Dec 17, 2012

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Persona 4 Golden Review

Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series, particularly the Persona,titles have an enormous cult following. The games have experienced a particular resurgence lately, with several being remade for handheld devices, most notably Persona 3 for PSP, and now, Persona 4 for the Vita. Persona 4 Golden came on the heels of massive Persona 4 craze in Japan: a new magazine, a live-action show, an anime, and more. Having absolutely loved P3P and the original PS2 version of Persona 4, I was particularly excited for the Vita version. But was it worth the wait and the hype? And, more importantly, if you don’t own a Vita already, is Persona 4 Golden the game to convince you to get one?

The short answer to this question is: yes. Undoubtedly, yes. I will admit, however, that knowing P4G was on its way was a huge deciding factor in my launch-day purchase of a Vita in the first place, but even if you decided to wait and are still on the fence, you will not regret purchasing the handheld to play this game. Honestly, if the only game I ever played on my Vita was P4G, I don’t think I’d feel the Vita was a wasted purchase.

Yes, it is that good.

Persona 4 on the PlayStation 2 was already a fantastic game. Unique, even when compared to previous Persona or SMT titles, P4 integrated traditional, turn-based dungeon crawling with an almost visual-novel element. What really grabbed me when I first played the game–and what still delights those new to the title–is the fantastic story. You play as the unnamed protagonist (“Yu” in the anime), a high-school transfer student who has moved from the big city to the sleepy town of Inaba for the year. It isn’t long after you arrive that strange murders start to occur, and you discover a connection between the mysterious world within the TV and the murders/kidnappings happening around you. You and your friends embark on a quest to find the murderer, and along the way, discover yourselves. Despite its length–a good 60+ hours, depending on difficulty and how much of the side activities you pursue–the game is very much a “page turner,” as you keep playing hoping to uncover the mystery.

When you’re not dungeon-diving, you’re living the life of a teenager–attending school, studying, working part-time jobs, and hanging out with friends. All of these activities have impacts, many of them influencing you in the TV world. While the original game had a nice formula, Golden–with its numerous new activities, jobs, events, and social links–has tweaked it to perfection. In fact, if I could distill what makes Golden so phenomenal–other than how well it works on a handheld–is the simple fact of how streamlined Atlus has made the game.

A solid, detailed playthrough of the PS2 original could easily take you up to 150 hours (to get the True Ending). While you’ll still devote close to that much time with Golden if you’re thorough, the pacing has been dramatically improved, the game has been rebalanced, and generally, Atlus has amped up the “fun” quotient substantially. If you’re worried you won’t enjoy Golden because you’ve already played the original, trust me: there is so much “new” and “added” stuff here, it’s almost like playing a completely new game.

For one thing, you have new social links, including Marie and Adachi, which mean more side stories and more opportunities to fuse stronger personas. (Plus, maxing Marie’s storyline unlocks a new dungeon and maxing Adachi’s a new ending and the ability to fuse a new persona). In addition, every time you rank up your party members’ social links, you’ll get benefits in battle. In the original game, these were limited to things like taking a mortal blow for you or surviving a fatal blow. In Golden, your friends will unlock new moves for their personas–for example, Yukiko learns Mudoon (an insta-kill dark skill)–in addition to these. Even Rise will learn new skills, some of which can be quite helpful in battle.

If that’s not enough, the game’s fusion system has gotten a bit of a revamp as well. You can now earn skill cards (more on that later) in the shuffle game, and you can also elect to transfer skills you’d like to keep while fusing. If you’re connected to WiFi (or 3G), you’ll also have access to fusion recommendations (Persona Search)–seeing the most common fusions that other people playing the game created with the personas in your current arsenal. Although I didn’t use either skill cards or the recommendations much, I did love being able to keep my favorite skills, making fusion a lot more fun and alleviating the tentativeness I had when fusing in previous Persona titles.

The shuffle game–a card game that triggers after certain battles–has been completely changed. Instead of simply a game of dexterity, with the cards spinning around and you pressing the button to stop on the one you want, like an advanced game of shuffle–you now get to see all the cards and are free to chose the one you want. The cards themselves have also been changed somewhat. You’ll see everything from simple ones that add to your equipped persona’s attributes (like Magic Up) to those that boost your experience or money earned for the battle. You’ll also get a chance to collect new personas, and collect a coveted “Skill Up” or “Level Up” card. Skill Up will advance your skill a level–so Mudo will become Mudoon, for instance, or Diarama will become Mediarama–and Level Up will cause your equipped persona to level up regardless of how many experience points it needs to reach the next level. In addition, you can also earn skill cards that you can use to teach personas new skills. Give them to Marie in the Velvet Room and you’ll be able to use the card as many times as you want–for a price.

But that’s not all. Part of what makes the new shuffle game so fun is your ability to select more than one card if you’re strategic. Certain cards–usually carrying a penalty of some kind–will enable you to pick more than one card from the shuffle–such as cutting your experience or money earned, or eliminating items you would have received from the battle. If you’re clever, you can clear the board of cards, earning a Sweep Bonus, which will give you the chance to pick three, instead of one, cards on your next shuffle game. Earning shuffle bonuses and getting boosts to your persona’s stats can be incredibly fun and addictive, and it also creates a brisker pace to grinding. You level up easier and faster, so rather than feeling like a–well, grind–returning to dungeons to boost your characters and personas’ levels and completing quests becomes much more enjoyable, and the game doesn’t seem to lose its pacing nearly as badly as the original did.

Another aspect that makes battling more fun this time around are the addition of more follow-up attacks and brand-new duo attacks. Although some complained about these, I love them. Not only are they fun to watch, but it forced me to change my strategy of which characters to put in my party, since these attacks are specific to certain pairs. Chie and Yukiko are the first two you will experience (with their Twin Dragons attack), but Yosuke and Teddie, and Kanji and Naoto also have their own duo attacks. These usually trigger after you have all done a team attack and a few enemies still survive, usually finishing them off. Additionally, once you all get your scooter licenses, occasionally one of your friends (who is not in your party at the moment) will appear for a follow-up attack. I like to grind (and work on quests) with only one other person in my party to maximize experience, so I found this especially helpful since you don’t get follow-up opportunities as much with only one other person in your party.

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About Rebecca Quintana

Currently playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I've fallen in love with twitter; follow me if you're interested in some good game-, writing-, or book-related conversation: @rrquinta.