Finding Your True Self: Persona 4 Golden Review For PlayStation Vita
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.
If I had one personal complaint about the PlayStation Vita, it would be a lack of decent JRPGs. Sure, there are a few in the PSP and PSOne library, and there is Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice – but no real, traditional JRPGs made for the next-gen portable… until now. Ladies and gentlemen, for your gaming pleasure Atlus proudly presents: Persona 4 Golden! True, it may be a remake of the award-winning classic Persona 4 for the PS2, but it’s been redesigned for the Vita. Does the reworked title have the skills to pay the bills, or does age get the better of it? Stay tuned to find out after these messages!
Welcome back! Our tale in Personal 4 Golden (or P4G for short) is based around you, the player, and your name-him-yourself protagonist, coming to the small rural town of Inaba after your parents start travelling abroad for work. Shortly after arriving though, you start having weird dreams and visions about a mysterious figure, who tells you the next year will be very important for you in “finding the truth.” Shrugging it off as a simple dream, you continue to live your life and make new friends, like the wannabe ladies’ man Yosuke and the kung-fu-loving tomboy Chie.
Life is pretty good (all things considered), until you and your chums hear a rumor about the Midnight Channel. Apparently, if you stare into a blank TV screen at midnight when it’s raining, your soul mate will appear before you. Curiosity sets in, and you decide to give it a try the next rainy night. What you see isn’t your soul mate, but a single shadow in the shape of a woman. Confused, our hero touches the screen and is nearly sucked in, narrowly pulling himself out in time. Sharing this info with your new pals the next day, they don’t believe your story– until you accidentally get yourselves pulled into a TV at your local department store.
Where your posse ends up is a freaky world that mirrors your own, and after some terrifying events you make your way back out. Shortly afterwards, the people seen on the Midnight Channel get kidnapped, and turn up dead. Fearing for the safety of your friends, family, and neighbours, you and your crew decide to head back into the TV world and protect those you love by stopping the kidnapping – whatever the cost.
What P4G’s plot brings to the table is a perfect blend of mystery, humour, and warm-hearted friendship. Players who decide to engage in the story are sure to come out of it satisfied. Not only is the narrative entertaining, but it is fairly long too, easily sporting over 25 hours of playtime – and that’s if you’re rushing. This is one story that you need to experience, or even re-experience.
As for gameplay, the game takes two main forms: RPG dungeon-exploration and social interaction. Your RPG elements occur while you’re in the TV world, where you explore areas conjured up by the kidnapped victim’s inner demons. It’s here that you’ll explore the dungeon environment and do battle with malevolent shadows, using both your own personal strength and that of your Persona – a powerful entity from within.
Combat uses a traditional turn-based system, where players have simple options like blocking, using Items, attacking with equipped weapons, as well as using various physical and magical skills through Personas (both of which cost either Health or Skill Points). Another key aspect is elemental effects, which every character and enemy can have. There are six elements: Fire, Ice, Wind, Lightning, Light, and Darkness. If you attack an enemy with their weak element they will be knocked down, giving the attacking character an extra turn. Should you be able to knock all enemies down this way (or through Dodging or landing Critical Hits) you and your party can utilize a Pile On attack – where you all just go to town on the downed foes.
Anyone who has played a JRPG can attest to how annoying low-level fights can be, having to spam the X button to keep using the available basic attacks so you can slaughter your weaker foes, or try to run just to save yourself some time. These battles can be unavoidable, either due to Item-grinding or accidental contact, but P4G has got you covered! At any time during battle you can enter Rush Mode, and when engaged your party will do nothing but basic attacks until the fight is over, with the entire event happening in fast-forward. This allows you to not only save time in low-level conflicts, but if turned on/off properly it can even speed up harder battles – skipping through party members with non-effective elements until the appropriate member’s turn.
At the end of a battle, players are awarded Experience Points, Money, and Items, but they also have the opportunity to get a Shuffle Chance. This mechanic shuffles out three to five random cards to choose one of, each representing something different including HP/SP recovery, Skill Cards (which teach Personas new abilities), extra cash, bonus XP, and even new Personas. In some instances, there may even be some negative or altering cards included, such as Half XP or changing a card to a Persona. Why would you want to choose these? Well, they come attached with extra draws, meaning you can pick more than one card. Should you nab them all, you’ll get a Sweep Bonus – allowing you to start the next shuffle with three draws instead of the usual one – meaning more benefits.
