Persona 4 Golden Review-An Adventure of a Lifetime!
Let me start with some backstory here, I first played Persona 4 on my friends PS2 many years ago, and honestly I did not like the game and it just seemed overrated to me. Fast forward to when Persona Q was announced, since I was a fan of the Etrian Odyssey series I thought why not I’ll give it a go. However my friends told me I should either play Persona 3 or 4 before playing Q, so I decided to buy a PS Vita and Persona 4, among some other games which I may or may not review in the future. And all I can say that was the start of an adventure that I will never forget.
I will try and keep a brief spoiler free synopsis of the story. You are a highschooler who is moving into the sleepy town of Inaba with your uncle Dojiima and cousin Nanako while your parents are out on business abroad for a year. While you are here you attend the local high school and start making friends, however shortly after your arrival mysterious murders are happening in the town whenever there is a foggy night. However there is something interesting about these murders, on rainy nights a person’s image will appear on the TV on the so called “midnight” channel, those people are seen as the next victim and will be found dead on the next foggy night. You soon find out that someone is actually throwing people into the TVs and you must go into the TV and rescue the people who are being thrown in there. Once in the TV your character is awaken to his hidden ability of a Persona, and for your friends to be awaken to theirs they must be rescued from the TV and face their inner selves known as Shadows. Once they are able to overcome their true selves and escape the TV they will have the ability of a Persona and help with your fight against the Shadows in the TV world and be a valuable asset to the investigation behind the murders in Inaba.
Atlus did not disappoint with the story telling in this game. Every plot twist and every surprise kept me on the edge of my seat and had me hanging on, every time I thought I was getting to the end of my adventure the story through another curve ball that extended the games story by another 10 hours. The story telling and writing in this game is probably up there in the top 5 best stories, and perhaps the story by itself and how well its written could be argued to be one of the best written stories ever.
Another thing to mention that without the wonderful cast of characters in this game, it would make this story feel like a bore and a chore to get through. Atlus did a wonderful job here in crafting numerous awesome characters with their each and own individual backstory, there were some characters that I could relate to (such as Yumi, Kanjii and Adachi), and other characters stories knew how to hit you right in the feels. I don’t want to get too much into the characters and their development here, as that is what I am going to cover more in the gameplay section, but I can say without a doubt none of the characters I have met in this game were forgettable in the least, I was engaged in all of their stories and tried to progress all of them as much as I could.
Overall this game had one engaging story that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The only real complaint I have is that the beginning was a bit drawn out, but then again it’s a JRPG that could take you up to 100+ hours to beat so some extensive backstory is needed, so I won’t take off any points for this. Another thing I should mention is that the endings of this game really know how to get you. The bad endings in this game really call you out and make you consider how much of an idiot you are, and the true ending is probably one of the best endings I have seen in most of the games I have played.
Now this game is broken up into two sections when it comes to gameplay.
You have your dungeon crawling turn based RPG mechanics where when you are in the TV world you are crawling through randomly generated dungeons and fighting monsters with Personas to progress. The design of each dungeon is very unique, as each dungeon is based off the victim thrown into the TV’s inner feelings. Some of the dungeons you find you can actually start to relate to how the person trapped may feel. You will also fight many shadows throughout these dungeons, these shadows randomly appear on the map, but you can try and avoid them, but if they catch up on you they get an enemy advantage attack. The combat in this game is very easy to get used to. It is comparable to any turned based RPG such as Pokemon, EarthBound, or the parent series of this game Shin Megami Tensi. The main difference is that the main character can switch out his Persona’s (In other RPGs this would be seen as their special ability or skill set) when he is fighting. Each of your party members have their own Persona which has different attack abilities, strengths and weaknesses (ie if a Persona is strong to Ice he is weak to fire.) This allows you to switch up your playstyle on the fly to match the current enemy you are fighting. The combat flows very well and at times you need to be extremely strategic such as trying to figure out a foes weakness and trying to exploit it for a satisfying all-out attack, or just trying to get a second turn once your enemy has been knocked down.
Once you travel through each dungeon you will eventually reach the end and confront the victim and their shadow, this is where all of the boss battles happen when you begin to fight the victim’s shadow. These bosses are very interesting and each boss has their own flare to them, some even to the point of creeping me out (looking at you Kanjii). However once the player and company helps overcome the victims inner shadow, the victim will accept their shadow and try and work hard to change themselves for the better.
With the other part of the game is more of like a high school life sim where you are spending the time building social links with the people you meet. The point of these social links is to create stronger Personas. Each Persona has their own class, and when you fuse and create new ones, the strength of your friendship with the person of said class will determine how much more powerful the Persona will be once it’s created. So this is one of the incentives to try and max out all of the social links. However like I said earlier, the story of each character is enough to want and try to max out your links with them. You can bond some of the strongest friendships with the people in your school, or find the love of your life, each way you are guaranteed a deep story.
Also you can get a part time job to make some more money, and increase your skills, like any person you need to study for school, increase your diligence, courage and a few other stats. The higher these skills are the better part time jobs you can find, and sometimes asking out certain people requires a level of courage, or increasing social links with people require higher understanding skills or expression skills. All in all there is a lot to do on the sim side of the game.
Now here is the thing I love the most about these two mechanics. The mix is almost perfect, you are never doing either of them too long that you get burnt out. By this I mean after you spend the initial two hours or so of story introduction you are thrown into the game’s first dungeon, the dungeon is a breath of air and keeps the experience fresh as you go on, and once you are done exploring the dungeons you are able to go right back into the social link building aspect of the game right before you feel like the dungeons are starting to become grading. Also at any point if you feel like you are getting bored with social links, you can enter the TV again and revisit any dungeon you have completed to train, or to find items to complete side quests that have small rewards. This mix in my opinion makes it so it never feels like the game is getting stale.
The soundtrack is based. Need I say more?
Alright I will. There is a song in this game to fit every single mood possible. The soundtrack is really the final straw that allows you to be fully immersed into this games world, and the music does it perfectly. Heck as I am writing this review I am listening to Reach Out to the Truth, Time to Make History and I’ll Face Myself. Each soundtrack managed to set the mood for everything, and I know I am repeating myself but it did, especially during one scene that had me bawling my eyes out for the second time in my long history of playing video games. I am not going to say anymore because it would just boil down to me gushing over how awesome each track is.
Overall Persona 4 Golden was an experience I am sure to remember for the rest of my life. I will probably replay this game a countless number of times in my effort to 100% this game, I didn’t even get that close to 100% in my first playthrough of about 80 hours. Ah well that is my excuse to keep playing this game. If you can’t tell already Persona 4 Golden has easily become one of my most favorite games of all time, and is probably my favorite RPG of all time. So the score I give it shouldn’t be surprising.
Final Score: 10/10