Deja Review: Persona 4 Golden

This is a Deja Review, a quick look at the new features and relative agelessness of remade, revived and re-released games.

Try explaining Persona 4 to a friend sometime – it's not easy. Any explanation inevitably begins with: "Well, it's about Japanese high schoolers who fight demons in an alternative dimension that can be accessed through a TV." And it only gets crazier from there.

Back in 2008 though, it was Persona 4's slightly insane premise and its unique format – the story follows a high schooler from April to December as he tries to keep up with his studies, make friends, and solve supernatural murders – that helped it stand out against the drab backdrop of the declining Japanese game industry. It's no less charming on the PlayStation Vita, where it benefits from redrawn high-definition art and some very interesting online functionality. Then, as now, it stands among the best Japanese-developed RPGs of the past decade.
%Gallery-165800% What's new this time around? It seems clear that Atlus has learned a few lessons from the charming but somewhat compromised Persona 3 Portable, which sacrificed a fully-explorable town for functional but unexciting menus. The animated cutscenes really do matter, not the least because Persona 4 is basically a high school anime, and Persona 4 Golden renders them in loving high-definition detail. The simple act of walking around town, meanwhile, helps turn it from a flat landscape into a living, breathing world.

The one thing that Persona 4 is lacking in comparison to Persona 3 Portable, sadly, is the ability to play as a girl; and being a gal myself, I find that kind of disappointing. In the end, it may have been too much work for Atlus, or the company may have felt a predominantly male audience simply wouldn't identify with another female protagonist. Whatever the reason, its absence means that Persona 4 Golden lacks one element that could be considered genuinely new.

All that said, Persona 4 Golden brings its share of fresh content to the table. There are new characters to bond with and new difficulty levels, as well as new areas and events. It's possible to explore Inaba after dark now, and it's actually possible to walk around Okina City. For returning fans, such additions do a nice job of adding even more color to the world of Persona 4. For newcomers, they add that much more depth to an RPG that can last someone well more than a hundred hours.

Probably the most notable of the new features is the "Voice" command – a network-enabled feature that displays what other players are doing at a given moment during the day. Pressing it will fill the screen with word bubbles, each of them with activities like "Went to Aiya's" or "Spent time with Marie." For those feeling overwhelmed by everything there is to do in Persona 4 Golden – and there really is a lot to do – the Voice function is useful for getting on track without being intrusive. It's simply there if you need it.

Somewhat less intuitive, unfortunately, is the SOS function, which can be enabled in dungeons. It's not entirely clear how it works, but it seems that it's possible to put out a call for help across the network when your characters are at critical, possibly getting a party buff in return. The reason it "seems" to be this way is that it never seemed to work, though it may work better now that Persona 4 Golden is publicly available and more players should be online. In any case, it's not nearly as well-explained or easy-to-use as the "Voice" command.

Regardless, the "Voice" command, the SOS function, and the fact that it's now possible to respawn at the beginning of a floor after dying, all suggest that Atlus is going out of its way to make Persona more accessible. This is definitely not a bad thing given how big and intimidating the Persona games have been in the past. Oddly, it actually makes Persona 4 Golden a great gateway into the series for those intrigued by the loopy premise but worried about the deep mechanics. The "Voice" command won't make merging Personas to create new and more powerful creatures any easier, but it will at least make it easier to find new social links and other hidden activities.

How's it hold up?As for the rest of the adventure, it's held up rather well in the move to the Vita. The intro is still way too long and self-indulgent – more than 90 minutes by my count – but the day-to-day format works well in quick bursts. And once the story gets going and the reins are loosened a bit, the mix of dungeon crawling and charming anime-style high school vignettes makes for a compulsive adventure.

Apart from its unique format, what jumps out about Persona 4 are its characters. From Kanji – an apparent street tough who likes to sew – to the tomboyish Chie, they are all likable and easy to identify with. This is good, since more than half of Persona 4 is spent either forging social links with these characters through non-interactive vignettes or saving them from dungeons that revolve around their deepest fears. It's thanks in large part to Persona 4's strong writing that I actively look forward to every new step in each character's story.

Persona 4's other strength, as always, is its demon fusion system. It's pretty much as it sounds – you take two demons discovered in a dungeon and fuse them into something new and more powerful. It's a system intricately woven into both the combat and the overall storyline, and there's a great deal of enjoyment to be derived from simply sitting around and mashing up some demons.

All in all, it's still a great RPG, and Atlus has put together a very strong port, making Persona 4 Golden well worth the double dip. It's prettier than the PS2 original, the mechanics are more forgiving, and there's quite a bit more content in the main storyline. It's also easier than ever to jump into, which has been one of the bigger knocks against the series in the past.

So hard as it might be hard to explain Persona 4 to your friends, there has never been a better time to get them into the series than now. Some things should really be experienced firsthand, and diving into TVs to fight demons while attending Japanese high school is one of them.


Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.