Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita) - An absolutely addicting RPG

Persona 4 Golden is perhaps one of the best games I've ever played, and I was actually hesitant to pick this game up! I'd never played any other Persona game, but I'd heard a lot of people rave about it and JRPG is one of my favorite genres. All that said, Persona 4 Golden just seemed too Japanese-y for me.  Eventually, I took the plunge and picked it up. 

Yes, it was heavy on the JRPG quirks, but it was constantly enjoyable and had an interesting story. Most of all, it presents a diverse cast of characters that each feel so vivid and real. If you like stories with character development, then Persona 4 Golden is the game for you.

Be warned, Persona 4 Golden is not a shallow game. My first play-through was upwards of 60-70 hours. The game rarely feels this long, which speaks volumes to the compelling story. It takes a little while to build to the combat, as the first hours of the game are filled with narrative and exposition. The game has save points frequently accessible so you are generally able to play at your own pace, regardless of whether its a matter of minutes or hours. That said, I found it impossible to put the game down.

The story revolves around your protagonist, a high school transfer student in the small town of Inaba, and your investigation into a series of paranormal murders. Along with your new friends from school, you balance your school life with your adventures into a TV World to chase down the culprit and rescue other victims.

Does it make any sense? If not, don't worry - that's how it is supposed to be. The game is built around unraveling what the heck is really going on with the murders and the TV world. 

Persona 4 Golden is a very immersive game. Your character is a silent protagonist, you have a real sense of ownership of the decisions and dialogue choices. Moreover, high quality writing and voice acting helps the game to flow very naturally. It doesn't feel forced, despite the crazy and outlandish things that happen. There are even times that your companions will vocalize what you're currently thinking.

As you investigate, the game falls into two main spheres: the TV World and the Real World. Throughout the game, you end up juggling these two components.

Battles are fast paced, while still offering strategic depth.
In the TV World, the game is a fairly traditional dungeon crawler. You navigate through randomized dungeon floors, looking for loot and battling against a variety of monsters, called Shadows. Combat is triggered by contact, so there are no random-battle frustrations to be had. In battle, you control your character in a classic turn-based RPG formula, where you choose to attack, cast spells, use items, etc. You can choose to control your party directly, or let the AI take the wheel. I chose the former, but the AI seemed to be okay from what I saw. I found dungeon crawling to be very fun and engaging - battles flowed smoothly and offered a fun balance of simplicity and strategy.

Character customization is a bit of a hybrid between Final Fantasy and Pokemon. You choose specific pieces of equipment to boost attack and defense, whereas your stats and
abilities are determined by the Persona, magical alter-egos, that are equipped. The protagonist has access to multiple different Personas, whereas your party members are fixed to a single one. In choosing Persona and party combinations, the game encourages customization and strategy since each one has different strengths and weaknesses. New Personas can be acquired as battle rewards, or they can also be created through a fairly deep system called "Fusion." By combining your existing Personas, you can create entirely new ones with different stats and abilities. Although, every now and again you can experience anomalies that completely change your end result...which drove me up a freaking wall. That aside, the mechanics of the game were a blast to work with - it reminded me a lot of how you could customize your character's abilities in Final Fantasy VII.

Persona fusions are involved and fun, challenging you to think of new
ways to build out your character.
My first play-through was on Normal difficulty, and I noticed that the battles eventually got to be almost too easy. Once you knew their weaknesses, most enemies dropped like bowling pins. There were a few exceptions to the norm, like a few enemies that could instantly kill you if you aren't prepared. It was still very fun, but it just lacked lasting challenge. I'm replaying it again on Very Hard, however, and it seems to be a much more balanced experience thus far.

In the Real World, the game plays like a Life-Sim. You attend classes, hang out with friends, work a part time job, etc. Story elements, both relating to the mystery or characters' lives, are dispersed throughout each of these, so it fortunately never feels like a chore like it would in reality! 

Many of these story elements come in the form of Social Links, the friendships that you form with other characters. Like I mentioned before, the character development in this
Building Chie's social link.
game is amazing, and Social Links serve a dual purpose. On one hand, developing a Social Link yields gameplay bonuses, such as Persona Fusion bonuses or new combat skills. Additionally, as you grow a Social Link you really learn more about what makes a character tick. You learn about the things they like, the things they hate, and the things they struggle with. This is where you forge your protagonist's friendships and kindle relationships. The writing and acting is top notch, so I found myself constantly wanting to learn more about characters like Yosuke or Naoto.

Anime cutscenes usually are a cue that it's
 about to hit the fan.
The game's soundtrack is also excellent. Each track is a perfect fit - whether you're wandering around Inaba, navigating an eerie castle, or battling a boss. Moreover, the music does a great job of fitting the moment. One of my favorite memories of this game came in the middle of a boss battle, where a familiar jingle was reused with different instrumentals, completely changing turning the conditioned emotional response on its head.

Overall, I absolutely loved this game. Persona 4 Golden is one of the most enjoyable games I've ever played, ranking way up there with Gravity Rush, Mass Effect 2, and Bioshock Infinite. Between the fun gameplay and the addictive characters, I found myself conflicted between playing more and dreading the inevitable ending to come. That said, the game has a lot of replay value, both for the sake of being a completionist and for reliving the game's most charming moments.

Immersive story
Interesting and compelling characters
Engaging RPG combat mechanics (Final Fantasy meets Pokemon)
Great writing and voice acting
Big bang for your buck - 60+ hours of gameplay
Solid replay value
Amazing soundtrack - able to elicit an emotional response

Can get really easy in the back half of the game
Anomalies in Persona Fusions may make you want to throw the Vita

SCORE: 10 / 10 

No comments:

Post a Comment