Thou Art I… And I Am Thou
Although I have been a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series for some time, it was only last year that I got into the Persona series. Persona 5 Royal served as my introduction, and I became an instant fan. Therefore, it is not surprising that a remastered version of Persona 4 Golden would catch my attention.
Going into Persona 4 Golden, I knew not to expect something on par with Persona 5. This was easy, given that much of what defined the latter was already fleshed out in this entry. As a result, Persona 4 Golden offers an interesting perspective on how the series evolved to become one of the defining JRPGs of recent years. It’s akin to observing an artist’s work that serves as a bridge between their early work and their magnum opus.
Welcome to Inaba
Set in the city of Inaba, the story follows the protagonist, who moves to the area to live with his uncle. However, all is not well in Inaba, as a sex scandal and a series of murders have shocked the community. The protagonist and a few classmates stumble upon the truth while testing a local urban legend. They gain the ability to travel to the Midnight Channel, where they learn that the killer has been tossing their victims into this alternate world. With the guidance of Teddie, a resident of the Midnight Channel, they set out to stop the murderer.
From a narrative perspective, Persona 4 Golden strikes an ideal balance between telling a compelling and enjoyable story. It manages to be both lighthearted and dark simultaneously. I have to admire how radically different the story is – both compared to other entries in the series and to other Shin Megami Tensei games. You are not tasked with undoing, surviving, or preventing an apocalypse or other world-altering catastrophe. Instead, the game is grounded in reality but still incorporates supernatural elements.
Like most Shin Megami Tensei games, you don’t need to have played the previous games to understand what is going on. The same goes with titles in the Persona series (but you should have because they are fun). The only story elements it shares with past titles are the Persona’s along with Igor and the Velvet Room. Nevertheless, players who have experienced Persona 5 will appreciate the series’ evolution.
A 2000s Time Capsule
As someone whose teenage years were defined by the 2000s, I can’t ignore how Persona 4 Golden feels like a cultural time capsule of this era. From the music genre to the clothing style and technology featured, it all takes me back. Also, I can’t overlook how the Dark Channel has a CRT TV filter. The game was a product of its time, but it also elegantly captured the moment with its world-building that it realistically portrayed what life was like for a high schooler in the 2000s.
Yes, I was jamming to skate punk music and wearing anything I could pick up at Zumies or Pac-Sun. When playing the original game on PlayStation 2, it may not have seemed like a big deal, but playing the remastered version is a shot of nostalgia straight to the heart. The game’s attention to detail and cultural references make the world emotionally relatable on so many levels.
Making a Contract
Persona has always offered a unique experience compared to other JRPGs, and Golden is no exception. Players will encounter more dialogue and narrative choices than in other games, and at times it can feel like a visual novel. However, the balance between these elements is well-managed.
If you’ve played a Shin Megami Tensei game before, the gameplay will feel familiar. Players form a pack with a Persona, whose power can be used in combat. By fusing two Personas together, players can create a more powerful one. Combat follows the standard turn-based system, and exploiting an enemy’s weakness can unleash an all-out attack. While it may seem overwhelming at first, it’s easy to follow.
The game’s world is divided into two types: the real world and the Midnight Channel. Half of the journey takes place in the real world, where players can build up their character and prepare for what’s to come. The other half is set in the Midnight Channel, a surreal and twisted parallel world accessible through televisions during certain weather conditions. Time is of the essence, and players must make the most of every moment.
Finally, the game’s brilliant use of colors and music cannot be ignored. These elements successfully set the desired mood, whether it’s dread, tranquility, or determination. The game knows exactly how to make the player feel in the moment.
The Fog Approaches
Being a remastered PlayStation 2 game, Persona 4 Golden is not without its fair share of issues. As a game originally released in 2008, it has certain elements that may feel dated compared to newer games. While remasters can polish or improve most gameplay mechanics, some elements remain unchanged. This is particularly noticeable if you were introduced to the series through Persona 5.
To its credit, the original is one of those PlayStation 2 masterpieces that has stood the test of time. While there are issues given its age, they are very trivial compared to the overall experience.
Show Me Your True Form
Persona 4 Golden is akin to observing an artist’s work that serves as a bridge between their early work and their magnum opus. It was a stepping stone between the earlier games and what would become Persona 5. At the same time, it’s a time capsule that perfectly captures the culture and lifestyle of the 2000’s.
Disclaimer: FortySeven Communications provided the game used for this review.
This review is the critique and thoughts of one writer. If you want to see how other critics felt then check it out on OpenCritic.
8Bit/Digi is an independent media outlet that provides an insight into the gamer community of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Persona 4 Golden (PC)
- An ideal balance between the main story, character development, and side quests.
- It's a time capsule of life and culture in the 2000's.
- Easy to learn combat and gameplay mechanics.
- Its visually colorful world is complemented by a killer soundtrack.
- Some of its gameplay aspects have not aged well.