Persona 4 Golden Review
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This marvelous port of a JRPG classic feels more like a director's cut; the definitive version of a thrilling journey equal parts charming and challenging
- Engaging story brought to life by memorable characters
- Hundreds of hours of addictive RPG gameplay
- Fantastic production values
- A few bouts of jaggies
- Not every voice is created equal
Given the PlayStation brand's history as a rich platform for role-playing games and meaningful experiences, it's strange to think that, almost nine months post-release, the PlayStation Vita has yet to receive a traditional Japanese role-playing game. That all changes with Persona 4 Golden, and what a stellar debut for the genre it is. This magnetic journey through social relationships and self-acceptance hits all the high notes of its PlayStation 2 namesake while infusing a wealth of new content and remarkable production values. As a port, Golden positively gleams with polish, but as an RPG, it soars. Extraordinary characters, a gripping narrative, addictive gameplay, and haunting charm that lingers long after your battery runs dry... these are hallmarks of a masterpiece, and while no video game is perfect, Persona 4 Golden comes closer than any game on the PS Vita before it.
If you're worried that you'll miss a story beat by jumping gung-ho into the fourth entry of a saga, breathe easy. Much like Final Fantasy, the Persona series (under the Shin Megami Tensei brand) is comprised of games that are mostly disconnected at the narrative hip, yet possess similar worldviews and are thematically linked. For Persona, that theme is Jungian psychology, and the games are so named for their story and gameplay references to the social masks – the “personas” - that we all wear to face the outside world. These manifest themselves in-game as summoned creatures that allow the main characters to do battle with malicious Shadows – the dark, twisted “other selves” that, try as we might to keep buried in our unconscious, possess feelings and emotions that are undeniably our own. Shadows and Personas are two sides of the same coin; a vile reminder of unconscious terrors, and the strength to accept their place in who we are. Characters learn to wield Personas and gain new powers as they face their inner selves, and ultimately move closer to accomplishing their mission.
In Persona 4, that mission is to catch the culprit behind a string of high-profile murders that have rocked the sleepy country town of Inaba. The nameless hero leaves Tokyo and arrives in town for a year-long stay with his uncle, but it doesn't take long for trouble to brew. The hero and his new friends notice a connection between the murders and the Midnight Channel, a mysterious television program that only airs in the dead of night during rainy weather. The gang soon discovers that the Midnight Channel is a projection of a world inside of the television, and when someone goes missing and appears on the Midnight Channel, they're too often found dead mere days later. When these disappearances move closer to home and friends' lives are put in danger, the gang dives into the TV world in search of answers and the kidnapped.
This tale earns points for creativity alone, but the urgency and allure of the investigation sprouts from the way time is divvied up throughout your journey. The hero has only one year to spend in Inaba, and social aspects of his life must be managed alongside the string of murders and kidnappings. With the clock ticking on another person's life, should you dive into the dangerous TV world to begin your search? Or should you study for upcoming midterms, take up a part-time job, seek romance, and spend quality time with party members and schoolmates alike?
The answer seems obvious at first, but no decision in the game is without gravity and repercussion. Wait too long to start a rescue attempt, and the TV world's multi-leveled dungeons and difficult encounters may prove insurmountable. Ignore the social needs of your buddies, and the bonds of friendship that grant extra power to your Personas will falter. Stay ignorant of the extracurricular activities offered at your school, and you'll be a loner devoid of stat bonuses to factors like Diligence, Courage, and Expression, which impact your ability to make certain decisions and deepen relationships. You only have time for one or two activities each day, so your life in rural Inaba becomes a balancing act driven by the need to grow in the outside world so you can progress in the TV world and move closer to solving the case.
In this mysterious land where Shadows and talking ... (continued on next page) ----