To say that I am a fan of Persona 4 would likely be a bit of an understatement at this point. While I felt that more could have been done with the game to differentiate it, in a large scale sense, from Persona 3, I’ve played through the Playstation 2 title a full two and a quarter times at this point, having tracked nearly three hundred hours on it in total, and it was my top game during our Adieu Playstation 2 feature, so clearly it’s made a mark on me. To say that I basically bought a Vita just because Atlus announced a rerelease of the game for the console also wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, to be honest. So when Atlus was nice enough to hand us a copy of Persona 4 Golden to review nearly a month before release… well, some begging was involved, but I’ve been given the chance to take the game through its paces and see what’s what. As I’m around thirty hours into the game at this point (I’ve just completed the third dungeon for those who are familiar with the PS2 release), I thought I’d put together a general observation of how the game is coming together so far, and while the final review will go into a lot more depth, this should give those who are anticipating the game a good idea of where things stand so far.
1.) So the first thing to say is that, if you’re not at all familiar with Persona 4, it’s largely identical to its PS2 counterpart in many respects, so you can go read this review right here if you’re looking for a more in-depth discussion of the mechanics and such. One could even use the helpful hints guide I created some time back as a rough guide for how to progress through the game (and you can bet I’ll be updating that sucker once I have more time in this game), as a lot of the same elements have transferred from one to the other successfully. Persona 4 Golden adds to the existing elements, as we’ll see in a bit, but the core game is fundamentally similar to its predecessor such that if you know the game, we don’t need to address the basics, and if you don’t, there are two great links right there for you to look at. Cool? Cool. Moving on…
2.) While Persona 4 Golden doesn’t massively change up the mechanics or the plot, it does incorporate new plot elements into the existing story that actually help being more life to the game world. In the beginning there are only a few minor additions here and there, such as a couple brief discussions with Yosuke and Chie prior to the introduction of the TV world that flesh out their characters a bit more, but as the game progresses new scenes pop up that add a lot to the experience. Random discussions between generic students that often precede your day to day activities are, in many cases, now conducted between students the player will meet during their normal activities, and characters you’ll meet will show up for brief cameos before being introduced into the story proper to give these characters a more natural introduction into the story. Whole new sequences have been added into the plot as well, though these have so far been related to added plot mechanics, such as a large sequence of events related to the main character having access to a scooter and the… interesting rationale behind this. None of the plot elements have been dramatically changed, only added to, making this more of a Director’s Cut of Persona 4 than anything, but so far the additions made to the plot have been logical and interesting, and the new vacation spots promise to be interesting so far, anyway.
3.) Persona 4 Golden pretty much matches up to its PS2 counterpart from a visual perspective, and, if anything, looks better in some respects. The various character models and animations have transferred over more or less intact, as have the various stages you traverse, but the stages have been cleaned up a bit and there are some minor graphical touches to update the visuals. Little things, like birds that fly away when you come close and masks on the Shadows you see throughout the dungeons, have been added to make the visuals pop just that much more, and the characters feature some redone artwork here and there that looks very nice. On the audio front, the audio from Persona 4 has transferred to Persona 4 Golden nicely, and new music has been recorded for the game that fits into the product nicely. There’s not a lot of new music so far, totaling to a new song for the opening, one new battle song and a song for nighttime travel, but the tracks are all rather nice and work well with the existing tunes. There are also new voices in the game, for new character Marie, Teddie and Chie, and Marie is perfectly solid, while Teddie’s new voice actor sounds close enough to the original that most players will adjust to him quickly. Chie’s new voice actress, on the other hand… well, sometimes a voice actor or actress will change to such a notable degree that it’s difficult to accept them in a role, but this is honestly more of a case where the new voice actress, Erin Fitzgerald, is just not very good. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person and I can’t comment on her general body of work, but in the first several hours her voice work is all over the place, the inflection is often wrong for the moment, it’s just… not very good. It’s entirely possible this may even out as the game progresses, given that it’s a hundred hour game and all, but so far I’m going to say that I think Atlus should’ve thrown money at Tracey Rooney to keep her on the project.
