Platform: PS Vita / Genre: Role Playing Game
Developer: Atlus / Publisher: Atlus
The Shin Megami Tensei series is definitely one of those “goes against the grain” RPGs. While it sits behind Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in terms of sales –respectively – make no questions that among the top tiered Japanese role-playing series, SMT sits mighty high. However, it is not because of its main title series, although in its own right the main series is still quite good. No, it’s because of a spin-off series called Persona, and with this recent release of the newly enhanced version of Persona 4, the PlayStation Vita is home to its first traditional JRPG. The question remains, how is it?
For those new to the Persona franchise, it was born out of the Shin Megami Tensei (or MegaTen) franchise – a series of popular role-playing games that recollect the accounts of people involved in plot typically revolving around demons and mythology. The series is known to deal with rather mature themes, which has led to their abundance of 17+ ratings. While MegaTen has up until recently reserved itself for more avid RPG fan, the introduction of Persona series (specifically Persona 3) has opened the door a much larger market than it had seen in previous years. The arrival of Persona 4: The Golden carried some intense amounts of hype trailing its release, despite it original release dating all the way back to 2008.
The story behind Persona 4 is one fueled by mystery. A series of murders have begun occurring in the protagonist’s new home of Inaba. In what was once a prosperous, yet dull rural town has now become the focal point a series of strange circumstances. The eeriness only increases with a strange rumor that suggests if you look at your TV at midnight, the person you have a crush on will appear. I think it goes without saying that the TV rumors and the murders are all connected… but how? That is the true mystery my friends, and you will have to use every resource, primarily your “Personas,” to solve the puzzle. But the amazing story aside, for its twists and turns are nothing without its amazing cast and dialogue.
While the mystery is the driving for behind the narrative, it is hard to argue that the bread and butter of the Persona series comes from the wonderful character interactions that happen in between story portions. Even then, each member of the investigation team has a background story that runs parallel with your search for the truth. Knowing and understanding each character’s struggle weaves your fate with theirs, and in turn, makes your ability to search for the truth more powerful. These are called the power of social links, and it’s the reasons this game succeeds so much in every category.
The concept of social links serves two-fold: 1) to expand upon each characters background and relationship and 2) to create a secondary progression system that runs parallel with traditional leveling schemes. In essence, it allows you to enjoy your non-dungeon moments more because they actually matter. Every time a bond with you becomes more powerful, you benefits increase immensely while also giving you a deeper understanding to each characters motivations. Some may revolve around the issue of friendship, sexual identification or even self-worth; these are human issues that many people today can relate to. So why does this system work? Well, it is because social links part of a grander system embedded within the game.
In Persona 4: The Golden, you play in two different ways, both of which are equally important. The first is the typical JPRG grind: the dungeon portions where you level and fight towards an end goal. The second is related to the social link aspect; the sim portion of the game. The latter is the reason the game stands out so much.
The sim portion of the game is where you deepen your relationships with other characters which will then allow you to command more powerful personas more quickly (more on this later). However, it is also a chance for you to go to live the life of your protagonist. Virtually everything you decide to do during your stay at Inaba will affect your character in some way, shape or form. Be it drinking coffee, eating ramen bowls, going to explore dungeons, hanging out with friends, or even studying, all of this will affect your character’s development. Seeing as you decide everything your character says (except the time when he blurts “PERSONA!” – Hey, I just want to be accurate), you will have to develop certain aspects of yourself. Depending on what level your courage, diligence, or whatever is, you can say and do certain things. This is an aspect that really makes the experience outside of battles so much more interesting, and it’s the portion of the game people typically spend the most time concentrating on.
However, role-playing games are nothing without a decent battle system. The battle mechanics themselves are rather basic (ie. attack, skills, defend…etc.). The kicker comes from the use of the personas. Many people describe the use of personas very “pokemon-esque,” and while I can’t refute that claim, I can say that it is still a completely different beast. During the very early stages of the game, your main character will receive his first Persona. These otherworldly creatures are your greatest aid in battle and will allow you to cast spells, use skills or even gain enemy information. The addictive element comes from collecting and creating new personas. By obtaining specific cards in battle, you will be able to command new beasts, demons, knights, things I can’t even describe. You can also create new personas through fusion, which then involves your social links mentioned. Depending on your current social links with other characters, some fused Personas can become even more powerful than their base version. I spent a solid amount of time searching for Persona’s that suited my play style, and fusion may have taken a better portion of my playtime. The concept was very well executed in P4G, which allowed for more leverage in the fusion process than in the original.
When not engaging in the narrative in Inaba, you will more than likely be battling out in one of several different dungeons. And while the game does its best to make the dungeons as straight forward as possible, no traditional RPG is without its grind. The pacing of the game can definitely suffer because of it, however Persona 4 takes steps against the grind by giving greater bonuses from social links, which in turn allow you to create more powerful personas faster. While its not entirely fool proof, it alleviates some of the strain included with the typical JRPG grind.
Up until now, I have discussed many of the points that point to Persona 4 itself being a great title, but have yet to mention what separates Persona 4: The Golden from its vanilla version. Well guys, the list of additions from the original to the Vita versions is staggering, but I try and keep it short.
Just to name a few differences:
- New Music Additions
- New Areas of Inaba to Explore
- 3rd Tier Persona for Party Members
- Special Team Attacks and Bike Attacks
- “Everybody’s Voice” Feature
- Midnight Quiz sponsored by Teddy
- Extra Dungeon
- 2 New Social Links
- New Epilogue
- And many, many more
There is more, but I think you get the general idea. Persona 4: The Golden adds to the game in so many ways that it definitely deserves that seconds or third play.
Persona 4: The Golden was a huge joy to play, and kept me on my toes all throughout the game. From the gameplay, to the narrative, to the amazing sound track that I could praise all day if I wanted to, the game does everything so well. And if you do everything properly, achieving the true final boss battle coupled with the experience, the powerful personas, and one of the best final boss themes I have heard in a long while, I experience one of the most satisfying endings ever. The game is a tour de force, and should be included in every Vita owner’s collection.
Jaime aka. Paco is an avid fan of JRPGs and Lakers basketball, both of which are doing somewhat poorly in their current state, however both seem to show positive improvement in the future. If you want to pop him a question, just comment below or reach him on his Twitter @RTBL1990 Oh! And he also apologizes for the awful photoshopped P4 logo…Yeah…