There's More to "Persona 4 Golden" Than Its Good Looks Review

The JRPG genre is very close to my heart.  I have very fond memories of just sitting in my room curled up on my bed getting engrossed into the story and watching the characters interact, I always likened it to reading a visual novel, but my mother never understood.  My sister did on the other hand, and she always watched me play.  This is how she gained the same appreciation and love I have for JRPG’s and other such games.

So far I have two era’s with my JRPG experiences, tied to two very different companies.  Square Soft represents my high school teen era.  I wanted to snap up every Square Soft game that appealed to me.  I loved Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX along with Chrono Cross (Trigger came when I got a DS) and Parasite Eve.  Another game that represents a lot of JRPG memories is The Legend of Dragoon.  I was astounded by the complex time based battle system and the transformations, plus the characters I felt were memorable with a nice twisty story.  These were good times and a part of me wished that these times would last forever (without the monotony and depression of high school of course).

Sadly they didn’t but I was still able to find more games to love.  The PS2 era wasn’t as consistent I guess for me.  Either it was because I entered college and couldn’t focus entirely on RPG’s or maybe it was because it was kind of hard to find a company that would consistently push out quality software.  After Final Fantasy X Square Soft became Square Enix and the games never were the same after that.  Though I love Final Fantasy X I don’t really put Final Fantasy XII on my favorites list.  I will admit Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is good, but it’s more Tri-Ace than Square Enix.  Luckily the company redeemed itself with Dragon Quest VIII, but that was developed by Level 5.  There are numerous other franchises but I can’t play everything and some of them are not easy to find (especially now, I’m not shelling out that much for the Xenosaga franchise).

On a side note I put Final Fantasy IV, VI and Xenogears in my adult era since I didn’t get to them until way after they were released.  Xenosaga is not easy to find, Shadow Hearts isn’t easy to find either, I have Vagrant Story, but it’s hard and I’ve recently gotten into the Tales Of franchise and I love it to death.  Another to add to the list is the Kingdom Hearts franchise, which I like, but I can never find the block of time large enough to beat any of them.

I didn’t find anything really that grabbed my attention until I just randomly bought Shin Megami Tensei Persona III FES (according to Amazon.com it was on November 11, 2009).  I believe it was on sale for about $20 and it was the best $20 I spent because it really reawakened my love for JRPG’s.  On top of this it opened up an entirely new avenue for my JRPG experiences and helped me open my eyes to other franchises.  Until the day I die I’ll list Persona 3 FES and Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne as epic top notch JRPG’s and another Atlus game on this list will be Persona 4: The Golden.

Story:

You star as…well yourself (or as Yu Narukami if you want to use the name they gave him for the anime) as he spends a year in the backwater town of Inaba with his uncle Ryotaro Dojima.  You also befriend his spunky, but mature beyond her years daughter Nanako.  During this time there’s a murder mystery that has the local police force perplexed.

Upon arrival a TV idol is found at a grisly murder scene hung upside down from a television antenna on top of a roof.  After this happens you start to eventually make friends with numerous people from Inaba and get acquainted with school life.  Nothing really happens at this stage until you meet Yosuke Hanamura and get to see his friendship with Saki Konishi.  It’s not really the best relationship, but he does his best to look out for her.  On top of this you meet Kung Fu princess Chie Satonaka as well.  Eventually another murder takes place and Yosuke and Chie are adamant about helping you solve this mystery and this is when the Persona 4 story really starts to take off.

You’re thrown into the world of the Midnight Channel where according to rumors your soul mate is supposed to appear on a turned off television during a rainstorm at midnight.  This isn’t the case and the fate of the person on the TV screen isn’t so happy.  What people don’t understand is that this midnight channel is it’s own separate world.  Not everybody has the power to access it, but those with the power of persona can.  Upon entering the world for the first time you meet Teddie a stuffed or hollow creature with the ability to sniff out those dropped into his world.

