I’ve been spending an insane amount of time playing Persona 4 Golden, as you’ve probably deduced from the state of this blog. In just under a month’s time, I’ve logged over a hundred hours and am on the cusp of the ending. So I figure it would be a good time to let out my inner fanboy and write about the new things I love about P4G. Before you read on, be warned that I’ll be discussing the new content, so there will be some minor spoilers.
The TV listings
Once you get past the really happy new opening sequence and new title menu, you’ll see a section called “TV Listings.”
It’s a cool way to present a lot of the new content that isn’t actually in-game. Some of the more typical extras you get are a cut scene viewer and a music player. But there are a few interesting “shows” too, such as a series of lectures on Jungian psychology and (once you’ve made some progress in the game) a trivia mini-game hosted by Teddie.
Persona 3‘s Mr. Edogawa is (regrettably) the lecturer for the psychology lessons. I fucking hated his bizarre, long-winded lectures about magic in P3 and I couldn’t skip them fast enough. Jungian psychology is a pretty important underlying theme of the series, though, so I like that the informational content is there.
Marie’s Social Link
The most significant new in-game content would be the new Social Links. One features Adachi, the inept detective sidekick that is working on the serial murder case. I didn’t advance very far in this one (there’s a deadline that I failed to make), but I did finish the other one featuring new character Marie.
Marie is introduced as an “unfriendly-looking girl”, soon revealed to be a denizen of the Velvet Room. I was expecting her Social Link to be pretty heavily driven by the game’s mythology, but it was surprisingly lighthearted and humorous for the most part.
Sure, she’s more or less tsundere fanservice for many of her appearances, but it’s amusing to have a character disrespectful enough to call Igor “The Nose” and Margaret a blockhead.
Marie’s Social Link also features interactions with the rest of your investigation team. The game’s normal Social Links are usually isolated events, where you hang out with someone one-on-one. Marie’s events actually feel more social, although given her surly attitude, it’s a wonder any of your friends put up with her at all. Still, it’s good for some laughs and some nice fuzzy feelings. I always felt compelled to mess with Marie, such as telling her “steak” is short for “steeeeaaaaaak.” The joke paid off later, to my delight. I also got a ton of laughs out of her intentionally horrible poetry.
More filler (but fun filler)
Some of the new in-game content is more or less glorified filler. But like with the anime, the filler’s fun and well-placed, usually to give you a bit of rest from relentlessly pursuing Social Links or dungeon crawling.
None of the new scenes really have much story significance, but they play into what you want out of this game. It’s escapism, allowing you to live an idyllic high school life and have fun, so the new events provide more of that.
You’ll also get more in-depth interactions with your female friends, so establishing relationships with them pays off a little more. You also get brief nighttime mini-events, where you can further a Social Link and chit chat a little with each character.
Rise isn’t useless
While I rather enjoyed the way Rise Kujikawa’s character arc encapsulated the themes of Persona 4, her actual utility in battle was very limited. Sure her restorative abilities helped you dungeon crawl a bit longer, but for the most part she could have been replaced by a paper and pencil.
In P4 Golden, Rise’s persona gets a little more utility as you rank up her Social Link. Eventually she’ll be able to join in battles. While she still isn’t a straight up playable character, she can make an impact during tough fights. She can boost your all-out attacks a little, heal status ailments, restore HP, and do a variety of other useful things. It happens infrequently enough that it doesn’t feel like an easy mode, but Rise’s contributions are timely and have swung a few difficult battles for me.
Beyond making Rise more than just a cheerleader, I feel like her new abilities actually make her seem like a powerful character. All of your team members now get bonuses when you rank up their Social Links and spend time with them. It’s nice to feel like Rise’s in-story growth also translates to gameplay power ups.
You’re wandering a mazelike dungeon created out of the suppressed desires of a potential murder victim in an alternate reality filled with deadly monsters. And your partner is dressed like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. And you’re in drag.
Most of all I love the way Chie imitates Persona 3‘s Elizabeth when she wears her Velvet Room outfit.
