Persona 4 Golden

Review: Persona 4 Golden

The Persona series has hit the mainstream in recent years, moving from a niche experience to one of the more celebrated franchises today. Atlus clearly knows that this is the case as they continue pushing ports and spin-offs to more consoles. While Persona 3 Portable was stuck on PlayStation Portable, its younger sibling Persona 4 Golden was relegated to the PlayStation Vita before surprisingly launching on PC in 2020. Now, after the Xbox & Bethesda Showcase last year, the most recent suite of Persona games has landed on all consoles.

Persona 4 Golden isn’t exactly an identical port to the original title from 2008. It’s an expanded version that came out four years later on the PlayStation Vita. Of course, at the core it’s the same game, but with a lot of bigger or smaller changes affecting not only the gameplay but also partly the story. However, there’s no point in detailing them in detail and suffice it to say that if you happen to be one of the lucky ones who were able to enjoy this installment back on PlayStation 2, the expanded edition makes sense for you in that regard. On the one hand, you can reminisce about one of the most popular parts, but at the same time, the many changes also bring some much-needed freshness to the experience. And for those who want to try it out on a PC, they’ll be pleased to see support for higher resolutions, uncapped framerate, and the option to choose between English and Japanese.

Aria Of The Soul

What is the plot actually about? The plot focuses on a group of teenagers from the small town of Inaba, who get involved in a case of mysterious murders under rather bizarre circumstances. You, as a person from the big city (canonically Yu Narukami, but otherwise you can give yourself any name you want) come to this place because of your year-long studies at the Yasogami High School but very quickly become the leader of a group of your classmates personally involved in the case. Your goal is nothing less than to get to the root of the matter and uncover the real culprit before he can escort anyone else out of the world.

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The gameplay of the title consists of two distinct components. Since your hero is a school student, he can’t just skip school, of course. After all, Persona 4 Golden is first and foremost a school life simulator, and it’s often up to you to decide what and how to schedule your time. There are almost no jumps in the plot and you often have to literally wait for events to unfold. You’ll spend almost a year with the protagonist and his friends, and that’s enough time to grow fond of each of them. The game follows clear rules, so you won’t be able to do more than two activities a day. Also, when you get home from school, it’s automatically evening and you’re missing out on precious time that could have been spent being productive.

The Persona series usually segments an entire school year for you to sink into. Persona 4 Golden is no exception. First of all, strengthen relationships, whether with your companions or with other people in the city. You can also get involved in extra-curricular activities such as drama club or football club. Or even work part-time or read books you have bought. And if you are asking what the point of all this is, and whether it is not a useless time filler, the answer is that, of course, it is not. Because if you devote yourself to your companions, it shows in their combat abilities, for example. In turn, through the many activities, you can improve the attributes that you need for other activities. In short, even the most mundane tasks have a purpose, there is always something to do, and everything has its advantages.

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Reach Out To The Truth

However, you have to consider that you are in control of ordinary students and expecting them to fight in masks in dark alleys at night is a bit unrealistic. Instead, you’ll be entering a world made of human thoughts via The Midnight Channel and fighting demons, otherwise known as Shadows. You’ll also measure your strength against them with the help of your Personas and as the protagonist, you can wield almost any Persona. The combat itself is turn-based, where you attack as a group either with conventional weapons or try to decimate your opponent with special abilities.

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At this point, I can otherwise commend the fact that each dungeon is unique, possessing a different atmosphere, music, and sometimes even slightly altered rules. However, I’m considerably less fond of the fact that the vast majority of floors, with the exception of the last one, are always randomly generated. So much so that the dungeon doesn’t just change after you exit The Midnight Channel, but in Persona 4 Golden, even after you accidentally decide to return to a floor you’ve already explored. That’s when you find that the map is unexplored again, and it somehow spoils the feeling of exploration. And even though there aren’t many floors, each one starts to feel a bit tedious after a while. The fights are repetitive, you never know from which Shadow an opponent will emerge, and after a while, you can catch yourself doing all this just to grind out levels. Overall, the game would have benefited from slightly shorter and more dungeons, as the alternation between story and combat would have been more balanced. Thankfully, this situation is somewhat alleviated in Persona 5 Royal.

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Persona 4 Golden Is A Great Port

While it’s no tragedy and the combat system as a whole has its positives, if there’s anything Persona 4 Golden hasn’t aged perfectly in, it’s the graphics — unfortunately, it isn’t much better with this month’s port. But overall, there’s no point in pretending that the ravages of time haven’t taken their toll on the game at all. After all, a glance at the visuals alone will quickly reveal that Persona 4 isn’t a novelty. But there are other elements that aren’t so much of a hindrance in themselves — it’s just obvious that many titles today are already a bit elsewhere in terms of user-friendliness. And if you happen to have played Persona 5 Royal recently, you may notice it too.

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Even though the central premise places Persona 4 Golden as a murder mystery, the plot is constantly lightened by a great deal of humour. There’s definitely more of it here than in previous installments, but the developers manage to balance artfully between the two diametrically opposed tones. Here, however, everything works as it should — so if the filmmakers want you to laugh, you’ll laugh, and if they want you to be moved, you’ll be moved appropriately. It certainly helps to have some good music, too, which complements the action appropriately thanks to Shoji Meguro delivering one of the most memorable soundtracks from the entire series.

If there’s one criticism I’d like to make, however, it’s probably that Persona 4 Golden muddles the very ending more than necessary. In fact, assuming you’re dedicated to new content, it adds about a month and a half of extra time to the clock. You can also spend that time on additional relationship-building, but it does slightly impede the pacing. So, after you’ve dealt with the bad guy, the game continues on, giving you plenty of time to prepare for the new story dungeon – except that, let’s face it, it only artificially increases the difficulty, and the exclusively Golden character it directly relates to is slightly less interesting than the original line-up. A few heartfelt January or February moments and an additional epilogue scene are worthwhile, though, but I still couldn’t help thinking in places where less is sometimes more.

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But does any of this bother you enough to significantly detract from the overall experience? Certainly not. Today, Persona 4 Golden may not be the revelation it was 15 years ago, but it’s still a great experience worthy of investment. I’m otherwise talking at least dozens of hours of gameplay, and theoretically, it could take you a hundred to get through. Not to mention some replayability, as you certainly won’t get to try everything the first time.

In terms of new features, Atlus has added a few items including several difficulty levels, quick save, and the choice to re-experience Social Links. The Album feature allows you to replay events within the story once you’ve completed them. During these events, you an choose different dialogue choices.

Verdict

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Persona 4 Golden still has a lot to offer given how revered it is throughout the community. The meticulously constructed story, filled with extraordinarily lifelike characters, will pull you in and hold your attention right to the end. Persona 4 Golden may not be perfect as a whole from today’s perspective, but it’s definitely worth it thanks to its contemporary setting and narrative. It’s an excellent mystery you’ll be excited to piece together by the end of it.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: Switch

Persona 4 Golden
Recommended
Liked
The option to choose difficulty level from the start
The ability to quick save!
Fun combat, world-building, and cast
Didn't Like
Drags a bit towards the end