When Joker joined the fight in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Persona coming to the Nintendo Switch became inevitable. When Persona 4 Golden broke the mold and got ported to Steam, the series’ multi-platform contract got sealed. At long last, the fabled Persona Switch ports were finally announced afterward, with Persona 4 Golden among them.
Compared to the other games, this one is a bit of an odd one out. Persona 5 Royal is only three years old, and Persona 3 is getting a modern remake next year. Persona 1 and 2 however, are still stuck in purgatory. P4G sits somewhere in between. It’s still a PlayStation Vita game, just made more readily accessible. Even when playing on modern hardware, its age still shows, so a modern remake might be beneficial. But honestly, does this game even need a new coat of paint, or does it still hold up to this day? Let’s reach toward the truth and find out.
You play as the protagonist, who moves to the small, quiet town of Inaba to spend a year with his uncle and cousin. That peace is almost immediately disrupted by a dead body hanging from a telephone pole, with a second one soon following. In the meantime, you hear about a strange rumor regarding a Midnight Channel, a strange TV program that only shows at midnight on a rainy night. You and your new friends quickly realize that the two events are connected, as whoever shows up on the Midnight Channel will be the next murder victim. Luckily, you discover your ability to enter a strange world inside the TV. Together with your friends and Persona, you set out to save the murder victims and discover the truth behind it all.
As you’d expect from a Persona game, the story is stellar. This is a tale of heart and deception, filled with many twists and turns. Make sure to get the tissues ready for November and December in particular. However, it obviously isn’t perfect. While the story’s opening is engaging, it contains little to no gameplay. Additionally, there are many red herrings and “final” bosses that are far from final. A final negative point is not really the game’s fault, but the identity of the true culprit is probably one of the worst-kept secrets in gaming. If you are somehow unspoiled, I recommend avoiding all online Persona related discussion until you’re done. But don’t let that stop you from experiencing one of the best stories in gaming.
Of course, a character-based story relies on strong characters, and luckily, Persona 4’s cast is absolutely stellar. In particular, the character dynamics in their hangout events are fantastic. I have never seen a cast as tight-knit as the Investigation Team (they’re all stupid, and I love them). The only main characters I have a problem with are Yosuke and Teddie, who really need to learn how to control their hormones. Many awkward scenes would have been avoided if these two weren’t so “lustful.” Still, it doesn’t make them bad characters; they’re still great overall. I absolutely fell in love with this cast, luckily they’re in so many spin-offs, huh?
Normally this would be just a footnote, but Persona 4 Golden made one big slip-up in regard to how it handles its endings. Getting to the normal ending without getting locked into a bad ending is tricky, and getting the True Ending is even worse. In order to get it, you need to choose the right dialogue option when presented with an ordinary-seeming prompt. If you do miss your chance? You don’t just miss out on an extra scene, you miss out on an entire dungeon, including the true final boss. If you also want to unlock the new Golden ending, it additionally requires you to max out Marie’s Social Link, which isn’t too difficult.
If you want to get the true experience on your first playthrough, I HIGHLY recommend looking up a guide for the capital-T true ending in December and March. Many of them are spoiler-free too. Still, the sheer difficulty to get the true ending when going in blind is just ridiculous.
Persona 4 expanded on the new dual gameplay style introduced in Persona 3: half RPG, half social simulator. By establishing strong bonds with friends, you can enhance your combat experience and save the world.
Many players, including myself, were introduced to the series through Persona 5, which added tons of quality-of-life changes to the series. However, this means that some people may be intimidated by the game’s “age.” But can we blame the 2012 game for not having additions the 2020 game introduced? That wouldn’t be fair now, would it? As such, I’ll limit my critiques to points that genuinely hurt the experience for me and not take away points because “the new game did it better.”
If school’s over, you can enter the TV at June’s to journey the shadow world. You can revisit earlier dungeons, so if you want to grind, you don’t need to wait for a missing person to go into a dungeon. When you are walking around in a dungeon, you can try to strike a Shadow in the back to get an advantage in battle. Just be careful to not get attacked first yourself, as it’ll leave you with a disadvantage.
