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.