I've wrote quite a bit over the last year about how awesome the PS Vita is, going right back to when I attended the PS Vita Rooms Launch just over a year ago. I'm not even on commission or anything. As a pure piece of gaming hardware it's fabulous, and while the library of games may be far from vast at this stage (certainly nowhere near as large as many early adopters like me would have hoped it would be after 12+ months) what can't be denied is that there's plenty of quality available, even if the quantity is lacking.
Up until very recently though, we European gamers were really missing something; a great JRPG on the system. The PSP made it clear to me that JRPGs make for perfect handheld games (a fact that was really proven by Pokémon a generation or two earlier), and having absolutely loved Persona 3 Portable I was overjoyed when I found out that Persona 4: Golden was coming to PS Vita.
So excited was I in fact that I actually moved my PS Vita over to a US account back in November just so I could play it a few months early. Therefore, having just about finished the game, I'd like to dedicate my second 1 Good 1 Bad feature to it. The idea here is just how it sounds; one good and one bad feature from the game in question. I'll just to make it clear that this is all about micro analysis rather than trying to give an overall impression of the game. Persona 4 is fucking awesome, and while I do have one gripe to share with you all, the good way, way, way, way, way outweighs the bad on this one.
Oh, and if it wasn't obvious already, there could be spoilers. Here goes...
GOOD - SOCIAL LINKS
The greatest compliment I can normally pay the Persona games when recommending them to friends is that they're truly unique. How many other games do we see (in the West at least) that combine elements of Japanese dating simulators alongside those of traditional dungeon crawlers? It has to be said the fact they're of substantial quality doesn't hurt either, but these games almost fit into a sub-genre of their own in the way they somehow balance very different and sometimes pretty niche ideas with an ease that makes them feel completely made for each other.
The Social Links mechanic is genius for a couple of reasons. First of all, they make for a tangible way to build the game's story at a nice pace and quite literally allow the player to peel away at each character's persona, i.e. the person they project themselves to be on the outside, until you get to know them well enough that they let their guard down and you discover the real person underneath, often warts and all, letting your character form a stronger relationship with them based on trust rather than bravado.
Secondly, the extra strength of your relationships actually translates to greater gameplay rewards when you're involved in the dungeon crawler side of the game, in the form of more powerful Personas (Pokémon style monsters that you can summon in battle) being available. It's a system that forms the very core of the game, and it works wonderfully well.
All of that would be pretty impressive on its own, but Atlas really make the Social Links remarkable through the strength of the characters that you meet. My personal highlights include Dojima, your detective uncle who is tormented by the death of his wife and the fact her killer is still on the loose, and his daughter (your cousin) Nanako, a bright young girl who struggles to both bond with her father and understand the concept of death itself, as well as come to terms with the tragic circumstances in which her mother was taken from her. It's deep stuff, and as a dad myself I found these two particularly affecting. Not many games are equipped to tackle such hard hitting social issues, and even fewer are capable of handling them with such sensitivity and bravery. Persona 4 is full of this, be it homosexuality, bereavement, insecurity or jealousy, as well as many more. To be able to achieve that AND make it practical from a pure gaming perspective is a testament to the master craftsmanship exhibited by Atlus in this game.
BAD - THE MORTALITY OF THE MAIN CHARACTER IN BATTLE
I'm fully aware that having chosen such a sweeping feature for my good point, my bad one might come across as a bit petty. The facts are that this is a tiny gripe alongside a glowing amount of adulation, but truthfully that just about sums up how I feel about Persona 4: Golden. It's easy to love and very hard to criticise.
The gripe in question is that if your main character is killed in battle it means game over, while if another member of your party dies they can be revived mid-battle. That might sound fairly innocuous, but it lends the game's tougher battles in particular an unbalanced feel where you tend to spend more time worrying about cradling your main character through the fight rather than actually exploiting the fact he's usually your strongest fighter. Persona 4 can be a pretty punishing game at times too; some enemies have powerful attacks that will wipe you out in seconds if they expose your elemental weakness, or if you don't properly manage your attack/defense/evasion modifiers. It certainly adds tension, but it just feels like a strange decision to allow one of your party to be susceptible to such an obvious weakness.