A Year in Inaba
What is the mark of a great game? Is it engaging gameplay that keeps you coming back? Flashy visuals and presentations that bring you into the world and won’t let you go? A well written story and a loveable cast that you can’t help but become attached to? Persona 4 Golden doesn’t make that choice, but rather opts for the full package. The result of the amazing attention to detail is one fantastic game, let alone for the Vita.
Persona 4 Golden drops the player into the shoes of a transfer student, moving to small town Yasoinaba, to spend a year under the care of your uncle while your parents are working overseas. Just as school ramps up, a strange serial murder case rocks the small hamlet and weird dreams, headaches and a voice lead you to discover the ability to enter a world inside TV sets, a deadly world when fog covers Inaba and the apparent main method of the killer. Soon enough, you awaken the awesome powers of Persona, the power of the heart made manifest. You and your friends begin an investigation to pursue the killer, learn the nature of the TV realm and rescue the attacked who have been placed inside that world.
It’s a well written story that takes its time in all aspects. You as the player is thrown into this world with about as much instruction as the player character. The first several hours of the game are heavily structured, as you are introduced to some key characters, the world around you and the story, but once you get over the hump you get an almost overwhelming amount of choice. Choice in how to spend your days, who to spend time with, when to pursue the investigation, and when you simply need to study. The choices you make in day to day life have an impact on combat in the TV. By spending more time with certain people, certain types of Persona can get an experience boost when fused, yet another facet you are left to explore and learn on your own. The social links you build with your party members, classmates and general townsfolk provide a great deal of the character development and backstory to the people you meet, each one with a story to tell. This leaves a great deal of the story up to the player to write for themselves, but carries tangible benefits in combat to give a meaning to those who could take or leave the dialog as well.
Inside the TV is where you’ll find the engaging, if fairly standard, dungeon crawling RPG gameplay. Forming your party from up to three other characters, you’ll lead your friends through varied dungeon environments, climbing floors and battling enemy shadows. You can purchase or find new weapons, armour and accessories that boost your personal stats and grant helpful buffs to specific attacks. Winning battles grants you chances to draw cards for more money, experience, stat boosts or new Persona. These Persona can then be taken to a specific person to be fused into new Persona and pass their skills to ones that may otherwise not learn a specific move. The Pokemon-esque element of catching them all adds another addicting layer, and as the only character that can use more than one Persona, it behoves you as the player to keep mixing persona and maintaining a team that can handle any situation.
Persona 4 presents itself in a fashion that deserves the name “Golden”. Everything is crisp on the Vita’s gorgeous OLED, bringing a vibrancy to the different environments. The colourful art style gives each major character a distinct personality, further emphasized by the amazing voice acting throughout. The story can swing from the silly, to the serious, to talking about boobs and back to serious again while feeling natural the whole time. The amazing soundtrack, the kind of j-pop that somehow you never get tired of, is expanded from the PS2 release and sets every mood perfectly. While the character models themselves sit with a static and blocky face, the close up for major characters that shows up during conversation shows an adequate range of emotion.
Persona 4 Golden is a compulsive experience that won’t let go once it sinks it’s teeth in. While it takes a few hours to really get moving, the payoff for those who can get through it is an immersive world, brilliant story full of memorable characters and engaging, if generic JRPG battles to back it all up. If you own a Vita and don’t own Persona then you’re simply doing it wrong.