Steam Community :: Persona 4 Golden

Posted: July 7

Pursuing a Masterful Programme

Persona 4 Golden is an expanded and enhanced version of the original PS2 entry, first release in Europe in 2009. While all mainline Persona games exist within the same universe, each entry features a new location and cast of characters, meaning no prior experience of the franchise is required. To my surprise, Persona 4 excels in pretty much every department, and captured my interest to a degree that few games have ever reached.

Grounded World, Winning Ensemble

You play as a silent, player-named student protagonist who transferred to the small Japanese town of Inaba. Whilst continuing to live the life of a regular student, you’ll shortly begin investigating a series of local kidnappings and murders, and where the fates of these victims are centered around a world existing inside TVs. Individuals thrown into this world are confronted by Shadows, representations of a repressed part of one’s psyche. By helping these individuals confront and accept their shadows, they can unlock the power of a Persona for use within combat.

This game’s multi-coloured, upbeat surface presentation is quite deceiving; Persona 4 tells a surprisingly dark narrative about how far people may go to discover the full truth behind a mystery, regardless of the numerous unsettling discoveries that occur along the way. It’s a simple story, but competently told, and was consistently engaging even though I correctly called the murderer early on. It all takes place with this small town as a backdrop, and while it may show its age graphically, and there aren’t many opportunities to explore or entertain one’s self, I grew quite attached to the location, especially as it reminded me of my experiences growing up in a similarly barren town.

Persona 4’s incredible characters and detailed development of all of them is what really engrossed me. All of them, whether male or female, old or young, have a degree of nuance that makes them complicated yet believable. Their development is progressed through the social links system which allows you to spend quality one-on-one time with these characters and help them fully accept themselves, flaws and all. In terms of personal favourites, Chie has a fiery personality yet becomes quite anxious and caring when having a heart-to-heart, Kanji develops into the complete opposite of the stereotype he’s initially presented as, and I even felt for Yosuke despite his considerable lack of maturity. The series has developed a reputation for being a semi-dating-sim, but this is really a small and entirely optional element of the experience. Some moments feel poorly aged in regards to how they approach certain topics, but these occur very sparingly.

Intrinsic Diversions

This game’s timeline is set over one year, where each day is either presented as a scripted story or social event, or provides you with the freedom behind how to spend your waking hours. The first week is on-rails, acting as an introduction to the game’s premise, but after this slow start, your options open up to an overwhelming degree. You’re typically on a time limit to save a kidnapped student from the TV world, and failing to do so before a certain date will force you back a week. Despite my typical dislike towards time-limited game design, I really enjoyed Persona 4’s approach to this, as it asks you to prepare for dungeons the best as you can with limited deadlines.

You’ll spend most of your spare time progressing through social links. Each of these is connected to one of the game’s many demon races, and so levelling them up will allow you to access more powerful entities belonging to that race. It’s an incredibly smart system as it simultaneously provides character development with gameplay progression, and both sides of this coin feel equally as rewarding to experience. Other activities like the cinema will level up a character’s Persona, fishing and bug catching can unlock gear and consumables to use within dungeons, and taking up jobs will help level up social stats which provide access to additional dialogue options to progress past critical points within social links. Everything you do has a purpose.

Shadow Smashing Showtime

Each dungeon is themed after the kidnapped individual’s other selves, leading to quite a diverse range of backgrounds and great accompanying music. Their layouts are procedurally generated, and you’ll move through all dungeons in the same way to find the next floor, but this simplicity never bothered me as it meant there wasn’t much downtime from the action. Combat is triggered when you run into roaming black sludge-like entities, each housing a different group of demons. Every enemy has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses that aren’t immediately communicated to you, and figuring out their limits is a big part of the fun.

Each party member has a weapon that deals physical damage, and all Personas can carry up to eight skills to perform elemental or physical attacks, or provide support to their team with abilities like health restoration or attack or defence increases. Exploiting a weakness will stun an enemy and allows that party member to execute another action, and stunning all enemies simultaneously will allow your team to carry out a further follow-up. While very powerful, keep in mind that your foes have the same capabilities, and this makes the game quite challenging. While I rarely underwent a squad wipe, I was often in situations where one wrong move would see the dominoes quickly falling against me, and so I considered every action very carefully. There’s also a balancing act with regards to deciding whether to continue to the next floor to save resources, or explore the area in its entirety and face more foes on the way to open chests, potentially containing gear that ends up being critical to a successful run.

The Rich TV Catalogue

The value of this package is pretty insane overall. It took me 75 hours to wrap up the game with its true ending, and conducting a second playthrough on New Game Plus seems very worthwhile. You can carry over your social stats to access dialogue options you may have missed, alongside your Persona compendium which I had only attained 60% completion for by its conclusion; gotta catch ‘em all! It should be noted that large sections of this experience can be completely missed if you do not fulfill certain conditions before their deadline. In the interests of being vague, I’d recommend getting Adachi’s social link to Level 6 and maxing out Marie’s as soon as possible, and when the game asks you to return home near its end, say no and walk around a bit.

There is also a variety of bonus content presented in the form of TV channels which can be accessed at almost any time. There’s a fun quiz show featuring the initial four group members, a music player for the game’s absolutely phenomenal soundtrack, various bits of cool concept art, and even lectures which elaborate on the intelligently utilized psychological themes that are the backbone of this franchise’s messaging. All of this is included as part of your purchase, thus making Golden a truly definitive package.

Verdict

While Persona 4 may not be perfect, it is quite comfortably one of the best games I’ve ever played. Its long but fully justified length, masterful game design, intriguing narrative, and compelling characters combine to provide a truly phenomenal experience, one I doubt I’ll ever forget. I didn’t want it to end, and I felt very empty when it finally did. Even if this doesn’t look like your cup of tea on the surface, I implore you to give it a shot.

10/10

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