Persona 4 Golden: A Year in Inaba
After three and a half months, Person 4 Golden has finally left my Vita. I imported a copy for Christmas, and spent more than seventy hours playing on the sofa, in bed, on Tokyo trains and in Russian airspace before reaching the true ending just last week. I'm referring to the ending that follows the other finale that comes after the first ending, which was actually just a glorified game over screen. It is done, and now I don’t know what to do with myself, other than write some nice words about a game that would not let me quit.
And I tried to quit on a number of occasions. I wanted it to end at forty hours, but it wouldn't comply. I'd had my fill at forty and was concerned that another thirty odd hours would dampen my enthusiasm for one of the finest portable games I've ever played. More than once, I was tempted to throw in the towel instead of grinding out another half a dozen levels in order to beat a problematic boss. Instead, I stepped away for a couple of days and played something else, coming back refreshed, enthused and ready for a game that wouldn't let me be.
I didn't think I'd ever warm to a cast of RPG teenagers. However, I soon came to enjoy the company of this terrific ensemble, with the exception of Marie and her painfully rubbish poetry. The investigation team are a wonderful bunch of misfits. I laughed at their jokes, shared their concerns, bought into the group dynamic and even got a bit too excited when they all got new haircuts; I approve of the girls' new looks, but Kanji is much better off as a blonde.
It wasn't just the hormonal detectives that made an impression. I enjoyed Dojima as the stern but fair father figure, and owner of one suit; his young daughter Nanako is far less annoying than she ought to be and my extra-curricular friends all fit perfectly within school life. The Social Link system binds you to this extended family. The better you know someone the better able you are to fuse corresponding Persona - summons that are the source of your powers. Managing free time to strengthen personality traits and nurture relationships is the best part of P4G and is what sets it apart from similar games. Do you dedicate your evening to studying for upcoming exams, or is your time better spent supporting Kanji in needlework and nosebleeds? There are no right or wrong answers, and every path will lead to a slightly different but always satisfying outcome.
Forging friendships and strengthening bonds is far more entertaining than killing umpteen demons, and therein lays my only major gripe with Golden. There is nothing wrong with the combat system per se, only that it's infinitely less interesting than your social life. The inside-the-TV-dungeons have varying themes, but they are all tedious and repetitive. Once you have fought an enemy type and learnt its weakness, subsequent encounters will be relatively mindless affairs, as you spam the established routine. It's tempting to avoid conflict while progressing further into each dungeon, but eventually you'll have to return for some grinding, once you realise that you can't beat the top floor boss at your current level. The interface is excellent and Persona fusion is enough of a mystery to be compelling, but it's just a shame that the dungeons had to be such a joyless slog.
Person 4 Golden has lots of graphics and stuff. It looks beautiful on my Vita and proves, once and for all, that video games are better with yellow. Although this is a PlayStation 2 port, the touch-ups are of such high quality that not once did it feel dated. The art direction is outstanding, and it surprised me how many times I could hear the "Heartbreak" song and still be happy to hum along.
I should probably be jumping straight into Persona 3 Portable, but I'm exhausted. I'll cherish my seventy five hours with Golden, but I'm happy it's over and content that I was able to see it through to the very end. A year is a long time to spend in a small town, but watching the characters grow and the case progress made that investment more than worthwhile, and the new haircuts were the icing on the cake.
Odds & Ends
Even a Hedgehog lover like me could not help but be excited by today's 3DS-centric Nintendo Direct. Earthbound, Mother 2 in Japan, is coming to Virtual Console; Bravely Default is headed our way, with Flying Fairies intact; Guild02 is also coming to Europe, there's a shit load of Mario and Luigi, and Link to the Past is getting a direct sequel. Not bad for an afternoon's work, and further proof, if proof is needed, that the 3DS is a must-own platform. Well done Nintendo, well done.