The idea of remakes is not one which is new to the Persona series. The PSP received remakes of every Persona game before 4, with varying levels of changes. The first was almost a straight port with very few additions, whereas Persona 3 Portable added a whole new playable character which changed a lot of the dialogue and story of the single player, as well as some major changes to the combat system. Persona 4 Golden doesn’t quite add a whole new character, but it adds a significant amount of content to the original PS2 game that makes it a must-have purchase, both for fans of the original and also those who missed out on it.
The game follows the story of a teenage boy who moves from a big city to rural Japan where he lives with his Uncle Dojima and mildly neglected niece, Nanako. Soon after his arrival in town people start vanishing and showing up on a mysterious TV channel that only shows at midnight, and it’s up to him and his crack squad of teenage school friends to travel into a mysterious realm and fight evil monsters to try and save them. How do they get into this realm? By climbing into TV screens of course! The core story has not changed much in P4G since the original, the killer is the same, the mystery is the same and those who are getting thrown into the TV world are the same. But some key things are changed that drastically improve the experience. The first one is simply the addition of a “social link” for one of the more important characters in the storyline. In Persona 4, one of the greatest parts of the story is how well the mystery of what is going on is kept throughout the whole game, however the inability to social link with one key character made it a lot easier to predict what was going to happen if you were paying attention. This flaw has been rectified and the story in fact another branch of the storyline was added to fit it all together better, elevating a good story to a fantastic one.
The Persona series always feel a bit like two kinds of very Japanese games mashed together into one, Dating sims and RPGs, and P4G is no different. The game progresses through a year in the life of the protagonist, following him day by day through his school year and holidays. Each day the player has options as to what they can do with the day. School is mandatory, but afterward do you hang out with friends? If so, which one? Do you go fishing? Go talk to the mysterious fox at the local shrine? Answer Funky Student’s riddles? The choice is entirely up to you, and there’s no one “correct” way to do it. You can also travel into the TV with your group and explore various dungeons to rescue those who have been kidnapped and trapped in the alternate dimension. Through Playstation network you can now view a selection of the options that other players chose for that day, helping you pick what you want to do. It’s a nice feature, although a bit superficial as the choices people make are never very unified. In practice it’s just a cool way of seeing the wide variety of choices you can make in a day rather than what specifically other players feel should be done.
Combat is handled in a very old-school style. You have a party of four at all times, although you can switch each party member out between forays into dungeons. The battles are turn-based, and consist of the player choosing an action for the party members such as attacking with their weapon or summoning their persona to cast a spell. None of this has changed from the original release of the game, but for those new to the series here’s all you need to know: Zap enemies with different types of magic till you find a weakness. Zap them all with their weaknesses. Pile on and kill them. This of course doesn’t work for the whole game, but it’ll get you started. It’s a deceptively simple battle system which ends up relying heavily on stat-altering magic and being able to efficiently predict how different enemies will react to different attacks in a really cool way.
Your spells and stats are all governed by the Persona you have equipped. This works in a fashion similar to the Pokemon series, where you switch them out mid-battle to access their abilities. However unlike Pokemon hp is shared amongst them all (so maybe it’s a bit more like the recent Ni No Kuni for comparison’s sake).
Personas are gained through two means, both of which have been improved greatly in Persona 4 Golden compared to the original. The first is a lucky draw of cards which happens after every battle. In Persona 4 a random selection of cards would be chosen and shuffled on screen, adding a degree of randomness and skill in getting the card you wanted. Now you are simply shown the cards and pick one. This streamlining speeds up all the non-essential battles a bit and is carried over into the Persona fusions. You can fuse two or more Personas together to create a new, more powerful one. These new Persona inherit abilities from the ones used to form them. Originally this was completely random and meant players had to go through a frustrating process of quitting out and back in to get the powers they wanted. This has been much improved, simply allowing players to pick the powers they want.
Hanging out with friends allows you to build up social links, which in turn allow you to create stronger Personas in fusions. These are easily one of the best parts of the game, each one tells a story of that character, building them up to be believable and deep. Each Social Link makes Persona 4’s world feel like a living breathing world; each character has an incredibly well thought out background story that fits with their personality and helps explain their reactions and interactions in the main storyline. There isn’t a huge amount of interactivity in these sections, beyond picking who you are going to spend time with and when, however you will occasionally have choices to make which will either speed up or slow down the development of the social link depending on how well you know the character.
Persona 4 Golden in a lot of ways is a game for fans of the series, but the changes also make it a lot easier for newcomers to enjoy the deep mechanics of the game. Outside of the game, a new “TV Listings” section has been added. TV Listings is pure fan service without a doubt. It’s a collection of trailers for the whole Persona series, new animations, cutscenes, the soundtrack, some videos recorded from the live performances of the soundtrack and a ton of new video content. It’s something that would be hard to appreciate jumping into the game for the first time, but as a fan of the original the effort they put into this section was just outstanding. There’s even a special TV channel you can only watch when the Vita’s clock is set to midnight!
There’s a lot to see in P4G for both fans and newcomers alike and it’s a re-release that has made a lot of subtle but fantastic additions to one of the best JRPGs ever made. There’s even more than what I’ve mentioned so far! There’s new areas to explore, new side missions to do, new difficulty levels to play on, new costumes to dress up your characters in, new voice actors for Teddy (fantastic) and Chie (ehhhh) and a lot of the spells have been rebalanced making the game feel very different! Basically it’s a fantastic game that stands out as one of the best on the Vita and a must-have for all fans of the JRPG genre.
Also Nanako is fucking adorable.
9 midnight broadcasts out of 10