Persona 4 Golden was one of those games that kind of came out of nowhere. Sure, it wasn’t as left-field as the very awesome Persona 4 Arena, but it certainly wasn’t expected. Especially because, if I remember right, Team Persona had gone on record as saying that there would not be multiple version of Persona 4 like there were with it’s predecessor. Well, if there’s one thing about the future, it’s that it makes a liar out of each and every one of us (because believe me, the future is kind of a jerk). Unlike what happens when most companies announce a new version of an existing game, I did not have any doubts. My lack of doubt persisted even when Persona 4 Golden was announced for the Playstation Vita, a system that in the eyes of many has not yet proven its staying power. If anything, the presence of this game is what led me to obtain a Vita in the first place, as the only real requirement for me to buy a system nowadays is that there eventually be a Shin Megami Tensei game on it. No, I didn’t have doubts at all, because Persona 3 has a portable version that, while not /quite/as robust an experience as P3;FES, still brought something very new and very worthwhile to the table in the form of an alternate story path.
So while I had no doubts, I did not expect the level of surprise that I felt at the entire experience. Persona 4, I had thought, was perfect. It did not really /need/ an update. It had improved the formula begun in Persona 3 and had refined it to a point that I simply did not think anything needed to be added to it. And I maintain that I was right.
No, the things that were added to Persona 4 Golden were not things that /needed/ to be added. They were not things that were asked for, or things that I found were lacking in Persona 4. No, these are things that were added because Atlus loves its fans. It is like Atlus came up to me and asked, “Greg, if you could design extras for a new version of Persona 4, what would they be?” And then they added those suggestions from each and every person, and added them so seamlessly that you really can imagine that they were there all along, just under the surface, waiting to emerge at their proper time and place.
As a game journalist, I have always striven to be objective in my reviews. This is not a review. Many other sites have reviewed Persona 4 Golden and found it to be nearly perfect.
No, this is where I am going to indulge my inner fanboy and tell you all the reasons why I love Persona 4 Golden, and why this game is truly a love letter directly from Atlus to each and every Persona fan on the planet. Reasons such as…
What’s in the box.
There is a reason why I preorder the collector’s editions of every Shin Megami Tensei game, and that reason is that Atlus makes it very, very worth my while. Persona 4 Golden takes it a step further with the Solid Gold edition. Yes, this is seriously the name of it, and yes, it does sound straight out of the 1970’s. However, in determining what went in this edition they (correctly) assumed that many people would be purchasing Vitas just for this game. As such, the Solid Gold edition included the following: a Persona 4 themed hard case, an additional protective clamshell that snaps over the Vita itself with a flip-over screen cover, and theme stickers that go with the Vita wallpapers that come on the game itself. It’s quite the package, and very worth the extra $30, especially since the case and system protector are something one would want to get anyway.
The intro movie that plays when you boot up the game is quite possibly the most uplifting thing I’ve seen in quite some time. I don’t care how bad of a day you’re having, watching that video will make it better. Go on, watch it right now and try and tell me I’m lying.
There is nothing about that video that is not endearing, catchy, and awesome. Also, trippy, in a good way.
Okay, so P3:FES and P3P both had special armor that certain characters could equip that changed the clothing on their character models. This was pretty cool, but inevitably the armor would get replaced by whatever had better stats rather than what changed the character models. Persona 4 didn’t even have that sort of armor, probably for that reason. Persona 4 Golden, on the other hand, has a dedicated equipment slot just for clothing. And there is a /lot/ of clothing. Every school uniform and casual outfit is acquired automatically through the course of the plot, and in addition to that, each character has /at least/ ten to fifteen /additional/ costumes, with the main character having close to twenty or so total. There is everything from the typical fanservice swimsuits and bath towels, to formal wear, kimonos, Men In Black outfits, Sentai uniforms, and even Velvet Room garb. There is more than enough to keep the ‘let-me-dress-up-my-character’ sort of player (like I am) entertained.
The gameplay tweaks.
While not much has changed in regards to the actual combat, there are some tweaks here and there. First of all, new difficulty levels have been added. There is one ‘casual’ level which exists either for those who are looking for the plot without the characteristic Megami Tensei difficulty level or for those who may have finished Persona 4 too recently and are just wanting to experience the changes in it. Also, there is one ‘hardcore’ level which, the game explicitly states, is for people who hate themselves. I went with ‘normal’, which in most MegaTen games is hard enough already. However, while it is surely the case that the enemy stats have not been altered from P4, ‘normal’ mode felt like it was a lot easier. At first, I didn’t know why this was, but then I realized it was for reasons that had nothing to do with the combat itself.
