Forget the big swords and spiky hair – Persona 4 Golden provides a thoroughly modern and refreshing take on Japanese RPGs. As a spate of murders rocks the rural town of Inaba, a group of teenagers find themselves supernaturally empowered to investigate the truth behind the crimes. That investigation takes you through a parallel world inside TV screens, battling monsters representing archetypes of Carl Jung’s psychological theories, filled with brilliantly weird visuals that are a far cry from the usual trappings of the genre.
The game is as much dating sim as it is RPG though, demanding you split time between daily activities in the real world and questing through the ‘Midnight Channel’ dimension. Doing so boosts your social links between teammates, in turn boosting the power of the Persona that can be summoned in battle. Although it helps give greater insight to character backgrounds, trying to balance both monster-fighting and inter-personal responsibilities can feel like more of a chore than it should.
Persona 4’s battle system goes for a ‘best of both worlds’ approach, as far as J-RPGs go. By default, you’ll control your blank-slate player insert character, selecting specific actions each round while teammates execute pre-assigned orders – similar to the likes of Kingdom Hearts. Where this approach keeps each encounter speedy, there’s also the option to control each party member each turn. Doing so makes it easier to build up to powerful team attacks or meet certain battle conditions, earning additional rewards. It’s a great compromise, affording probably the most freedom to players short of real-time combat.
With Persona 4 Golden being an update of a PS2 game, certain mechanics haven’t aged quite too well. Dungeons are often fairly linear experiences, traipsing through corridors that all lead back to a fixed point, and exploration in general is minimal, with only a few unconnected locations dotted around Inaba to visit at any time. You’ll be wading through a roughly four-hour set-up before you earn even that small freedom, too.
However, thanks to its beautiful aesthetic and thoroughly engaging story, the game remains a compelling experience. Anyone returning from the PS2 original will find new characters to meet and subplots that both extend and expand on the core story, while a treasure trove of bonus material – including music videos, art galleries and background on the Persona series as a whole – enhances the package for all.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen