What I didn't think was possible - A better version of Persona 4
This really isn’t a review of Persona 4 Golden. I’m not going to talk about the gameplay systems or the story or any of that. It’s been done before, by writers much more skilled than me. Instead, what I wanted to do was mention some of the new features in Golden, and why they make the game so much better, as a HUGE fan of the series. It may not be much of a review, but I still feel it is worth writing about. WARNING: I will spoil a bit of what can be found in the game, but I don’t discuss all the new plot points. Be warned if you don’t want to know any of this.
First off, let’s just talk about some of the changes made to the game, not the new stuff. Skills were changed around a lot in this update. Your team members end up learning things in different orders or even entirely new skills as they level. Most notable is the fact that their Personas no longer automatically lose their weaknesses; now, a resist skill of the correct type is learned at max S-Rank. This is more of a pain than a blessing, because the skill has to take up one of the eight skill slots on their Personas. There is also the opportunity to go out on dates (different from Social Link events) with each member to either relearn moves you have previously forgotten or to learn new moves from (what seems like?) a random list. This means that, for example, you could end up giving Yukiko a Mudo skill or something similar. These are small changes, but they are smart ones (a common theme in Golden) that let you have a bit more control over your team members’ moves. While talking about skills, I have to mention probably the most amazing change in the entire gameplay part of the game—you can choose which skills to pass on from fusion! No more endlessly pushing X then O to cancel until you get the right set of skills; just pick the ones you want from a list and go. I understand why the original game didn’t have it, but it feels so much nicer to have the ability to pick what I want instead of waiting for some RNG to give me what I wanted. This is a change I pray is in future Persona games.
A smaller change is the ability to leave your house at night, whenever Dojima isn’t around. You can find your Social Link friends outside for dates, pray for relationships at the shrine, or go to work via the bus. I consider this a change, not new content, because it’s just the town you already know at night. It’s a small change but adds a lot of flavor to Inaba, flavor that wasn’t exactly needed but fits in so well. Books have changed a little too. You can now read whichever book you want when you sit down, instead of being forced to continue reading the same one until it is finished. There is a new menu that keeps track of them all and how many chapters are remaining in each individual book. Even cooler is that there are new books with actual effects, such as faster reading speed or better ability at the fishing minigame (which has also changed slightly). There is actually a reason to read books on second playthroughs now, as some of these effects can be useful even for a fully-maxed stat character. Finally, the developers thought to put in a fast-forward option which is a godsend for multiple playthroughs. By hitting Start during any dialogue scenes, the game will fast-forward through it all at a blinding pace, complete with VCR sound effects and screen distortion. It will shave hours off a new game’s time, and it is a great tool for those just wanting to play through the game again and ignore the story.
Now, let’s talk about the more interesting elements of Persona 4 Golden—the new stuff. This release is PACKED with new content that matches (or even surpasses!) the original content of Persona 4. The most enticing elements for fans of the original are probably the new scenes, Social Links, and areas to explore. A shocking number of new scenes were added to Golden, and they are great additions that rarely feel superfluous or like they didn’t belong there in the first place. Many of them are tied to holidays such as Halloween or winter break. A few tread entirely new ground, like when the group has to form a band to perform a concert at Junes. As crazy as that idea sounds, it works beautifully and isn’t something I made up. As for the new Social Links, there are only two. Adachi was a character in the original game but had no options for conversing outside of cutscenes. Now, he has a Social Link that ends in a very shocking manner, something you really need to see for yourself if you’ve seen the True Ending of P4. Marie is an entirely new character, but she plays a big part in the story too—if you finish her Social Link and see her arc through to the end. She’s a very unique character and manages to stand out surprisingly well in a game full of crazy, memorable characters. I came to enjoy my time with her very much. Last but not least are the new areas in the game—Okina City (which fans of the original probably remember) and Shichiri Beach. Neither of these areas is as fleshed out as the town of Inaba, but each has its own distractions and events to entice you to visit.
