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2/11/2013

REVIEW: Persona 4 Golden (Vita)


It is often said that the PS Vita is a failure. Internet jokes like the “No games” one originally created for the PS3 were revived for Sony’s new portable console. I’ve even heard exaggerated claims like “The PS Vita will be taken out of the market” here and there but while I do admit the console has struggled more than it should, I think the Vita is the only console of this generation that can presume of having one of the best RPGs ever created, probably even one of the best video games in the entire industry: Persona 4 Golden.

P4G is a remake to Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, a game that came out for the now-dead PlayStation 2 years ago. Together with Persona 3 FES, the franchise started a really cool fanbase that rivals that of games like Final Fantasy, Tales and many others. The remake, available exclusively for the PS Vita is simply a brilliant, beautiful and fantastic video game is every possible way.

How can a remake be one of the “best games ever”? you might ask. Simple, Persona 4 Golden was treated with so many extras over the original game and so many stuff was improved that it really does feel like a new game. Simply everything about it is top notch. The graphics, environments, gameplay, combat, story, narrative, voice-acting, soundtrack, minigames, extras, everything in this game is just about perfect. I can personally say for sure that it seriously became one of my favorite games ever, something I probably never said about any game this generation (that started way back in 2005 by the way).

Persona 4 Golden is a Japanese RPG that takes place in the fictional town of Inaba, in Japan’s countryside. The protagonist, named Yu Narukami (his name can be changed) moves over there for a year to live with his uncle Dojima and little cousin Nanako. Shortly after he moves to the small town, a series of very mysterious murders start occurring. Yu starts befriending some fellow students from his high school and they slowly find out the victims are placed in a fantasy world inside TVs and that they have the power to summon “Personas”, some very powerful monsters that can fight for them, so they decide to solve the mystery and do whatever they can to stop the victims from dying inside the TV world.

The plot of the game might seem weird, and in reality it is, but when you play it, you realize that it’s perfectly explained. It has a great pace and will keep any competent player interested and in the edge of his/her seat from start to finish. As I’ve just stated, pretty much everything in the game is of the best quality, the characters will be loved by any player, the fights are intense and awesome and the soundtrack that accompanies every single moment of the game fits perfectly and is really touching.

Graphically, I have to admit that P4G is definitely not the strongest Vita game. It is a vast upgrade from the PS2 version graphics but it sadly doesn’t reach the level of brilliance of other games in the console like Uncharted: Golden Abyss or Gravity Rush. Still, P4G looks fantastic; the original PS2 games were greatly improved. You can see a lot of antialiasing, cool lightning effects, excellent animations (especially in battles) and a solid framerate through the entire game.

The areas you’ll be visiting are really beautiful and seriously give that feel of a realistic Japanese town common to some drama or comedy anime series like ToraDora. During the game, you’ll walk around your high school, a shopping district, a mall, river, a beach and other places. This actually gives me a funny feel of irony, because when you compare P4G to another game like for example, Xenoblade Chronicles, the Wii RPG’s strongest point is definitely the VAST (and I mean VAST) areas you walk around in, while in the other hand, Persona 4 Golden has just a few (in reality you’ll only be visiting around 10 small areas. But the difference is that both games administer their tools differently and both end up being incredibly awesome games. Which in my opinion, is one of the things that still makes RPGs one of the strongest genres in gaming, the ability for several games in the same genre to be so different.

One of the most beautiful and strongest points in the game is the soundtrack, hands down. Persona 4 Golden did something I truly had not experienced in a JRPG game before, using J-Pop and J-Rock music for an RPG. In theory, this should lead to a disaster because when you think of JRPG music, the first thing that should come to mind is orchestrated OSTs but P4G manages to destroy that cliché and put a really varied and excellent soundtrack during the entire game. I don’t really think I ever heard a song I didn’t like in any of my two playthroughs. The soundtrack of the game was composed by Shoji Meguro with vocals done by Shihoko Hirata. I truly, truly suggest looking it up.

Besides the fantastic soundtrack, the game is fully voiced in an excellent way. All characters have great voices to accompany them, give them personality and make them feel real to the plot whether they’re important, like a party member or not. The game only comes in English but there’s really no need to miss the ability to play it in Japanese because trust me, the English voice-acting is one of the best I’ve heard in a Japanese game. I especially found Kanji, Adachi, Yosuke and Teddie quite excellent.

Gameplay-wise, the game is actually divided in two different sections: Dungeon/Battles and Yu’s daily life activities like hanging around with friends, part-time jobs, studying, shopping and things like that. The game advances in days and each day has several sections to it like Early Morning, Lunchtime, After School and Evening, these last two are the most important because they’re the ones that truly give you the opportunity to administer time, which is one of the ways the game is played (a little bit similar to how Atelier Rorona works, but not quite). During school days (Mondays-Saturdays), the characters will have to go to school and once they’re out, Yu will have the opportunity to explore the town to do different activities like for example, visiting the TV world where the dungeons and battles take place.

