"Persona 4 Golden is one of the best games I have ever played in my life."
Welcome home. I extend that greeting to you regardless of your history with Persona 4, whether you've played the PS2 version to death, or if you're a newcomer to this wondrous franchise. This new version adds an avalanche of new content to a game that already had incredible depth. Improved graphics, new Social Links, new gameplay systems, new music, new areas, and new story content make Persona 4 Golden the definitive version of the game. It's easy to get sucked in for hours upon hours without ever running out of things to do, and thanks to its guided-yet-open structure, it's the kind of game I can see myself replaying for years to come.
Inaba is a rural Japanese town where some pretty amazing things happen. A group of high school students gains the power to enter a mysterious world inside of TVs, and, in doing so, manifest their inner strength as physical "Personas" to combat enemies that would stop them from solving a series of unexplainable murders. Along the way, the protagonist forges bonds with a number of people that enrich his life in various ways, each connection bringing him one step closer to the truth. This version of the game seamlessly integrates new events into the storyline that flesh out already loveable characters even further. These vibrant personalities feel like old friends to me, and seeing how they react to new situations is a real treat. In the interest of not spoiling anything, I won't reveal specifics, but returning players have a lot to look forward to starting in the summer months.
"Social Link" is the name given to the relationships the protagonist cultivates throughout the game. Each one is based on a different Arcana and augments his ability to create and fuse Personas, neatly tying the game's in- and out-of-battle elements together. Among these Social Links is Marie, an enigmatic girl exclusive to P4G who is at the crux of a new "skill card" system. The protagonist occasionally obtains these cards after battle (and in a few other situations), which can be used to teach a Persona a skill it might not otherwise have access to. Additionally, cards can be registered with Marie, after which they become infinitely replicable for a fee. It's a simple and effective system that adds another interesting wrinkle to Persona customization.
For those unfamiliar with P4's battle system, it's a turn-based affair with a focus on exploiting enemy weaknesses. The protagonist can switch his Persona once per turn, while the other characters have unique Personas with set abilities. Turn order is dictated by agility, and hitting an enemy's weak spot generates an extra turn for the player. P4G has added a considerable amount of utility to Rise, the support character, by allowing her to buff the party and jump in to assist with all-out attacks. She really feels like a part of the team this time around, rather than a talkative bystander. When certain conditions are met, characters can also perform new dual attacks, like Teddie and Yosuke's screen-filling "Junes Bomber."
P4G benefits from some online connectivity, too. The "Vox Populi" feature lets players voluntarily disclose their actions during each game day in order to assist others in making their decisions. The "Rescue Request" system allows players to dispense limited healing to one another while exploring dungeons. First, you enter a personal message from a list of pre-defined phrases (think Pokémon or Persona 4 Arena) to identify yourself within the player community. Afterward, you sometimes receive requests while exploring that can be responded to by tapping the touch screen. It costs nothing and takes almost no time to do this, so there's really no reason not to, and it aids other players when they may least expect it. Conversely, you may tap the "SOS" button to send out your own requests (at most once between every battle), and receive a wave of healing when entering your next fight. It won't make or break anyone's experience, but it's a neat idea that ties into the "forging connections" story motif.
About fifteen hours into the game, the protagonist obtains a scooter license, which allows him to explore a couple of new areas. Okina City has a theater, the Chagall Café (which Persona 3 fans will recognize), a crane game, and the clothing store Croco Fur. Outfits purchased at Croco Fur and obtained elsewhere can be equipped on characters to customize their appearance in dungeons and battles. I was especially delighted by some of the choices for Teddie, and I imagine other returning players will be surprised as well. In addition to Okina City, the protagonist can visit Shichiri Beach, which has a fishing spot and a couple of options for raising personality stats. Scooters play into battles as well; characters not in the active party may ride in and perform "cavalry attacks," which are essentially the same as follow-up attacks, but have special animations.
The soundtrack, which I recently reviewed
, also deserves high praise for being so congruous with the game's existing music. Even "True Story," a track that I wasn't especially fond of in Japanese, was re-recorded in English and has since captured my affection. (See what I did there?) The voice acting is superb, possibly with the exception of Chie; her new voice isn't bad
, per se, but it conflicts so heavily with my established perception of her character that it's a little hard to accept. I grew to like her in time, though, and if one questionable voice is the price we have to pay in order to get this game in English, I would gladly pay it again.
The one and only thing I can fault P4G for is not being a brand new game. On the upside, the wait for Persona 5 just got a hell of a lot more "bear"-able. Atlus has taken a four-year-old game and reinvigorated it in every conceivable area. The original game was already gold; if anything, this new version should have been called "platinum." Everything about it tickles my fancy, and I hope it sees the commercial success it unquestionably deserves. Endearing, addictive, and emotional, Persona 4 Golden is one of the best games I have ever played in my life.