Persona is a series that, like many people, I first really paid attention to starting at 3. I knew about SMT and Persona but that’s literally all I knew – that they existed, and being a human being when I tried Persona 3 I related the feelings I had from it with the entire franchise which didn’t bode well at all. P3, P3 Fes, P3P; I played each one and I hated every fucking second, beating the original and dropping the latter two about an hour or so in yet still having bought them because of being fucking retarded. Persona 3 is easily one of the worst JRPGs released on the Playstation 2 – and that’s quite a feat given just how many of them were on the console and it soiled my entire view of SMT as a whole. Regardless, when 4 came out originally I got it right away, and to my surprise it was actually pretty alright. Not something I’d recommend, not something great, but an alright way to spend some time thanks to the charming writing and very likable cast. It was a game I was fine playing once and never touching again because there was nothing there worth bothering with beyond that one time. Then this past Christmas I was given a PS Vita along with Persona 4 Golden, and after all these years I finally gave it another chance.
This is gonna be a long post, probably one of the longest reviews I’ve done, so get comfy.
Golden, while in sum is technically a “port” of the original game to the Vita, feels much more like an entirely new game built around the same story and cast or maybe a ‘re-imagining’ and full on remake of the original game. For those of you who have only played Golden, you should be aware that about half the content and fun stuff wasn’t there originally and many of the mechanics in the game were far less polished. Most might expect P4G to be a “director’s cut” of sorts, but it’s nothing so half assed and the amount of new and changed (for the better) content is incredible. Everything from a completely new character, lots more events, new locations all the way down to updates for even the most basic game mechanics, new music, and a lot of new and re-written dialogue. A full list would be way too big especially considering how long this review is likely gonna end up, but I’m sure you can google around for one.
Golden fixes absolutely everything that was wrong or just not as good as it could be in the original, and while that covers a lot I think the most important changes are those to the main story – mostly thanks to Marie. While many dislike her simply due to not understanding her role in the plot or her actual personality, she is actually the core reason this story can happen at all. It’s easy to say it did happen without her in the original, however if you ever played it and got the True End you’d realize how hilariously fucking stupid the plot twist was and how poorly wrapped up the whole story ended up.
I’m specifically referring to Izanami who was seemingly thrown in at the last second when they realized they never thought up a way to explain the TV world and fog. Yes, Izanami appears appears outside of the gas station only on rainy days, and yes the very beginning scenes have the handshake and subsequent strange feelings the MC gets, but does about 20 seconds of unvoiced dialogue by a faceless NPC really count as foreshadowing in an 80+ hour game? Technically, sure, but is it good? No. It’s fucking terrible. Think of absolutely any other game, movie, anime, book, tv show, fucking stage play – anything – and imagine that at the very end after everything concluded they suddenly say “WAIT, ACTUALLY THE TRUE VILLAIN WAS THAT GUY WHO APPEARED IN THE BACKGROUND OF ONE SCENE FOR ABOUT 30 SECONDS IN THE ABSOLUTE BEGINNING OF THE STORY!”. It’s only worse when you consider the retarded shit Izanami says as her reasons for why she was doing what she was doing, as without any other context it makes no sense – and that context never existed.
That is, until Marie.
Marie IS Izanami-no-Okami. She is the goddess herself. The Izanami in the original (who is still here in this as the final boss) is a part of her and so are the giant eyeball thing and the alien jesus thing as well as the fog. The “fake” Izanami’s entire existence and reason she created the Midnight Channel and the TV world overall, released the fog, why she’s fighting you and your party – it’s all explained extremely well and completely changes the overall story from start to finish by filling in all the questions and fixing the lazy writing that was all over the original ending. This is a review, not a summary, so I don’t want to really delve into this in detail (though I do plan on making another post specifically dedicated to discussing Marie’s impact on the story…which I had written a shit ton for but WordPress deleted it all somehow, so who knows if I’ll ever do that) but it does fix a lot of problems there.