4.) The most obvious new addition to Persona 4 Golden is that two new social links have been added: Aeon, represented by new character Marie, and Jester, represented by Adachi. Marie is a resident of the Velvet Room whose role we will discuss shortly, but as a character she’s essentially Elizabeth from Persona 3: FES, except that her complete lack of knowledge about the world is tempered by her being blunt and a bit rude. It’s a little repetitive to see this concept again, but the execution is different enough that it actually works well enough to be forgiven. Adachi, on the other hand, was already in the game at various points, so this essentially just fleshes out his character a bit more and adds some Personas and options to the game. In this respect, this is actually a really good idea; Adachi is a character we don’t see a lot of, comparatively speaking, so this gives the game a good opportunity to really develop his character, and six links into his Social Link, the development is proving to make him a far more complex character. Given how the plot ultimately develops, this is a really good idea that works well in context, and fans and newcomers alike should appreciate how this works out. Insofar as the associated Personas work, a couple are repurposed from other Social Links, but for the most part the Personas attached are all new this time around, and there are new master Personas for each. Further, both Social Links offer added bonuses, including different endings and a bonus dungeon, for completing them, making them worth following through to completion.
5.) The difficulty levels have also been modified a bit in this release, there are five difficulty levels, ranging from Very Easy to Very Hard, each with their own interesting developments. The first thing to keep in mind is that save points are still the only method by which you can save the game (which is depressing for a handheld title, in fairness), but the game balances this from a difficulty perspective by allowing the player to retry from the beginning of the dungeon should they bite it on most difficulties. Easy can basically be considered to be in line with the Easy difficulty in Persona 4, with Normal and Hard simply ramping up the damage enemies deal and decreasing the payouts from winning battles, but Very Easy and Very Hard are the interesting difficulties of the bunch here. Very Easy is literally so easy that it might as well be impossible to die; Experience and Money are handed out like candy on Halloween in a rich neighborhood, to the point that, thirty hours into the game, my characters are in the fifties level-wise and we have over a million yen on hand. Yeah. Further, Very Easy allows a Battle Retry feature, allowing you to instantly get up if you die in a battle so that you can either try again or run away, so death offers no penalties to speak of. Very Hard, on the other hand, jacks up the damage and reduces payouts, but also turns off the ability to retry the dungeon should you die, meaning that you either have to reload the game or hope for a rescue, which we’ll discuss shortly. As such, there are multiple options regardless of your skill level, so even returning players can have some fun punishing themselves or blowing through the game to see the new content as they wish.
6.) Shuffle Time has also seen some changes, which fans of Persona 3 will likely recognize when they get into it a bit. Rather than the spinning card format of the original, where you could pull general rewards, a Persona, or a punishment, this time around all of the cards are dealt face up and you can choose one card from a series of them. Personas are available here, of course, as are cards from Persona 3 which can improve your money and experience payouts, provide you with Skill Cards and replenish health and SP in various amounts based on the level of the card. There are also various Arcana cards that pop up, however, which is where the tactical element of Shuffle Time ramps up a notch. Most Arcana cards impart a basic benefit, such as being invisible to enemies for a bit or improving your equipped Persona, but some impart negative effects… and allow you to draw more cards during the current Shuffle. In other words, you could draw that one Persona on the field… or you could draw the “halve my money”Â card and get two more draws for doing so, then take the Persona and the Cups card to heal up a bit. If you can manage to pull every card in the current draw you gain a two-sided Sweep Bonus, in that your next battle will automatically generate Shuffle Time, and you start with the ability to take three cards. With the right cards dealt and some good choices you can keep Shuffle Time going for a good long time, pulling stat boosts and profit increases with minor penalties all the while, making it a fantastic way to improve if you can exploit it well.