See, in all the Persona games before this, the post-battle ‘shuffle mode’, in which a set of cards are drawn from a tarot deck to give you random bonuses or penalties, was a game of skill. The cards swirled in a pattern, and you had to both remember what card you wanted and select it when it was in a certain place on the screen. This time, shuffle mode just lets you pick your card from the hand you’re dealt. Now, some people may think this makes it too easy, and maybe it does, especially since major arcana cards no longer reverse, eliminating the most severe penalties from the deck. However, this is just one more step in giving the player more control over the development of their character. A good number of the arcana cards govern Persona stats and levels, in addition to the actual personas that you can draw from the deck. The result, therefore, is that you have the freedom to build exactly the Persona deck that you want to.
Persona fusion has been changed to benefit the player.
In addition to all of the above, there have also been some changes to one of the most integral systems to the game: Persona fusion. Most noticeably is that Persona skill inheritance during fusion has been tweaked. In previous games, skill inheritance was semi-random: out of the list of skills that /could/ be inherited, enough were chosen to fill the blank slots in the new Persona’s skillset, with some skills being more likely to appear than others. However, it was possible to ‘reroll’ your Persona by backing out of the menu and then setting up the fusion again. This time, inheritance is done the way it is in Devil Survivor, with the player given a certain number of open slots and a list of inherited skills to pick from. The reality is that this just eliminates the ‘reroll’ step and saves the player a whole lot of time in getting the Persona that they were going to get anyway. If the Persona you’re going for still doesn’t have all the skills you want, you can use skill cards, found in the dungeons, to bestow additional skills to your Persona that they may not have gotten through inheritance. Skill cards are random drops, but when you get a new one you can register it, making it available for purchase (even though naturally the really good skills cost a metric truckload of money to purchase).
Even the actual act of fusion has been made more straightforward with the addition of a ‘search’ function. In previous games you would actually need to set up at least half the fusion to see what the result would be; in P4G you can see a list of possible results based on what Personas you already have in your deck, and go from there. It’s a little thing that doesn’t actually change the game all that much other than to streamline the experience and save you a bit of time, but in a portable game that really makes a difference.
Even more gameplay tweaks for your allies.
Your main character isn’t the only one to get significant changes in gameplay; your allies in battle have also received upgrades as well. Persona 4 gave your allies the ability to help you out in battle based on their social link ranks by performing follow up attacks, healing, and taking hits for you that would otherwise kill you. Persona 4 Golden expands the effects of social links on your allies even further by bestowing new abilities on their personas and letting characters who aren’t even in your active party assist during combat, as well as giving certain characters who /are/ in your party combination follow-up attacks that follow the all-out attacks you perform by hitting enemy weaknesses.
Also, every party member has an additional social link rank that gives them an ultimate attack, which ranges from useful (Yosuke’s combination full party heal and speed boost), to powerful (Yukiko’s massive fire attack that hits all enemies) to the totally oddball (Teddie’s ability that can do….pretty much anything, unpredictably.) As if that weren’t enough, late in the game you can do special events that give your allies’ personas abilities that are not part of their normal skillset, or even respec their personas if you think you erased skills that would end up being useful. What all this amounts to is that you are given the control to build exactly the party you want to have with you.
One of the most talked-about new additions is also one of the most awesome: the Vox Populi and S.O.S. systems. In a game that teaches you to rely on the help of others, it makes sense that if you are in trouble, you should be able to ask other players for help, right? Well, if you are having trouble deciding what to do on a given day, you can select the ‘voice’ option and, if you are connected to the internet, you will receive a sample of what other people have used that day for. Additionally, if you having trouble in a dungeon, just tap the ‘S.O.S.’ button. This will send out a signal to anyone who is playing asking them to give you aid, and while you are in S.O.S. mode you can provide aid as well by tapping any messages that pop up. When you get into the next battle, you will be given a HP and SP boost that gets bigger the more people have given you aid. The awesome thing is that you get to see messages from the people who have helped you, along with the words ‘YOU ARE NOT ALONE’. When you’re in a particularly hard dungeon, these words are definitely a ‘warm, fuzzy feeling’ moment, brought about by the Persona community.