Along with the entirely revamped and bettered ending, the overall story is as great as ever – and really this being my second playthrough I was able to not only fully enjoy and appreciate the additions and updates, but also noticed a lot of the subtle things that were hiding around in the original. I think even first time players have a better chance at seeing the latter now though, as it’s a bit more spelled out to you than before (though still pretty subtle). The overall mix of a great mystery dealing with some pretty serious shit and a fun time along the way are still blended as well as possible and even though it was my second time through the overall story it still felt exciting at every turn and really drew me in, making me literally play nonstop for around 8~13 hours a day every day until I beat it.
It’s not the most amazing story in the world and yet it certainly manages to make you feel like it is while you’re going through it, which just goes to show that presentation really does matter a whole lot. The constant twists and turns throughout also serve as a wacky way of leading your speculation down a wrong path so often that it’s essentially a joke in itself and feels purposefully done to fit the rest of the overall feel of the game while also keeping you curious. It’s without a doubt something worth going through and it’s also pretty unique, especially in how it presents the two main themes (Jungian psychology and Shintoism) even compared to prior Persona games. Besides, when a game can have you laughing moments before or even during some badass or messed up scene then you know it’s a good one.
As for the cast in that crazy story – aside her impact on it, Marie adds a lot all on her own with easily the most well written and meaningful social links and romances (the most officially canon one at that) in the game. With most of the characters their social link scenes are very focused on just them (other characters typically won’t show up at all in them) and usually dealing with some pointless issue. For example, Chie’s has you training with her and beating up bullies seconds before randomly allowing you to ask her to go out with you in the same scene. Marie on the other hand has a lot of real bonding with the protagonist and the entire investigation team – all while actually progressing a rather important story as hers has a serious impact on the main plot. Not to mention completing her social link is necessary for the brand new epilogue after getting the True End because without it the epilogue can’t exist and as an aside your group never actually find out the real truth of what happened in Inaba (just like in the original, albeit they believed they did there).
As for her romance, without going too far into detail it should be obvious why I say it’s both the most well done and the most likely to be canon. First off, she is the only dateable character in the entire game that you actually are shown kissing the protagonist. None of the other girls are ever shown doing anything more than a hug (which she also does). On top of that, aside Rise yelling it no matter what in the original ending’s cutscene, Marie is the only one to openly state her love for you – not only that, she does it on live television in the middle of the day. She is also one of the only ones (possibly the only one, but I can’t remember every other romance option that well) that the MC can outright say “I love you” to as an option, instead of some roundabout vague “should we go out?” after doing something that doesn’t mesh at all with the question.
Lastly, and most importantly, consider the amount of focus this game (and Persona as a whole) has on Japanese mythology – it’s quite a big thing in this series. If you know one of the most basic stories (it’s even explained lightly in the game itself during class) from shinto beliefs you’d know the story of the lovers Izanami and Izanagi, as well as the comb Izanagi uses to find out the truth about Izanami before fleeing from her and locking her away in the Shinto equivalent of hell. In the game the MC “is” Izanagi, and Marie is canonically Izanami, and you find the truth about her with a comb. Only instead of running from the truth you chase after her and accept her. By romancing Marie you mend the long lost and cursed love between the two deities. Again, if you pay attention to the amount that Shinto beliefs matter in this game then there’s really no doubt this was intentional.
The social links for the rest of the cast are very enjoyable yet pretty mindless and usually barely develop the character. Sadly they never really impact the overall game either, which can make for some awkward moments where certain people won’t trust you and even get mad about you “lying” to them even if you completely saved their life and they think of you like their own full fledged family. In other cases it’s awkward in that your girlfriend will seem entirely unaware that you’re going out unless you’re in a social link event with her, with the exception of Valentines and Christmas Eve. However, that’s not to say they’re bad – actually they’re some of the most fun things in the game and while it doesn’t typically drastically develop the cast it does show you another side of them or at least puts them in some fun scenarios.
That’s only actually speaking about the main cast though, the social links with NPCs are all pretty great too and give the world a more fleshed out feeling. Plus, any rank 10 social links you have will play in to a special scene during part of the True End and the more you have the cooler it is. My favorites of the non-party member (not including Marie) links would probably be Dojima, the alien-apple band girl, and the first half of the stuff with the nurse because you canonically and blatantly just fuck the shit out of her in her first 5 or so levels as long as you go with the flow of things. There’s another one I’m pretty fond of as well but commenting on it comes with a lot of spoilers.
