Vrrooooom vrooom vroom vr-vr-vr-vrooooooooooooom!
It seems as though Atlus is milking their smash-hits Persona 3 and Persona 4 for all they're worth, but unlike with other franchises, I don't think anybody is complaining. Perhaps it's simply because the games are not only so highly praised and so incredibly beloved by those who've experienced their unique worlds, but that Atlus doesn't simply "port" their titles, creating identical experiences on new platforms. They go all out and do something incredibly special.
For Persona 3, there were two follow-ups. The first was Persona 3 FES, a release of the game's expansion that was simply a love-letter to their fans: not only did it contain the full expansion pack, but a complete copy of the original game with added scenes and a brand new social link, all for the budget price of $29.99. Next came Persona 3 Portable, and not only did this again include the original title, but there were innumerable gameplay additions, and most importantly, a brand-new, made-from-scratch redesign of the story featuring a female protagonist. As ports go, Persona 3 Portable is quite possibly the most ambitious one ever.
Persona 4's love is coming now, however. Atlus has just recently released Persona 4 Arena, a story-heavy fighting-game follow-up for the PS3. And in a few months time, they will also release Persona 4 Golden, a complete Vita port of the PS2 original, and like Persona 3 Portable, this is more than just your everyday port.
RPGamer had the chance to visit the Atlus USA offices and check out the progress on Persona 4 Golden, and what we saw was impressive. Right from the start, the visual improvements are incredible. The hazy fog that seemed to hang over the entirety of Inaba in the PS2 version is gone — the models are sharper, the environments are more vibrant, and everything simply looks cleaner than ever before. While the small screen can make it difficult to distinguish facial details on all the characters, Persona 4 Golden keeps movement through the town intact, unlike its portable predecessor.
But expectedly, it's more than a visual facelift. Inaba itself has been greatly expanded, providing new areas to visit, shops and events to hang out at, and the main character can even get a motorcycle license, allowing him to ride a little scooter around town. Although we didn't see it in action, apparently the scooter even makes random appearances in battle!
Even though the areas are new, most will be incredibly familiar to Persona 4 veterans. The shrine, for example, which players may remember as being home to the fox social link, has been expanded into an explorable area. The strip mall with the movie theater, which sometimes showed up during certain story events, is also now a visitable location. There are several new shops there, as well as the movie theater itself, which shows a new selection of films every month.
Teddie's a villain and Yosuke's a plumber! How did this happen? All will be explained in Persona 4 Golden!
On top of these new areas to explore, players can also now go out at night and visit various locations. Much like Persona 3, there are new social link opportunities at night as well as additional shops, restaurants, and part-time jobs. There are also more save points scattered throughout the game, as well as a sort of "auto-save" function that simply pops up a prompt when you've gone for a lengthy amount of time without saving.
There are also at least three brand new social links, only one of which we were able to see, and then only briefly. During our demonstration, we saw Marie, but turned down going out with her for the sake of time. Upon doing so, she responded by saying a bunch of really mean things extremely quickly, which was far more endearing than it probably ought to have been.
A few things have changed in the battle department as well, most notably a complete revamp of Shuffle Time. In this iteration, all the cards in the shuffle simply appear on the screen and can be selected manually without any timing constraints. However, certain cards have additional effects, such as allowing players to select more than one, and using these abilities creates a gamble, as there's a chance one might be forced into taking a negative effect.
The game also features a few multiplayer features, including a chat feed called "Vox Populi" and a "rescue" system, which allows players to send out SOS distress signals, which players can respond to, providing emergency assistance. While we weren't able to discover exactly what this entails, the system was described as having the sort of always-on social aspect similar to Demon's Souls.
New tracks have also been added to the soundtrack, most notably a new battle theme which plays alongside the original. Surprise encounters result in the original theme, while normal encounters result in the new one. This should provide a welcome variety to the already stellar score.
The voicework has also seen some changes, though some players may not be entirely thrilled. Due to certain unforeseen circumstances, as well as the sheer amount of new voiced text in the game, Atlus USA was forced to bring in new voice actors for both Chie and Teddie. However, what little we heard of the new voices during our time seemed solid, so the change should have little to no impact on one's ability to enjoy the finished product.
If you haven't played Persona 4 before, Golden is definitely a great place to jump in. If you have, there is so much new content here that nobody ought to be disappointed. Persona 4 Golden has no solid release date, but is tentatively scheduled for release Fall 2012 on the PlayStation Vita.