Since the PlayStation Vita's release earlier this year, Japanese RPG fans haven't had much in the way of choices to pick from. There have been a few standouts such as Disgaea 4, but for the most part if you are a fan of that genre you've had slim pickings. This summer Atlus released Persona 4: The Golden in Japan which ushered in the largest sales ever for the handheld. Now Atlus's North American branch has brought the game over to the West under the new moniker Persona 4 Golden. With the extremely high marks coming from the original PS2 release, has Atlus hit gold twice?
Because both of his parents are working abroad, the protagonist of Persona 4 moves to the rural town of Inaba where his uncle Dojima and younger cousin Nanako live. He doesn't have too long to get acquainted with the town, however, as a string of bazaar murders start to take place shortly after he gets settled in. First is a local TV announcer who is followed by one of his local classmates. The murders are quite peculiar as the victims are hung grotesquely from the phone poles. Oddly enough these murders coincide with the showing of the "Midnight Channel".
The protagonist finds out he has the power to travel inside TVs into a parallel world. Going inside with his best friend Yosuke, the duo befriend Teddie, a local resident of the TV world who agrees to help them investigate the murders. Both of them awaken their Personas, physical manifestations of their inner strength. After acquiring their newfound powers they realize that the victims were inside the TV world prior to the deaths, so the duo and their friends decide to venture deeper into the TV world and save the victims that end up appearing on the Midnight Channel.
Persona 4 shares a lot of similarities to Persona 3, which we reviewed the PSP version of last year, so the rest of this review will be delving into the differences in Persona 4 and the new content found in Golden. Unlike Persona 3, Persona 4 flows at a much more methodical pace due to the murder mystery style the story has. As the protagonist and his teammates attempt to track down the murderer, the story throws a number of red herrings to throw the player off-track, so players have a reason to keep going both from a story aspect and trying to piece together the various clues. It's very much a differentiator from most other Japanese RPGs and was and still is one of Persona 4's greatest qualities.
Just like in Persona 3, Persona 4 once again features the Social Link system. Besides venturing into the TV world, the protagonist also has to attend school as a student of the local Yasogami High and get to know the local residents of Inaba. During his time in Inaba he can befriend and help people, some of which are social links that have their own unique story arcs. Persona 4's social links tend to branch out a bit more than the ones found in Persona 3, ranging from a women attempting to bond with her new stepson or a brother coping with the death of his only sister. Atlus' North American branch did a great job localizing these characters as they are incredibly well-written.
Persona 4 Golden, being a port, has some new content over the original PS2 version, but much like Persona 3 Portable's new content it feels like it was always there instead of being shoehorned in. Noting everything would make this review way too long, so we'll focus on the important stuff from here on out.
One of the major new additions is Marie, a brand new character exclusive to Persona 4 Golden. She's alluring, but also is cold due to her personality which tends to make her difficult to get along with at the start of the game. Being a new social link, players can befriend her just as they could with any of the other original social links. This allows you to get to know her better and make her open up. Those who were worried she might feel added in as a write-off shouldn't be discouraged as, much like Golden's other additional content, Marie feels like she belonged in the original.In addition to new social links, Persona 4 Golden also includes a number of new areas to explore. In Inaba players can now venture into the town during the night. This allows you to encounter a few familiar faces among other things. The neighboring city of Okina, which was featured during parts of Persona 4, is now exploreable. One of the locations here is a new shop where players can buy various new costumes; Golden allows players to equip them without inflicting a stat penalty like in the original Persona 4 and Persona 3. A plethora of new story elements have also been woven into the narrative, including new trips, events and holidays with a few of them even including brand-new cutscenes exclusive to the port. How Atlus implemented these new additions really makes Golden feel like it's more of an expansion of Persona 4 than a port.
For the more hardcore fans of the original, however, Golden includes some new additions aimed specifically for your tastes. Similar to Persona 3 Portable, Golden includes new Personas and skill cards. These were introduced in P3P and allow players to add skills to their Personas, which usually were either difficult or impossible to learn normally. In addition to this, Golden also lets players specify what skills Personas inherit from their parents during fusion.
Golden also changes up the post-battle Shuffle Time mini-game with some new choices which alleviate the lack of SP. For the more adventurous players, however, Atlus added in an option to double-or-nothing your Shuffle Time choice for greater bonuses, but with the chance to lose the bonus outright.
As far as online connectivity and bonus content goes, Golden includes both to varying degrees. Upon starting the game you will be asked to connect to PSN via the game's Vox Populi service. Similar to Atlus' Catherine, which showed the results of the choices other players made, Golden's implementation lets you see what choices other players any time outside of dialogue. Most returning players probably already have their set choices they'll make during their playthrough, but for new players it's an excellent addition as it lessens the feeling that you're making the wrong decision.
In terms of bonus content, Golden includes a new "TV" menu, which looks a lot like a TV guide. Some of it is standard content like music from the game, but Atlus went the extra mile by including introductions and commercials from the prior Persona games and even videos of the Japanese Persona live concerts.
Graphically, Persona 4 Golden stands leagues above its original PS2 version. The graphics are much more defined and vivid than the at-times blurry PS2 textures and many of the background scenery pieces have subtle animations. Despite this, is a bit of aliasing with some of the textures, such as windows and other sharp-ended objects. The Vita's OLED screen does a fair bit to hide this though, thankfully.
For veterans of Persona 4, Golden's new additional content makes this a no-brainers as long as you have or were even remotely interested in a Vita. And this applies even if you played the original backwards and forwards. If you're new to the series or only played Persona 3, Golden is easily the better version and if you don't have a Vita yet, this is by far one of the best reasons to get one.
|The new content doesn't feel like it was shoehorned in.|
|The new beginner features do a lot to help ease in new players.|
|The online features are a small but nice touch.|
|Some of the graphics could have been fixed up a bit.|
|Fans of Persona 3 Portable's female route will be dissapointed.|
|If you didn't enjoy the original Persona 4, this won't change your mind.|