This month, SEGA and Atlus didn’t just rerelease Persona 3 Portable for modern systems – they’ve also brought back Persona 4 Golden, arguably the most acclaimed game in the series. We checked it out on a PlayStation 4.
As with Persona 3 Portable, the origins of this game lie in the PS2 era, where Persona 4 was launched way back in 2008. And while the changes made to the PSP port of Persona 3 kicked up some dust, the PlayStation Vita port of Persona 4 is considered by many to be one of the best games available for that system and one of the best JRPGs of all time. With Sony no longer supporting their handheld, it’s great to have to available once again and to see how well it holds up.
Having played Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden back to back this time, it’s easier to compare the two. The biggest difference probably lies in the fact that there’s a larger cast of characters this time around, and that that leads to more intricate social mechanics – something the series if obviously known for and why Persona 4 is considered such a highlight in the series and in gaming in general. The story and setting also feel richer in how they’ve been developed, and as intriguing as Persona 3’s dark plot is we think the world of Inaba is more memorable once the credits roll.
Inaba is a small Japanese village that gets rocked by a series of murders, and as a sort of junior detective squad you and a bunch of your high school friends take it upon themselves to investigate. But before you get Sherlock Holmes vibes… that investigating is done by entering alternate dimensions by entering TV screens. It sounds a bit like a Japanese or Korean horror premise, but thanks to some excellent writing it never feels quite as strange as the premise initially seems.
A lot of that writing can be seen in the characters, who are diverse, interesting, funny and intriguing all at the same time. Growing relationships with them through the game’s social systems never ceases to be captivating, and it’s easy to see why Persona 4 is such a go-to title whenever people talk about systems like this. It’s a leap forward from Persona 3 too, to the point where Persona 5 feels more like an incremental change – a testament to how high this game set the bar.
These social mechanics aren’t just a gimmick either – forming bonds with others strengthens the personas you can conjure up to go out and fight the shadowy monsters in the TV dimension, which as you probably expect is Persona’s domain for dungeon crawling. It’s how the social system ties together the more narrative-driven “real life” portion of the game with the fantasy realm that you dungeon crawl your way through, and makes it easy to get invested in both as boosting your party and taking on increasingly challenging dungeons with them is a great loop.
Visually, the fact that this is based on a Vita version that is about a decade old can be seen in the lackluster visual designs of the dungeons you explore. There are a few different overall looks to them, but the corridors themselves feel quite repetitive – a shame when you consider that games like Dungeon Master and Stonekeep are decades old at this point. The console-exclusive Persona 5 addressed this, but it’s the area of Persona 4 where the game dates itself.
Other parts hold up extremely well, like the game’s combat system – which is a refined version of what’s on offer in Persona 3. Audiovisually there have been some minor improvements for textures so they look okay on the bigger screen, but the real highlight is the soundtrack for the game, which was always brilliant but can now properly fill the room.
For JRPGs this is an essential piece of gaming history, and although Persona 5 refined the formula in a few ways this is an easy must-buy if you never got to play the Vita version.