You can't hide what's inside.

Originally released back in 2009 for the PlayStation 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 provided an obscure blend of brilliance for RPG fans to sink their teeth into. The taste was wholly unique: a rich narrative intertwined with traditional role-playing elements and a stimulating social simulator proved to be a clever and thoroughly addictive combination.

But you never actually played it, right? Don’t worry, neither did I. And it’s probably not surprising when you consider Persona 4’s release date.

By 2009 the PlayStation 3 was already three years old and carrying some serious momentum behind it. With big hitters such as Uncharted 2 arriving in the very same year, most of us had firmly embraced Sony’s Blu-ray behemoth, putting our beloved PS2’s out to pasture. It’s understandable, then, that unless you happened to be a Persona series veteran, a well-informed JRPG enthusiast, or just a stubbornly late adopter, you probably missed out on Persona 4 the first time around.

Thankfully, Atlus has given us a second chance to experience the pinnacle entry in the Persona series in the form of Persona 4 Golden (P4G), an enhanced port for the PlayStation Vita which includes new characters, upgraded graphics and a generous dose of extra content. All of these welcomed additions bolster an already excellent game, making P4G the definitive version of the 2009 classic and arguably the best game on Sony’s handheld to date.

persona 4 golden marie

Persona 4 Golden includes a brand new character called Marie.

Deadly Premonitions

P4G puts you in the shoes of a silent, nameless high school student. Your character has recently moved from the big city to the quaint fictional town of Inaba, Japan, where there’s little to do and even less to see — to put things into context, visiting a local Department Store is considered a grand day out by some (♫ Every day’s great at your Junes! ♫). Nevertheless, the residents seem content enough.

For the next calendar year, Inaba is your character’s new home. You’ll attend Yasogami High School, join various after school clubs, attend to family commitments, study religiously, hold a job and – most importantly of all – make some darn good friends along the way. Oh, and did I mention you’ll be entering TVs and fighting evil monsters in an attempt to solve a mass murder mystery, too? Yeah, I guess that slipped my mind…

Just as your character begins to settle into his new humdrum life a spree of mysterious murders rock the foundations of Inaba. There’s a killer on the loose, and the police haven’t the foggiest who’s behind the heinous crimes.

Don’t Change The Channel

Thrust out of the usual “new kid at school” spotlight by the gruesome murders, rumours begin to circulate around Yasogami High about a unnerving television show called “The Midnight Channel”, a twisted programme which reveals a darker side of a person’s personality and a portal to an alternate dimension. The channel only appears at midnight during rainy days and hearsay suggests that the channel might have something to do with the recent murders.

Ever heard of the phrase, “You can’t hide what’s inside?” Well that’s the basic idea behind Personas; they’re manifestations of one’s true self, warts and all.

As an inquisitive and surprisingly brave soul, your character can’t help but stay up late and take a glimpse at this voodoo viewing for himself. As the rain spatters against the window and the clock strikes twelve, an ominous picture appears. Your character boldly reaches out towards the glowing picture and, somehow, manages to pass through the television screen. What awaits is a dark and dangerous world, filled with fearsome inhabitants known as “Shadows”, and a bizarre, boisterous and loveable guide called Teddie, who’s a round, teddy bear person-thing… essentially. The onus is placed on your character and his newly-formed friends to discover the fiend behind the killings and restore harmony to the town of Inaba using the Midnight Channel, Teddie’s help and the power of their Personas.

Personality Check

Ever heard of the phrase, “You can’t hide what’s inside?” Well that’s the basic idea behind Personas; they’re manifestations of one’s true self, warts and all. They’re the main staple behind P4G’s combat system, with your characters able to call upon their Personas to do battle – think of them as spiritual summons and you have the general gist of how they work.

Each Persona carries their own strengths and weaknesses with varying magical and physical attacks at their disposal. They also have their own level and stats which are separate from the main character, so it’s important to use your Personas efficiently in battle and spread the experience points you gain through battle. Your character has the ability to switch between multiple Personas but your other party members — all of which are controllable — are tied to a single, custom Persona.

persona 4 golden team battle

Don’t ask me what those enemies are meant to be. I have absolutely no idea.

Of course, you can physically attack the enemy without the help of your Personas should you choose, as many of the basic JRPG battle mechanics are alive and well in a fast-paced, turn-based system. There are a few twists to the traditional formula, such as the ability to knock down foes to gain an extra turn, but there’s nothing revolutionary to note. This isn’t a criticism however, as P4G’s battle system is very satisfying, with plenty of tactics, flair and panache on display to keep things interesting.

Carpe Diem

As I alluded to earlier, the game takes place during one high school calendar year. Each day is vitally important to the development of your character and it’s up to you to get the most out of your time. You can spend your evenings participating in after school activities, studying in the library, socialising with friends, running around town, battling nasties in the Midnight Channel, or you can even go straight to bed if you like; the choice is ultimately up to you. However, it is advised that you spend your time wisely, as your character’s personal development, including your relationships with friends, can only be nurtured during this down time; grinding out experience in the Midnight Channel is only half of the equation.

It’s this engaging social aspect which really separates P4G from the competition. Study hard and your Knowledge will increase. Stick at a part-time job and your Diligence will rise. Read a manly book and your Courage will grow. Hang out with friends and get to know more about them. The quest for self-improvement will be rewarded with new dialog options and responses. There’s so many facets to the story, so many interesting characters to speak and interact with (most of which feature excellent voice acting and captivating story-lines , that it’s easy to lose countless hours strengthening social links alone. And it’s important to do so as the stronger your bonds become, the stronger your Personas will be.

Persona 4 Golden classroom

In Persona 4 Golden, knowledge is power.

It’s Time To Remake History Here

Running on the Vita’s vibrant OLED screen, P4G looks delightfully bright and cheerful. The graphics are relatively simplistic, which is no surprise considering it’s a port of a PlayStation 2 game, but the visual upgrade is pleasing nonetheless. The only stickler with the presentation is the strange ghosting effect that occurs when running around the game’s environments. The same effect can be found on the original release, so it’s nothing to do with the updated Vita transfer; though it would have been nice if the developers managed to eradicate it altogether.

Perhaps P4G’s most endearing feature, along with the loveable cast of characters, has to be the game’s soundtrack. From the catchy battle music, to the ambient jazz that accompanies your forays through town, Persona 4’s soundtrack will have you tapping your toes and nodding your head to the beat, no matter what the situation.

A Year In The Life

With hours upon hours of gripping gameplay to enjoy, P4G offers plenty of meaningful longevity to those who seek it; however, at times it can feel like there’s also most too much to do. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed early on, despite the developers’ best efforts to gently introduce you to the game’s many mechanics. If you’re the kind of player who’s determined to see everything the game has to offer, you’re best off grabbing a guide from the outset.

Having the game available anywhere, almost instantly, is an easily overlooked advantage of the Vita conversion. It’s the perfect game to sink a few hours into throughout the day and the Vita lets you micromanage your play sessions wonderfully; you just put the Vita in sleep mode when you’ve had enough, and continue where you left off later on. And believe me when I say you will return, because P4G is an astonishing game, with exceptional depth to the convincing characters and thoughtful design throughout. And let’s be brutally honest, who doesn’t want to be a high school student again?

Friends Forever

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