I've stopped starting games if I don't 100% intend on finishing them. Then why, you might ask, would I try to tackle Persona 4 Golden, a game which takes many upwards of 80 hours to complete? The answer is simple, summer break. As I have roughly a month and a half left of break I figure I'll have more than enough time to dedicate to this mammoth of a JRPG. It also helps that I'll be able to play it even if I leave the house for a few days on vacation.
So far I've put around 5 hours into the game (I know, I've barely scratched the surface), and I plan to detail my thoughts on the very lengthy establishing scenes, and my first trip into the dungeon. Right from the start, I knew I would enjoy at least one aspect of Persona 4, it's music. The opening cinematic is accompanied by an infectious, poppy tune which I couldn't help humming long after I'd put the game down. The dialogue between characters which forms the roughly 3 hour long intro of Persona 4 is handled wonderfully, forming bonds between the character and the vibrant cast of high school students. You play as a student who has moved to a new town, where a series of murders are beginning to take place. By mingling with the other kids at the high school, you begin to form connections with people who may be involved with the murders. Because of this, you set out on a mission to solve the case and rescue any more potential victims. The way you undertake this task however, is wholly unexpected, and involves entering an alternate world within a television. I found that all of the characters I met in these establishing scenes developed at a surprising pace, making them feel a lot more real than your average videogame accomplices. It takes a very special game to make me care about it's characters, as I find this element is lacking in the vast majority of games. Luckily, Persona 4's characters are cartoony, yet relatable people who create unique bonds with the player character as the story progresses.
Gameplay is split between visual-novel style everyday life segments, and dungeon crawling in the TV world. I've played a considerable amount of Persona 3 in the past, so the gameply was instantly recognizable. It's the small changes that have been made to streamline the experience, however, that truly set the game apart. You and your friends fight using Personas, reflections of your inner self that take the form of creatively designed creatures. You can level these Persona's as well as fuse them together to create new, more powerful ones. This is the main gameplay hook of the Persona games, and if Persona 3 was any indication, it can become frighteningly addictive to fuse Personas and create more powerful allies in battle. In Persona 4 Golden, you are presented with which Personas you can currently fuse, and which were the most popular with other players around the world (on of the game's simple, yet useful online offerings). This was absent in Persona 3, and does a great job to ease the player into the complex gameplay system. Other minor improvements abound, including the ability to repeat missed dialogue, retry without exiting to the main menu, and other less prominent, yet still important aspects. I feel like Persona 4 Golden is an example of a development team perfecting their art, with refined gameplay and storytelling systems that display years of fine-tuning. I look forward to devoting a healthy chunk of my free time to chipping away at this gargantuan experience.