Outside of battle, you’re free to explore the dungeon, change equipment, check character stats, and manage your Personas. A character’s stats are determined both by his own personal features (HP, SP, Attack, and Defense) and his Persona’s (such ask Magic or Luck). While the supporting characters can only equip their base Persona, your hero can equip several. New Personas can be won after a battle through the aforementioned card shuffle, or created in the Velvet Room (but more on that in a bit). This Switch feature is key to combat, as players are able to swap Personas to better suit the situation.
When not in the TV world, the game takes more of a social/dating sim shape, where you live a day-to-day life in Inaba – which can be equally as important as leveling up. Most mornings consist of going to school (unless you have the day off) and your evenings can usually be spent doing whatever you’d like (unless an event takes up your time, such as a camping trip). There are numerous things to do around the town: eat at the diner, shop for new Items/Equipment, buy/read books, hang out with friends/family, get a part-time job, study at home, tend to a garden, take on side-quests for townsfolk… the list goes on! Each of these events takes up a part of your day, so spend your time wisely. Just be careful, because if you take too long the kidnapped person may be killed and you’ll get a Game Over – so watch the weather forecast regularly.
So, if taking part in these events runs the risk of losing the game, why do them? Well, there are two reasons. First off, as you mingle around town, certain acts increase your five stats that are unique to the protagonist: Courage, Diligence, Knowledge, Expression, and Understanding. These open up different options within conversations, which in turn can lead to better situations for your character. For example, if you’re comforting someone who was just insulted, you could reach out and take their hand (provided you have enough Courage to do so) instead of just saying, “It’s ok” or “Get over it”. These stats aren’t just used for dialogue choices, but also as prerequisites. Certain characters won’t talk to you and some side-quests are unavailable until you reach a particular level in these stats – even specific storyline events change while you grow as an individual.
Spending time with different people in your life also has another key purpose: Social Links. As you bond with friends and family, you start to establish links with them, which in turn provides you with various bonuses. First and foremost, when creating new Personas, if you have a Social Link with a character who’s aligned with that Persona’s type (such as Fool, Magician, or Aeon), you will receive an XP Bonus for it – making your new partner that much stronger. As well, when your Link reaches certain points with someone, they unlock new abilities such as Bonus Attacks as you knock down enemies or automatically healing/picking up downed teammates. Should you build up enough of a link with certain characters and have the stats to go through with it, you can eventually take them on a date, establishing a romantic relationship. All of these aspects make being social just as important as leveling up and solving the mystery.
Another key location available both in the real world and inside the TV one is the Velvet Room, a very important feature in the title where you can save and create new Personas. There are two ways to do this: Fusion and Loading. Fusion can be done using either two or three Personas you currently possess and combining them into one new entity. Each new creation has a level, skills, and base stats, but it can be augmented by your Social Link, chosen abilities to be inherited, and Fusion Forecast (a daily variable which grants different bonuses when creating certain Personas). Alternatively, you can save a log of your current entities and recreate that specific Persona at a later time, which is considerably helpful if you need a valued Persona to make a needed one. This Loading option gives you an endless amount of possibilities for your roster of Personas, making sure you can always have what you need to get your job done!
One other important part of the game is the new online aspects, Voice and SOS. The Voice feature appears in two main places: the Velvet Room and the normal world. While searching Persona Fusions in the Velvet Room, players may tap the on-screen Voice button to see the top five most popular Fusions by people who have played online. While in the normal world, players may tap that same button to see the top actions taken by other connected players on that day or night, giving you a good idea of what to do next. SOS, on the other hand, is found while exploring a dungeon outside of battle, and allows you to both call out for assistance during your next fight, as well as answer other player’s SOS calls. When your call for help is answered, you’ll have small amounts of your HP and SP recovered at the beginning of your next fray – the more answers the better your recovery.
What makes P4G so entertaining is that you get to pick and choose how you spend your time. Do you rush right into the dungeon to save the character in distress, leave it to the last minute so you can hit on your love interest and work part-time for money, or switch back and forth between the two? The answer is completely up to you, as the title gives the right combination of urgency and choice in its addictive and entertaining gameplay.