During battles, you’ll harness the power of your Persona to defeat enemies hindering your journey to the truth. By using the right elemental magic, you can exploit an enemy’s weakness to knock them down, earning you an extra turn. If all enemies are knocked down, you can use a powerful All-Out Attack. Each character (that isn’t the protagonist) has their own element and specialties. If you want to switch up your team however, tough luck. Your party members who aren’t in your team don’t level up. As such, you’re basically locked in your team composition for the rest of the game, or else you’ll need to grind first to have them catch up. Grinding is actually not really necessary in regular gameplay, as you can find rare hand-type enemies in dungeons that reward mountains of cash and EXP.
Shuffle Time and Velvet Room
As the protagonist, you can wield the power of multiple Personas at once. These, along with various other rewards, are obtained through Shuffle Time, which can trigger after a successful battle. This is a card-based minigame, allowing you to draw one card from a limited selection. However, certain cards give you extra draws, allowing for extra rewards. If you draw all the cards, you trigger a SWEEP BONUS. This guarantees a Shuffle Time at the end of the next battle, as well as starting you off with three draws instead of one. This results in a satisfying chain of draws with plenty rewards, as long as you pick your cards wisely.
If you want to make your Persona stronger, visit the Velvet Room to fuse them. Fusing allows you to create a new, stronger one, as it inherits some of the original Persona’s moves. Additionally, they get extra EXP depending on what level their associated Arcana is, but we’ll get to that shortly. These features suffice for a regular playthrough, but if you want to create the perfect Persona, you’ll need an online fusion guide and a lot of menu navigating. One annoyance anyone might come across is the possibility of a fusion accident. Whenever you fuse, you might get a different Persona than you were supposed to. The chance is low, but you’re statistically guaranteed to come across it at least once. I could see how it might help a bit (by giving you a stronger Persona), but it was mostly just annoying for me.
Dungeons & Explorations
Every story arc has you traversing a dungeon whose theme corresponds to the abductee’s inner struggles. Each floor’s layout (with some exceptions) is randomized, and contains between 8-11 floor each. At the top of each dungeon, a boss awaits you. The random floors make for serviceable but not incredibly exciting exploration. It doesn’t feel great, but it doesn’t feel bad either. Some areas do introduce some unique mechanics, but they feel more like gimmicks than features. There is an exception in one particular dungeon, however. Its mechanic shakes up your entire gameplay loop, and feels quite divisive. You either love it or you hate it.
The biggest problem with dungeons is how some are unlocked. In order for Teddie and/or Rise to locate a victim’s dungeon, you might need to gather some information about their struggles.
If you want to abuse the power of friendship, you need to make some friends first. Many colorful characters call the small town of Inaba home, each with their own struggles.
During your free time, you can spend time with whoever’s available. Each Social Link is only available on specific days, which limits what you can do each day. In the evening, there are only a few Links available, but you can hang out with other Social Links to increase your bonds, to ease progress during the day. However, there’s basically nothing to do when it rains. Almost all Social Links are unavailable, and your side activities are limited. Additionally, you’re locked out of any social activities during story moments, which may feel arbitrary in some situations.
Persona is a series full of style, and Persona 4 Golden is no exception. The TV motive is consistent throughout the game’s UI, making for a visual delight from start to end. The visuals look clean overall, though the character models look a bit weird. The music is also obviously spectacular, with many tracks that’ll stick in your head. Though for some, it’ll be due to the track playing so much over the course of your journey. Luckily, the only one I actually got bored with is Yukiko’s Castle’s theme, which obviously doesn’t play again after that arc. The all-star cast of voice actors also kills it throughout. They excellently express both the moments of joy and sorrow your team experiences. Lastly, the game runs perfectly on the Switch, as you’d expect from a game originally released on the Playstation Vita.
Could Persona 4 use a remake? Sure! There are plenty of little issues that will plague you. The limited Velvet Room options, the slow beginning and especially the vague requirements to get the true ending are certainly annoying. It could obviously also benefit from some of the modern improvements from later games. But does Persona 4 NEED a remake? Not at all! The truth is that this is still an excellent JRPG that hasn’t aged as badly as you might expect. This epic coming-of-age tale is sure to grab you to join the journey through the fog alongside one of the best cast of characters in gaming. Persona 4 Golden is a golden experience that any RPG fan should give a shot.
Persona 4 Golden gets a 9/10.