Persona 4 Golden PC Review
You Can See It on Your PC Screen
Originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2009, Persona 4 continued its predecessor’s move in establishing the Shin Megami Tensei spin-off series as very much its own thing. The series went to new strengths after Persona 3 Portable showed its appeal on handheld, and the improved Persona 4 Golden came along as one of the PlayStation Vita’s marquee titles. However, the Vita itself didn’t catch on as much as it deserved, and so many were yet to sample the superior version. Atlus has now opened its audience up massively with the release of Golden on PC, and though a few elements have dated in the intervening years, it remains an excellent title and the opportunity for more players to enjoy it is only a good thing.
Persona 4 takes players to the rural town of Inaba with the nameable protagonist spending the year living with his uncle, police detective Ryotaro Dojima, and cousin Nanako. Shortly after he enrolls at Yasogami High School, a pair of murders occur in the otherwise sleepy town, seemingly connected to a bizarre Midnight Channel that appears on TV during rainy nights. Players have already been clued into the existence of something deeper, however, thanks to a dream encounter with a certain long-nosed man and his assistant, who offer the protagonist some guidance into the unfolding mystery.
Said mystery leads the protagonist and some of his classmates to discovering the enigmatic Shadow World, which is accessible by literally entering a TV. The Shadow World is revealed as much more than just a dangerous place, with a strong connection to human desires. Realising that this might be what caused those deaths, the group looks to rescue others that get unwillingly tossed into the world after appearing on the Midnight Channel, while hoping to find clues about who put them there. The game’s story goes well beyond the overarching murder mystery, and it’s the game’s usage of the theme of truth to examine hidden desires and thoughts that makes it truly shine. Those scenes where characters come to terms with their own buried yearnings provide Persona 4 Golden with excellent moments packed full of emotion and satisfaction.
Though the narrative holds up superbly for the most part, a few elements feel a bit dated. The message that people should aim to fit into the status quo feels rather naive in the current year, and it’s disappointing that Yosuke fails to grow out of his juvenile homophobic jokes. But Persona 4 Golden does a magnificent job of making players understand both the appeal and drawbacks of life in Inaba, thanks to how easy it is to identify with all of the characters. The dialogue comes with both humour and relatable emotional struggles in abundance, and the game is a textbook showcase of why the series resonates with so many.
The audio offers great support to the narrative elements. With the PC port, western RPGamers now have access to the Japanese voices, but the English voice acting has strong performances throughout. There is a little bit of overacting at times, but it’s done in such a way that lends charm to those characters rather than being a distraction. Shoji Meguro’s score is one of his best. The soundtrack features more of a pop sound than other titles in the series, and it works well with the more vibrant colour scheme and themes of the game. Incredibly catchy tracks are all over the place, particularly in combat and dungeons, and stick in the memory long after one has stopped playing.
Players spend a large portion of the time in the day-to-day life of a student, following the school calendar and spending most of their afternoons or nights how they wish. Options include building up relationships with allies or residents of Inaba, or improving social stats by working or reading. The activities bring together the whole package, making the town feel alive and inhabited by great characters, while at the same time conveying active gameplay advantages when players go into the Shadow World and explore the dungeons within. The game’s cycle could’ve done with a touch more deviation as it begins to drag towards the end of the year, but at least the Social Links always remain strong, providing their own noteworthy stories as the characters involved come to terms with their lot and grow or make decisions to better their life. They fit hand-in-hand with the larger themes and grant their own share of heartwarming moments, and easily make up the most addictive part of the game.
Though not going the whole hog as Persona 3 Portable did in introducing a female main character, Golden includes plenty of additional content and features over the PS2 original. Among the most notable are two new Social Links, one for existing character Adachi and another for the new character Marie. Marie is a great addition to the game’s cast with her easily-flustered personality, and is used effectively at linking certain elements in the main story together. The new events in Golden, which are dispersed throughout the year, help give the game a much more satisfying and coherent proper ending, while other quality-of-life features, including new activities and an option to see how others spent their time on a given day, make the game a fully rounded experience. The PC version also appreciably unlocks the game’s adjustable difficulty elements from the outset rather than being gated behind the New Game+ mode.
Combat keeps things simple but highly effective. As with almost all of the other titles from the larger SMT series, it’s all about taking advantage of weaknesses, with Persona 4 having a single physical attack type, the four main elements of fire, ice, electricity, and wind, and finally the light and dark instant-kill attacks. Though there are numerous exceptions, enemies will usually have one or two weaknesses and it’s up to players to suss out and exploit them, while potentially trying to mitigate any weaknesses on their own side as well. If a combatant hits a weakness and knocks down an enemy, then they will get a free turn to follow it up. Should players manage to knock down all of their opponents, the entire party can rush in for a pile-on.
Like Persona 3 and 5, the main character has special access to multiple Personas, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and skills. Being able to switch between Personas during battle makes him easily the most useful member, and having a good spread will ensure regular fights rarely last more than a couple of turns. The game finds that sweet spot in the mixture of strategic engagement and keeping the flow going, which is a large part of what makes the dungeon-crawling sections as enjoyable as they are. Boss fights make for much longer and appropriately grand battles with an appreciable step up in power, though they would benefit from having more varied tactics.
New Personas can be obtained via a post-battle mini-game that offers players an interesting choice of possible benefits and adds a nice touch to the strategy of a dungeon run. The most powerful ones, however, are gained by fusing ones currently held at the Velvet Room. There’s a great sense of reward when fusing together a new powerful Persona, especially as favourite or powerful skills can be carried over to the new creation. The fusion system deftly integrates the narrative and gameplay elements, with each newly-fused Persona gaining an immediate boost based on how strong its corresponding Social Link is.
Persona 4 Golden upscales from the PlayStation Vita to the PC surprisingly well, though it never tries to do too much visually. There are some clear artifacts, such as certain lower-resolution textures and immobile faces on the character models. Inaba certainly looks the part and while the TV-themed UI doesn’t have the same incredible level of integration as Persona 5′s, it nonetheless is effective and makes the game a much brighter visual experience. Dungeons have good, themed designs, but the generated floors mean that players are just running through similar-looking corridors. The PC port largely performs very well, but during the playthrough there were the occasional, if very brief, frame rate drops along with some freezes on the loading screen that warrant saving more frequently than one otherwise might.
Persona 4 Golden was largely considered one of the PlayStation Vita’s must-play titles and for good reason. Inaba’s small-town feel, the fantastic cast, incredibly personable dialogue, excellent audio, and strong gameplay combine to make the game a superb all-around experience. Though there are no distinct advantages of playing this version over the Vita one, its release on PC should be rightfully celebrated for giving a whole new set of RPGamers the chance to play a game that resonates just as strongly now as it first did.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Great cast and setting
A few societal elements feel dated
Can drag on towards the end