Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Persona 4 Golden - The first ten hours

2013 seems to be year for Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPG). Maybe this is also due to my switch from Xbox 360 to Sony PlayStation, as Microsoft's console has not attracted much attention from the Japanese developers over the years. So now I find myself well into a playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, with Final Fantasy IX sitting there waiting, 10 hours into Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and now I have to throw Persona 4 Golden into the mix as well.

Hailed as the one of greatest JRPG's of all time, Persona 4 was originally released the PlayStation 2 in 2008. This Golden version features loads of enhancements to the original game. These include 2 new Social Link, brand new Persona's including Ultimate Personas. New Animated scenes, new voice overs and extended dialogue, brand new locations and new online features. Essentially this isn't just another PlayStation 2 port, it is the extension the fans wanted.

The game revolves around the hero, a character you play and name yourself, as he arrives in the small rural town of Inaba. His parents have gone on an extended business trip and have sent him to stay with his Uncle for one year. During this year in the country the player will have to attend the local High school and life in a quiet sleepy town.

Sounds thrilling doesn’t it? Ah but did I mention the recent discovery of the body of a TV announcer found hanging from her feet from an antenna. Add to this that people keep disappearing and also the rumours of a mysterious TV Channel, called the Midnight Channel, that allows the viewer to see an image of their soul mate on the TV screen. It certainly sounds like it could be an interesting year for the protagonist.

The one thing that struck me as I started playing Persona 4 is that this game has a slower starting build up than a Stephen King novel. The game starts as you arrive in Inaba, meeting your Uncle, Dojima and his daughter, Nanako. They take back to their house to allow you to settle in, before starting at the local high school the following morning. During the night you have a strange dream, which is the first glimpse of the basic dungeon and battle system. This first look will be the only action you control for the next several hours.

The story slowly progresses, with the player taking more of a back seat in a visual novel, rather than an action packed JRPG. Your character starts at High School and meets and becomes friends with Yosuke Hanamura, the son of the manager of the local Junes megastore; Chie Satonaka, a headstrong girl with loves her martial arts movies; and Yukiko Amagi, a quiet girl who helps to run the famed inn that brings people to visit Inaba. Before you can acquainted with these three, a student goes missing. With the disappearance turning into another dead body, Yosuke and you decide to investigate the rumours of the Midnight Channel. This ends up with you finding your way in to a world inside the TV.

Inside this world, you encounter Teddie, a living bear costume and he becomes your guide. When attacked by shadow creatures that lurk in the TV World, you suddenly discover your Persona. A Persona is an embodiment of your heart that you can use to fight the monsters. Following further trips into the TV World, both Yosuke and Chie face their darker sides and successfully unlock their own Persona’s and the group decides to form an investigation team.

At this point you are about 6 hours in to the game.  There are not a lot of games that would have the player have almost no impact in to the game world and just be the spectator for over 5 hours. The crazy thing is it works, I sat there drawn into the world and the characters. I found it to be totally absorbing and then when the game finally leaves you in control you feel ready to understand everything that is going on without any of the confusion that can happen with the storylines of JRPGS. After investing 6 hours into the game, you finally get to appreciate the wonderful Persona combat system.

It’s just as well too, as Yukiko has disappeared and has appeared in the TV World and is being held in a huge castle, by her other self. It is up to you, Yosuke and Chie to fight through the castle full of shadows and rescue Yukiko. Without going into detail I managed to do this on my second attempt to assault the castle. With my victory and rescue of someone before they were murdered. I had hit the 10 hour mark and in the back of my mind I still feel like I have only touched the surface of this wonderful game.

The thing I want to convey to people who are thinking of picking this up for the Vita is quite simple. Yes, this game takes a long long time to get going, but please bear with it! Once it gets going it is truly wonderful gaming experience and I can already see why Persona 4 has such an army of fans.

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