As I have mentioned before, Shoji Meguro is awesome. And he goes all out in this game. On top of the already impressive original soundtrack, he has recorded sixteen more tracks, many of which have full vocals as well. There is a new battle theme, Make History, which, while I do not like it /quite/ as much as Reach Out for the Truth, fits in very well with the game. Of course, Reach Out for the Truth is still in there; it plays when you get a preemptive strike on an enemy. All of the new songs really add to the mood of the game, especially with its extended timeframe. Oh, I didn’t mention that?
Two more months of game-time.
Yes, where the original game ended at Christmas, this game ends in February. In a game where you must plan out your schedule to take the most advantage of time, this is an absolute godsend. Sure, some of the time is taken up by mandatory events, such as a new ski-trip sequence, but most of it is simply there to make sure that you have time to do everything. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to plan a lot if you want a perfect game, but the added time is there to make sure that you, the player, get to experience as much of the things the game has to offer as possible. Which is nice because..
There are a whole lot more things to do.
Persona 4 was no slouch when it came to being a life simulator. On top of all the social links you had many ways that you could spend your time: fishing, reading, trying to devour a bowl of ramen that may or may not be a hidden portal to the Meat Dimension. This time around, there is somehow even more. Early on you are given access to a motorcycle license, which opens up new areas to explore, as well as a garden with which to grow yourself some items. This garden also serves as a way to increase your time spent with two of the hardest social links in the game to improve: Ryotaro and Nanako Dojima. Again, this is all engineered to make sure that you, the Persona fan, can get as much out of the game as possible, while simultaneously giving you more things to do than you can conceivably get done without a good deal of planning. On top of all the extra things you can do, there are..
New social links.
Now, I won’t spoil anything by telling you who they are, but there are definitely new social links in this game, just like Aigis was added to P3:FES. I guess I am /kind of/ spoiling it by telling you there is more than one new link, even though the promotional material only mentioned Marie, this game’s Aeon arcana. However, I will tell you that Marie is an absolute delight. I’m not talking about her personality, which is quite rough around the edges, but her inclusion and the way she fits in with the existing cast.
Callbacks to previous games.
There were already a couple of references to Persona 3 in the original game, such as the couple of days where the main character and his classmates make a field trip to Gekkoukan High. That’s still there, but in addition to that there are some very, very subtle references to Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, if you look for them and make a few connections.
The TV channels.
This is probably the most amazing new addition to the game: the bonus TV channels. In this menu, the main game is treated like a ‘channel’ in a television listing, and many other channels are unlocked during the course of the game. Some things are what you’d expect: the ability to view the game’s cutscenes or listen to its soundtrack. But this ‘extras’ menu goes above and beyond. There are videos and art from previous Persona games. There are videos from Shoji Meguro’s “Persona Music Live” concerts. There is a trivia contest. There is even a lecture series on Jungian philosophy, on which the concept of the Persona is based, as given by Mr. Edogawa, Gekkoukan High’s metaphysics instructor. There is literally hours of content here, similar to something one would find in the director’s cut of a movie or something, and it is all interesting and definitely worth your time.
No, I’m not going to spoil the extra scenes in the ending for you, but what I will say is this: they brought me to tears. Not just because the scenes themselves are fulfilling and emotional, though they are. No, it is because of what those scenes represent. Watching the ending of this game that I had just put /another/ one hundred hours into, I was struck with a thought: while I, as the player, had the main character build relationships with others in order to get stronger, this game was taking the time to build a relationship with /me/. When I say that the game is a love letter, I mean that it is not something you pick up, play through once, and then abandon on a shelf never to think about again. Rather, it is something that works its way into your mind, encouraging you to spend more time with it so that maybe, at the end of it all, you can end up a better person than you were when you started. As I watched the credits roll and the ending theme play (never mooore, never mooooooore), I had the fleeting thought that surely this game was made just for me because it was so perfect. And I truly believe that every other fan who plays this game has had or will have the exact same thought.
Now, I could go on and on about even more minute things, but all of this pretty much covers it. This is a game that may not have been purely necessary.. but it does represent a perfect version. A snapshot of the absolute best the series has to offer at this point in time, right now. As Persona, and MegaTen as a whole, grows and changes, people can look back at this game and say “This is Persona as it was at the end of 2012 in it’s most complete form.” And the series will grow, and change, and maybe that’s the reason for P4G to exist. One last, golden version of the current Persona system before it changes once more.
And I am confident I will continue to enjoy it, just like I do now.
[This article first appeared on the gaming website Attack Initiative.]