Friday, January 4, 2013

Review: Persona 4 Golden

What is Persona 4 Golden? Well it's not only the best Vita game you can buy, but one of the best games you can buy period. Everything about Persona 4 exudes quality and care, from the story, combat and style, to the translation, voice acting and added content. Even if you've already played Persona 4, there's plenty here to warrant a purchase.

For those not familiar, the story starts with the  main character (Charlie Tunoku in my case) waking up to meet a  bizarre-looking man in a limousine named "Igor," who tells him that his life is about to change. He then wakes up to realize that it was a dream, and gets off the train at Yasoinaba, where he'll spend the next year living with his uncle Dojima. Shortly after his arrival he meets Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi and Yosuke Hanamura, who tell him about a mysterious "Midnight Channel," a channel that will appear if you look into a turned-off TV, while it's raining at midnight, and show you your soul-mate.  Once Charlie gets home he decides to try the Midnight channel, and sees a girl from his school, then gets sucked into his TV, which leads to a TV world. He then tries to tell his friends, who don't believe him, who then all get sucked into the TV world with him, where they meet Teddie, a mysterious bear that looks like a mascot costume, who shows them the way out of the TV world. Once they return to the normal world a few days pass, and the girl Charlie saw on the Midnight Channel turns up dead, so Charlie and Yosuke begin investigating the connection between the murders and the TV world. It might all sound pretty crazy, but that's because it is. It's insane and extremely well written, brilliantly mixing crazy Japanese story-telling with a legitimately emotional tale of self-acceptance.

The characters learn to accept themselves in the TV world by facing "Shadow" versions of themselves, that speak the truths they don't want to admit, even to themselves. That's where the combat comes in, Persona 4  has one of the most satisfying combat systems of any RPG. While it is still a standard Turn-based combat system, Persona 4 does enough different with the formula to make it distinct and very enjoyable. Each character can use physical attacks and magic. Magic is made possible because of their "Personas", who fight along side them against the Shadows of the TV world. The Persona is the manifest of a person's soul. Each character obtains their Persona after facing their personal shadow-selves inside the TV world, and every Persona has its own strengths and weaknesses which directly transfer to the character controlling that Persona. Let's say I equip Charlie with a Persona that's strong against Ice attacks, but weak to Fire. Charlie is then weak to Fire attacks and strong against Ice. Taking full advantage of weaknesses is the majority of the gameplay here, since when fighting enemies, your primary goal is to get a knock-down by hitting them with whatever type of magic they're weak against. If you hit every enemy with their weakness, then you'll get to do an "All-Out-Attack", where every character on screen rushes at every knocked-down enemy dealing a ton of damage. A feature new to Golden   lets certain pairs of characters do special team attacks, as well as allow for the "Navigator" character to join in on the all-out attacks. One issue with this system is that the only way to remember what enemy is weak to what type of magic, is to actually remember. The game does have an in-game log of each weakness that you've figured out, but once you leave a dungeon you lose that data. Luckily the enemies are all really distinct and memorable, so I didn't run into a ton of issues, but it still could have been fixed rather easily.

Speaking of problems and fixing, Persona 4 Golden fixes my biggest issue with the original Persona 4: fusing. The fusion process has been very divisive in every iteration of the franchise, being nigh  impregnable  to the average person. Sure you could slap together a couple Persona's and do pretty well, but there was so much to remember in order to get the most out of each fusion that I eventually stopped trying to do so in my original playthrough. And while most of that is still present in Golden, it has also been markedly streamlined.  In P4 Vanilla, when fusing two Personas you were able to pass on a few randomly-selected skills, meaning if you wanted one certain configuration of skills on your fused Persona, then you'd have to repeatedly select the fusion and hope for it to show up. In Golden you are also now allowed to manually select what skills you want to pass on.  You're also now able to teach skills to Persona's through the new "Skill-Card" system. With this you can teach any skill to any Persona. I was able to go through most of the game with a Persona that had all the main magic types, meaning I was prepared to handle almost any situation alone, allowing the rest of my team to play support. Adding these skill-cards makes the combat a great deal more strategic than before, allowing Charlie (Remember, Charlie is the name of my Main character. I only bring it up because I have confused people by calling him that in the past, and refuse to call him by any other name) to take any role far easier than in the Vanilla P4.

But solving murders and wandering around a TV-world fighting Shadows isn't all Charlie and the gang get up to; you attend school, explore Inaba, and hangout with friends. All of these might sound like filler or fluff between story segments, but they're pretty much half of the actual gameplay. While in school you'll get the chance to increase your Intelligence and other traits, which determine what dialog options you can choose. If you want to come straight out and show interest in a girl, then you'll need to have a high "Bravery" rating. If you're about to take a test and your intelligence is low, then you won't get as high a grade, locking out other dialog and S-link options. If someone needs your help with a personal issue, then you'll need a higher "Expression" rating. These attributes come into play often in when doing "S-Links."  The S-link system is essentially a watered-down Dating-Sim, and while that's not everyone's cup of tea, the characters and stories are all well written enough that they're all worth seeing through to the end. But you won't be able to just go through each character's story straight away, since you have to get to know them by hanging out with them first, a process which is sped up by having a Persona of the same "Arcana" as them. If you're hanging out with Yosuke and you don't have a Persona of the same Arcana (Magician,) then you won't become as close as fast.

Each character's mini-story is broken up into 10 segments; each segment grows by 1 level each time you go through a meaningful story scene. How this translates to gameplay is that the level of your relationship with each Arcana determines how much experience a Persona of that Arcana will receive upon being fused. For example, if I'm level 10 with Yosuke and fuse a Magician Arcana Persona, then I'll gain more experience being that high of a level with the corresponding Arcana than if I wasn't. It is a little annoying to have to remember to carry around whatever type of Persona corresponds to whoever you might be hanging out with, especially since you can only carry a limited number of Persona's at a time. That number does grow as you level up, but it's still annoying that you have to keep track.

It might sound like I'm just explaining the basic mechanics of the game, and that's because I am. That's what Persona 4 is, and all of it is great. Everything Persona 4 does is executed fantastically, even with the few issues. But all of it is only built upon in Golden. I can't really say much else about it other than to explain the basic mechanics in an attempt to try and get people to play this game, because it is amazing. And Persona 4 Golden is the definitive version, with added S-Links, characters, events, costumes, dungeons, Personas, Arcanas, and the additional epilogue after you get the true ending which is alone worth the purchase. There's so much new content here that's all paced in a way that keeps you from feeling like it's just the same game.
Persona 4 deserves the praise it gets. It's one of my favorite, and one of the best games I have ever had the  privilege to play. It's weird, dark, emotional, silly, and overall fantastic. Golden is the definitive version, but even if you don't have a Vita, you should play Persona 4 on the PS2.

Find Persona 4 Golden on ebay | Amazon

Released: 11/20/2010
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus


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