11/20/2012

(The First 10 Hours Of) Persona 4 Golden Is… Golden

by Matthew Hawkins

[Girls, they're all the same. Even Velvet Room attendants.]

Today’s the day that all current plus would be PlayStation Vita owners have been patiently waiting for: the Persona 4 port is finally here! Atlus was kind enough to pass along a copy a few weeks ago, which I’ve been playing every chance I’ve had.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough to beat the game, thanks to my schedule, and given how massive the P4 experience can be. In fact, I’m only a few hours in, though part of that is due to me restarting several times, for the sake of experimentation.

Instead, I’m here to provide first impressions, specifically for diehard fans out there wanting to know what’s old and what’s new (and still trying to figure out if they should get a Vita for this, which is a no-brainer, btw).

For the most part, the core P4 experience from the PS2 that you know and love is here, pretty much as is. Which, is a good thing; it’s by far the best JRPG since Panzer Dragoon Saga and it’s appreciated how Atlus only added to the total package, in tasteful, controlled doses…

[WARNING: there's a few spoilers ahread, but nothing major]

Graphics

Sure it’s visuals are “last-gen” (technically, two generations ago), but they still look great, and are even better thanks to the Vita’s brilliant display. But yeah, no real enhancements here; it’s the same character models and textures as last time. The menus also look especially bold and beautiful, again thanks to the screen.

Speaking of, the interface remains largely the same, though there are some minor tweaks. On the PS2, P4 used tarot cards everywhere as a motif, but not as much here. Example: instead of a spinning tarot card to represent game loading, it’s a tiny TV that occasionally has Teddie running inside.

Personally, I prefer the tad bit more simplified and elegant feel on the PS2, but it’s nothing to get upset. Also, the character art has been updated, like when you got for an All Out Attack. And again, I prefer the old, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. I’m just here to give present every little detail for the P4 diehards out there.

On the plus side, the interface is tad bit zippier. Which is not immediately apparent at first, but try playing the PS2 version after some time with Persona 4 on the Vita and you’ll see what I mean.

Audio

The same, insanely catchy music from before is back and legitimately even better. There are many reasons why P4 works better as a portable experience, and having the soundtrack piped into your ears directly with a decent pair of headphones is at the top of the list. You know that sound effect you hear when a Social Link ranks up? It’s even more heavenly now. In fact, it’s also more of a motivation to make friends in the game, so you can hear it over and over and over again.

There are some new tracks, for the new areas, but there’s also a new battle tune. To be honest, it’s doesn’t quite do the job of getting one’s juices flowing for a fight, like the original, but that piece is still present. The trick is, it only comes up when you have the advantage (i.e if you successfully get the first initial strike or sneak up to an enemy). So, like the Social Link chime, this ends up motivating you to play better!

Oh, I guess I should mention the new voices. For whatever reason (which Atlus and everyone else refuses to get into), the voice actors for Chie and Teddie did not come back for Golden. And guess what? I like ‘em. The new Teddie is at times virtually indistinguishable as the old Teddie. Mostly due to the fact that he delivers most of his lines in the same exact manner.

Whereas new Chie sounds totally different. I personally had no problems with the vaguely soccer mom-ish approach that the previous actress employed, but I do prefer having her sound like an actual teenage girl. Plus some of the stuff said in the midst of battle is too cute, like when healing her, she’s give a very enthusiastic “Thank U!!!”

There are some new story scenes, which necessitated the bringing back of cast members in the first place (hence why Atlus couldn’t just use the voice recordings from before), and when it comes to returning actors, they sound just the same as the first time. Sometimes, even if a little bit of time passes, characters can end up sounding a bit different. But not here, in case anyone was wondering.

Story + Gameplay

As just noted, Persona 4 Golden has new narrative elements. I personally was shocked to see a fairly significant change to the proceedings almost immediately and not five hours in. I’m talking about the new girl that you get to interact with, who is introduced right up front.

