Persona 4 Golden is by no means the perfect game most publications make it out to be. While it does exceed in what it does, it is held back by multiple factors in its gameplay and story. It’s a great game, just not a masterpiece.
You, the player, follow the life of [Insert Name Here] as he has recently moved to the small, backwater town of Yasoinaba (Inaba, for short) where you will be staying with your detective uncle, Ryotaro Dojima, and his younger daughter, Nanako, while attending Yasogami High. While you were expecting a fresh start, to make new friends, and a peaceful year, as soon as you arrive mysterious murders begin to take place whenever fog clouds the streets of Inaba. Around the same time, rumors begin to spread of a midnight phenomenon called the Midnight Channel – a special midnight ‘program’ where if you stare into a TV on a rainy day at midnight, you will be able to see your soulmate. One day, you discover a mysterious world inside of TVs, covered in fog and an exact replica of the town, you venture alongside your friends to discover the meaning behind the mysterious TV world, save victims who’ve fallen into the TV world, and its correlation with the murders and the fog. Inside said world you awaken to the power of Persona, only possible after facing your true self and accepting the ugliest part of you. You face no such trial but your party members do and only when they have defeated and accepted their Shadow, can they awaken their Persona and aid you in battle.
For a first time playthrough, the story is solid. If you manage to stay spoiler-free, you will surely be surprised by the transpiring events and plot twists. It is an engaging story and offers either hit-or-miss characters. But should you be a deductive person, you will be able to see the plot twists coming a mile away.
Some of the events that transpire in Persona 4 are absolutely baffling. There are moments in the story where you will be wondering why characters are letting certain things happen and will cause you to begin to question the integrity of the story. It’s a repetitive process when this does occur and can take away greatly from an otherwise wonderfully written script.
The characters are one of the greatest aspects of Persona 4 and really add to the story, but they may seem a bit one-dimensional. P4 gives you a wide variety of characters that you can interact with throughout your time in Inaba and get to know and you really will get to know them. You will look into their past and help them overcome some of their hardships. They are mostly unique but should you have played P3 prior, you will begin to notice certain paradigms in their stories and how your interactions with them will play out. It’s weird, but you will only really notice them if you begin to draw comparisons (something I recommend you do not do).
Persona 4 Golden is a hybrid of sorts in terms of gameplay. While it does follow the standard turn-based fare with its own unique twists on RPG mechanics, it also has you live out your year in Inaba where you will attend high school, hang out with your friends, attend clubs, do jobs, big or small, or just go home and do nothing; similar to a Visual Novel.
In P4G, you will begin your trek through various randomly generated dungeons where you will fight shadows and explore certain environments themed after the subconscious or inner thoughts of the person you set out to save. Throughout each dungeon, you will explore the floors and sometimes find a shadow roaming about. Hit it (and get a tactical advantage where you get an extra turn), run into it (and gain no benefit), or be hit (and have the enemy get an extra turn). You can always outrun the shadows in the dungeons so it’s possible to avoid unwanted encounters.
Combat in the game is easy to understand, should you have any knowledge of how RPGs work. Fights will consist of you attacking, using your Personas skills to deal extra damage, exploiting elemental weaknesses or finding and recording strengths, and switching out Personas to utilize even more skills. You the player are the only one with the ability to switch out Personas so you will have to be careful with who you bring into certain fights as you are not invincible and your teammates have set weaknesses as well.
At the end of each dungeon awaits a boss that will test your skills and utilize buffs, debuffs, weaknesses, and strengths. These bosses are themed after the innermost emotions and repressed feelings of the character you are trying to save and represent their Shadow. Defeat it and the victim accepts their Shadow which then allows them to gain the power of Persona and will thus become a party member.
Outside of dungeon crawling, you will spend your time in school or out in the town. For the most part, you will be developing your Social Links, a mechanic introduced in P3 that allows you to progress into characters stories and strengthen your Personas at the same time. Party members will allow you to get an evolved form of their Persona with a new, unique skill while non-party members will allow you to fuse and create new Personas with an extra experience boost. For female party members, you will reach a certain point in your relationship where you are given the option of making them your girlfriend (or part of your harem, unbeknownst to them). This doesn’t do much but change dialogue and influence certain events later on in the year (i.e Valentines Day). These social links are engaging and you will want to spend most of your time with your friends. It’s worth experiencing each one as they are all different and each follow certain plot lines and allow you to grasp a better understanding of the town and your friends.
The two different types of gameplay offer variety whenever you get tired of exploring the current dungeon. You will transition almost perfectly into each world. Each dungeon allows you to escape the tedium of building stats and developing Social Links and allow you to progress the story. This blend allows the game to never stagnate and is what will keep you engaged for as long as your Vita battery has before it dies out.
However, when dungeon crawling, grinding is put to rest with Golden Hands. These little creatures give you an insane amount of EXP and money and can make the game a complete pushover. It’s recommended you ignore them for the most part unless you are extremely underleveled so as to get the full experience. I once backtracked to an old dungeon to try my hand at an extra boss and as I proceeded through, I constantly encountered Golden Hands and went from Lv40 to 70 in about half an hour. It’s ridiculous how easy the game can become should you find these creatures. Not only that, but encounters become a breeze when you exploit an enemy’s weakness or land a critical as you will gain 1-More turn. The game lacks any and all difficulty once you completely familiarize yourself with the mechanics and ins and outs.
Persona 4 is an old game, Golden being an enhanced re-release of the 2008 release on the PS2, back when it still went under the name Shin Megami Tensei. As such, the visuals, while looking great on the OLED Vita screen, have not aged well at all. In-game models are completely expressionless. When you engage in an event and all you’re left to look at are the empty husks of the characters as they move around unnaturally, it’s certainly jarring and can take away from the otherwise immersive experience.
Persona 4 Golden’s soundtrack is superb however. It features a unique twist on JPOP and creates its own style of music, distinct from other JRPGs. Music will change according to the scenario and there seems to be a song for every mood. It’s a well written score and I have nearly every variant of its OST on my phone.
Persona 4 Golden exceeds at what it does but it is held back by certain elements of the story, it’s grinding systems and the capabilities of its hardware. While I do regard it as one of my favorite games of all time, it falls far from perfect but regardless, it’s still a good game.
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