiences.

More than just a superficial addition, the personas allow the game to explore concepts in Jungian philosophy – a mode of thinking which initiated and developed the idea of the introverted and extroverted personality type and collective unconscious. Extend this exploration to a study of Japan’s fixation on celebrity idols and lack of individuality and you have a game thematically critical of Japanese pop culture. As such, it is surprisingly complex on an analytical level. There’s even an in-game video detailing specifics of how personas play a role in each of our lives. While these concepts may be discussed as subtly as a pair of DD’s squashed tightly against your drooling face, it is nevertheless refreshing to play an RPG rooted so deeply in psychological theory.

The personas also play an integral role in combat determining what your weaknesses and strengths are, which abilities you can learn and, when you decide to fuse it with another persona, what skills will be passed on. Battling is a turn-based affair and by focusing on your enemies weak points you open them up to group based attacks. In addition to high physical damage, these joint attacks grant a selection of goodies after battle, from permanent stat increases to new persona. Strategy, therefore, plays an important role in not only the outcome of a battle, but in the loot obtained after, keeping the combat formula from getting repetitive.

Combat is only half the game though, so with the other half you’ll be participating in day to day activities; working at a part-time job, attending classes, hanging out with your friends, joining a sporting club or riding around town on your scooter. There’s a lot to do and see even outside of the 40 hour plus campaign. And because the game works to a strict calendar determining when certain quests and activities must be completed, every action holds weight. Choose to study so you can ace your exams and you may sacrifice a social link essential to the outcome of a battle.

persona4 screenshot1 Persona 4 Golden Review

Pokemon, on acid.

Or score yourself multiple girlfriends, satisfying your desires after your fetishised trip to Tokyo, at the neglect of a heartfelt relationship with an 8 year old girl. If such things sound mundane and time consuming never fear, there is another option. At any time during cut-scenes or extended dialogue, you can fast-forward the action to high speeds, a priceless mechanic for reloading previous saves and additional play throughs.

The only major complaint to be had arises from the game’s western localisation and slow cut-scene heavy start (about five hours). Dialogue during this time can be tedious and at times confusing, partly to do with tutorialisation but also the result of lazy translation. Following that options open up and you’re free to approach Inaba’s numerous activities at your own pace. Some of the voice acting is also ear screechingly painful. Toddler-like tonal frequencies should be reserved for toddlers, not mid teen characters central to the game’s story (I’m looking at you Chie and Teddie). But for the most part voice work is top notch and augments an already likeable cast.

  • PS Vita

The Verdict

Persona 4 Golden is the Vita’s first must own title and reason enough for the purchase of the PlayStation Vita. It’s quirky enough to offer a unique RPG experience while avoiding most of the nonsense that plagues JRPG’s. And it’s probably the first game to satisfy all lovers of Japanese culture, which if you’re reading this, probably includes you.
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