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Review: Persona 4 Golden

Persona 4 was originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2008 during the tail end of the console's life cycle. The game came to critical acclaim and introduced many improvements over its predecessor, Persona 3 FES. Four years later, Atlus has decided to release a new version of Persona 4 for the PlayStation Vita that builds upon the original game and adds truck loads of new content. But, with all the additional content is Persona 4 Golden different enough to justify another purchase?

The story of Persona 4 places players in control of the main character that has to move to the country town of Inaba for a year while his parents work abroad. On the main character's arrival, mysterious murders begin happening in town and it is up to players to figure out who is behind the crimes. The story remains relatively unchanged, which in all honesty is a good thing because the game features such an intriguing story with some unexpected twists.

Persona 4 Golden wastes no time in introducing the new story elements for this version, such as the new character Marie. Returning players will be shown new scenes sprinkled all through the game and makes playing the game a fresh experience in seeing what is new.

The gameplay is split into two differing sections; one is based in the real world focusing on social elements and the other places a focus on standard JRPG dungeon crawling. The social side of gameplay does have an effect on the RPG aspects of the game. Persona 4 Golden has players work at balancing time spent leveling up characters in dungeons and developing social relationship levels.

Relationships with various characters in the game are referred to as Social Links. Social links keep track of the progress that is made in a relationship with a character. Building up Social Links is a fun way of providing character development for many of the people of Inaba and form a more intimate relationship with some characters. A new feature in Persona 4 Golden is the ability to go out at night and work on furthering the relationships with characters.

Older players have something to look forward to with the addition of more Social Links to develop including one with a character that many might not expect. Another cool addition is the ability to unlock social abilities for party members to use in battle by developing their Social Links. Social Links play a key role in developing and acquiring Personas for the main character to use.

Personas are the different masks that people present to the world and are a key element to the Persona series story and battle system. The main character can use various Personas in battle and each of them has different strengths and weaknesses. Each party member can also use a Persona but are restricted to that specific Persona and cannot switch like the main character.

Personas can be obtained in various ways that include winning battles, fusing Personas to create new ones, or summoning ones registered in the compendium. Fusing Personas takes two Personas and fuses them into a new one while allowing abilities from either of its predecessors to be passed on. If the player has built up a Social Link for the Arcana, Persona type, then more experience can be gained based on the level of the Social Link. Social Links are important for fusing stronger Personas than can be found and unlocking other Personas to be fused. The addition of two new Social Links means the addition of several new Personas to unlock and try to register the Persona Compendium to max.

Personas are just one aspect of the battle system of Persona 4 Golden. Persona 4 Golden features a turn-based RPG battle system that has players taking turns against enemies. Unlike Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES, Persona 4 introduced the ability to control each of the members of a party directly and not just the main character. This allows for better tactics to be used in battle and gives those that prefer to micro manage their commands full control. Players also have the option to set battles to Rush that will have all character automatically use regular attacks and literally rush through a battle.

To engage in battles, players will traverse through randomly generated dungeon floors and will be able to see most enemies to engage them in battle. This is great for those gamers that have grown tired of the random encounters while still providing constantly regenerating enemies on the dungeon floor for leveling up. Players can get first hits in a battle by assaulting enemies from behind on dungeon floors.

Each Persona and enemy, referred to as Shadows, have strengths and weaknesses that can be take advantage of. Whenever a party member or enemy is hit with a skill they are weak against or critically hit they are knocked down and the one that made the attack gets a second attack. When players knock down all enemies an All Out Attack can be initiated that has the whole party charge in for an attack that deals large amounts of damage to all enemies. These are vital tactics when taking on enemies that will have players forming parties with different members and switching between varying Personas.

Persona 4 Golden brings several new features that add to game's RPG side. Players can now acquire Skill Cards that can be brought to Marie to create new Skill Cards that can be purchased and used to add abilities to Personas. Players are also able to change the outfits that party members wear inside of dungeons to allow for each character to have a different look from their standard school uniforms. When fusing Personas, abilities can now be chosen instead of being at the whim of game deciding what abilities may be passed on randomly.

Persona 4 Golden plays just as well if not better than its PlayStation 2 counterpart but how does the game look visually in comparison? The user interface has been completely revamped and it does the game justice because the interface takes advantage of the Vita's screen. Character profiles and text looks great on the screen with a sharp clarity to them. The models appear to be the same as those in Persona 4 but the textures appear much to be much clearer on the Vita's screen.

Does the game sound as good as it looks, though? The answer to that is yes. Atlus has taken the time here to add more spoken dialog to the game and it pays off. Moments where there is no spoken dialog do stand out more though but this is a minor complaint. Atlus added new tracks and changed the battle music to vary based on if the player gets first attack or not. The music and voice work in Persona 4 Golden is solid and the new tracks fit.

Persona 4 is a game that was missed by most because it was released around the end of the PlayStation 2's lifecycle but Persona 4 Golden is a must have title for the Vita in this early part of its lifecycle. Persona 4 Golden features a great story that keeps players invested and working to figure out who is behind the Inaba murders. The game has tons of content to keep new and old players of the game occupied with new Personas, cut scenes, and features. Being a turn based RPG may be tedious at times or a turn off to some gamers but this is a minor complaint about a game that does so much right. Anyone looking for that must have game or system seller should consider Persona 4 Golden a serious contender.