Persona 4 Golden takes an interesting page from Dark Souls

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This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.

It's always around the month of May that I take a look at the lengthy list of daily decisions in Persona 4 and start to sweat a bit.

"Should I be going to the sports club so much? Shouldn't I be building my relationship with Yukiko?"
"Crap, I forgot to buy a book to read."
"Exams are coming up and I still haven't hit the first Knowledge threshold. I'm screwed."

More than most RPGs, Persona 4 is about the long game. It's set over the course of a full Japanese school year – from April to December – and there are important decisions to be made almost every day. Most of the time, you end up hanging out with various non-player characters, some of whom won't become friendly until you get to know a specific character. It's big, complicated, and stressful.
%Gallery-167418%But when I started in Persona 4 Golden, I vowed that I wouldn't let all of the decisions get me down. I would just play through the story organically as possible, taking extra care to pay attention to the local gossip. If I missed a social link or three along the way, then so be it.

As it turns out, though, I needn't have worried. In porting Persona 4 to the Vita, Atlus has opted to take a page from Dark Souls and the results thus far have been very interesting. By connecting to the internet, it's now possible to "ask the audience" and get a glimpse of the possibilities on a given day. Click on the "Voice" button and a myriad of thought bubbles will fill the screen, revealing actions other players have taken at that point in the game (see the image below).

The particulars are a bit different from Dark Souls – no one can send a misleading message encouraging you to kill the shopkeeper – but the idea is the same. Essentially, Persona 4 Golden is trying to tacitly bind everyone more closely together and into something of a community. It's meant to encourage those who need help to check with their peers in the game instead of a web forum. And I use the new mechanic ... a lot.
It's not that I necessarily want my peers to hold my hand. As I said, I really want to delve into Persona 4 Golden's mysteries without feeling beholden to some optimal day-by-day strategy guide. It's more that I want to have an idea of what's out there, then make an informed decision.

Persona 4 Golden takes an interesting page from Dark Souls
Not too long ago, I decided to check in on what everyone did for a particular night in late April, and saw that a lot of them had spent time with "Marie." Who in the world was Marie? Having not followed the Persona 4 Golden news too much , I didn't realize that she was one of the new characters. My curiosity was piqued by this new name, so I decided to go looking for her in town. After some searching, I discovered her in the Velvet Room, and voila! New social link.

At other junctures, the mechanic has been a useful barometer for when to go dungeon diving, or visit the local Chinese restaurant and build up their attributes. Later on, I'm sure it'll be helpful in determining whether I should have this social link or that social link. Mostly, it's there to offer a few helpful hints and make me feel more confident about my own plan of action.

The most important benefit of this new feature – and others like it – is that it adds a degree of transparency to Persona 4 without sacrificing the attendant sense of exploration. It offers no hints about what the "right" decision" is; rather, it's there in part to help newcomers who are feeling overwhelmed by the large number of decisions that need to be made over the course of the story. For those people, just having a few options on the table ought to be a relief.

Beyond that, Persona 4 isn't getting any easier. Death is frequent, it's still hard to make friends with everyone, and the process of creating new Personas is as complicated as ever. There are signs, however, that Atlus is lightening up a bit. Among other things, it is now possible to restart from the beginning of a dungeon floor in the case of untimely death. In that sense, Persona 4 Golden differs somewhat from Dark Souls (it's not outright cruel in how it handles death). But then, death in Dark Souls is often the direct result of your own actions.

Regardless, Persona 4 Golden continues the series' recent trend of putting more control in the hands of its players, which I count as a good thing. It doesn't quite yield all of its secrets, and I really wouldn't want it to, but I can say that May isn't nearly as stressful as it used to be.

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.
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