Persona 4 Golden (PSV)

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If you’ve ever wanted to play an interactive version of a high school anime series, then Persona 4 Golden will let you do just that. This surprisingly satisfying amalgamation of turn-based RPG, life simulation and dungeon crawler will keep you glued to your PS Vita for hours on end and offers one of the most engrossing and enjoyable handheld experiences to date.

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Persona 4 Golden is essentially an enhanced port of Persona 4 for PlayStation 2 that was released in 2009. The PS Vita version boasts plenty of extra content for fans of the original, including hours of additional recorded dialogue and story elements, as well as new characters to befriend and areas to explore. On top of this, Persona 4 Golden also sports a number of innovative online features such as ‘Vox Populi’ which allows you to see how other players are spending their time in the game’s world.

Persona 4 Golden has a unique storyline for an RPG as it deals with a group of students from Yasogami High who are trying to track down a murderer who is attempting to kill seemingly unconnected individuals from the rural town of Inaba. These attempted murders occur within the mysterious TV Worldn which is where the dungeon crawling part of the game takes place.

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You play the role of a male student who has recently moved to Inaba after your parents go to work overseas. Persona 4 Golden takes place over a full year during which you can decide how to spend each day when you’re not attending school. Besides entering the TV World and fighting the ‘shadows’ that lurk inside, you can socialise with friends and other characters to build up your relationship with them via ‘Social Links’ or take part in extramural school activities such as soccer practice or music club.

Player choice is a huge part of Persona 4 Golden’s appeal as there are tons of part-time jobs and activities to pursue during your free time in the afternoons, evenings and on Sundays, as well as public or school holidays. One of the new features in Persona 4 Golden is being able to explore various areas of the game at night, where before you were limited to doing activities at home or working at a nearby hospital.

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There are certain points of the game when Persona 4 Golden’s narrative takes centre stage and your choices are somewhat limited, but these scenes are always engaging and often allow you to choose how to respond during conversations between the game’s central characters. How much or how little time you spend dungeon crawling during Persona 4 Golden is up to you as these sections don’t take very long to complete if you’re playing on an easy difficulty setting.

You could easily spend dozens of hours in the game’s dungeons, however, if completing all the side-quests and obtaining all the Personas (i.e. ability-infused allies) is important to you. Just like the rest of Persona 4 Golden, there’s an incredible amount of depth to the game’s dungeon-drawling mechanics if you choose to focus on them.

Fans of anime and Japanese culture will find plenty to love about Persona 4 Golden due to its setting and colourful, bold visual style. There are a lot of references to Japan’s schooling system, public holidays, customs and food during the game so it’s as much an educational experience as it is an entertaining one.

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One of the disappointing aspects of Persona 4 Golden is that you can’t experience the game from a female perspective like you could in Persona 3 Portable. The Persona series seems incredibly well-suited to enabling both male and female players to role-play in its world as a gender of their choice, and unfortunately the female side of the equation is notably absent in this game (much to my wife’s dismay). The gender of the protagonist becomes important during the dating simulation sections of the game when your Social Link with certain characters is at a high level.

Persona 4 Golden looks great on the PS Vita’s OLED screen, with crisp, colourful visuals and a widescreen presentation, which wasn’t available in the original game. Character and enemy designs are fantastic and the handful of outdoor and dungeon environments exude plenty of atmosphere. The frame rate is consistently excellent throughout the game and load times are minimal. Persona 4 Golden’s soundtrack, meanwhile, serves up an eclectic mix of jazzy, upbeat tunes that often feature vocal arrangements. Interestingly, you can see some of these tracks being performed live from the game’s bonus content menu.

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If you have a PS Vita and enjoy RPGs then Persona 4 Golden is by far the best game you can buy for the handheld. Combining genres in a videogame is always a tricky challenge but the magic of Persona 4 Golden is that every aspect of it is carefully thought out and comes together to form a thoroughly engaging, unified whole.

Fans of the series will be hoping the currently-in-development Persona 5 is headed to PS Vita, too, because the console seems like a perfect fit for the lengthy, incredibly deep Persona titles that Atlus has bestowed upon gamers in recent years.