When inside the TV world, you’ll be able to visit dungeons depending on which point of the story you’re on. Each dungeon consists of several floors, each with passageways that you need to explore and find stairs and treasure chests to keep going. When exploring a dungeon you’ll be able to see a Shadow before battling it and then the actual fight starts. The battle system is turn-based like many other JRPGs, you’ll be able to give command to the four characters in your party like attack with main weapon, guard or summon a Persona to use a skill like a magical or physical attack or heal an ally. All party members have only one Persona during the game except for Yu, the main protagonist, who can equip a total of 12 at the same time.

Equipping several Personas at once allows players to build Yu in any way they see fit, like a Mage, a physical fighter, a healer or even a support member for the rest of the party. This is especially good because it literally gives countless possibilities to build that main character. Besides this, each party member and each of Yu’s Personas can have a total of eight skills or abilities at once and they’ll keep on learning them so you’ll have to delete old ones to make room for new, better ones (just like how you administer the four slots for skills to a Pokémon in their games). This also means that while the other party members only use one Persona, they have many, many different ways to be built and act in battle. I personally kept changing this to see different results and it’s quite amazing.

All of this results in a battle system that might look simple and a bit old-fashioned at first but as you keep advancing through the game and understand how to play, you’ll notice that the truth is quite the opposite. Persona 4 Golden has a very, very deep battle system and RPG mechanics. It’s also one of the few game’s I’ve played in the genre where inflicting debuffs to enemies works very well. This is going to be especially useful and vital if you wish to survive during a playthrough in Hard or Very Hard difficulties where enemies are much stronger and intelligent.

Besides visiting dungeons and fighting Shadows, Yu and friends will go to a “Velvet Room” to fuse Personas to create new ones or sell and buy skills for themselves (which can be obtained by a cool card minigame that sometimes appears after you win a battle). Administering Personas and skills is also a vital part of the game and when you fuse Personas, the resulting one can get some useful extra EXP depending on the level of Yu’s Social Links.

Outside dungeons and battles, Yu will be able to perform a lot of different daily-life activities that vary the pacing of the game by a lot and make it step out of the usual formulas of gameplay many RPGs use. One of the most important things in the game besides the battles are the Social Links. This are a system of measurement of a friendship between Yu and another character in the game which goes from level 1 to 10. By speaking or spending time with another character, Yu can improve and level up his Social Link with that person which gives several bonuses in gameplay and is also a brilliant way to create character development in the game.

Almost all characters in the game have a Social Link with them, not only party members and leveling them up will give you good stuff. Each Social Link is associated with a different type of Persona of the ones Yu can create and use in battles. For example, if you start spending time, eating, working or just hang out with a character, his/her Social Link will improve and this will mean that when you get a Persona of that specific link, it will obtain tons of extra EXP to earn bonus stats and even several cool extra skills.

On the other hand, if you hang out with a party member like Yosuke or Yukiko, besides the EXP bonus when creating a Persona of that link, the party member will get the chance to learn extra abilities, do follow-up attacks that are REALLY useful and even get the ability to survive a killing blow with 1HP left so you don’t have to worry about losing him/her in battle.

There are several stats outside the battle ones like Knowledge and Courage that Yu can improve by performing activities. Some of them require a specific level to perform an action so you really need to learn how to administer time in the game. It’s quite impossible to get everything in a single playthrough which means that if you really, really want to see everything Persona 4 Golden offers. At least a couple of playthroughs will be necessary. But that’s definitely not a bad thing.

The amount of extra content P4G has compared to the PS2 version of the game is quite large. If you played the original version, you’ll notice Golden has extra Social Links, more Personas, abilities and ways to fuse and equip stuff to them, a lot of new items, more voice dialogs, and extra dungeon and a previously true ending unreleased in the West before. There’s also the chance to play through the winter season that was mostly skipped during the PS2 version and many, many other things.

In short, Persona 4 Golden is, by far, the single best title in the catalog of the PS Vita right now (and I’m sure it will remain like that for a long time). It’s quite possibly one of the best RPGs ever made and trust me when I say that statement is not far from the truth. The graphics, soundtrack, voice-acting, animations, battle system, story, narrative, gameplay and characters are some of the best in the entire industry and no Vita owner out there should be around without playing this game. Gamers wanted a reason to purchase a PS Vita? Well here it is: Persona 4 Golden is the game to get.


Pros:

-          Fantastic story and narrative.
-          Excellent cast of characters.
-          One of the best original soundtracks in gaming.
-          Deep battle system with tons of mechanics to use.
-          Hundreds of Personas, items and skills to equip.
-          Great voice-acting.
-          Excellent character development.
-          Great system of resource management.
-          Tons of new content over the original version.
-          Story pacing is perfectly crafted.

Cons:

-          Takes a few hours to get going.


-          Graphics and Visuals……..…..9
-          Music and Sound Effects…......10
-          Gameplay……………………10
-          Replay Value…………….…..10

-          Overall Score……………….. 9.9 / 10

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