Title: Persona 4 Golden
Release Date: January 19, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Turn-Based JRPG, Social Simulator
Atlus’ Persona series has grown to such dizzying heights of popularity thanks to the critical acclaim of Persona 5 and its surrounding releases. Still, Persona 4’s initial launch also marked significant growth for the franchise. This entry needs no introduction, thanks to Persona 4 Golden’s incredibly successful Steam launch, earning waves of new fans. Yet, the game’s way to modern consoles will finally make it accessible for practically everyone.
Persona 4 Golden follows the nameable high-schooler protagonist as he moves to the rural town of Inaba to live with his uncle, Dojima, and his daughter, Nanako. The silent main character attends Yasogami High, gradually acclimating to this new environment and quickly making new friends. However, recent grotesque murders and a bizarre rumor about a program called The Midnight Channel are taking over the cast’s lives. The apparent connectivity of the two subject matters becomes a mystery the protagonist and his growing group of friends seek to solve as they are directly impacted.
Persona 4 Golden was initially a PlayStation Vita-exclusive enhanced version of the original Persona 4 on PlayStation 2, refining gameplay elements, adding new story segments, and a new character, Marie. However, it is undeniably the definitive version of the title, so unlike the case of Persona 3’s various iterations, prospective players won’t have to worry over which release to choose.
Like the other modern-era Persona games, the gameplay loop presented here can be divided into two avenues, slice-of-life and dungeon exploration. The former primarily comprises Social Links, relationships that evolve based on meaningful interactions with select individuals found in Inaba. Progress throughout these relationships aids in another notable process where the protagonist can fuse Personas, earning additional experience dependent on the strength of its correlative Social Link type. Viewing these character-building segments for meaningful gameplay benefits is an area modern Persona excels, and 4 is no exception.
As for the dungeons, their designs are never especially notable, with them truly being products of their age. Aside from a few standout examples, they’re pretty basic, not leaving much room for genuine, thoughtful exploration. Still, the combat is where this game shines, making the bland navigation nowhere near prominent. Standard RPG principles occur during these turn-based bouts, requiring players to be mindful of elemental affinities, buffs, debuffs, turn order, and other familiar facets.
The combat system is simple to parse, gradually growing in complexity as more elements and enemy types are introduced. Further, the ‘1 More’ system granting additional turns when a weakness is struck is at the crux of most encounters here, applying to both foe and ally alike. In a sense, everyone can be perceived as being on an even playing field, heightening tension in challenging battles. If you’re a general fan of turn-based RPGs, you’ll be at home here, and newcomers will feel welcome as the difficulty presented, even on Hard mode, is nowhere near the level of, say, the Shin Megami Tensei titles. On-the-fly difficulty customization opens the title to vaster crowds, too.
Moreover, the aforementioned fusion system is where most of the fun with this game is to be had, enabling significant avenues of player customization and expression, primarily via convenient skill transference. Like Persona 5 and unlike Persona 3, it is possible to manually select which skills should be transferred to a Persona during fusion contemplation. It’s an appreciative touch that respects the player’s time.
On the other hand, one standout element that can take needlessly long is the investigations. At specific points throughout the story, the party must question the town to eventually gain access to new dungeons. It can be weary for first-timers since some speaking windows are day-specific. As a result, the pacing during these segments suffers, resulting in arguably the least effective parts of the game. Some of the quests’ designs can also be questionable, but since they’re wholly optional, their implementations don’t harm progress in any way.
Story-wise, Persona 4 Golden is the cream of the crop, providing a satisfying mystery to solve that remains engaging during its relevancy. Every breakthrough is significant, multiplying the sense of catharsis once the solution is found. And the cast is the heart of this title, with there being several events of them simply hanging out and bonding. A delicate yet noticeable balance is struck where the story and character relationships are efficient. Neither aspect is compromised for the sake of the other.
However, I will admit that the opening is unnecessarily slow in revealing the gameplay status quo. It takes a decent chunk of hours before tutorials conclude, the first dungeon appears, and essential mechanics open up. I love games that take time to establish themselves, but it feels too prolonged here.
Audio is yet another area where Persona is beloved, with Persona 4 Golden upholding that tradition. The soundtrack is sublime, comprising catchy nostalgic rhythms for the town and unique contextual tracks for the dungeons. While lacking in number, the battle themes never grow tiresome, proving their exemplary nature. In addition, the English voice acting has aged remarkably well despite the game’s age, so that prospective players can look forward to that. As for performance, everything was suitable, both docked and portable.
Regarding version-exclusive features, Golden has a menu on the title screen offering more profound insights into the world and cast, such as lectures detailing Personas and their histories. Of course, one never has to interact with this part of the game, but those yearning for more can sink their teeth into it for greater appreciation.
Further, this new port boasts a feature where players can view previous Social Link scenes and choose different outcomes to see what the other responses would be. This is an inclusion that all modern-era Persona games should have, so it’s neat to finally see it included.
Persona 4 Golden is a terrific JRPG through and through. It contains a must-experience narrative, thrilling strategic combat, addictive customization, tons of optional content, and an endearing cast; all you could want from the genre. Furthermore, its shortcomings, like the mediocre dungeon design and unnecessarily long start, are relatively minor, not drastically affecting the quality of the experience. Regardless of your history with Persona or JRPGs in general, Persona 4 Golden is worth the time if you stick with it, as it’s near the heights of its contemporaries.
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