This world isn’t really beneficial.  It has the horrible tendency of releasing a doppelganger or shadow of sorts that will blurt out all of your deepest darkest mental baggage.  Of course it won’t do it in secret or even in a tasteful way with some of them being a tad on the Liberache side or downright slutty.  It will scream at you and people watching the midnight channel in reality can also witness this.  This alone wouldn’t be bad, but if you try to deny everything it says it will transform into a distorted monster and try to kill you.  Upon defeat the shadow will transform into a useable persona for some people.

Your job is to insure that that the people on the TV don’t wind up getting killed.  It’s a race against the clock because you have to do this before the next big rainstorm.  This will allow the fog in the TV world to be seen in the real world.  Numerous people get thrown into the television world and some wind up joining your party.  This cast of characters is what really brings the story together because Persona 4 has one of the most memorable casts in JRPG history.  Kanji, Naoto, Rise, Chie, Yukiko, Yosuke and Teddie act like a group of people that you would enjoy hanging out with.  I’m honestly not sure if they’re better than the cast in Persona 3, but they seem to have more fun in this game.  I guess it has to do with the fact that Persona 4 is not as dark as Persona 3…at least tone wise.  Sure every character has a major issue, but they all seem to grow past that issue.

This will all be done while trying to piece together a murder mystery that has numerous plot twists and a few red herring villains.  Once the story gets going you will not put the game down.  I can only imagine how many times I’ve drained the life out of my Playstation Vita on this game.

Gameplay:

Persona 4 can be a very complicated, but simple rpg.  The battle mechanics themselves are pretty simple.  You’ll fight enemies and the main objective during combat is to exploit the enemy’s weakness so you can knock them down and use the all out attack option.  This is where your party will dog pile on the enemy and beat the living snot out of them.  The enemy is usually weak to an element and your persona’s usually have an attack corresponding to an element or two.  For the most part your party members have an element that they specialize in while the main character is a bit of an all purpose blank slate.  He’s the only one that can have multiple persona’s so he can pretty much be prepared for almost any situation.  In order for this to work you have to gather up persona’s and teach them new abilities.  Once a persona has outlived their usefulness you can pretty much junk them and make a new one using the fusion mechanic.  This is something that I didn’t fully understand in Persona 3 when I first got the game.  I pretty much used the first 8 or so until I think a quarter of the way through the game.

Doing this was not good because there were a lot of spells that I just didn’t have access to and once the bosses got way more complicated I was up craps creek without even a boat.  I think I had to go on a huge panic driven fusion rush just to get myself somewhat up to date.  Thankfully this was a mistake I made once because when I got Persona 3 Portable I was fusing to my hearts content and leveled up supremely to the point where I didn’t fear anything…not even whatever the end boss is.  It’s what I’ve taken into Persona 4 when I eventually got that and almost beat the game, but my PS3 broke and took that file with it.  I’m almost thankful I made that mistake though because it taught me the importance of transferring over certain skills.  Pretty much it’s really important to carry over certain buff and debuff spells because they make battles and boss battles a little bit easier and open up strategic options vastly. 

I’m pretty sure everybody has a preferred party and I’m certain they’re all good. I think some of them have a certain rhythm and it depends how prepared your main character is.  If you have a main character that is pretty much loaded with something that can attack every weakness imaginable, as well as augment defense and offense stats then you can fill out whatever elemental weakness that your party is missing, and you can pretty much find a niche for your characters. 

Another important thing are your social links.  Sure they may seem like a waste of time in the beginning because they take away from leveling opportunities, but they’re really important.  Each social link you get corresponds to a specific arcana (sign) of persona.  The higher you level up a social link the more experience points the persona will get if it’s linked to that arcana.  This pretty much insures that it will level up a couple of times and learn some new skills.  Another great feature that Persona 4 Golden has added is that it allows you to pick which skills from the old persona’s you can transfer over to the new one.  This allows you to make sure that a favorite spell doesn’t get lost.  Granted you were able to do this with past incarnations of the franchise, but it was at random and you would have to start and stop the fusion to make sure you got that skill.

You can start a new social link with everybody in your party, but that would not be enough.  To add to your core characters are numerous peripheral characters of varying importance for you to form a link with as well.  You can also find these by picking up certain jobs.  Not everything is available to you at the start though. 

