Review by mistermikeymike
"It's the 5 soda blend you make at burgerking. It's different, but not necessarily better."
Persona 4 was originally released for PS2 over half a decade ago to relative success and gaining a cult following. Persona 4 Golden is Atlus's port of Persona 4 to the PSVita. But with a cherry on top; Atlus decided to add a boatload of new content to this game.
A quick overview of what Persona is. It's a dungeon crawler/dating simulator mix. What you do in the "real world" affects how you fare in the "TV world" aka the dungeons. As you level up in your relationships (dating sim) your ability to fuse powerful personas become stronger.
The game revolves around personas, (which not so surprisingly is what the game is titled after) which is what the battle system revolves around. If you've ever played Pokemon, then that's the best analogy I can give you. In battle, you switch between Personas to best take advantage of the situation much like you would in Pokemon. Each persona has unique strengths and weaknesses that make them better suited for your current battle. You can fuse personas (sort of like breeding a Pokemon who is actually usable immediately after fusing but as the name implies you lose the personas used in fusion) to create new ones and it is essential that you master that in order to succeed in Persona. You can even "catch" wild personas by winning a battle!
The difference however is that there is no sentimental value to your Persona. You are encouraged to cycle through them, and discard them at will. You fuse them often without a second though so you can get stronger. It's sort of like if Ash threw away his Pikachu for a shiny new Mewtwo.
So how does the dating sim relate to the dungeon crawling? In order to level up your social links (basically your skill in fusing personas), you play a dating sim. You play as a second year transfer student in the small quiet town of Inaba,Japan. Throughout the game you spend a majority of your days boosting your social links. You boost them by choosing to spend the day with a friend and you watch a cutscene and share an often endearing moment with them. Social links are the basis of the game.
The story starts off with you moving to a small town in Japan named Inaba. You live the life of a second year transfer student from the big city. You begin your life in Inaba right as two mysterious murders take place. Throughout the game you chase the killer and it is your duty to stop him from killing again. As a typical video game story Persona 4 tries to draw you in from the start. And it does (multiple murders seem to do that).
And then the story falls off a cliff. It suffers from poor pacing and poor storytelling. For about 80% of the game you are shoved into dungeon after dungeon while the plot simply decides not to progress. You would think that the dungeons would each offer something vital to the plot right? Maybe a clue as to who the murderer is or some significant event. But in reality, it's about as creative as Pokemon's story. SEE GYM, BEAT GYM, GET BADGE, REPEAT x8. The dungeons are not relevant to the plot and do not feel relevant to the plot. Throughout most of the game you are just playing in filler dungeons designed to get more hours out of a game with poor RPG mechanics.
The killer? You know the moment of truth? You know how you spend an entire game anticipating who the killer is? Yeah well, you should prepare to be disappointed. It feels as if Atlus just decided, "hey, who is the most inconspicuous person we can think of so we can outsmart the player?" There are no hints. There are no clues. There is no foreshadowing. You're left saying "what the hell."
The main story was awful and an extremely cheesy anime storyline marred by fillers and poor writing. So you're probably wondering why I gave the story an 8/10 right?
The reason I gave the story an 8/10 is simple. Being a dating sim you spend a lot of time with your friends and dates. The time you spend with each person allows them to tell you an often heartfelt and touching story (though sometimes annoying) that strengthens the bond between the two of you. These short stories are what make up for the awful main story. You start to grow and like the cast. The stories are short; 10 custscenes for each character. But during that time you really start to understand what makes each person tick. My personal favourite is Dojimas. It's a prime example of how even a side character can make you sympathize with them. Through the game you talk to a variety of people from grieving widows to typical high school girls. It is these side stories, and little interactions with the people around you that make the story so great. Much of the emotion that is devoid of the main story comes from here as well. It's in these little stories, that really makes Persona a game that you form an emotional connection with. There are no cliches are awful writing in them. I'm almost certain that you will be able to identify with a few characters if not at least half of them
The game is drawn in anime style and it's hard to argue that the graphics are poor or outdated because anime/cartoons aren't about being graphically impressive. That said, even for anime-style graphics Persona is rather plain and lacks detail. Of course I'm not a particularly big fan of anime (actually I hate anime) and my familiarity with it extends only to the most popular ones that I watched as a kid.