Fusion made easier
Persona fusion in the previous games was a mix of guesswork and dumb luck. While there are guides and charts out there laying out in detail which personas result from certain fusion combinations, skill inheritance was mostly left to luck.
P4 Golden fixes literally every complaint I had about persona fusion. Now there’s a search feature that lets you know what personas you can make with the ones you have equipped. There are visual indicators telling you if the resulting persona is already in your compendium. Finally, you’re able to choose which skills can be inherited (with some restrictions).
None of these changes fundamentally alter the gameplay. They simply make the game more usable and less frustrating. Persona fusion no longer feels esoteric; now it’s an actual tool that you can use strategically.
The fast travel button
Going along with the theme of interface improvements, Atlus added a fast travel button. When you hit the square button, a menu pops up giving you a list of locations and the option to go to the overworld. It’s a minor addition on the surface, but was a huge time saver. I enjoyed exploring the various locales (even with this as my second playthrough), but some days you just need to get a lot of stuff done.
All of these interface improvements go a long way to making Persona 4 more accessible, more sensible, and feel less like a PS2-era game. Sure it can still be brutally difficult, but in Golden the tools you need to use to succeed are much more comprehensible. It was a pleasant surprise for me to see Atlus go so far to revamp and revise these things, and I have no doubt Persona 5 will incorporate all the lessons learned.
Shoji Meguro’s music
Aside from the deep story, bold aesthetic, addictive gameplay, and utterly charming cast, the best part of Persona 4 was Shoji Meguro’s soundtrack. P4 Golden strategically adds a few new tracks, and they are money.
That’s the new battle track, and it’s still catchy and enjoyable after all this time. It’s used alongside “Reach Out to the Truth”, adding a little variety to the background music.
My favorite of the new tracks, hell probably my favorite track period, is “Snowflakes”. It serves as the town music for the winter months, a period skipped over in the original game. The song is just gut-wrenchingly bittersweet – a lovely melody and sentiment played as a constant reminder that your time in Inaba is about to end. You’re about to part with your friends. Hell the game itself tells you to hurry up and make some memories before you have to leave.
Shoji Meguro’s music is idiosynchratic for sure, and certainly divisive among fans and non-fans. I didn’t even like the soundtrack when I first started playing Persona 4, but now it’s a staple in my playlists.
What didn’t go so well
The only features that didn’t work out well are the online features. There are two: Vox Populi and the rescue request feature. Vox Populi records your activities in each day and shares it with other players online. You can use it as a guide to see what other players have done and what choices they’ve made on that particular day. It’s kind of cool but not inherently useful without being able to know why a player decided on a particular activity that day. Besides, the game is your story, driven by your decisions. I found myself not bothering with Vox Populi after the first few hours.
The second online feature, rescue request, will allow other players to restore a (very) small amount of HP and SP for you at the beginning of the next battle. Likewise, you can help out other players after you request aid, and the game keeps a log of who has answered your requests. The feature is too limited and narrow to be of any real use, and while it feels nice to help someone out, there’s zero interaction involved.
What if Atlus had been a little more daring? What if they had allowed some kind of co-op, letting your two protagonists fight alongside each other? What if you could use the PS Vita’s wi-fi to establish Social Links with players? Trade persona and skill cards? It’s unfair to criticize an enhanced remake for not adding a completely new dimension to the original. But I still think Atlus had loads of design space to work with in terms of online functionality, and what they settled on wasn’t particularly interesting or useful. That doesn’t take away from the quality of the experience, but it’s certainly one of those features that are just made to fill a bullet point.
I have immersed myself in the Persona universe for the last few months, so I’m far from being objective here. But Persona 4 Golden has just been an amazing experience. It fixes the few things that were wrong with the original, offers satisfying new content, and has upgraded graphics which look excellent on the PS Vita (not so much in the screenshots, unfortunately). I think the Western gaming press has conditioned a lot of gamers over the years to believe that the JRPG genre is an ancient relic rife with poor game design. Persona 4 Golden proves how completely wrong they are.