There’s never been a better time to be a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series. Persona 4 Arena has just arrived on our shores this week, taking the venerable RPG franchise into 2D fighting game territory (and successfully so). This fall, one of the PS2′s most highly regarded games is coming to PS Vita with Persona 4 Golden. Even if you’re new to the series, as I am, there’s never been a better time to get into it.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about P4G is how good this game looks. It’s not surprising that a PS Vita game would look better than a PS2 or PSP game, but the sharpness and contrast of the visuals on “dat screen” are dramatically better than anything the series has seen. While a lot of the static character art isn’t new (especially that of the Personae, which are largely the same as in P3), the crispness of the screen had me thinking I was seeing it for the first time. Even the menus are beautiful, taking on golden hues and easing the game’s extensive navigation. The full anime cutscenes look amazing, as they’re running at a higher resolution than ever.
While Persona 3 Portable added a new playable main character and other features (such as the ability to directly control characters), few fans would say that it made the the PS2 edition of Persona 3 FES obsolete. It converted rendered anime cutscenes down to still images, and reduced exploration of non-dungeon environments (like Gekkoukan High School) to a static, menu-based experience.
There are no such concessions in P4G. If anything, this new edition has only added to the PS2 original: more cutscenes, significantly higher resolution, re-done/enhanced user interface, and a new character (Marie) are some of this version’s new additions. New elements are sprinkled throughout, such as being able to sneak out at night to hang out at a club and run into characters. Even those who’ve played through Persona 4 previously should find lots of little hidden gems.
Other things I noticed during my playthrough: the music is fantastic. Load times are practically non-existent. There’s a slick effect when you skip cutscenes that looks like fast-forwarding a VCR. In a similar vein, there’s a cool “playing on a CRT monitor” filter when you’re in the Midnight Channel combat areas. And, of course, Trophies.
While the build of P4G I sampled didn’t yet contain English voiceover tracks, I can confirm that there will not be Japanese language support in the US version of Persona 4 Golden. Even as someone who tends to take advantage of this option when it’s offered, if the English-language voice quality is as good as what’s featured in Persona 3, I’ll overlook the omission.
As someone whose feelings about the Persona series quickly morphed from ‘apathetic’ to ‘obsessed’ during a playthrough of Persona 3 Portable, I’m confident that P4G will become a fixture in my PS Vita when it ships later this year. If you’ve got any questions about Persona 4 Golden (besides the release date, which hasn’t yet been locked down), drop them in the comments and I’ll find out what I can.