In order to access some of these you have to have your character stats at a certain level.  These stats would be courage, express, knowledge, diligence and understanding.  You can increase these doing numerous activities such as after school events, other jobs, books and other things.  Managing all of this requires time management.  I think it’s impossible to max out every social link in one playthrough and I think you can max out your character stats though.  I think with my current playthrough I’m an over-leveled ass kicking machine, but some of my character stats are still a tad low so I’m at a disadvantage because I can’t access a job still or a specific social link, which would make one of my characters more useful in battle.

To add more insight to that, you’re characters will improve when you increase their social link.  They gain the ability to do follow up attacks and help other characters if they are affected by status ailments.  These are crucial because it eases up the stress of curing them during battle and it just makes them more effective and work as a cohesive team.  Another alteration Persona 4 Golden made was that they will learn new spells at certain points of their social link.  Persona 4 Golden also added new personas, cutscenes, follow up attacks and even new social links, which makes it the definitive version of Persona 4.

Graphics:

Well this game isn’t going to push the Vita to its limits, but they did manage to clean up the visuals.  The character models and the environments are polished and they even managed to allow new costumes.  There’s a rather funny scene in this game where there was a cross dressing pageant, and to reward you for it they gave you the costume to kick some ass in.  Where the Shin Megami Tensei franchise has always shined was in the creature design.

Persona’s in this game range from creepy, cool and downright deranged.  I tend to lean more toward the dragon and animal themed persona’s, but sometimes the most useful ones are either hideous or creepy.  There’s also one that’s a tad…phallic, but I’ve never made it (I can now, but it’s just too weak to be useful now).

Sound:

Persona 4 is nothing short of voice acting gold.  They’ve managed to bring back most of the cast from the original release for P4G, with the only exception being Tracey Rooney the original actor for Chie.  She is sorely missed and her absence is quite noticeable, but eventually you just get used to Erin Fitzgerald and just stop whining about it.  Everybody pretty much churns out a memorable performance that hits all the comedic notes as well as the dramatic ones.  Due to this it’s almost recommended that you don’t play this in public because you have to try very hard to not laugh out loud.

They also added some new songs for the P4G soundtrack.  One replaces Pursuing My True Self, which sadly doesn’t live up to Pursuing My True Self.  The other song is the new battle theme Make History, which I honestly like more than Reach Out to the Truth.  It’s faster paced and has more attitude, but once you get really good at the game you won’t hear no more than maybe up to the first chorus at most before the battle is over.  While the soundtrack isn’t as groundbreaking as SMT III: Nocturne’s soundtrack it’s still a great collection of music that I throw on from time to time and show’s why Shoji Meguro is a composer worth mentioning, because while the music has a modern feel they’re still classics and memorable.

Replay:

Well there’s a new game plus which saves your compendium as well as character stats so trying to 100% your persona compendium might be possible, but seriously there’s probably like 200 personas in this game so if you want to try that I suggest finding a guide.  You can also try to max out your social links.  But in all reality they’re just added reasons to replay an awesome game.  This is probably my second and a half time playing through Persona 4 and it’s still an excellent experience that I don’t regret sinking a crap ton of hours into.  There’s also some online stuff in here like seeing what other people did at the same moment as you in the game, but I really stopped caring about that.  Besides this is my commute game, which meant that I was offline so I never really touched most of them.  Also there’s an assistance portion for battling or something that I never bothered with for the commuting reason and the fact that I play most of the game before so I knew what I was doing.

Overall:

Persona 4 Golden was the reason why I purchased a Playstation Vita and no I do not regret it.  The game is awesome.  Persona 4 originally came out in 2008 and four years later it’s still a very addictive and enjoyable game.  This should’ve just came bundled with PS Vita’s, but I’m not in charge of marketing.  I honestly hope that Atlus can give SMT III: Nocturne the same treatment because that would make me very happy.  On top of this I hope Atlus will find the time to make an original Persona game for the Vita because it’s the perfect platform for the series.

It’s not everyday that I hand out this score, but this game honestly deserves it.

Rating: 10

"Persona 4 Golden" is on sale November 20, 2012 and is rated M. RPG. Developed by Atlus.

Jan
23
2013
Marcus Beasley

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