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Persona 4

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Atlus
Release Date: Jan. 19, 2023


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PC Review - 'Persona 4: Golden'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 17, 2023 @ 9:00 a.m. PST

Larger, deeper, and loaded with thrills, Persona 4 delivers a story set in the Japanese countryside. A mysterious chain of deaths remains unanswered, and only you and your team of gifted supernatural sleuths can uncover the truth.

Technically, Persona 4: Golden has been out for the PC for some time now. Indeed, the current version, based on the console releases, isn't much of a change. It's largely a number of small bug fixes in addition to a quick save feature and an "Album" feature that allows you to replay cut scenes and try different responses to see different outcomes. If you already have Persona 4: Golden, don't worry about this being anything but a pure upgrade to your existing version. If you've already played it, you probably don't need to hop in again for a few new features, but newcomers will never find a better place to start.

Persona 4: Golden is set in the small town of Inaba. You play as an exchange student who is moving there for a year to live with his uncle and niece. Things get weird as soon as you arrive. Murders have begun, with dead bodies appearing in impossible places. You and your plucky band of Scooby Doo friends quickly discover that this has something to do with televisions. There's a fog-covered world inside televisions where people are sucked in, and if they aren't rescued by a certain date, they die violently at the hands of their own inner selves. Surviving that attack grants you a mysterious ability called Persona, which can be used to fight the Shadows. As any good group of plucky teens and their talking bear mascot would do, you set out to solve the mysteries of the Inaba murders and find out who is truly responsible.

Persona 4: Golden has what is probably the strongest story of the three "modern" Persona titles. It doesn't quite match the highest highs of Persona 5, but it also avoids some of that lowest lows. The cast is genuinely likable, and the sense of tension and fear that runs throughout the story keeps it feeling well-paced, even through the segments that feel like you're waiting around. The cast is strong and has a lot of time to shine, and even the later-joining characters feeling more involved. The game's biggest flaw is probably that it has a couple of plotlines that haven't aged super well, but nothing sours the game. The overall character writing is excellent and manages to make the bear mascot Teddie likable instead of insufferable.

Persona 4 is where Persona got a full grasp of modern gameplay. If you're coming from Persona 5 or Persona 3 Portable, it'll probably feel very familiar. The game takes place over roughly a year's time. Each day (except where the plot mandates otherwise), you're given a daytime and nighttime slot to use for whatever you like. This can involve hanging out with friends, going fishing, visiting other towns, reading books, or exploring the TV World dungeons. Every action has a benefit. Some raise your Social Stats, which you use to access other content. Some raise your Social Links, which offer passive benefits and increased EXP gain for certain Persona. Some give permanent or temporary boosts. A major part of the game involves balancing your time to do as much as possible in the given time frame.

Like the other games in the series, this is a huge part of what makes Persona fun. It takes parts of the gameplay that would normally be purely mechanical and ties them into player choice and storyline. It feels much better to make your characters stronger by watching their storylines progress rather than needing to grind mindlessly in a dungeon. It also helps keep the dungeon pace quicker, since it's almost always more effective to spend an extra day with a friendly social link than trying to grind up a Persona manually. It lends a nice mix between story and gameplay that no other games have managed to quite nail down.

Persona 4's dungeons are sort of a midpoint between Persona 3's Tartarus and Persona 5's full-on dungeons. As in Persona 3, you venture down multiple floors in a dungeon. Each dungeon has its own design and theme, with the floors being a mix of randomly generated and pre-generated floors. Again, your goal is to go as far as you can within the limits of your health and SP pools. You need to pay money to a social link to regain SP in a dungeon, but the cost begins fairly high, so you need to be careful if you don't want to waste an extra day in the dungeons. The overall design feels more fleshed out than Tartarus, and it helps prevent the easy burnout that could occur in the previous game. The dungeons feel a bit weak when compared to Persona 5, but thankfully, the actual gameplay does a good job of keeping you invested.

Persona 4: Golden uses effectively the same combat system as Persona 3 Portable. You have a team of four characters and battle enemies by exploiting their elemental weaknesses. Hitting an enemy's elemental weakness grants you a bonus turn. Knock down all enemies, and you can do an All-Out Attack, which does massive damage to all your foes. A number of the new combat features from Persona 4 were backported to Persona 3 Portable, so it might not seem as huge a difference if you're coming fresh from that instead of the original Persona 3 or its upgraded FES re-release.

Persona 4: Golden has a better overall sense of enemy design than Persona 3 did. Fights are often more engaging, and the balance is somewhat better. It's not a night-and-day difference thanks to Persona 3 Portable's changes, but it's clear the developers grew a lot more comfortable with the system between the two games. It also helps that Persona 4 was designed with the idea that you can control your own party from the get-go instead of it being added later on. Golden strikes a good balance between enemies being quick to defeat versus making you think of how many of your resources you want to invest in that.

Persona 4: Golden is a marked visual improvement over Persona 3 Portable, as you might expect for a game originally released for the Vita instead of the PSP. The character models are nowhere near Persona 5 but are nicely expressive and emotive; thankfully, everything is fully modeled instead of being constrained by the PSP. You're still looking at much shinier PS2-era graphics, but thankfully, the strong art design carries it a long way. It models a small-town atmosphere wonderfully and is a great example of how a little can go a long way. The voice acting is fantastic, and the music is phenomenal. I'm not sure if it's my favorite of the Persona soundtracks, but it's a strong contender with a lot of bangers.

Persona 4: Golden is probably the ideal place to start your Persona experience if you haven't yet. It's probably the most consistent of the three games, and it nails the atmosphere, characterization and tone while keeping the gameplay fresh and exciting enough. It fun even if you are coming directly from Persona 3 Portable. If you have the current PC release, not a ton has changed with the latest patch, and you might consider whether you want to start this all over again. If you're looking for an excuse to pick it up, there's no better time.

Score: 9.0/10

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