I have not played any new Japanese games in a long time. More specifically, the JRPG genre has been something I have not really indulged in some time. The Japanese game industry has been in an odd place for some time now. Despite the waves of titles sort of lingering in an almost undead state, there are games coming out of Japan that show the creative spark is still there. Persona 4 Golden is one of those games.
Now before we get into this proper, I just need to point out that yes; I know this is a remake of the 2008 PS2 title. I never played it, but I know the key differences. Also, I like Golden’s voice for Chie better. It’s true, she sounds more like a student. When talking about this review ever, as it is my first time playing any version of Persona 4, I will not be making comparisons. Ya know, besides the Chie thing.
Persona 4 Golden is a pretty game. The Vita widescreen allows for a very colorful time, filled with lots of detail, in both the environment and the characters themselves. The environments are also nice and varied, with the small Japanese town of Inaba really coming to life with varied stores, a fully fleshed out school that the characters attend and other areas. Really such a full detailing of Japanese life has not been seen since Shenmue on the Dreamcast. The dungeons in the game are likewise detailed. While not as alive as Inaba, the layouts themselves lend to the character each dungeon are built around.
The story of this title…wow. It’s a long and convoluted story, filled with Japanese anime-ish tropes of the power of friendship, overcoming adversity and finding strength in yourself. All told through the trials of a transfer high school student and his new friends. If this sounds like a bunch of tired cliches smashed together, I would not blame anyone for thinking that. However all of this is wrapped up in such a well handled package. The writing is uniformly strong, with all the characters having significant arcs, that deal with many social themes and the problems growing up high school students have to go through. The writing is backed up by an extreme amount of voice acting that like the writing, is uniformly great. With no one delivering a flat performance, I really found myself not ever skipping the talking points. It has been a long time since a video game has gotten me so engaged in the narrative.
But with any RPG, I would argue the main part of this game is the systems present. Combat…really not much to talk about. It is turned based, with an agility stat determining priority. On top of this almost everything, including you and the characters, follow an affinity system determining elemental strengths and weaknesses, determined by the Persona equipped. Think of a summon monster that is fixed to each character, besides the protagonist. He can find many new ones, and even make new ones by melding combinations of what he has equipped.. This is all done very well. It’s nothing new, but it doesn’t have to be. It works perfectly fine, with multiple difficulty settings. Normal rewards tactical thinking while making sure this plays like many of the great RPGs of yesteryear.
What system really shines though, is the social link system. While not traversing one of the dungeons in Persona 4, the player can participate in what is essentially a high school life sim. While going through this, we learn of the characters plights, and motivations for acting the way they do. While doing this, character choices are able to be made based on secondary stats raised by social activities, such as courage, knowledge, and expression. These open up more conversation options the higher you get them.
This mode serves to both expound on the story in extremely meaningful and thought provoking ways. It really blends the idea of game systems and storytelling in a perfect harmony. On top of learning more of the lore of the game, raising social links will allow you to create more powerful Personas for the main character, as well as teach your other fighting characters new abilities. Again, tied together with the superb writing makes you want to take part in this system, it really fleshes out the package before you.
Lastly, you will want to play this game more than once. Despite the fact my first playthrough took me about 60 hours, I was still ready to throw myself back into the game right after it ended. This is due to the many endings that are possible, as well as the things carried over allow for a much easier subsequent playthrough, even on the same difficulty setting. If you fell in love with the story like I did, you should definitely play it again if nothing else for the expanded dialogue options, as your secondary stats carry over from the first file.
Persona 4 Golden as single-handedly reminded me why I love RPG’s, Japan, and their particular brand of RPG. Before the day Persona 4 Golden clicked for me, my favorite game ever was Suikoden 2 on the first Playstation. Persona 4 I can say even with hindsight now, has passed Suikoden 2 as my favorite game ever. This is a big deal for me, as Suikoden 2 came out in 1999. This game is honestly a reason to buy a Vita, and failing that is a reason to at least track down the PS2 version which can still be had for cheap.
Final Score- 10/10