Though I will say that characters in this game described as beautiful, did not look beautiful. And the average girl was a step down from that. Of course the anime is only a small part and the models and the world itself is beautifully done and among the best you can get from a PSVita game.
Boasting 50% more voice acting from Persona 4, Persona 4 Golden is pretty amazing in the voice acting department. Voices were synchronized well and most genuinely fit the character with the exception of a couple. Chie and Teddie, two characters from the original Persona 4, have new voice actors. Teddies voice actor is generally embraced by the community while Chie's is controversial at best. Seeing as this is my review I'm going to flat out say that I disliked it and thought it sounded bratty and did not fit the character.
The music was amazing as a whole. Music isn't something you can just describe because everyone's tastes are different. Persona 4 however, will appeal to a majority of players due to its rather safe song selection. There are however, a few vocal tracks sung in J-pop style. One of them being the battle theme. If you don't like J-pop you might want to mute the game because though few in number, they are frequent in appearance.
Persona 4 honestly feels like a series of short videos rather than a JRPG. Everyday you are given a choice on how to spend your afternoon and night. You can either choose to spend the day exploring a dungeon and fighting monsters OR you can spend the day boosting your social link.
Let's start with the combat. It sucks. The balance is poor. And by poor I mean it's terrible. Your party members, if you let the AI control them, are the kind of people who drool while sitting on the couch. That's fine because you can control them manually. The game almost forces you to grind due to how it penalizes you for being under-leveled. That alone robs it of some of the strategy that it should be encouraging. Further degrading the experience of combat is how combat is about trial and error as opposed to strategy. Your job is just to keep smashing the enemy with attacks until you find one that sticks. Resistant to Ice? Let's see if Fire works. Fire not working? Let's try Holy. The balance though is atrocious. A spell that heals your entire party to max hp? Only 30SP (1/10th of your SP bar maybe).
Another issue is how utterly RNG reliant this game is. Half of your game overs will be because the RNG gods frowned upon you. There's a lot of frequent instant-KO spells that bosses will chuck at you. 50% chance to instant kill your MC and game-over you is frustrating. Even random monsters will occasionally toss out an instant-gameover at your and you're left angry as hell because you have to restart due to RNG.
Personas "gimmick" however is called knock downs. Basically hitting an enemies weak point or getting a critical strike results in a free turn or just a gang beatdown for loads of damage. But all this rewards is trial-and-error (for finding weaknesses) OR RNG (for crits).
Now maybe the world is a lot better right? Not really. Dungeons are randomly generated. That means every floor looks the same. And feels the same. Randomly generated means no hidden loot, no exploring and hoping to find something of interest, no secret passages, no nothing. There is no joy in exploration due to how nothing you do grants you a feeling of progression or even a change of scenery. The loot is awful and quite honestly the dungeon design is worse.
Now the dating sim part of the game isn't really a game. But hey, it's definitely my favourite. This part ties into the story. Basically what happens is, if you choose to spend your day with a person you watch an optional cutscene. Each person has their own short story and the more time you spend with each person the higher your social links are. They cap out at level 10 which will give each persona a hefty level boost (often more than enough to learn all their skills). But other than a few dialogue choices, it's not very interactive. It's like picking a level-up option from a menu.
Now as bad as the gameplay is the game is kind of addicting. Which is primarily because of the story.
REPLAY VALUE 4/10
What does a game full of randomly generated loot and cutscenes offer you once you've experienced it once? Not a whole lot. New Game+ is alright but hardly worth the effort. Your money and persona library carry over (as well as a few other things). Now you can summon personas from your persona library which pretty much breaks the game.
There is bonus content for NG+ but it's hardly worth the effort. I mean who's going to spend 60+ hours just so they can fight an optional "super boss" who isn't even that great?
Definitely worth the experience in my honest opinion. There are obvious gameplay flaws but you won't notice them until you're too far into the game to care. The short stories will also suck you in. If you're into anime this is definitely down your alley. And even if you're not it was a touching game.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/07/13, Updated 02/06/15
Game Release: Persona 4 Golden (US, 11/20/12)
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