Initial release date: June 14, 2012
Rerelease date: January 19, 2023
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, MORE
Developers: Atlus, P Studio, iXIT Corporation, Preapp Partners Co., Ltd.
Adapted from: Persona 4
Publishers: Atlus, Sega, SEGA of America, Atlus USA
Genres: Japanese role-playing game, Adventure game
While Shin Megami Tensei is considered the flagship RPG franchise of Atlus, its spin-off series Persona has gained widespread popularity in recent years. Persona 5 may have played a major role in this, but Persona 4 Golden (P4G) also contributed to the series' success. P4G, an enhanced re-release of the PS2 classic, stood out on the PS Vita, which was not a popular console, and quickly became one of the must-have games for the platform. In 2020, P4G had a surprise Steam release, which led to stronger-than-expected sales. And now, it's available on the Switch, and it still remains a delightful RPG experience. In Persona 4 Golden, the player takes on the role of a high-school student who moves to the small town of Inaba to live with his uncle, Dojima, and his daughter, Nanako. As the main character adjusts to his new surroundings and makes friends at Yasogami High, a series of gruesome murders and a mysterious program called The Midnight Channel begin to take center stage. Along with his friends, the protagonist sets out to uncover the connection between these two seemingly unrelated events.
Persona 4 Golden is an enhanced version of the original Persona 4 game, which was released for the PlayStation 2. The Golden version, which was exclusive to the PlayStation Vita, features improved gameplay, additional story content, and a new character named Marie. It is considered the definitive version of the game, so players do not have to worry about choosing between different releases.
Like other Persona games, Persona 4 Golden features a gameplay loop that is divided into two parts: slice-of-life and dungeon exploration. The slice-of-life aspect of the game centers around Social Links, which are relationships that the player develops with specific characters in Inaba through meaningful interactions. These relationships are important because they aid in the process of fusing Personas, which grants the player additional experience based on the strength of the corresponding Social Link. The ability to use character-building segments for meaningful gameplay benefits is one of the strengths of the modern Persona games, and Persona 4 is no exception.
The dungeon exploration in Persona 4 Golden is not particularly noteworthy, with basic designs that do not leave much room for thoughtful exploration. However, the combat system in the game is where it truly shines, making up for the lack of complexity in the dungeon design. The combat is turn-based and follows standard RPG principles, requiring players to be mindful of elemental affinities, buffs, debuffs, turn order, and other familiar elements.
The combat system in Persona 4 Golden is easy to understand and gradually becomes more complex as new elements and enemy types are introduced. One of the key features of the combat is the "1 More" system, which grants additional turns when a weakness is struck, this applies to both the player and the enemy. This system creates an even playing field, making battles more tense. Fans of turn-based RPGs will feel at home with the gameplay, and newcomers will also find it accessible, as the difficulty level, even on Hard mode, is not as challenging as other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series. The game also allows players to customize the difficulty on the fly, making it more accessible to a wider audience. Additionally, the Persona fusion system is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, allowing players significant customization options and expression through skill transference. Unlike Persona 3, in Persona 4 Golden, players can manually select which skills are transferred to a Persona during fusion, which is a convenient and time-saving feature.
On the other hand, one aspect of the game that can be tedious is the investigation segments. At certain points in the story, the player's party is required to question townspeople in order to gain access to new dungeons. This can be a bit tedious for first-time players as some of the dialogue options are only available on specific days. As a result, the pacing during these segments can suffer, making it one of the less effective parts of the game. Some of the quest designs can also be questionable, but since they are optional, they do not impede progress in any way.
In terms of story, Persona 4 Golden excels, providing a captivating mystery that remains engaging throughout the game. Each breakthrough in the story is significant, and the sense of catharsis when the solution is found is multiplied. The cast of characters is the heart of the game, and there are several events where they simply hang out and bond. The game strikes a delicate balance between the story and character relationships, where neither aspect is compromised for the sake of the other.
One downside to the game is that the opening is slow in revealing the gameplay status quo. It takes a significant amount of time before the tutorials are finished, the first dungeon appears, and essential mechanics are introduced. While I appreciate games that take time to establish themselves, it feels too prolonged in this case.
Another area where Persona games are well-known for is the audio, and Persona 4 Golden is no exception. The soundtrack is excellent, featuring catchy and nostalgic tracks for the town, and unique tracks for the dungeons. Although the number of battle themes is limited, they never become tedious, showing the quality of the soundtrack. In addition, the English voice acting has held up well despite the game's age, so players can look forward to that. The game runs smoothly both in docked and portable mode.
Regarding version-exclusive features, Golden includes a menu on the title screen that offers more detailed information about the world and characters, such as lectures on Personas and their history. This feature is not required to play the game, but it provides an opportunity for players who want to learn more about the game world to do so.
Another feature in the new port of Persona 4 Golden is the ability for players to view previous Social Link scenes and choose different responses to see how the interactions change. This is a feature that should be included in all modern Persona games, so it's nice to see it included in Golden.
In conclusion, Persona 4 Golden is a fantastic JRPG that offers a captivating narrative, engaging strategic combat, addictive customization options, a wealth of optional content, and a lovable cast of characters. The game's shortcomings, such as mediocre dungeon design and a slow start, do not significantly impact the overall quality of the experience. Whether you have experience with Persona or JRPGs in general, Persona 4 Golden is worth the time investment as it stands among the best of its contemporaries in the genre.