7.) Persona development is largely the same as ever, but there are two notable additions to how it operates. The first is the ability to manually choose what skills you’d like to pass on during fusion, meaning that instead of having to reshuffle random skills for an hour to build that disgusting Lucifer build you like, you can just pick the skills you want and move on with your day, which is awesome, though it may not be for everyone. You can also acquire Skill Cards during Shuffle Time, which can either be used to apply the skill listed on the card to a Persona in your possession or given to Marie so that she can permanently sell the skill to you when needed. This is a fantastic way to build disgustingly overpowered Personas if you have the patience to collect the cards and an ideal build in mind, and while the two concepts aren’t wholly game breaking so to say, they can potentially allow you to stomp a giant-sized mudhole in enemies as you see fit, which is pretty cool if nothing else.
8.) Speaking of Personas, your party members aren’t left out in the cold as far as upgrades go. The obvious change is that your team mates now get two upgrades to their Personas, one for maxing their Social Link and another that I’ve yet to see at this time, offering them more powerful versions of their normal Personas for you to play with. Further, however, the team has also been notably rebalanced, as some skills have been reshuffled a bit to give your team members a bit more versatility. As such, your allies will end up earning new skills when they level up that you’ve never seen them have before, but they can also earn some skills when you level up their Social Links. As such, you’ll suddenly find Chie receiving Ice spells from a Social Link discussion, but gaining more Physical skills during level up sequences, or Yukiko earning skills that boost her healing performance through normal leveling and freaking Mudo skills from leveling her Social Link. This is a very interesting change, and while I haven’t gone through the whole skill tree with any character yet, I’m confident that you’ll find some tools in this process that will be useful in your end game builds.
Also, as a random side note, any woman who learns a way to kill someone instantly as she becomes more romantically attached to you is probably someone you don’t want to marry, and yet, I’m still totally okay with this. Take from that what you will.
9.) While the above are the most significant changes so far, they’re by no means the only things added to the game that you’ll see in the first thirty hours or so. A motor scooter has been added to the game, allowing you to travel to new locations for plot purposes and for laughs, which can also be used to increase your Courage if you’re so inclined. A garden is now next door to your house as well, allowing you to plant seedlings and harvest crops that can replenish SP, unlock gold chests in the dungeons, and more, depending on what you plant. New books have been added to the book store that can improve your ability to earn statistics from part time jobs, and the bookstore now lists its entire inventory in case you miss a book and want to pick it up later. The drug store now acts as a weapon shop at night, allowing you to trade in gems you find in the dungeons for potentially more powerful weapons than you can find otherwise. Further, you can go poke around Inaba at night, which allows you access to some of your Social Links, either for full advancement or just to improve their opinion of you before your next attempt to advance them completely. You can change your outfits in the dungeon, also, for every character, and you’ll find that while they impart no bonuses should you do so, the option is nice, and hey, Teddie can enter the dungeon in human form, so that’s pretty funny at least. The game also offers wifi support, allowing you to request help from other players, help others, and see what decisions others have made that day if you don’t know what you want to do. There are also television channels you can watch from the title screen and the television in your room, allowing you to view concerts of live Persona song performances, prior cutscenes, and various trailers, among other things, plus you can access a jukebox here too.
10.) All of the above doesn’t even take into account late-game content I haven’t even reached yet, such as the new bonus dungeon, the extra vacations you can take later in the game, the added endings and late-game Personas and more, and there are all kinds of minor changes, like Death spawning in your first playthrough and all the random ways you can interact with your team mates that have been added, that I haven’t even been able to fully cover, but the point here is this: Persona 4 Golden is everything Persona 3 FES should have been for its predecessor, so far. It adds in plenty of new content for fans of the original but is also an amazing experience for fans, and all of the changes that have been made so far have largely been for the best. We’ll have a full review up as soon as I can finish the game, trust me, but SPOILER ALERT, you can assume, so far, that this is basically a game you should have no qualms about investing your money in, whether you were a fan of the original or are coming into it brand new.