Adachi’s new social link adds quite a bit to his character and, more importantly, gives a lot of uncomfortable moments when you know the truth about him. It’s especially awkward when you bring him over to eat all the time with just you and Nanako and feels as you’d expect it would to invite a murderer over to eat with you and your loli cousin. It also somewhat helps to make the whole “he is the MC’s shadow equivalent” a bit more obvious, as it’s pretty subtle in the original and was missed by many players – myself included during my original playthrough. I’m still surprised he didn’t have a link in the original, which actually made him more suspicious and worked against the coming twist, as almost every other character that was around often had one making him stand out even more than he already does.
That aside though, you also get to learn more about him, and being basically the main antagonist that’s pretty good given the original gave him no development at all.
The only issue with his social link is that it’s outright impossible to do without a guide, his availability is way too specific and you’ll only see him accessible without a guide maybe 4 times if you’re really lucky. Not to mention he’s the only one with some social link level ups requiring you to just happen to know you need to find him on certain specific nights while nobody is in the TV in order to rank him up, while nobody else on the streets can actually be leveled up at night and so working against what the game has taught you (it literally says in a tutorial pop-up that you can’t rank up social links at night with people you meet on the street).
Another addition is social link special attacks during all-out attacks. The only one I’ve seen personally was Chie and Yukiko, who teamed up to create a big dragon that flew around the enemies and piled on extra damage – typically finishing the enemy off.
Characters can now also learn new moves through social links – not just the stuff the original had like the ability to remove a status effect or pick you up if you’re knocked down, but actual skills you add to their persona’s skill list to use in combat. I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t recall that in the original at all, if so I know for sure at least many of the moves are new. It’s not a huge deal, but it does give some extra incentive to try and get your party’s links up – especially for their Persona’s new third form (which I’ll mention again later).
Social links aside, the cast is one of my favorites in any JRPG and was the one thing I didn’t have really any complaints about originally either. The key element in P4 and P4G is the main character himself. He is this really perfect combination of weird as shit and cool as fuck, and it makes for one of the most hilarious and entertaining lead characters in anything. It’s only furthered by the fact that’s pretty self aware and is actively putting in effort to seem “cool”. Obviously with the amount of dialogue options you get he can be slightly different depending on the player, but the end result is always this dork who is summed up just by looking at him with his full of himself posture and popped collar that totally don’t fit the things he does and says. He brings the entire game up to another level all on his own and some of the choices the game gives you are things you’d never expect yet are the things you actually want him to say that most games would never allow.
My personal favorites otherwise are Marie, Kanji, and Naoto. Marie isn’t just a great addition for the story or for the best social link and romance, but simply because she’s really cute, has several layers to her personality, has the best fucking fashion sense (punk fashion is my fetish), and even has an adorable lack of understanding regarding the world she’s in. Angsty poems she goes into a classical (rather than modern) tsundere flip out over when she catches you reading them, an obsession with some shitty celebrity show called StarScandalz, a childlike amazement at you having any amount of money, and of course eclectic loutwits. Spending time with Marie feels genuinely fun and enjoyable rather than just like a thing to do in a video game to rank up a stat.
Kanji is great because he’s fucking Kanji. You’ve got a gay but totally not gay at all Troy Baker who spends his time beating the shit out of punks and just wants you to GET BENT. There’s not really any need to say more about him, he’s hilarious and the best type of guy around. Naoto is equally hilarious and the best type of girl around in the opposite ways. Kanji is your typical dumb but lovable lug – but in the best way – while Naoto is overly smart and analytical and will take (as she does in the Golden anime) an invitation to come over on Christmas Eve as a sign that the MC is intending on stabbing her to death and show up with an expandable baton, a kevlar vest, and a fucking riot helmet. Plus she’s cute as hell.
The rest of the cast, both the main characters and the supporting ones, are top notch as well, even the “worst” of them lean towards great. The biggest thing about the cast though is the perfect fucking chemistry and the endless amounts of charm and silly shit that comes from them or from your interactions with them.
