Review by Morpheme
"Staying away from this game for too long is unBEARable!"
Persona 4 was released in 2008 for the PS2 as a follow-up to the crazy successful (by obscure JRPG standards) Persona 3 and Persona 3: FES, a game that subverted nearly all of the traditional mechanics of JRPGs to deliver a vastly more satisfying experience. As a spin-off of the long-running Shin Megami Tensei series, the Persona series has generally sought to deliver a SMT-lite experience, on that focuses more on story compared to the stark, bleak stories of its cousins Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga, and Strange Journey. Though, it does retain it's parent series' penchant for the supernatural, macabre, and insanebut it remains wrapped in the adorable veneer of a Slice of Life anime series. This version, Persona 4 Golden, is a remake/port of the original for the Vita, and with the update for a modern console comes a host of amazing new features that bring this amazing game up to Killer App status.
HEY KIDS, DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT MURDERS?!
The real reason that JRPGs are still even relevant is the story, and it's here in ample and ridiculous supply. So, then, do you want to talk about murders? The story begins as our Hero (Yu/You, see what they did there?) arrives in a sleepy burg in the middle of nowhere, consigned to a dreary year in the middle of nowhere at a new school with nothing to do. At least, that is, until a local celebrity and a sexy upperclassman are found dead at the hands of a serial killer. This, combined with the series' disturbing fascination with the occult and macabre, eventually land the player in a Jungian nightmare of Shadows and repression. But once the player and his various companions master their own insecurities and embrace their true emotions, they can unleash the power of their Personas, the true self ( or the Super Ego, for all you Psychology buffs out there). With this power, You and your Investigation Team must go forth, prevent the murders, find the killer, and solve the supernatural mysteries that plague the small town of Inaba.
Now, this mystery is the vehicle that drives the plot, but the story is truly brought to life within the side stories of the various NPCs. The Social Links' tie into the game play as well, but we'll discuss that in the next section. The theme of this game is finding one's true self, and all 20-odd social links contribute to this goal. We see these people (many of whom are your party members in the game's many battles) go through many ordeals, be it coping with the loss of a deceased family member, the manliness of creating plush animals, tutoring a wild student, or even just hanging out with an animal, these social links run the gamut and remain consistently fresh and interesting. It's actually so engrossing that at times it can overshadow the main game, the addictive dopamine drip of simulated amicability can cause a player to want to rush through the occasionally long-winded story sections and dungeons to get right back to leveling one of the various Social Links.There's also feels. Lots of them. Many of the game's characters will feel like old friends by the time you're done, and Marie's social link path will make you cry like a little girl. So, yeah, put THAT on the back of the box.
IT'S TIME FOR AN ALL-OUT ATTACK!
But players don't care about all that nonsense, do they? All people look for is bang for their buck, a decent value. Well, good news: this is probably more game than the average player can handle. That isn't an exaggeration. There's nearly 70 hours of content in this game, and that's just for a standard non-completionist playthrough. It's BEAR-ly beatable by most people's standards, but it's a thoroughly satisfying experience all the way through. From the strategic All-Out Attack mechanic to the intricate Social Link system, this game is a unified and beautiful whole. Also, IT HAS COSTUMES. What would satisfy a player more than Battle Panties?!
First of all, the combat is a great twist on the classic turn-based formula. Unlike MMOs and WRPGs and rival JRPGs that mostly reward a time investment and grinding, Persona 4 and Shin Megami Tensei games in general reward the player for strategy above all else. In earlier incarnations, SMT games have employed a Press Turn system wherein the players and the monsters are both vulnerable to certain types of attack, similar to the SUPER EFFECTIVE type exploitation in Pokemon. Being hit by a weakness will cause you to lose a turn. Conversely, exploit every enemies' turn and your spunky party goodtimes feel-good crew will perform and ALL-OUT ATTACK with the requisite cartoon cloud effect and huge, devastating, delicious damage. Mercilessly murdering shadows gives the player EXP, of course, but it's really only useful for the player character, since Personas rarely level up. This leads us directly to the blue-painted doorstep of the games' deepest mechanic: Fusion. In a system most akin to Pokemon or Dragon Quest: Monsters breeding, players must combine their various Personas into ever-more powerful forms. But remember how Personas rarely ever level up? This is where the Social Links return! It turns out that Social Links are integral to the growth of your personas: the stronger your bond with a character, the more the Arcana that they represent will level up, tying going out and drinking with your bros back directly to your strength in battles. Who'd of thought that dates could make you stronger?
IT'S A GOLDEN SHOW
The presentation section is perhaps the easiest section to write home about: the game, while it doesn't have the highest resolution, manages to keep the player visually interested thanks to its lovely primary color pallet, and generally well-done and creative art direction. The artwork for each Persona was lovingly hand-drawn by Katsura Hoshino and reflect a great deal of interpretation on many culture's myths and legends. Each dungeon as well has a distinct and um... Unique visual style, with the various locations ranging from a castle, and 8-bit wonderland, and my personal favorite: a sauna, replete with all the jokes you can imagine. The music is also wonderful, and it's astonishing how I'm not sick of hearing the in-game battle themes when they remain mostly unchanged for 70 hours of playtime, though it does help that a decent player will be in and out of a battle relatively quickly. This is all thanks to the marvelous compositions of Shoji Meguro, which range from the smoothest of jazz to the hardest of rock.
THE SHADOW WORLD
In addition to being a VERY solid port of a PS2 game, P4G contains several additions from the base game, including but not limited to: Two new social links, new areas, the ability to explore said areas on foot, costumes, trophies, new events for major holidays, new Personas, network connectivity features, costumes, new animated cutscenes, motorcycles, and even an interactive version of the Midnight Channel! Atlus really went all out in making sure that old fans of the game have new things to look forward to, and it's really shiny. It also helps the overall visual appeal that my Vita is currently decked out in the (amazingly high quality) Vita skin that Atlus provided with my pre-order, and they also offer some seriously amazing wallpapers that really make the Vita's gorgeous resolutions pop.
THIS is the Vita's killer app, right here and right now. Along with being perhaps one of the best games ever made, it's easily worth both its own cost and the cost of the system. What are you waiting for?! THERE ARE BEAR PUNS APLENTY, COME ON IN!
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 11/30/12
Game Release: Persona 4 Golden (Solid Gold Premium Edition) (US, 11/20/12)
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