Plenty has been added inside the television as well. Rise has gotten a few new skills. First, she can actually aid you during your All-Out Attacks, increasing the damage dealt. Spending more time with her on dates will boost the damage she adds to these attacks. It can get quite extreme and makes those fights where you can knock everyone down that much quicker. Even more impressive is her ability to buff your team in a variety of ways when she feels like it. This means party-wide buff spells, extra HP or SP, charging up every member of your party for double damage, and even protecting them if someone is about to die. These happen extremely frequently, especially during lengthy boss battles, and make them a great deal easier to deal with. It certainly makes Rise feel much more like someone actively supporting you in combat, instead of just an annoying voice in your ear. Team-up attacks have also been added. When certain pairs of team members (Chie and Yukiko, Teddie and Yosuke, Naoto and Kanji) are present in your part, they will sometimes initiate an extra attack whenever an All-Out attack fails to kill all the enemies. These are complete with unique animations and quite often finish off those baddies you didn’t quite get. Team members outside the party can now also perform their Follow-Up attacks from outside of battle, with the use of their scooters (obtained during the story). These knock the enemies down, just like any other Follow-Up attack, but give you an extra chance of it happening. None of these changes are monumental, but they help combat flow a little smoother.
Cosmetic costumes have also been added to the game. You can buy these items in Okina City, receive them from quests or story events, and maybe even find a few through special means. They go into their own equipment slot, separate from armor and accessories. All they do is change the look of your party members, sometimes even giving them new battle animations and quotes when the fight has concluded. There’s a great variety of them, from the cool and clever to the creepy and fanservicey. This was easily one of the bigger problems I had with Persona 4, as it got a little tiresome to watch the same four models for hours on end. The costumes are never too crazy but add a bit of fun to the game as you dress Yosuke, Yukiko, and the others up as you like.
Some of the coolest stuff comes in at the end of the game. January and February are now playable months in the game (if you’re going for the Good or True endings, at least). Before, the game skipped from early January to the day before you went home on the train. Now, these playable months give you a chance to catch up on Social Links and see a few new events before the final dungeon rolls around. A really neat addition is that you can hang out with your level 10 S Links one last time and get them a third-tier Persona. These all come with an ultimate skill that does something really special. My favorite example is Chie’s new skill, which boosts the attack, defense, and evade/hit rate of all party members (for a whopping 150 SP!). They aren’t all winners but are interesting to use and feature new animations.
This time period is also when the new dungeon takes place, but only if you have maxed out your Social Link with Marie and instigated the dungeon’s discovery. As great as it is to have a new dungeon in Persona 4, it is not a very well-designed place. It adds mechanics unlike any other dungeon in the game, such as stripping you of your items and making you lose half your SP after every encounter. I found myself running past as many enemies as I could here, because it would have otherwise been a slog. There is a cool new boss fight at the end, and it ties up the Marie story, but it doesn’t really have much going for it other than that. Worth seeing at least once, but maybe not on every playthrough.
An epilogue has also been added for those who receive the True Ending. The main character returns to Inaba a month after the events of Persona 4 Arena and sees all his friends again one last time before the credits roll. Most of them look very different, obviously intentional changes to show the player how much these characters have grown, especially Nanako. It’s cute and fun but not perfect. The problem I have with this scene is one of continuity. In Persona 4 Arena, the cast of Persona 4 all look EXACTLY the same as they did in the original game. That game took place two months after Persona 4. This epilogue is only another month later and everyone looks wildly different. What changed so much in that single month? It’s a nitpicky thing, I know, but it kinda bothered me. I know that the creators just wanted to do a bit of fanservice by changing up the looks of the characters we know and love but that continuity slip really bothered me. Even so, the scene is worth seeing—unless you were angered by what I just described.
The final thing I want to bring up is the music. Persona 4 has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks of all time, and I would have thought that adding anything to it would just take away from the other tracks I already knew. Man, was I wrong. There are quite a few tracks and most of them kick an amazing amount of ass. The two most notable new tracks are the new battle theme (which plays if you don’t get Player Advantage; otherwise the original track plays) and a stellar 8-bit version of the boss theme for the Shadow Mitsuo fight. The other tracks are just as good but those two are definitely the best of the bunch. If you like the Persona 4 music, be prepared for even more of that exquisite tuneage.
As you can see, there are a ton of changes to Persona 4 Golden. I didn’t even come close to talking about all of them here, just the ones I thought were most important to someone curious about this version of the game. I could (and still can) hardly believe that Atlus was able to make Persona 4 an even better game. The changes are almost all smart and worthwhile and the new content is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have put hundreds of hours into the original game. My only regret after playing this was that I didn’t put it on my Game of the Year list for 2012, since I hadn’t actually finished it yet. It was absolutely worthy of the number one spot. If you haven’t played Persona 4 yet and own a Vita, GET THIS GAME NOW! If you’re a fan of the original and want to know if this new version is worth it, GET THIS GAME NOW!!!