Luckily the many new events also help build these characters and their bonds even further, adding a shit ton of fun and a lot more character development at the same time. My favorite of the new big ‘events’ would probably be the ski trip (which actually ties into the main story), the trip to the beach after you all get your scooters, and actually I really liked going around giving New Years greetings to everyone in town (and I do mean EVERYONE, not just social links and such – though you can be lazy if you want). It happens on the same day you see the snowy version of Inaba (which is actually new in Golden entirely as well) along with this really great new song – the mix of the two, along with greeting all these characters after around 70 hours of playing up to this point, made me feel genuinely nostalgic for the last “year” I spent in this town. It was a feeling that games typically can’t replicate, but they succeeded here.
I wouldn’t say it’s an “event” in the same sense, but the post-game epilogue that’s been added is fantastic as well. It not only gives you much better closure to the main characters and the story, but is a hell of a lot of fun seeing your friends again months and months later and how they’ve (at least visually) changed. The epilogue is fully voiced (most of the new events are in general) and the characters have brand new character models AND new character art by the original artist. I figured it would only be maybe 10 minutes long, but this was actually a pretty meaty addition all on it’s own and truly gives you a sense of finally having a full conclusion.
There are a lot of additions outside of that stuff like riding around on the scooter, gardening (you can grow items that help in battle – including SP restoring ones, some that will take a fatal attack for you, and several others), two new locations – including a few new places in one of them (coffee shop run by a man who looks strangely similar to Walt from Breaking Bad, a movie theater to raise stats on a party member’s persona, and a clothing shop to buy your team new costumes to wear in dungeons and fights. One of my favorite 100% irrelevant NPCs is here too, she gets the name “Tough Girl” and likes to tease you.), skill cards which allow you to put any skill you have a card for onto any Persona you want, two full months of additional playtime (winter, which is skipped over in the original), a handful of new music tracks done by Shoji Meguro, an entire new dungeon, and a hell of a lot more stuff sprinkled throughout.
Oh, actually there is one more thing very much worth mentioning – and that is the TV listings on the main menu. From here you can watch some bonus features or listen to the OST, standard “extras” stuff. However there is ALSO some stuff you’ll want to spend time with, such as the classes explaining Jungian psychology – the central core of the Persona series alongside Shinto tales – and how it’s used/represented in the game and for a more fun rather than educational time: Teddie’s Quiz Show. This does nothing for you really, but it’s a whole new fun event and it’s actually kind of enjoyable learning all this random trivia about the game. I now know how many fire extinguishers are in the school’s practice building, how many bodies are outlined in the TV’s entrance, what the 10th major arcana is, how many days it rained in each month, what the proper pronunciation of “Daidara.” is and so on. Truly useful information I’m glad to have stored in my memory.
There are also a massive amount of changes in almost every aspect of the game, hell even some updates for the writing. The majority of the story dialogue is “pretty much” the same, but they went through and made it sound much more natural and flow better overall through slight changes in wording every now and then. I don’t want to go over every change because there’s so many (I mean even stuff like the fishing minigame and the class lessons/quizzes are totally newly done in Golden), so I’ll just point out a few things within some general areas that made the experience here far better than in the original.
Combat and dungeon crawling – the UI is much better looking, the all out attacks have new really nice art, Rise can now provide buffs as well as heal and block some attacks entirely (none of that being as overpowered as it sounds and it’s all randomly triggered – she also can show up on the battlefield for all-out attacks), and a noticeably updated A.I. for your party unless I’m just imagining things or was very lucky.
With the exception of a few bosses I typically left my party members on auto and it was almost always smart enough to heal when necessary, remove status effects when needed, and would always test for weaknesses in the enemy (if they had a skill that we didn’t already try). They’d also never be stupid enough to attack with something the enemy would reflect, drain, or simply was strong against (after we knew that it was any one of those things of course, no way to tell without doing it or having Rise super leveled up). I never ran into any issues aside a few bosses where I’d want to do something but also needed to use an item (for SP) and so resorting to controlling all the characters to do that. I recall them being much stupider in the original. Also, your non-party teammates can also help out in all-out attacks from time to time as well now, and watching Kanji roll up on his bicycle and ramming it into an enemy was always great.
