The Persona series is one of my all time favourite gaming franchises. The stories are mature yet filled with rewarding lighthearted moments, the characters are deep and diverse and they offer worlds you’ll get lost in for many, many hours. My love for the series actually began when I originally played Persona 4 and it’s had me hyped for every new Persona property that came after it and also had me retroactively go back and play most of the series that came before it. Now the enhanced Golden version of Persona 4 is coming to a bunch of new platforms and it’s never been more accessible if you’re wanting to check it out for the first time or even if you’ve played it previously and have a spare 80 hours to tackle it again, you know you want to.
Persona 4 Golden begins with your protagonist moving to the rural town of Inaba to live with his uncle and younger cousins for one full year as his parents are going to be travelling for a long period for work. You begin attending a local school and before long actually form relationships with a colourful cast of friends. Not long after your arrival, a mysterious murder happens which quickly becomes the talk of the town, as it’s not every day that a well know news presenter is found hanging atop a building antenna.
Following this, the group of friends at school begin discussing a local rumour about the ‘Midnight Channel’. A strange urban legend that says if you look into a television screen right at midnight on a rainy night you’ll be able to see your soulmate. But upon testing the rumour, you find yourself able to enter a strange new world within the TV where creatures known as shadows take the form of people’s true feelings and fuelled by fears and doubt to manifest in monstrous versions of their host. The core cast discover they have the ability to summon their own creatures that are capable of opposing these threats that they call Personas and use them to uncover the mysteries behind the numerous murders plaguing the town, find out what’s really happening within the TV world and how it ties into the Midnight Channel.
The game’s plot takes place over one full year where outside of attending school, you’ll spend your free time building your social links with your other party members, which directly buff your personal and Persona abilities, traverse the inside of the TV world and it’s dungeons to defeat shadows and level up your Personas to ultimately try and find the culprit of the murders plaguing Inaba. Much like in it’s predecessor Persona 3, you’ll have the ability on most days to control how you’d like to spend the day, activities you’d like to partake in and which of the other party members you’d like to spend individual time with developing your social links further. And just like in P3, managing how you spend your days becomes crucial in planning for the nights where you’re going to be tackling the floors of the TV world. Those bonds you form directly play into Persona strengths and skill buffs for your character. So spend the days completing the activities and hanging out with the people you like, but it’s great to have an overall plan for your personal growth strategy too.
Persona 4 Golden is an enhanced release of Persona 4 that originally launched for the PS Vita here back in 2013 and was later ported to PC in 2020. On top of the core game, Golden features additional new characters to build social links with, new dungeons to clear, additional new events that occur throughout the year, including the new Halloween and ski trip segments, a new ending, as well as many other smaller quality of life improvements.
The combat side of Persona 4 takes place within the dimension within the TV. Persona 4 implements a turn based system where you control each of your party members one by one each round, selecting one of a number of performable actions such as performing a simple attack, utilising a skill attack from a Persona, guarding or using and item etc. Understanding the enemy you’re going up against is crucial as you’re able to harness individual character and Persona strengths against an enemy’s weakness to quickly gain the upper hand in battle. The layout of the dungeons within the TV dimension are randomised and battles are initiated by encountering the sprite of a Shadow while adventuring through the floors of the dungeon. It’s best to keep an eye out when entering new rooms as missing an enemy can result in them getting an advantageous strike against you when the battle commences, but if you catch them by surprise and strike them to initiate battle the advantage will be granted to your team. The combat system is something you’ll get very familiar with over the course of Persona 4’s long main story as it’s what you’ll be facing not only to progress the story but also to level up your characters, their Persona’s and their learned skills.
The thing that makes Persona one of my favourite franchises of all time are it’s incredibly deep writing and it’s characters. And Persona 4 features some of the best there is in the series. By the end of the game you’ll know so much about each and every one of them that they feel like real life friends and you’ll do whatever is needed to help them out or spend more time with them. It’s helped so much that the game is almost fully voiced and the performances of each are fantastic and feature some of the best voice acting talent still working in the business today. And this release also offers the option of either the Japanese or English voices so feel free to pick your preference.
This 2023 re-release is launching the same time as the new remaster of Persona 3 Portable and features many of the same quality of life improvements found within that game too. As discussed in that review, it’s coming to a bunch of new platforms for the first time, including the PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S and the Nintendo Switch. This release also features high resolution visuals all-round which really pop on the screen, smoother controls, the ability to access all available difficulty modes right from the start of the game, including the most difficult options as well as the beginner and very easy modes, which is great for those that may be far more interested in just experiencing the story of P4 without having to struggle with combat. One of the biggest improvements thrown in is the ability to quick save directly from the game’s menu screen. This allows you to create a save slot that allows you to quick load from that point when reloading the game and comes in real handy in sections where you may not be close to one of the fixed save points. This comes in handy a lot while grinding through the floors of the dungeons in the TV world.
On top of those new features, P4 Golden’s latest release also includes an Album mode that can be accessed from the menu in your room. This mode allows you to look back on the previous scenes you’ve witnessed so far and see them again and also allows you the option of selecting different options than what may have been used when you initially played to be able to see the varying outcomes of that scene. It’s a handy feature that can further show you the various ways in which the game can be experienced. But if it’s your first time playing I’d recommend sticking with the choices you naturally came to when playing, see the game through and if you’re really keen on seeing how different things can play out, start a fresh playthrough and perhaps utilise the very easy mode.
As I also touched on in my review of Persona 3 Portable, I can’t talk about a Persona game and not praise the soundtrack. Persona 4’s sound is a crazy blend between pop, hip hop and rock and comes together to create another banging soundtrack that will stick with you for a very long time. Shoji Meguro is a master at what he does and many of his tracks are staples in my music playlists. The track Time To Make History never fails to excite whenever it comes on and the soundtracks are almost just as exciting and emotional as the characters within the games themselves.
Along with playing the game on console, I was also able to check out Persona 4 Golden on the Nintendo Switch. I know a huge number of the Persona fanbase are going to want to pick the game up there as it offers the perfect blend of being an at home and portable experience. Persona 4 Golden originally launched on the PS Vita and its been long proven to be a perfect on-the-go experience. The game has come over to the Switch really well. It’s a great place to play it if you choose to pick it up there. The game runs great performance wise and looks really great, especially when playing in handheld mode. It clearly doesn’t have the 4K output capabilities features with the Series X version, but if you’re fine with it not being the highest resolution you can experience the game in, the Nintendo Switch version offers a great way to experience Persona 4 Golden that offers the best of both worlds whether you want to relax at home or play on the move.
Persona 4 Golden continues to be one of the greatest and well loved JRPGs almost 15 years since it’s original release and is now available on more platforms than ever. The Golden version of the game is by far the definitive version to play and you’ll have plenty of hours ahead of you to get lost in with an incredible cast of characters as you try to get to the bottom of an engaging murder mystery. The Persona series is consistently good, they’ve nailed what makes JRPG games so fun to play, and if you only have the ability to play one of the newly released 2023 remasters coming out this week, Persona 4 Golden is my recommendation for which one to pick up.
Review codes provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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