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Persona 4 Golden

Score: 100%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG


Graphics & Sound:

From a purely idealistic standpoint, stagnation is the biggest problem in game development these days. Gamers have become content to shell out their hard-earned cash for titles that rip themselves off year after year. It's great for business, but not for the games themselves. However, Atlus could release a new Persona game every year, changing absolutely nothing about the gameplay and focusing all of their attention on storytelling, locations, and character development -- and I would still buy it. This is the best Japanese role-playing series of the last two generations, by such a long shot that I can't even think of others that are worthy of being mentioned in the same breath. Persona 4 Golden is a completely worthwhile update of a modern masterpiece.

Sure, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 might be a PlayStation 2 game, but man, does it look gorgeous on the Vita. Character portraits, cutscenes, and even the menu screens are full of sumptuous colorful details. The OLED screen is a perfect match for a series with this visual style. Anime and I haven't been on speaking terms for a while, but Persona 4 Golden makes me a believer as far as the Vita goes. No one should expect this game to approach the level of technical awesomeness of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but for an updated PlayStation 2 game, it's got some fight in it. And speaking of fight, the multitude of Personas and Shadows are as creepy and awesome-looking as ever.

Persona 4 Golden doesn't try to fix what wasn't broken in the original release, and the sound design was not in the least bit broken. Quite the opposite, in fact. Shoji Meguro's incredible soundtrack is so many things: it goes from funk to pop to punk to rock to melodrama. This score really has it all. Voice acting is top of the line. The English voice actors aren't given much to work with visually, but they get past that, delivering a series of knockout performances that completely involve you in the plights of their characters. It's impossible not to love this cast of characters to begin with, but the voice acting seals the deal.


Gameplay:

Persona 4 Golden, as the title implies, is an updated version of Atlus' award-winning role playing game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. You can expect the entire game in its entirety, but with more of the stuff that makes it so great. I'll go into more detail as the review progresses, but for now, that's all you need to know.

You are a high schooler from the city who, for unexplained reasons, has been sent to the town of Inaba to live with your uncle, Detective Ryotaro Dojima, and his daughter Nanako. Your arrival could not be more inconveniently-timed; shortly after you make the move, a series of bizarre murders is perpetrated by an unknown culprit. Eventually, you discover that the rumored Midnight Channel has something to do with the crimes. And in a bizarre twist, you discover that there is a whole world that can be accessed by simply climbing into a television set. Inside the television set, you discover that you have the power to evoke Personas -- ethereal monsters that manifest from your own psyche. It's up to you and your friends to get to the bottom of the mystery.

None of what I've just explained even scrapes the surface of everything that Persona 4 Golden is. Sure, it's a role playing game with a turn-based combat system, but that's only half of the game -- at most. After all, you are still in school, and you must fulfill those obligations by day. So you attend classes and make friends. All of this is handled with expertly-written text that often gives you the choice to express your own individuality. But what's really fascinating about this is how it directly influences your abilities in combat. More on that later.


Difficulty:

Persona 4 Golden features a healthy array of difficulty levels, each of which is true as advertised. Personally, I find the Shin Megami Tensei games to be much more difficult than other role playing games. Having done the same with Persona 3, I completed my first playthrough on Easy difficulty. The challenge isn't too stiff, and it allows for a more leisurely and story-driven experience.

If you haven't played a Persona game before, there are a handful of things you'll need to get used to. I'm mainly talking about the balancing between your character's social life and his growth as a supernatural detective. You'll want to know which statistics you want to improve, as well as which Social Links you want to max out first, as they influence your abilities in the television world. Also, you'll need to get a feel for the pacing of the game, as time management is most certainly a part of the experience.


Game Mechanics:

Much of your time with Persona 4 Golden will be spent reading dialogue and exploring the world. There isn't much to report. You simply read and choose from a series of responses when the time is right. However, things change once you go inside the television... naturally.

It doesn't matter whether you're attempting to rescue a potential murder victim or just grinding around: if you're inside the television world, you're going to be doing some dungeon crawling. Each one is split into a number of randomized floors, and all are populated with an assortment of Shadows and treasure chests. You can either beeline for the next staircase or clean out each floor as you go, getting stronger as you do so.

When you're in combat, you have the option to physically attack the Shadows yourself or summon a Persona. Each persona has a certain skill set, and each enemy has its own set of potential strengths and weaknesses. There's no way to know how they will respond to each attack until you experiment, but once you do, their susceptibility to each elemental attack will be permanently documented.

One of the most addictive elements in the Persona series is the ability to collect and fuse Personas. It bears a slight resemblance to a certain Nintendo empire, but it's much more gratifying and innovative. As you collect Personas, you have the option to register them in the Velvet Room's Compendium, which allows you to recall any of them at any time for a fee. But fusion is where the real magic happens. You might find yourself neglecting certain Personas in combat -- that's understandable, because some attacks just aren't effective on certain Shadows. In any case, you can fuse a number of Personas together to form a new one. Your level dictates the level of the Persona that can be created, but your Social Links have a huge impact on the process. If you have maxed out a Social Link of the Star arcana, a fused Persona belonging to that arcana will receive a massive experience boost.

So what's new in Persona 4 Golden? Most of the notable features are story-based, but there are a handful of mechanical innovations. These are primarily online features. One of these additions is a Demon's Souls-esque SOS system. You can send out a signal, and if someone responds to it, you might get some unexpected help! Another feature, Vox Populi, borrows from an idea used in Atlus's last game, Catherine. It documents several of your choices and compares them to those of other players. Finally, you can fast forward through cutscenes, which should be useful to players who have already experienced the story.

Midway through the game, Yosuke is overcome with the desire to get his motorcycle license. Being the buddy you are, you accompany him. Dojima ends up bequeathing his scooter to you, and your mobility increases. By taking long rides in the afternoon, you can discover new places to explore, and by extension, new activities to partake in. You can even go back home to Okina City once you've plucked up the courage and explored enough.

Persona 4 Golden features two new Social Links. The first is Adachi, Dojima's bumbling rookie partner. The other is Marie, a strange young lady you stumble across in the Velvet Room. These are great additions to the cast and pad out the game's already-impressive running time quite nicely.

Persona 4 Golden is the PS Vita's first truly killer app. Sure, it shoots two middle fingers at the touchscreen and gyro controls, but who cares? This is an immensely rewarding, deep, and sophisticated role playing experience that nobody should miss. It's such a perfect fit for the Vita that I really hope the inevitable Persona 5 ends up on it, too. Man, what a game.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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