|System: PS Vita|
|Release: November 20, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence|
More impressive than the sheer amount of choice in Persona 4: Golden, though, is how well it manages to defuse the tension of any one decision. This is largely due to the fact that Persona 4 rarely makes you feel as though you’ve in any manner wasted your time. As long as you choose to do something on a given day, the game generally offers some small reward or sense of progress. More to the point, it doesn’t overtly punish you for your choices, which goes a long way toward preserving the illusion of freedom. I found myself constantly crafting new Personas out of old ones, engaging with the characters who most interested me in the order I so desired, and taking breaks from dungeon-crawling to study or read in my character’s room.
Visually, too, variety is the name of the game. Each dungeon has a distinct appearance and, while Inaba and its surroundings are fairly static throughout the game, they have a rustic appeal that cannot be denied. The game is very good about gradually opening up the world in a way that allows you to acclimate to new locales rather than being overwhelmed by the variety. The Personas all have vibrant designs, as do most of the enemies; there are re-colors of existing foes in subsequent dungeons, but the designs are very good overall, particularly for the boss monsters. All of this is carried through with excellent visual fidelity; though it was originally a PlayStation 2 game, this stands up to anything else in the Vita’s library.
Further, while the game isn’t easy (I was playing on the Normal difficulty), its challenge level rarely feels unfair. Foes generally have an exploitable weakness, which makes combat more of a puzzle than anything else and, while bosses will usually push you, it’s possible to take down most on the first try with careful play and a well-rested party. Should you fall in battle, though, the game will offer to let you retry from the beginning of whatever floor of the dungeon you were just on. It can mean losing almost an entire floor’s worth of progress, but that’s still far preferable to trudging from your last save up through the hour you just played. Worth noting: Teleporting back to the entrance of a dungeon sets a return point back at where you just teleported from, which is another incredibly convenient touch.
Compelling characters (all of whom are terrifically voice-acted), a superb translation full of quirky humor, and a soundtrack to die for (the music in this game is incredibly catchy) round out the core game. The writing, in particular, stands out for how contemporary it feels, all while having that flavor of the unfamiliar provided by the game’s unabashedly Japanese setting. This is modern Japan, though, and so the cultural differences are in stark relief against the Western-style clothing most of the characters wear and the ubiquity within the game’s world of modern technology and at least the simulacrum of pop culture. This necessitates an incredibly idiosyncratic approach to both the base writing and the translation, which does an excellent job of feeling relatable and yet vaguely foreign.
Regarding Vita-specific features, the most interesting are by far those brought about by its Internet connectivity. It’s possible to, at most times, see what the most popular actions other players took were on a given day. If in a dungeon, you can shoot out an SOS signal or respond to someone else’s, which can provide a slight boost to players’ HP and SP reserves. The latter is nothing major, but the former is a very cool addition to the game, since it provides greater context for new players, and perhaps illuminates options of which they would otherwise remain unaware. Also, there are trophies, because PlayStation Network.
I know I’ve been gushing throughout this review, but I really have almost no criticism for Persona 4: Golden. It is an attractive, aural treat with a world and characters that ooze personality, a combat system that manages to be challenging in a rewarding manner, and a compelling storyline that ties everything together. Every time I put it down, I almost immediately wanted to pick it up again and play some more. Most telling, perhaps, is that I would spend the dungeons looking forward to furthering my social links and my time in Inaba craving the game’s combat. It’s very different from the JRPGs that have preceded it (and those that have come since), but it’s optimally what I think of when I consider a JRPG. I’m only sorry that I waited this long to play it.
Date: November 21, 2012