Throughout its lifespan, Sony’s PlayStation Portable became a dumping ground for ports of various role-playing games, including several installments of Namco’s Tales series and the first two entries of Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea franchise. The PSP’s successor, the PlayStation Vita, seems to continue this trend, receiving ports of Disgaea 3 as well as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, the port entitled Persona 4 GOLDEN, which improves on an already-great game.
The core game mechanics of the port generally remain the same, with the protagonist having several social stats such as courage and understanding that can unlock various Social Links that provide bonus experience for fused Personae, and even affect how allies perform in battle. One improvement over the original version is the new manual selection of skills for fused Personae to inherit from their predecessors, a godsend considering the PS2 version’s randomization in this area. Encountering visible enemies in dungeons trigger battles that require some kind of strategy to beat, where exploiting enemy weaknesses grants the player’s characters and the enemy extra turns, and knocking down all enemies lets the player’s party beat up the enemy in a cartoon cloud of smoke.
Winning battles nets all participants experience, money, and materials that the player can sell at the armory to unlock more powerful weapons and armor. Sometimes the player may also be able to select one of many tarot cards that can provide additional Personae to the protagonist, increase experience, increase money, and so on, although there are occasional penalties such as lost experience and money. On the easiest difficulty, all cards are initially revealed, with the player able to choose one afterward, and the death of the protagonist lets the player resume the battle with all health and magic recovered for the party.
Anytime in a dungeon outside battle, the player can use an item to exit (and later resume exploration at the same floor) and ask a fox to heal the party’s SP, a higher Social Link level with said vulpine providing discounts in the cost necessary to do so. Another Social Link further requires the player to fuse Personae with specific skills, although mastering all Social Links is hardly necessary to complete the port. The game mechanics generally work well, with adjustable difficulty as always being a godsend in the role-playing game genre, with the only real flaw being that the player can only see the next ally or enemy’s turn instead of being able to view a full turn order meter a la Final Fantasy X.
The port interfaces surprisingly well with the player, the aforementioned improvement in Persona fusion saving the player valuable time outside combat, alongside a general linear structure that keeps player moving in the right direction, and shortcuts for visiting specific screens in certain areas. Granted, it’s possible for the player to completely overlook certain Social Links unless they refer to a guide, and leaving a certain floor in a dungeon resets that floor’s automap, leading to occasional instances where players could potentially find themselves lost if they have to retrieve an item on a previous floor or go back to a prior level in order to advance. In the end, however, interaction is well above average.
The story is one of GOLDEN’s strongest suits, focusing on a supernatural murder mystery with plenty of twists, turns, and originality, not to mention well-developed characters that the Social Link system explores even more. The translation is mostly adequate, aside from some minor grammatical errors, although Atlus’s American branch, like in Persona 3, made the decision to leave in Japanese honorifics, which will only make sense to those versed in Japanese, and which can make the dialogue feel unnatural at times. In the end, however, a solid narrative and translation.
Shoji Meguro provides the soundtrack like he did for other Megami Tensei titles, with a nice variety of themes, many of which contain vocals, alongside a central theme and a few remixes of it, and sound effects, as has been the case with more recent console generations, don’t leave too much room for improvement. The English voicework, however, leaves something to desire, with a bunch of WASPs voicing characters that are clearly Japanese, and either using Asian actors or simply leaving the acting in Japanese would have lent the fourth game a more authentic feel. Still, a decent-sounding game.
Atlus polished up the graphics for the PlayStation Vita rerelease, where they make use of the portable system’s widescreen capabilities, even with regards to the anime cutscenes, and the main graphics themselves don’t look half bad, with decent character models and scenery, though there is some occasional pixilation in the scenery and sometimes the model expressions don’t reflect those of the characters’ anime portraits that appear during cutscenes. Overall, a nice-looking game.
Finally, the fourth game is much shorter than the third, taking as little as twenty-five hours to complete, although extras such as the many rewarding quests, not to mention a replay mode with some elements from the initial playthrough retained, enhance the game’s lasting appeal.
All in all, Persona 4 GOLDEN is for the most part a solid port that hits most of the right notes with regards to its game mechanics, control, storyline, soundtrack, and visuals. There are, however, some irritating aspects with regards to the resetting automaps in dungeons, the Japanese honorifics in the dialogue that make it sound stilted at times, and the consequentially weak and miscast English voice acting. The aforementioned issues, fortunately, don’t detract from a generally solid port, and one of the PlayStation Vita’s finer titles in spite of the system’s brief but continuing lifespan.
+Solid game mechanics and control.
+Great music and graphics.
-Automaps reset when leaving dungeons.
-Honorifics sometimes make dialogue sound stilted.
-Weak English voice acting.
The Bottom Line:
Great port of an already-great game.
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 25-50 Hours