By Josh Speer / June 13th, 2020
|Title||Persona 4 Golden|
|Release Date||June 13th, 2020|
A few years back, when I was convinced to buy a Vita, there was one game everybody said I had to own. Despite chafing at being told what to play on my consoles, I eventually took the advice to heart. That game was none other than Persona 4 Golden, and it astounded me. Prior to playing it, I hadn’t been patient enough to play through Persona or SMT games, and got especially frustrated with the difficulty of Persona 3. But after P4G, I learned what to expect from the series, and with that knowledge came a greater appreciation for these games. The grind was just part of the experience, and it complemented a wonderful and twisty story. So when I discovered that Persona 4 Golden was coming to Steam, I jumped at the chance to cover it for oprainfall.
After I started playing Persona 4 Golden on Steam, the weather fittingly took a turn for the worse, and it began raining hard for several days. There were intermittent breaks of sun, but the wet weather kept coming back. Which is my way of saying there’s a chance you’ll see my bearded face on the Midnight Channel not long after you finish reading this review. In the meantime, let me tell you what to expect from the game. After all, even many years later, I acknowledge not everyone is intimately familiar with the adventure. And since I’ve already beaten the game a couple times on my Vita, this review will mostly be focusing on the differences between the versions, as well as giving a synopsis of the plot and characters.
The story takes place in the rural town of Inaba. You’re the unnamed hero, a young man with strikingly gray hair moving in with your uncle and his daughter. While the purpose of your visit is primarily to attend Yasogami High, things quickly take a turn for the strange. Bodies start piling up, and suddenly Inaba is known more for murder than the local Junes store. And since this is a Persona game, you quickly discover you have a special knack for summoning your inner self to battle monsters as well as jumping inside a hidden world within TV screens. Thus starts Persona 4 Golden, and I promise you it’s a wild ride with many delightful twists and turns. While I won’t spoil any of them, I will focus next on a key component of any Persona game – the characters.
The fabric of the game universe is woven tightly by the bonds established between this eclectic cast of characters. And while you could certainly make the same claim for any title in the beloved Atlus series, I have a special fondness for this cast of characters. Even years later, they still make me laugh, groan and cry at their antics. Whether it’s the spunky carnivore and lover of Kung Fu Chie, or the fiery diva with an odd sense of humor Yukiko, or even the awkward goofball Yosuke, it’s a really fantastic group. There’s more main characters than those I just mentioned, but I probably should let you discover the rest. I will say, they’re all well developed and quite distinct. One of my favorites is a certain bad ass who wields desks and chairs as weapons and is much more nuanced than you’d imagine, but there’s no duds here. Even the NPCs you encounter wandering the streets of Inaba add something to the mix. And the side characters bring a lot to the table, such as your adorable cousin Nanako or your gruff uncle Dojima. Your connection to the cast is important, since the bonds you cultivate between your hero and others not only expands your understanding of them, but it empowers you via Social Links.
I’m not sure if the folks at Atlus are fans of Freud, but the Persona games definitely focus on concepts of identity. This game in particular also confronts many gender issues, but in such a way that it’s up to the player how much attention they devote to that. As the game progresses, your characters confront those sides of themselves they repress, and only by accepting them, ugly bits and all, can they truly grow. In the process, your team slowly earns their own Personas, one for every main character. The only exception is your hero, who can utilize any Persona at your disposal, those encountered while dungeon crawling or fused in the Velvet Room. Another way the game addresses these concepts is via the Social Link system. As you spend time with others, you learn their hopes, dreams and fears. As those friendships grow, your rank in their corresponding Arcana increases, based around Tarot cards. For your teammates, that lets them learn new abilities and grow stronger. An example is acquiring follow up or team attacks, surviving critical damage once per battle, or even helping downed allies recover. For side characters, you’ll just gain bonuses when you fuse Personas of their Arcana, such as Hierophant, Empress or Star. Depending on their rank, you’ll garner more or less of added benefits. It’s complex, but also very well streamlined. Every Persona in the game belongs to a particular Arcana, so you actually have a lot of control over your team’s growth.
Besides the bonds you forge, you can also improve your hero’s attributes such as Courage or Understanding. Your level of growth will determine certain choices you can make during dialogue, such as courageously telling that special someone you’re attracted to them, or explaining death to a child with compassion. Attributes are improved through a variety of methods, such as reading books, doing well in class, attending clubs and even taking on part time jobs. The longer you play, the more options open up, and it all makes for a very dynamic and addictive loop. Your time is pretty much yours to use as you see fit, though you’d do well to spend it constructively. Keep in mind that once you encounter the next major story arc, it’s best not to wait too long. Because if you don’t save victims of the mysterious culprit fast enough, it’s game over. But that’s only if you’re really dillydallying. Just remember, if you get a forecast of rainy weather for several days, you’d better be ready to save the day. As a result, I often would go dungeon crawling on sunny days just to get my feet wet and level up my characters a bit.
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