Given the opportunity, I think we'd all like to become someone else, if only for the novelty.
You could put on a new face and meet the world and its cast of characters in an entirely new way. You wouldn't have to be you, but you could be sort of like you, just the way you want to be. Naturally, we already engage in this practice in our day-to-day lives, even if we don't admit it at first. We're one way with our teachers or bosses and a completely different way with our friends, and no one knows what we're like when we're by ourselves, because we're just not that intimate with other people.
Persona 4 is an examination of this everyday survival mechanism. The power of Persona is within you and your friends at school too. When a series of grisly murders occur in the small town you're staying in while your parents are overseas, it's up to a seemingly random selection of high-school students to crack the case and save the day. Can Atlus put a Golden shine on the flagging PlayStation Vita or has the experience grown a little stale in its age?
The protagonist in Persona 4 is a big-city kid dumped in Inaba with his Uncle Dojima and Dojima's daughter, Nanako. Players are quickly introduced to a whirlwind of fresh faces, including tomboy Chie Satonaka, fellow new arrival Yosuke Hanamura, and a new Golden exclusive character, Marie.
"But that's how quickly things devolved into a murder mystery. The things I loved about Persona 3: Portable became quickly apparent in Golden. Characters had a backstory. Relationships existed before I arrived. People didn't immediately come to me with their problems and questions. And then... that body was found hanging upside down from the TV antenna."
Read more: Review Log 01: Everyday's Great At Your Junes!
If it weren't for the ever-present date and time, the first month in Inaba would fly by, but not without thrusting players into the new TV World dungeon. In the TV World, you can fight monsters, rescue murder victims before they die, and generally grow more powerful. It's here that your Personas will manifest into powerful allies. Just like Pokémon, you'll have to pair elemental strengths against weaknesses to come out on top.
Unfortunately, Persona 4 still stumbles in the way players open new gates inside the TV later in the game. Every in-game month or so, you'll be forced out into the real world and onto the street. There, you'll have to talk to every NPC hoping to find the individual that gives you the information needed to proceed. This routine detective work breaks up the speed and pace of Persona 4 with needless hurdles.
What's more, within the TV World, things are not as straight and narrow as they were inside Persona 3's Tartarus. Rather than having a singular tower to climb, dungeons are split and scattered. This means that side quests require more from the player than "check every corner of the map on your way up". That said, P4G is more forgiving if you'd rather spend time around town or at the beach.
Messing around in town will help you establish social links and gain new powers for your allies in combat. Spend enough time with a teammate outside of school and the TV World, and they'll take a fatal blow for you when you're up against a difficult boss. New stats also mean new activities.
"Instead of just Academics, Charm, and Courage as it was in Persona 3, P4G tweaks the balance and offers five different areas of personal improvement. You'll have to grind your Courage, Diligence, Understanding, Expression, and Knowledge up to experience everything Inaba has to offer."
Read more: Review Log 04: You Begin To Suspect That Your Bowl Is A Portal To The Meat Dimension
If you're feeling inclined, you can spend your days reading books or fishing. You don't have to study if you don't want to, but doing so will end in rewards later on. Feeling hungry? Eating strange things out of the refrigerator will always prove interesting, but relaxing and tending your garden is perfectly acceptable too.
Still, if the ever constant pressure of time and its limitations is too much for you, consulting the new Voice feature will give you an idea of what you should be doing. "All Persona 4: Golden players connected to PSN while they're playing will upload their activities so that other gamers can get advice and tips on what activities they should be doing on any given day. If you're not so intent on a MAX Social Link playthrough and would rather make smart choices while enjoying the game worry-free, Voice gives tips at any juncture."
Read more: Review Log 02: Hands Off The Soba, Pal!
Despite its remake status, Golden manages to maintain the fresh, brave feeling players enjoyed in 2008. Characters are just as entertaining and lively, while combat and time management continue to prove interesting, impactful mechanics. P4G respects players and challenges them with interesting, universally accessible issues. What is love, respect, struggle? What do you really want?
These questions and more are answered within Golden's hours and hours of gameplay. Trophies will keep diehard fans coming back while newcomers will find the daunting playtime more accessible on the go with the PlayStation Vita. Still feeling stressed? Send out an SOS and other players online can respond with a leg up on the enemies you're facing on the other side of the TV screen.
Persona 4: Golden proves as endearing, powerful, and emotionally charged as it did in 2008, but with a host of new features and newcomer crutches, the experience can't be beat. Despite a few small hiccups, including the odd one-hit kill from an unassuming shadow, Golden manages to yank at your heart and delight in even servings. There's no better game for your Vita this holiday season.