Overall I’d say the combat was somehow more fun for me this time around and I found myself being more involved in what I was doing. In the original game I barely fused persona and put no real thought into the combat, it wasn’t necessary and it wasn’t rewarding at all to bother. This time around it just, yeah, it feels more “fun” to really get into combat and preparation for it, and I’m not fully sure why.
As for the other changes; the entire dungeon floor is now newly generated each time you change floors, so if you go up then go down (or vice versa) the floor will be entirely new and with new enemies/chests. If you die now you simply restart at the beginning of the floor you’re on rather than losing all your progress since your last save – this includes boss fights. Both of these things make grinding easier and less of a pain in the ass given you can continually grind until your SP runs out without much issue, and don’t have to worry about losing hours of progress with one mistake. The enemies in the dungeon areas are now also all on the ground rather than annoying flying balls that are easier to miss when you try to get a pre-emptive attack. Another thing I liked, albeit continually forgot to use, was the SOS system that allows other people playing online to “cheer you on” which will restore some HP and SP at the start of your next fight, you can even set up a custom little message for them to see.
Shuffle Time – I almost forgot about this because I got so used to the new system, but Shuffle Time after battles has been COMPLETELY redone. The cards no longer fly around all over forcing you to play a game of memorization and timing or make you do other dumb minigames hoping you get lucky and don’t fuck yourself over or end up with a pointless persona you had already. Now all the cards are visible and completely stationary, you simply pick what you want – and they added a lot of good stuff. There are the Persona of course, but then there’s big XP or cash boosts, as well as stat boosts for your equipped persona – or most importantly the one that will restore a portion of your HP and SP, which is great if you’re grinding. You can even pick more than one sometimes.
Graphics – Obviously as a port to a Vita the game’s character models and overall area design has been “HD-ified” to look a bit better and the widescreen really helps as well. Screenshots are nice and all, but on an actual Vita without any upscaling or anything it looks really nice. I suppose the new costume system would fall under this too, which I really liked. My favorite costumes for the MC were the beauty pageant banchou outfit and the badass Dojima one. I kept Yukiko as a witch most of the game after Halloween, Naoto as a cat girl mostly for the ears and tummy, and Chie as SEES member.
Persona stuff – Aside from a bunch of new Persona being added, the compendium now actively tracks all the Persona you have. Now you always know which Persona you already have and those you don’t thanks to a little icon, this applies both during fusion AND during Shuffle Time after a battle which is really fucking useful in collecting new ones and not wasting time fusing those you’ve already got. It also helps fuel your natural instinct to get those icons on every single one of them – making even me want to keep making more even though it started getting expensive, when I ignored this stuff almost entirely originally. On top of that, when the fusion forecast will do something it’ll show that little star symbol so you know it applies there. Fusion is also much better now in that you get to manually pick what skills you want to carry over. In the original it was random, but now it’s much easier to create far stronger Persona and ones with a lot more varied skills (for example one of my Persona had about 5 different elemental attacks, making it hard to find an enemy that wasn’t weak to something I had available either on myself or my party at any time.
On top of all that, each party member’s persona will (through a new event after the new year for anyone rank 10 already – essentially taking their link to “rank 11”) become a THIRD form. In the original there are only two forms of their personas, but they added in a new version which typically looks even cooler than their original ‘new form’ and is even superior. Rise’s is a personal favorite because it becomes a fucking enormous space telescope and even has the solar system flying around it.
Nighttime – You’re now able to go out at night! If you have a night job then Dojima will even let you go out when he’s around. You can’t level up social links (aside rarely Adachi) but you can get them closer to ranking either by going to the shrine and buying a luck charm or by hanging out with whoever is in the shopping district at the time, the latter giving you short but new scenes with the characters as well. You can also catch bugs for fishing or harvest/plant in your garden – all of which does NOT use the time period up, pray at the shrine which I don’t remember the point of doing, work the same jobs as in the original (tutor/hospital janitor) as well as a new job that has you working in the Item shop’s night club variant. You can exchange gems you find in dungeons (or from trading fish to some lady at the shrine) for some special weapons as well, many of which are really good. There are the old choices too, like reading (which they also added a shit ton of books for) to raise some of your social stats by a lot, and they’ve luckily made this whole thing much better with a chapter system instead of having no clue how long it’ll take to read each book.
