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Imagine that you’re moving from the big, bustling city to a quaint, quiet countryside of Inaba, Japan to live with your relatives. Sure, the contrast takes some getting used to, but the people are friendly and the food is good. The local news channels are filled with gossip and weather, but what news channel isn’t?
Normal stuff, right?
Now, imagine that all of this is turned upside down and what begins as small gossip ends up with a series of gruesome murders and kidnappings. When one of your friends turns up missing, that’s when you and your newly found gang of friends decide to tackle this mystery, warping through a TV into another dimension and battling terrifying creatures along the way.
Persona 4 Golden (P4G) is far from normal. Previously released as the Playstation 2’s “swan song,” P4G delivers this fantastic game once more to the Playstation Vita, adding new features and story segments. It takes the main traditional elements that JRPGs are known for and successfully builds upon it to create one of the best JRPGs — if not one of the best games — I’ve played all year.
First off, one of the most shocking things about P4G is the vast amount of stuff to do. We’re talking about some really deep gameplay here. Monster grinding and leveling up aside, at the end of the day, you’re still a high schooler, and that means hanging out with friends, going to school, studying, reading books, fishing, playing sports and music, working jobs…the list goes on. This game is just as much a life sim as it is an RPG.
And it’s a blast.
While you could probably finish the main storyline between 30-40 hours, doing sidequests and taking part in all of the extra content this game has to offer could easily net you an additional 30-60 hours worth of play time. Add on the new game plus modes, and you’ve got months of gameplay here. I mean it when I say this game is massive! P4G does take a few hours before things start to pick up and the real fun begins, but when it does, be prepared to spend a huge chunk of time both in and out of battle, balancing your gear and stats and your in-game social life, which all goes hand in hand.
When you’re not kicking ass and taking names, hanging out with your friends and taking part in daily activities is a great distraction. Everything you do in this game benefits your main character: answer a question in class correctly, and your knowledge skill goes up; read a book, and your diligence increases. These things don’t only open up dialogue options; they also allow you to take part in other activities once you’ve met the required skill level.
The characters in P4G are well fleshed out with back-stories and are bursting with personality, backed up with some fantastic voice acting; which is great, because while there are short anime cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game, the majority of P4G’s story is told through text and voice overs. I grew to care about these characters, and when moments came when I had the option of choosing who to hang out with, it was almost difficult to pick one over the others — they are all so likable, each with quirks and issues we can all relate to. And it’s the story’s familiarity that connects so well and makes P4G stand out.
You’re not a lone wolf suffering from amnesia who is thrust into the burden of saving the entire world from calamity, or a galactic representative for humanity in charge of saving the galaxy from extinction. You’re a teenager who worries about passing his exams, working a part-time job, and hooking up with a girlfriend…who happens to fight evil during his free time; things we can all connect with (maybe save for the fighting evil part).
Battles in P4G are your standard turn-based fare, utilizing team work and exploiting enemy weaknesses. Where this differs from other games is that the connections you make with your friends and classmates outside of battle give you access to “personas,” which are basically creatures you can summon at your will during combat — each with different abilities and skills to add to your arsenal. You’re also able to fuse personas together to create new ones with customizable abilities — almost a minigame in itself that turns P4G into a Pokemon-like affair, kicking that “gotta catch ’em all” mentality into full gear.
While battling and hanging out with the locals of Inaba is fun, there is a time constraint. The days play out like a standard calendar year, and weather patterns play a big role in when you should head into battle; misuse your time, and you risk failure in saving your friends from danger in the TV world. Trying to juggle the time you have to fight and maintaining your Social Links after school can be a bit overwhelming, and it takes some careful planning and consideration.
This careful balancing is a bit tedious. There aren’t too many tutorials, and P4G doesn’t hold your hand like many modern day games. However, there is nothing in this game that can’t be completed on a second playthrough, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re missing things as you’re playing along. I know I certainly did.
Another thing to note is how well the game runs on the Vita. P4G’s updated HD visuals are drop-dead gorgeous on the huge OLED screen, and the catchy soundtrack never dulls and sounds great through a decent set of headphones. While the majority of the game is still the same from 2008, Atlus has added some online functionality in the form of Voice and SOS.
Voice allows you to tap an icon on the screen and see what choices other players throughout the world make each day; somewhat helpful for those who want a quick at-a-glance view of what choices and events each day offers. The SOS icon replaces Voice in dungeons and allows players to cheer fellow fighters on and offer a stat buff. While these are interesting additions, they’re not particularly groundbreaking or necessary.
Persona 4 Golden has been getting a lot of media buzz lately, and for good reason. While some may criticize the fact that a 4 year old game is receiving so many accolades and snubbing newer games out of awards, perhaps that’s a testament to just how GOOD the original game was. Persona 4 Golden is a prime example of a JRPG done right, and goes to show that old school mechanics and tried and true gameplay are still relevant in 2012 and into 2013.
For a handheld that’s struggling to see refreshing new content, it’s surprising to see that a game that was originally released in late 2008 is hands down THE best title on the platform. For those who own a Vita who have been looking for that killer title, this is it; for those who have been holding out on the Vita, here’s your reason to buy one. Step aside Black Ops and Assassin’s Creed — Persona 4 Golden is king on the Vita.