Ah yes, a moment of silence for the Japanese role-playing game. A heavy hitter back when gaming was a more solitary affair, the advent of online gaming and first-person shooters have since caused a paradigm shift as a new generation of gamers now religiously cling to their virtual guns. Far removed from the days when a Final Fantasy release was arguably the gaming event of the year, JRPGs gave been reduced to a shell of their former glorious selves, eking by thanks to the good graces of the dedicated stragglers who continue to support the genre. Despite the genre’s fall from its almighty perch, however, it continues to serve up games that epitomize the best of what the game type has to offer. Case in point: Persona 4 Golden for the PlayStation Vita.
Like a time traveler from the past, Persona 4 Golden unapologetically brings with it a lot of the baggage often used to pan JRPGs these days. Anime and manga stereotypes? Check. Turn-based fighting? Check. Rather than weighing the game down, however, Persona 4 Golden implements these mechanics in a way that turn them from tired tropes to time-tested themes. Lord knows just how overdone the whole Japanese high school storyline is. Still, the game does such a good job in portraying the relationships between the merry band of misfits that make up its cast that the ride proves to be a highly enjoyable one.
As with the original release for the PlayStation 2, you start out the game as a high school transfer student who moves in with his uncle in the quiet small town of Inaba. As someone who has done my fair share of traveling across Japan, I must say that the game captures that small-town feel quite well — to the point that it made me feel a bit nostalgic. Within minutes of spending time in Inaba’s locales, I started to remember the same sense of quiet isolation I felt during trips to areas that only had one major shopping center such as Junes, and where things to do are few and far between. That vibe plays a big role in the atmosphere of Persona 4 Golden, which kicks things off with a couple of mysterious murders that rock the normally peaceful town. Within that isolation, your character finds solace in the companionship of friends. Building your relationships with them and others in the town play a vital role in advancing your quest for both personal growth and unraveling the mystery behind the murders. So much so that the social aspect of Persona 4 Golden is like a game into itself that requires as much or even more dedication than dungeon crawling. It can be a slog but, thankfully, the amusing storyline — including many hilarious moments — still makes the overall experience enjoyable.
The fighting itself is quite enjoyable, starting out simply but eventually evolving into something deeper. It won’t take long before you’ll be required to put those brain cells to work in order to survive boss fights — whether it be mastering when to attack and when to guard or fusing your Persona cards to produce a fighting partner with just the right mix of skills to counter many of a boss’ seemingly cheap moves. Two early boss fights in a castle and a steaming public bath are especially a pain given how your party is still underdeveloped at that point and you’re limited not just by your available skills but ways to reliably refill your precious skill points. In fact, the biggest gripe I have is the need to grind a bit to have a realistic chance of beating bosses. Even after killing every enemy on my way to a boss, I found myself struggling to just stay alive only to find out later that I was way, way under-leveled compared to the boss I was fighting. The micromanaging required to balance your various jobs and quality time with friends and family — essential for boosting your various parameters and unlocking other things to do — may also be a load for folks who just want to simply enjoy the story and fight through dungeons.
Still, those issues don’t detract from the fact that Persona 4 Golden is an excellent JRPG. Chie voice-acting haters aside, I even found the English dub work to be quite good, and that’s coming from a guy who usually prefers the original Japanese voice track for my games and anime (the same way I prefer watching Lord of the Rings with the original English track. And no, I’m not a “weaboo”). The additional content for the Vita also makes this worth a look even for those who already played the PS2 original. Add the fact that JRPGs are few and far between these days and Persona 4 Golden becomes even more of a no-brainer for JRPG fans. Don’t miss this golden opportunity if you pine for the glory days of JRPGs.
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