First Impressions of Persona 4 Golden
I must admit that despite calling myself a fan of the JRPG genre, I have played shockingly few (and seen through to completion even fewer). Bearing that confession in mind then perhaps you won’t be too surprised to hear that I have never played a Persona game.
For my brethren uninitiated, the Persona games are a spin-off branch of the Megami Tensei series, a popular Japanese RPG franchise. Over here in the West the Persona branch is definitely the most popular, with all the games so far having received localisation and release, mostly to high praise from critics and players alike.
Persona 4 was originally released on the PlayStation 2 in Europe back in 2009. However in early 2013 an enhanced remake was released of the game on PlayStation Vita called Persona 4: Golden (P4G for short). Frequent readers will know that it was only recently acquired a Vita of my own, so when I saw P4G on sale in the recent PlayStation 12 Days of Christmas sale I decided to finally try it out.
Two things initially struck me about the game before even hitting the main menu. The first is the art style – bright, kaleidoscopic colours and anime stylings really make the visuals stand out, especially on the Vita’s beautiful OLED screen. In actual gameplay this style is toned down slightly, hidden behind somewhat generic JRPG character models and environments, but it’s still present in the HUD, menu screens and mid-combat in battle animations.
The second aspect of the game that immediately impressed me was the music. Featuring a large and strong soundtrack composed specifically for the game, a mixture of vocalised standouts and emotionally fitting background instrumentals give the game a whole extra layer too often ignored in videogames. You might be in trouble if you can’t stand J-pop or anything similar in style, but for me at least I quickly fell in love with the music. The closest thing I can compare it to is the soundtrack from The World Ends with You. If you’re soundtrack is being compared to that game, you know it’s gone well.
The game itself started out somewhat slowly, playing out almost like a visual novel for well over the first hour. Gameplay mechanics are drip fed to the player, although little chance is initially given to actually experiment with them and try them out after they have been introduced. While this approach might infuriate some for the slow start and lack of action, it does help to mitigate any confusion caused by the wealth of gameplay nuances, and more importantly it allows the story to take centre stage. This being a JRPG of course the story is very important and can make or break the game, but I am pleased to say that so far I have found the plot interesting and well told.
Finally the visual novel railroading ends, opening up choice in the game and throwing the player into the first dungeon proper should they so choose. It’s here I still find myself, over five hours game time already racked up. The battle system of course is the other pillar that a JRPG must stand on if it needs to succeed, and luckily P4G does not disappoint. While at heart being generic turn-based battling, the system is streamlined with features such as very simple but effective elemental strengths/weaknesses, a button dedicated to everyone just hitting things very quickly until they die (that really is the best way of describing it), and some nice features overlaid on top such as the system of choosing awards at the end of the battle involving drawing cards, and being tied to your performance in battle.
There are few strange features, such as all the party members other than the main character defaulting to AI control unless you set them otherwise (which of course you really want to do), and if the main character dies it’s an instant game over. The latter is a feature that really annoys me in RPGs, but it’s forgivable in P4G when the rest of the gameplay is so fun and well made.
Overall then it has been a very positive foray into the world of Persona, and I’m sure that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the game and all the features within it. Considering I’ve already played it for as long as some games last, that can only be a good thing.