The most notable thing about the Vita version is that this is the first game I’ve played that feels like a true console experience on the go. Other titles have felt the need to shoehorn in needless touch mechanics, or, in the case of popular IPs getting Vita iterations, feel somewhat lesser than their console counterparts. But Persona 4: Golden is, I would say, superior to the console version, even disregarding that it’s a PlayStation 2 game.
Everything looks extremely appealing, first of all. The colours pop, and there are some moments of excellent colour contrast when in you’re in the TV world, when things go from vivid and bright to dull and washed-out. The art-style feels more at home on the Vita than it did on the PlayStation 2, perhaps because the handheld can do the style more justice than the console could. New animated cutscenes have been added in certain places, and the production quality on these is excellent: there is no difference between watching these in-game, or booting up Netflix on the Vita and watching an anime series.
A couple of Social Links have been added, one for Marie, who is a new character in Golden, and one for the police officer Adachi. Both of these have an impact on the game’s ending, just as the original Social Links do.
There are also changes to areas you can explore. I believe I mentioned this casually earlier, but you can now venture out into Inaba during the evening (similar to evening exploration in Persona 3), whereas before, evening activities consisted solely of jobs. On top of this, Okina City is now an accessible area. You also get a scooter to ride around on, though it’s not a player-controlled function, unfortunately.
Tag Team attacks have also been added to the game, and occur occasionally after all-out attacks. These only occur in predetermined sets, though, based on the relationships of the characters outside of Yu’s influence. Yukiko and Chie, for example, as best friends, have a tag team attack. Telling you what other pairs have tag attacks could actually be considered spoiler territory, so I won’t detail it. Suffice it to say, figuring out who does a tag attack with who will probably have a significant impact on your choice of party.
There actually quite a few minor features that have been added, too. You now have the option of starting a garden in the Dojima’s yard, and the crops you grow are items you can use in the TV world. Tending to the garden can also further your relationship with either Nanako or Ryoko, making it a good pastime if you need to increase your Social Link with either character. There’s also a bug catching system, that lets you use caught bugs as fishing bait, but I can’t for the life of me find the net, so I can’t comment on it any further than that. I assume it’s probably an easy find, but I had to roll through the game pretty quickly to ensure a timely review, so I’m not surprised I missed it.
The TV system of the game has been greatly expanded as well, letting you watch clips from live performances of Persona music, and replay animated cutscenes, among other things. These can be accessed from the main menu, as well, so they won’t have any direct bearing on your playtime, but you need to play through the game to unlock them.
One of the big things, of course, is the addition of a couple of online features. The first, usable only in Inaba proper, is the ‘Voice’ mechanic. Basically, there’s a little icon at the top left of your screen, and if you tap it, the game scours the network to see what activities others playing the game chose to do at that time on that day. This is actually more useful than I thought it would be, as it can reveal to you new Social Links that you’ve yet to discover, or other activities that you didn’t know you could perform. It seems to be Atlus’ way of trying to have people turn to others playing the game for help, rather than jumping to an online forum to find everything. The ‘Voice’ mechanic doesn’t tell you where you can partake in the activities that other people performed, but the fact that you know they’re there is often enough to get you to look for them yourself. If you’re connected to the network, your choices will also be uploaded, so if you are one of those people who just go to sleep whenever they aren’t in the TV world, there are going to be people who see that there’s one really boring guy out there.
The other online mechanic is only usable inside the TV: the S.O.S function. Similar to the ‘Voice’ mechanic, it’s activated by tapping an icon on the upper left of the screen while running around a dungeon. In this case, though, what it’s supposed to do is send a message to other players that you need help in your next battle, and they can choose to aid you. In practice, though, I’m not entirely sure just how it works. The description is vague: does a message appear to everyone playing in a dungeon at that time, or just people who the system’s ‘near’ function detects are playing the game nearby? And, once they do choose to aid you, what actually happens? I only had one instance where anyone decided to help me, and all that happened was a small boost to HP and SP, and a message saying ‘I believe in you!’ Not much help. Given that this was during the pre-release period, I’m not particularly surprised that I didn’t see the function work entirely as it should, but I wish it was described a little better: the in-game instruction is sort of vague, and even online, I couldn’t find a really detailed explanation of the system.
