Persona 4 is easily one of my favorite games on the PlayStation 2, and one of my favorite role-playing games of all time, so when I finally got the chance to play an enhanced director’s cut on the Vita, I was ecstatic. For that reason, this is a difficult game for me to review—I became so attached to the original I wasn’t sure if I could view it through a critical lens. After finally getting time to play the game, I’ve been hooked all over again. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 was already a near-perfect masterpiece, but Golden improves upon it in every way, making it a must-own for the Vita.
Parent Talk: Persona 4 Golden is rated M because of some suggestive dialog, alcohol references, and the dark nature of the story. There are only a few instances of profanity, there’s no sexual content, and there is hardly any blood or gore whatsoever. The game could have easily gotten away with a T for Teen rating.
Plays Like: A turn-based role-playing game mixed together with a dating-simulation game.
Review Basis: Completed everything the game has to offer, received a Platinum Trophy, and played approximately 140 hours.
A flawless director’s cut. There are a lot of things I could put here—the endearing cast of characters, the excellent story, the innovative gameplay, but ultimately, I’m most impressed by how well the game stays fresh and how the changes, both the minor touches and the more major additions, mesh so well and result in a more polished, finished, and dare I say perfect product. Not only has the game received a visual upgrade, but there are additional dungeons, new story elements, new characters, new Social Links, more activities to do, and well…more of everything. It’s like an entirely new game. While it unfortunately lacks the ability to play as a female lead character, which Atlus implemented in the PlayStation Portable port of Persona 3, it offers enough to convince both existing fans and newbies alike to put down the cash.
The addition of Marie is unarguably the game’s biggest draw, serving as both an interesting new character and a vehicle for more compelling story content. The developers managed to insert her story so seamlessly into the adventure that people may think it was always there to begin with. The minor changes, such as the upgrades to the fishing mini-game, are welcome and help improve the parts of the game that felt less polished. That’s not to say there was much wrong with the original release. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find someone critical of the original, making these additions all the more amazing. The game scenario even continues for a longer period of time than in the original—in this game, you play until February, whereas in the original, you stopped in December.
+ An excellent cast of lovable characters. What makes the newer Persona games so great is that they are more about your interactions with the characters, as opposed to your interactions with a blank, expressionless world. Many RPGs send the player out into a world to explore, and the NPCs only act as a means to an end—a way to get a quest item or bit of the story. In the Persona games, the main character does act as somewhat of a blank slate for the player, but the rest of the cast are well-written and interesting. They grapple with problems that make them believable and human. Chie is jealous of her friend Yukiko, but she is upset with herself for feeling that way, leading to a cycle of self-loathing and depression. Yosuke is deeply hurt that he wasn’t able to get closer to a girl he liked, because she was killed before he really had the chance to open up. The characters feelings are actually an integral part of the plot, because each character needs to face his or her “True Self.” It’s a clever way of tying in the game mechanics, characters, and story into one cohesive theme—friendship and bonds. This game is all about the bonds you make when you meet someone, whether it’s by hanging out at school, working at a job, or spending time at home. By the end of the game, I was genuinely attached to the entire cast and was sad that it ended. The game eschews the “save the world” theme, in favor of getting you more attached to your fans and the little country town of Inaba.
+ Fantastic music. The music in the original was already incredible and the new tracks don’t disappoint either. The song “Memory,” which plays in one of the new dungeons, is probably my new favorite song in the game.
In this version, however, not only are there more personas to use, but there are other subtle changes. For one, Rise is far more useful in combat than before. In the original, Rise acted only as a navigator, providing advice for the player. In this version, Rise can heal characters after battle, add damage to an All Out Attack, come into the battle to raise your party’s stats, and completely scan enemy weaknesses at the start of battle. How well she helps you is dependent on her level and her Social Link ranking with the protagonist. The other characters can also use team attacks, and characters outside the party can randomly join in for a support attack, as well. Also, it’s now far easier to refine your cast and your move-set. You can find cards in dungeons that will teach a move to your persona. After registering found cards, you can go and purchase more of them later, and you can even get cards by going to the café in town. You can teach your teammates moves they’ve forgotten by traveling to the hot spring and talking about your memories or you can teach them new moves by talking about your future. Characters can also get access to a third-tier persona in this version, with new attacks! The gameplay and battles are still carefully balanced, fun, and occasionally challenging even with these new additions.
+ Social Link system. Persona 3 gained notoriety for its innovative hybrid of dating sim and role-playing game styles. Persona 4 improved on it in every way, offering more balanced content. Golden does the same. Basically, part of the game is a life simulator. You have to attend class and experience the major story events, but aside from that, you’re free to determine your own schedule. You can play basketball or soccer, join the drama club or band, hang out with friends after school (or even ditch class), go around town on your scooter, go fishing, watch movies, read books, get a part-time job, and more. Each of these events, seemingly insignificant at first, actually are incredibly important to building your character and learning more about the cast. Pursuing these events will build on your “Social Links,” which represent different Arcana. Arcana correlate with a certain class of persona. Thus, advancing your Social Link will allow you to create more powerful persona of that respective Arcana. Only by advancing the Social Link, learning more about that character’s likes and dislikes, and meeting them on their schedule will you be able to succeed.
It’s a careful balancing act, because you want to create a powerful persona to beat a boss, but to do that, you have to spend enough time with the person who represents that link. In this version, there are more characters to spend time with, more events to participate in (like the New Year’s Festival), and more ways to advance your social link. For example, you can know hang out with your friends at night and chat, which will raise their affection and speed up the time for increasing your Social Link.
+ Trophy support.
+ New scenes to watch, which give more insight to the characters. Many of them are quite fun and the Valentine’s Day scenes are actually really sweet. (By the way, Chie is the best choice).
+ Bonus extras, like a music player, cutscene viewer, a compilation of promotional videos and concert videos, and a quiz game.
+ Adjustable difficulty. You can set the game on Easy if you don’t want to concern yourself much with fighting, but the truly dedicated can try the game on higher modes. You can even fine tune individual settings, such as the rate of experience points awarded after battle, the amount of money you receive, the amount of damage dealt, and so on.
The graphics have received a face-lift, but the character models are about the same as before. The game wasn’t designed for the Vita originally, so it won’t compete with the likes of Gravity Rush and Soul Sacrifice in terms of visuals, but it still has enough flair and style to make it look great. It’s definitely a game that will look good no matter how old it gets.
Unlike Persona 3 Portable, there is no option to play as a female lead character. It’s difficult to complain about this given how much content this version has and just how good the game is, but considering it was an addition to the previous game and this is a director’s cut, it would have been nice to have this in the game. Even if not much was changed, it would have been a neat option.
I consider Persona 4 Golden a near-perfect game. It improved upon an already excellent game in nearly every way and I had to struggle to find a complaint. The only major issue I had was the lack of an option that was featured in the previous game, but the adventure was just so fun and gameplay so addicting that I really didn’t care. I sunk in approximately 140 hours into the game and didn’t stop until I got the Platinum Trophy—and I still want to play it again and again. It’s a role-playing game that shows that JRPGs can still hang with the best of them, and if you have even a remote interest in role-playing games, this is simply a must-own for the PlayStation Vita. I consider it the best game in the system’s library. This game comes highly recommended.