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
(continued from previous page) ...Shadows and talking cartoon bears dwell, the bulk of Persona 4's gameplay can be found. Moving up or down through randomly-generated floors of themed dungeons, you'll encounter impressively bizarre enemy designs with elemental strengths and weakness just waiting to be exploited. All of your skills and magical attacks are bestowed by the Persona you have equipped. By finding new Personas in victory rewards, fusing favorites to create new varieties, and leveling them up for stat boosts and new powers, your arsenal will expand. It's not unlike Pokemon, and the addictive qualities of that game are here wrapped up in boundless strategic depth and an unrivaled sense of style. I became attached to certain Personas along the way, but fusing my favorites and discovering new attacks is always a thrilling prospect.
Equally thrilling are the conversations and happenings in the outside world that keep the game grounded in plausibility. The naïve innocence and post-pubescent worries of the hero and his friends (“Chicks dig motorcycles, so let's go earn our licenses!” “Boy, studying for midterms really sucks, huh?”) are brought to life by an all-around excellent voice cast and clever writing. Moments inside the TV world where these teenagers have to face their darkest inner selves are made all the more powerful for it. When a tough-as-nails delinquent comes to terms with his sexuality, when lifelong friends realize that they each use the other for some personal gain... The gravity of it all forces introspection, but how each character comes to accept himself or herself, and the way life goes on in this quiet rural town, makes for the ultimate feel-good story. I feel for these characters in ways that only the best RPG can elicit, and by year's end, it's not so much the hero that is making this journey - it's you.
And what a stunning journey it is, for Persona 4 Golden makes the best of PS Vita hardware to become one of the most well-produced games in recent memory. Everything from the gorgeous anime artwork and cutscenes to the lively voice cast and unforgettable music is polished to a diamond sheen and served as icing on a cake of fantastic RPG gameplay. Atlus could have stopped there and called this the best game on PS Vita, but tons of new content and features make Golden the definitive version of a criminally underplayed classic.
The best part about what's new is how well it's executed. New character Marie is integrated so well into the game that her former absence is baffling. A variety of video and musical content – including live Persona orchestral concerts and lectures on the game's Jungian influence – can be viewed at any time by double-tapping the screen. New events and locations, including a beach hangout, ski resort, Halloween shenanigans, and a fully-explorable Okina City, are complemented by additional voiced dialogue and a massive series of gameplay adjustments that rebalance characters, add flexibility to Persona fusions, and more. A few more Vita-exclusive features round out a package that feels far more like a comprehensive director's cut than a simple port. Vox Populi tells you how other players are choosing to spend their time from day to day, and an SOS system lets you send out cries for help over Wi-Fi from the depths of a dungeon. Should another player respond, you'll get HP and SP boosts to keep you in the fight.
While I couldn't test SOS pre-release, there may very well be cause to use it over the course of the game. Persona 4 Golden does not give up its secrets easily, and any gamer who's been spoiled by the somewhat recent industry trend of declining difficulty will be in for a rude awakening when Golden's second or third boss totally wrecks your party. The need to grind is alleviated somewhat by a battle system that places emphasis on careful planning and proper ability usage, but unless you spend a dubious amount of time in the game's early dungeons, you'll likely find yourself a bit under-leveled before too long. It doesn't take long to play catch up (and there are certainly much less forgiving RPGs out there), but Persona 4 is not an easy game, and that's worth noting from the get-go.
Then again, the real challenge ... (continued on next page)