As for graphics, the entire visual experience has been re-crafted and upgraded for P4G – including extra cutscenes. In-engine graphics take a somewhat ‘chibi’ approach to its characters, giving them minutely disproportionate features on the head – leaving it with a more relaxed and cartoony feel. Thanks to the redesign, these visuals push past the limits of the PS2 to the quality one would expect of our current generation consoles. Cutscenes are done purely with hand-drawn anime scenes, which have been brilliantly designed and delivered. Regardless of what you’re watching, the Vita’s crisp and vivid screen delivers them so beautifully you’re not going to want to take your eyes away from it.
There is one very slight issue with visuals, however: a major lack of cutscene subtitles. While every single in-engine sentence has a set of text to go along with it, there isn’t a single letter in any anime cutscene. While this wouldn’t be an issue on a home console, as many users play either with the volume up, surround sound on, or headphones in – it’s a big problem on the go. In one instance, while riding the bus I had my headphones slip out of my ears while watching a cutscene and missed an important piece of dialogue. While I was able to get the gist of what was happening, I was still slightly annoyed – not to mention the moments where headphones are not an option, or the background noise is too loud. Subtitles are something we sometimes take for granted, and having them be more prevalent in P4G would have made the game all the better.
Moving on to audio, P4G sports both a decent voice cast and a well-composed and varied soundtrack. Starting with the latter, the title’s music is a delightful mix of an original orchestra score and J-rock tracks. The score itself covers every end of the spectrum, from the upbeat and stingy brass riffs with a hint of a jazz feel, to the slow, arpeggiated piano and string pieces with a brooding melancholy undertone. Now, while I’m not normally a fan of J-rock (the battle themes from Record of Agarest War drove me nuts after just a few minutes), P4G takes such a laidback approach to it, using only the lightest hint of rock styles and instruments while still sounding like a traditional JRPG battle theme (think Final Fantasy). Overall, what’s been created here is a soundtrack that’s nothing short of amazing, and I can guarantee I will be adding it to my personal collection!
On the other side of the audio coin we have the voice cast, which is what I like to label a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ performance. On one hand, we have power houses of JRPG voice actors like Troy Baker (Two-Face/Robin – Batman: Arkham City; Vincent – Catherine), Sam Riegel (Peter Parker/Spiderman – The Amazing Spiderman; Minoru Shiraishi – Lucky Star) and Laura Bailey (Serah Ferron – Final Fantasy XIII-2; Catherine – Catherine ), and on the other hand we have some fairly painful performances from the supporting cast. For starters, children (mainly that of your cousin Nanako), as per the usual in any game, use such dry and annoying voice acting – almost to the point of aggravation on every encounter. Furthermore, a couple of characters have had their voice actors replaced, namely those of Teddie and Chie. While Sam Riegel does a fair job as Teddie, the actress playing Chie simply cannot live up to the original – both in terms of nostalgia and quality. Her performance felt very forced, as though she was trying really hard to fill shoes that were simply too big for her – which can almost make players want to avoid her (especially if you loved her original voice). Although the reasons behind these recasts were never revealed, one assumes they were simply unavailable, which happens sometimes in these instances. Still, impossibilities aside, acting is beautiful in some places and painful in others – which gives the audio palate both a wonderful flavour and a sour aftertaste.
Only one other issue hits P4G’s soundboard, though it’s more of a design flaw than a broken component. When exploring the many dungeons found inside the TV, party members will occasionally chime in to give you information, such as an enemy in the room or when a Treasure Chest is present. At this point, the background music turns down to let the voice acting come through more easily… except that there isn’t any. Only text pops up in the corner for you to read – there is no recorded dialogue. My best guess was that this volume change was designed to draw attention to the text, but in all honesty it’s fairly hard to miss when it appears. While it’s such a small thing, one can’t help but notice it bringing down the overall audio quality – even if only a little.
When the case is solved and the people of Inaba are safe, players everywhere will notice just how great of an addition Persona 4 Golden is to their Vita library. With an interesting story taking pieces from several genres, two deep and entertaining sides of gameplay, pretty visuals, and an enjoyable soundtrack accompanied by an overall excellent voice cast, this is the JRPG experience to have on the Vita – for both new and returning fans alike. Unfortunately, it’s held back ever so slightly by some presentation issues, but that should not dissuade you from picking it up or downloading it – this is a must have. So look deep into your heart, find your inner Persona, and start helping to solve the mystery of Inaba!
Final Score 4.25 / 5.0 and a reflection of your inner being.
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