The other most notable change is the new voiceover work for Teddie and Chie. Now, I’ve always loved Teddie, so I was actually the slightest bit disappointed that they redid his work. On the other side of things, though… Well, Chie in the original Persona 4 could get rather grating, as she either didn’t emote much at all, or over-emoted to the point of shrillness, so the redub is a 100% positive fix, in my opinion. Some of the other voices sound the slightest bit different as well, but I think that has more to do with the transfer from PlayStation 2 to PS Vita, rather than any kind of redub. I suppose that they may have rerecorded their dialogue for the new version, but none of the changes are as immediately noticeable as Teddie and Chie.
This leads neatly into the last (positive) thing I wanted to mention. The voice work in this game is well above the norm for JRPGs. None of the characters stand out as completely subpar, and they all know when they need to emote, when they need to yell, when they need to drop their voices. It’s actually quite surprising, given that the last few JRPGs I’ve played had really dry acting. Like I said, aside from Teddie and Chie, (as far as I could tell) the rest of the voiceover work is the same, so this isn’t a compliment exclusive to Golden, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Unfortunately, while the acting is good, it doesn’t always transfer to the lines themselves. For the most part, the writing is really strong. There are a few occasions, though, where the dialogue can be a little bit lesser. It’s never out and out bad, but it stands at such a stark contrast to most of the dialogue that it becomes more noticeable than perhaps it would have been otherwise.
My reaction to the game has been overwhelmingly positive, and I want to stress that this is completely the case: this is a phenomenal title. Aside from some minor gripes with combat and dialogue, the only real criticism I can level at the game is that it’s a JRPG. This isn’t, let me make this totally clear, a bad thing: I’ve made my love for JRPGs perfectly clear in the past. But if you’re not into JRPGs, this isn’t going to be a game that changes your mind. If you’re on the fence about them, I would have no problem pointing you in the direction of Persona 4: Golden, but if you’ve already decided to dislike them, this one won’t be any different.
The game takes place over the course of (what I’m lead to believe is) a traditional Japanese school year: from April to December. The game really doesn’t pick up until around May, though, when all the features become accessible, and you’re able to jump in and out of the TV freely. This is easily a couple of hours in, and I know a slow start is a turn off to some people. Similarly, the majority of the story is told using the visual-novel style – save for the animated cutscenes – and I know that some people don’t find this appealing. And, of course, there are people who won’t find the social simulation aspects all that enjoyable, no matter how well done they are.
My one other hesitation, so far as the quality of the game goes, is connected to the fact that this is a handheld title. Persona 4 was a huge game, and Golden takes that and adds more to it. I’m just not entirely sure how many people are looking for so large an experience on the go. There are enough chances to save your progress that playing for brief intervals of fifteen and twenty minutes is never going to be a problem, but if that’s how you experience the game, completing it is going to take you a long time.
Regardless of all that, though, Persona 4: Golden is still an amazing title. The sheer volume of things you can do, as well as the New Game+ option means that you could easily put one hundred hours into this game (and will, if you’re aiming to get all of the trophies). The story is an engaging, well-crafted mystery tale, the characters are well-developed and almost (for the genre) unequally fleshed out, the combat rewards strategy just as much as strength, and it’s all so well connected by gameplay and dialogue that nothing feels unnecessary. The new features Atlus have added to this version go a long way to add new life to this title, so much so that it’s easily recommendable, even if you have a PS2 copy lying around. This is easily the best title I’ve played on the Vita so far this year, and is definitely worth the money for anyone looking for a new game for the handheld.
Here’s the Rundown
+ Huge amount of content (a single playthrough will likely take 60+ hours)
+ Addictive dungeon crawling/social simulation gameplay
+ Engaging narrative, centered around a compelling mystery
+ Well written, well-acted characters
+ Colours pop beautifully on the Vita screen
+ New features for the Vita version make the game feel new again
+ Excellent combat system designed around both simplicity and strategy…
- …but some of the boss battles can feel more like tests of endurance rather than strategy
- Player character death = game over can be annoying at times, especially in long fights
- Dialogue falls flat on occasion
- The somewhat slow start could be a turnoff to some
- Won’t change the mind of anyone who isn’t a fan of JRPGs (+ though it may turn undecideds)
- Is such a large, lengthy game appropriate for a handheld? (Subject to personal play habits)
9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.
Persona 4: Golden was developed and published by Atlus for the PlayStation Vita system. The game will be released on November 20th, 2012 for the MSRP of $39.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purpose of review.