The hype for Persona 4 Golden is bigger than any re-release I can think of. Possibly, this is thanks to the fact that on its initial release it was overshadowed by big budget JRPGs like Lost Odyssey, alongside the HD trailers for Final Fantasy XIII. Also, at the time, the PS2 was considered by many to be yesterday’s news.
Persona 4 opens with your move from the city to attend Yasogami High School in Inaba, a sedate, rural town where you stay with your uncle Dojima-san and his adorably cute daughter Nanako. The town may be sedate but the people you meet during your year-long stay are anything but. On your first day of school you are introduced to Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi and Yosuke Hanamura, a bright, vibrant bunch who immediately absorb you into their circle.
You barely have time to settle into a routine when your new home town is shaken by a gruesome and shocking murder which in-turn leads to a series of kidnappings and murders. Your group find themselves connected to these mysterious happenings and quickly realise it’s up to them to help solve the case as the police are clueless. By awakening supernatural powers within yourself you travel into the other-worldly dungeons to traverse the maze-like levels and rescue the kidnapped victim.
Your time is split between exploring dungeons and day-to-day life. There are so many different things to do and people to meet that you often find yourself embroiled in random situations which allow you to get to know someone on a deeper level and, in-so-doing help you to build Social Links.
Social Links are unique bonds formed between you and folk you meet that rank-up as your relationship matures. Each of the 100+ Persona belong to an Arcana group (Fool, Priestess, Death etc) and the Social Links you build will strengthen the corresponding Arcana. So say by building a Social Link with Yukiko you will Level-Up the Priestess Arcana which will bestow bonuses and experience upon the Persona you fuse if they are of the Priestess Arcana. Social Links lets you understand complex and interesting people which in-turn helps you create stronger Persona with better skills.
During your year in Inaba you will befriend new and uniquely interesting people and, through sometimes heart-wrenching chats, you get to know them on a personal or even intimate basis. They will open up to you and divulge their inner-most feelings. Each character has unique and complex layers of insecurities which are really unique in current games and it’s a big part of what makes Persona 4 so amazing.
To talk about Persona 4 without mentioning the art would be criminal. Form follows function, right? JRPGs like this often have lots of stats and menus. Take for example the the Attributes menu: Courage, Expression, Knowledge etc are gained by various means such as part-time jobs you undertake and are needed to do things like pass exams and build stronger Social Links. They add yet another layer to an already feature-rich game so to create a menu system that allows for easy and intuitive navigation is difficult enough. It is then commendable that through sickeningly deft and creative artistry they have made the user interface not only functional, but exciting. The whole yellow, dynamic aesthetic of the Status and Battle menus is utterly incredible; it’s bright, colourful and energetic but never intrusive or pointless. It is bursting with its own unique sense of style that feels modern and on-point, properties that extend to the enemies you encounter that are so unique and quite unlike any other game I can think of. This all makes the world feel defiantly and stylishly unique.
The Vita version adds a host of features and improvements over the PS2 game and most importantly adds a new Arcana and Character: the enigmatic and amnesiac Marie. She is an inhabitant of The Velvet Room, a kind of ethereal limousine floating between realities on a sea of subconscious. You have unique access to this azure-coloured room and to its host Igor, a series regular with an aggressively large nose who will fuse the Personas you have collected in to new, stronger and rare ones. Occasionally during one of your frequent visits to The Velvet Room, Marie will ask you to take her out in to the real world and to help uncover her mysterious past. Marie’s story adds a host of new bonuses to the Vita version including story-twists and much needed ending that ties up some loose ends.
The Vita version of Persona 4 improves on an already remarkable game. It adds features such Vox Populi, the ability to see what other people who have played the game did that day or SoS, a feature in dungeons where you ask other players online for help in the form of HP and SP replenishment at the beginning of your next battle. There are also music videos of JPOP starlets performing songs from the series as well as lectures from a teacher at Yasogami High who will explain to you better than I did earlier, the concepts of Jungian philosophy and how they pertain to the game. These are really cool additions and perfect for fans of the series but changes such as the ability to start a level again when you are killed are more impactful. The changes are interesting and mark a break away from the Shin Megami Tensei series of notoriously punishing games. After all they have removed Shin Megami Tensei from the title. The emphasis is now on the characters, story and the social sim aspects and shifted away from the incredibly difficult fights synonymous with SMT. It should be noted that Very Easy is perfect for younger gamers or those just wanting to get to know the characters and solve the many mysteries.