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Persona 4 Golden Review

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Another day, another RPG hits the Xbox, and this time it is big news, at least for us fans of a JRPG. Yes, Atlus’s acclaimed Persona series of games gets a new entry on the Xbox, and best of all it is available via Game Pass on release day.

Now, with Persona 5 Royal getting the big full house when I reviewed it in 2022, what can an earlier entry in the series do? And by earlier I mean a lot earlier, as the original Persona 4 saw the light of day on PlayStation 2 way back in 2008!

What we are playing in Persona 4 Golden is the version that was released for PS Vita back in 2012.

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Let’s have a look at the story first, because as I have said before, and doubtless will again, this is where an RPG lives or dies. And luckily, the narrative on display here shows that the game is in rude health. 

We play as a transfer student (again) coming to a rural school in Inaba as our parents are working overseas. We stay with our uncle and his daughter, and then obviously have to attend school. While we are in school, we hear about a thing called the Midnight Channel, an urban myth. See if you stand in front of a switched off television, at midnight, on a rainy night, the image of your soulmate is supposed to appear on the screen. And as luck would have it, it turns out to be true. 

However, there is a wrinkle – the stars of this Midnight Channel have a habit of turning up dead. We discover that we can enter the TV through a screen, and so the scene is set for a showdown, especially as the next victim of the Midnight is a classmate of ours. Can we enter the screen, save her, and the day? The story on display in Persona 4 Golden is, like the rest of the Persona games, very very good indeed.

But can an eleven year old game still cut the mustard in how it looks? Well, the short answer is yes, yes it can. The graphics are presented in two styles – cutscenes look like they have been lifted directly from an anime, whilst the rest of the game has cute versions of the protagonists in the real world, and proper versions of themselves in the world inside the TV, if that makes sense. While playing through Persona 4 Golden, I had a nagging feeling of deja vu, that I had seen this style of visuals before. And then it hit me – it put me in mind of Final Fantasy IX, where the characters are small and cute. The graphics work really well, although once the story gets a hold you’ll not need to question any look again. Granted, this doesn’t look as good as Persona 5 Royal, but design makes up for it.

Sound wise and I’d go as far to say that Persona 4 Golden gets even better. The music is fantastic throughout, whilst the voice over work is again top notch. The battle sounds, the way the monsters sound – the presentation of the game is all good. 

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In terms of the gameplay and it should come as no shock to learn that the pattern started in Persona 3 Portable and carried through to Persona 5 Royal is also on display here. The game is split into two halves again: the world of the everyday and the TV World. Let’s deal with the real world first…

The real world is where we spend a lot of our time, and as a high school student, we mostly rock up at school. This is fortunate in a way, as the Social Links that were a feature of the other games are also in effect here. By talking to various people and joining clubs or taking a part time job, we can meet like-minded folk with whom we can form a bond. Increasing the level of these bonds soon becomes an all-consuming addiction; as you read each possible answer you can give in order to try and match it with what the other person wants to hear. And no spoilers, but since P4G has been out for a while, there are certain websites that can help you out if you can’t make a choice…

As we go into the TV World and rescue people, they too can be recruited to our side after they awaken their own personas, and so there are even more people to keep up with. Not to mention finding time to study, go shopping and tend your garden! It’s a tough life being a student…

The other side of things follows the same template as previous, with a hub area when you enter the TV, meeting up with Teddie; a weird looking bear mascot type thing that appears to be empty inside. Teddie can smell when someone has been brought into the TV world and in a foreshadowing of Persona 5 Royal, the area that the victim is brought to is transformed into a reflection of their personality. For instance, the first person we rescue is in a castle, the second in a steamy bathhouse, and so on.The layout of the areas changes if we leave before finding our target, so that is something to bear in mind.

As we explore, we will meet shadows crawling along the floor. If you can manage to hit them from behind, we will get the advantage and act first, and the same goes for the shadows – if they hit us from behind, we are in a world of hurt. Entering into combat is familiar if you have played any of these games before, with a variety of actions open to our team. We can attack with our equipped weapon, we can use our personas to perform magical attacks, we can guard, we can use items and we can try to escape. If we are fighting an enemy we have fought before, we can choose to see an analysis of them, allowing the chance to strike their weakness. As usual, most foes have an elemental weakness, and hitting them with it will knock them down. If you manage to knock down all the enemies, you can perform an all-out attack and hopefully beat the stuffing out of them. 

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Finishing with an all-out attack leads to another evolution of the “Shuffle Time” mini game from Persona 3. This time, we can see the cards that we can choose from, some of which have different effects. We only have one pick as a default, and with a minimum of three cards, it is hard to pick them all up. Luckily, some cards that would otherwise be entirely negative, like half money, also give us more picks. Clearing all the cards gives a sweep bonus, including a guaranteed Shuffle Time in the next battle. Since these events give us not only new abilities but new Personas, this is very important.

Speaking of Personas, the other way to get new ones is to visit Igor in his Velvet Room, fusing the old ones together. Remember all the time we spent building those social links? This is where they pay off, as if we create a persona of the Arcana that we have a social link in, we will get bonuses to its birth; extra levels and even extra abilities added in.

All in all, Persona 4 Golden is an absolute triumph; very much golden. It isn’t quite as good as Persona 5 Royal, but the difference is like a hair’s breadth. There’s a great story, tons of content to get involved in and some superb combat and exploration opportunities. 

Persona 4 Golden is on the Xbox Store

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