There’s also a ski trip scene plus a new mode of transportation, mopeds! Sadly, I have yet to experience either, but in the case of the latter, the game plants seeds fairly early on that you’ll be on a two-wheeler (plus we’ve already seen footage of them popping up in fights).

Regarding the gameplay, the overall structure is exactly alike: try your best to dungeon crawl while also acting the part of a high school kid. Though you’ll also discover very early on that there are more opportunities to socialize with other than before. Mostly by sneaking out at night, provided your uncle is not around.

The biggest change, by far, is when you set foot into dungeons. Battles play out just as they did on the PS2. The key different with the Vita port is after you fight. Often you’ll get be presented numerous cards after a victory, but instead of them just spinning around and you trying to figure out what they might be, all the cards here are presented in a face up fashion, plain as can be.

Huh? Doesn’t that dumb things down considerably? That’s what I thought too, initially, but instead we get a neat little mini game. Normally you are given the choice to pick just one card, but if you play your cards right (literally), you can nab the entire deck, Doing so enables you the chance the ability to pick right from the get go next Shuffle Time.

The element of risk and reward is very much up front and center. Obviously, the cards you’ll want are ones that will boost your stats, but to clear the hand, you’ll have to consider nabbing ones that can cause harm. It’s a neat little way to add some spice to the proceedings (not that the game was boring without it, far from it) and I overall really dig.

Though I say this now, very early on. Ask me again when I’ve turn downed a card that would have given me 50,000 experience points and 250,000 pieces of gold. On that note, another big difference is how you don’t get as much of either, at least as far as I can recall. But I haven’t played enough to determine if this makes the game indeed harder (or if the aforementioned new Shuffle Time helps to offset this).

Another new thing is how pals can now team up to do attacks, though this is mostly involuntary and based entirely on stats. I don’t know what triggers Chie and Yukiko’s team up attack, but it’s always awesome when they happen!

Plus, you can change the appearance of you and your pals during the dungeon crawling segments, but thus far, it’s only variations of school attire. Thus far, I have not encountered any maid or S&M attire for the ladies, like in Persona 3 FES. Sadly.

There are two other Vita specific additions: you’ve got trophies and achievements and the such. That’s cool I guess. There’s also the ability to go into another person’s game and help them out, plus ask for help. Unfortunately, I was not able to test this, since only press folk have had access to the game, and none of my peeps on that end have been playing the game, sadly.

But also, it depends on the PlayStation Network, which sucks a dick, so I doubt I’ll be able to use it once the game is in the wild, even if I wanted to.

Extras

The game has a few neat additionals. First is the new animated intro. I absolutely love the original, but the new one, where everyone busts out super cool dance moves, is equally fab. Plus, you at least have the option to watch the original, along with other neat videos.

You can either watch everything in game, on your TV, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or in the main menu. Aside from being one of the few areas of the game in which touchscreen functionality is employed, all content is presented like televised programing.

Along with the “channel” that allows you to watch both intros and all the cut scenes up till that point, there’s another that has the Japanese ads for Persona 3, Persona 3 FES, Persona 3 Portable, and Persona 4 on tap oddly, there’s nothing for Persona 4 Arena), plus a music channel that lets you enjoy the soundtrack. But that’s not all!

You also have one featuring lectures from Mr. Edogawa (the school nurse from P3 that’s obsessed with occult) who goes way in-depth with how Personas work in the first place, plus another that has footage from the live Persona music shows from Japan! That was an unexpected surprise. You get more content as you play, so I’m really looking forward to what else pops up (especially the Inaba cable access station).

… And, I guess that’s it? Thus far, Persona 4 Golden is exceeding expectations, which were pretty damn lofty to begin with. I generally hate ports with new elements since, at best, they often don’t truly fit in with the rest of the package, but not here.

End result is a game that was already the absolute best in its class that is now even better, without question. If time permits, I’ll do a real deal review once it has been beaten. Till then, all interested parties can view my review of the original release as well as the art contest results for those who missed that.

Oh, and once more, be sure to keep abreast of my attempts at getting into the pants via my Photo Dump Tumblr. Or simply follow me on Instagram. BTW, the best comment thus far…

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