I think I’ll stop there, but you get the idea – there’s a lot of new and updated stuff in this version of the game.
The biggest negative I can think of is Chie’s new voice is incredibly bad. I have no problem with them changing from the original (albeit she did a great job as Chie), but the person they put in her place sounds like she suffers from mild to severe mental retardation and is a “slow” person, making Chie who already is apt to say dumb shit sound like she just got off the short bus and needs mommy to change her big-girl diaper. She is possibly one of the most incredibly retarded sounding voice actors I’ve ever heard, and the fact she tries hamming it up just makes her performance even worse – overacting by someone who already sounds ahuurrrrrr duuhhhhhhhuuuhhh is intolerable. I don’t know if she’s just terrible at her job or if she just did awful here, either way it’s baaaad. Sam Riegel also took over the voice of Teddie, which at first felt a bit strange but I quickly got used to. He fits just fine, though I miss Welks. The rest of the cast is the same as ever and does just as great a job as in the original release.
Other than that, there are two specific boss fights that really bog down the game – one of which makes a lot of people quit even, or so I’ve heard. It’s not so much that it’s difficult or challenging, but that these two bosses have a massive amount of HP and simply aren’t fun. One is early on and manages to drag on for almost an hour of spamming one move over and over. It’s not challenging, it just goes on so long and without any thought on your part needed that it is incredibly dull and draining. The other one is during the second half of the game and it also takes an hour – often times longer – to kill. The other big problem with it is that unless you somehow can tell the future, you have no way of knowing it can one hit kill you if you have a certain status effect on. This means that “hour or more” is actually being nice, as it’s not including the first time fighting it where it can wait like 40 minutes to bother showing you that you’ll die instantly if you don’t protect against 1 very specific thing. On top of that, this boss has the ability to put up a shell that makes the boss itself take no damage, which just makes it drag on even longer. The other bosses were fine – never dragging on for so long and usually while being somewhat simple in terms of “hit what they’re weak against” also manage to have some strategy in terms of buffs, debuffs, and having more freedom in what you and your party are doing. Most felt like playing a game – which is a good thing, and there are those that are actually really fun thanks to the amount of strategies you can think up and try out throughout the fight.
Golden didn’t just make Persona 4 something I was able to have fun with, it made me fall totally in love with the game in every way. I’m genuinely shocked that a port, even with such a vast amount of new and updated content and mechanics added to it managed to so drastically lift the entire experience. Even more surprising is not just that it’s a port, but that it’s a handheld game – I never imagined I’d be this engrossed in a game on one of those devices. There’s no doubt that when making this they really put their all into every bit of it, not just Marie, not just the new events, but even down to the combat balancing and very basic gameplay. Everything about Persona 4 Golden is just that – Golden, and aside those two small complaints there’s really nothing else that isn’t impeccable. This is the first game at all that I’ve dumped this much time into in such a short nearly non-stop period, and somehow I’m still left wanting even more and having a hard time getting it off my mind. This is the closest to a perfect game I’ve personally experienced and it is without a doubt a new addition to my top favorite games of all time (and probably features the best game OST of all time aside from Xenosaga 3).
I never imagined I’d be saying it about a Persona title, but P4G is pretty much the most charming and overall enjoyable experience I’ve ever had with a video game.
Persona 4 Golden gets a 10 out of 10.
I’d love to make a detailed post reviewing the actual plot, overall developments, and of course the characters and music and such in detail some day because it definitely deserves it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to that but look forward to the possibility, I suppose.
For fans of Golden who also don’t hate Marie, I highly recommend Persona 4 Golden the Animation as well, which I’ll have a review of up in the near-ish future.
*Please avoid spoilers in the comments. Not that I ever really get any comments, but still. Also, if you disagree with anything I said about Marie then please keep those complaints (and anything positive or negative regarding spoilers about her) for that Marie-centric post if I ever write it – as spoilers in the comments won’t matter there.*