Persona 4: Golden review
Is this what perfection looks like?
- Extremely deep and involved chracter-driven story
- Somewhat complicated yet easy-to-master combat
- At least a dozen hours' worth of new content to justify the re-release
- Beautiful stylized visuals that make the world pop
- Unbelievably long
- Very slow start
- Unbelievably long - long enough that it's easy to drop and not pick up for a while
- Can get a bit too sugary-sweet at times
Persona 3 FES is one of my favorite games of all time, only surpassed in my eyes by Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption. The surprisingly-involved Shin Megami Tensei staple, using and fusing characters from myths, legends, and religions as your weapons, is even more fun in this series. The engrossing story and the game's JRPG/Dating Sim time management/Pokemon-style collect-em-all hybrid experience sucked me right in for the entire 80-something hours it took to go through that sweet, sweet first playthrough. Persona 3 Portable was, in my opinion, a vastly inferior experience, taking away a lot of the subtle details that made the previous version such a memorable experience. With this in mind, I was apprehensive about Golden, thinking it would be a watered-down handheld port instead of the great game I know Atlus is capable of. My skepticism was ill-founded.
Persona 4 Golden is, as it's safe to assume you can guess, an updated rerelease of the Playstation 2's hit game, Persona 4. Featuring an updated version of the FES combat with a new, lighter story with all new characters and locales, it's easy to see why the original is so popular. Golden takes its original version and builds from it, updating the mechanics to be even more fun and easy to get into and even adding crucial details to the story that tie the narrative together into an even more cohesive and enjoyable tale. Perhaps we should start from the beginning. You are a second-year high school student whose parents are going to be overseas for a year because of business reasons. Because of this, you move in with your uncle and cousin in Inaba to go to school there. Almost immediately, a murder occurs and what's known in the scientific community as "weird shit" starts breaking out. It's up to you and your new friends to discover what's happening and put a stop to it, and learn some things about yourselves along the way. As great as the premise is, it takes about 3 hours for the game to take your leash off and give you complete control of everything, and those first 3 hours are very slow.
How do you strengthen your Persona abilities? You acquire the ability to create new and stonger Personas (the characters of legend mentioned earlier in this review that serve as a personification of your inner self) by strengthening your Social Links. Building your Social Links in a dating-sim style series of meetings and sideplots is a huge part of the game and a lot more fun that it has any right to be. Most of the characters are well-written and you'll be looking forward to spending time with them and being the town therapist. These take in-game time and there are enough Links that a guide is all but required to max them all out in one playthrough. This management of your days in Inaba is also a main focus of the game: Do you spend today with that Social Link you're this close to maxing out, or do you spend the day training and preparing yourself for what lies ahead? Or do you go to the library and study for the test coming up? Or visit the beef bowl shop and order a
chicken beef bowl? Or go fishing? There's absolutely no shortage of things to occupy your time with.
The narrative is very strong, as expected of an Atlus game. The tone is set perfectly throughout and you'll never find yourself in a different mood than the game wants you to (except frustrated if you're on the highest difficulty). The writers also understood that the best way to make a sad, emotional scene even more sad and emotional is to show the characters being happy and having fun and draw a contrast to that, which the mostly light-hearted atmosphere does to a T. When the emotional parts hit - and they will hit hard - it's a true punch in the gut to the player. There are no blatant sequel hooks, and aside from a nostalgia section set in Persona 3's city, there's nothing that you'd need to have played the previous games in the series to understand. The story does get a bit anvilicious with its themes from time to time, but it's rare and easy to ignore. The extra story sections added in for Golden mesh perfectly with the base game (I never got the chance to play Persona 4 on the PS2 and I had no idea when I was in an extra section until someone told me). They may seem like filler to some who played the original, but filler is fun when done well and the game never feels padded out because of it.
The sound and visuals contribute to the atmosphere the story sets. From the homely town of Inaba and its residents to the outlandish dungeons you fight through and the Shadows therein, everything looks absolutely gorgeous thanks to that sexy sexy Vita screen. The music is a mixture of ambient tracks and J-pop, but it's the kind that simply refuses to get annoying even in the second and third playthroughs. The music may not be your style - it certainly isn't mine - but it's very hard to say that it grates on your ears.
Is Golden better than FES? I would say no, FES is just barely still my favorite of the two even with the older and less intuitive version of the mechanics, but that doesn't mean that Golden isn't a phenomenal game in its own right. If you're into JRPGs, good stories, or great experiences and/or you've got a hankering for a Vita game, go out and buy Persona 4 Golden right now. If you already have the original PS2 version, maybe you should be a bit more iffy about purchasing a game you already own, but Golden is one of the best games of all time in my eyes and I can't recommend it enough.
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