GBAtemp Recommends: Persona 4 Golden

Persona 4 Golden.jpg

The Persona series has been in a weird thematic holding pattern for the last few games. Since Katsura Hashino took over the series with Persona 3, the Social Link system (or Confidant system in Persona 5), has featured prominently in every mainline entry. This system allows players to choose from a pool of characters to spend time with and it forms the backbone of the social simulator side of the series. In order to justify the amount of time spent on these interactions, a core theme to each of Hashino’s games in the series has been the power of friendship, although each one approaches it slightly differently. Persona 3 is about a depressed and apathetic teenager, and how forming bonds with others gives meaning to his life. Persona 5 has an angrier, more rebellious feeling, starring an outcast who finds he can only fit in with other social pariah.

Persona 4, on the other hand, stands out with its more optimistic tone. It leaves its protagonist a blank slate, focusing on the power of bonds to help people become the best version of themselves and the damaging effects of isolation. Scored with an upbeat J-pop soundtrack, bathed in primary colours, and featuring a stronger focus on comedy than previous entries, it’d be easy to mistake for a vapid, friendship-is-magic story. In realty, it’s just as dark and complex as the rest of the series; the cheerier mood just reflects its belief in the endurance of the human spirit.

Persona 1.jpeg

You play as a young man who moves to the small town of Inaba just as it finds itself in the grips of a serial killer. You discover, when you accidentally push your hand through your TV, that another world exists on the other side and that the killer has been pushing people into it, leaving them to die, only for their bodies to wash up back in Inaba after a few days. Since only you and your friends can enter the TV world, and one of your classmates has been thrown in, you take it upon yourselves to save her and solve the murders.

It’s a little bit of a stock premise — take away the convoluted inter-dimensional aspects and it’s another “anime teenagers save the world” story — but where it sets itself apart is its dedication to character and how it uses fantasy elements to explore them in a unique way. When people are thrown into the TV, that world changes around them, and becomes a physical manifestation of their deepest secrets and desires. Since you’ll usually only have a passing familiarity with each victim, exploring these dungeons is an interesting way to contrast the real person with how they present themselves, and it lets the player learn about these people naturally through observing the dungeon design rather than through hamfisted exposition.

Persona 2.jpeg

Each dungeon is also captained by a Shadow, a representation of how the victim sees themselves, and they play an important role in exploring these characters. Typically, at the end of a dungeon, you’ll find the victim revolting against their Shadow, unable to accept that they represent a distasteful aspect of themselves. This causes the Shadow to erupt into a monstrous form, which acts as the final boss for the dungeon. Winning that fight isn’t what defeats the Shadow, however. Only after seeing the harm caused by their denial is the victim able to accept that part of themselves, at which point the Shadow becomes that person’s Persona, an extension of their ability to fight in the TV world and save others.

It may be a bit too saccharine for some, but it’s also completely sincere, refreshingly unafraid of displaying big emotions, and it’s a clever way to gamify an intensely personal moment. It blends the character work with the genre elements seamlessly, turning basic JRPG needs like exploration and boss fights into extensions of the character work. But it also doesn’t let the personal breakthroughs be reduced down to hitting a big monster with a sword by keeping a strong focus on the victim’s journey of self-acceptance. These stories are so engrossing, in fact, that you’ll often forget that helping people overcome their issues doesn’t really have anything to do with the central plot of finding Inaba’s serial killer.

Persona 3.jpeg

That plot is the biggest drawback of Persona 4’s writing. While it has a good payoff, it struggles to spread the information out over the mammoth running time (generally estimated to be around seventy hours), which leads to long stretches of nothing. The pacing in general is an issue. The opening drags on, taking a couple of hours before the player is allowed free rein to move and make any meaningful decisions on their own. The characters have a bad habit of talking in circles, to a degree that goes beyond showing their frustration with the case and simply becomes tedious. Jokes have a tendency to go on for one or two dialogue boxes after the punchline, draining most of the energy out of the gag and slowing the conversation.

Yet, the characters are so well-realized that it’s still fun to spend time with them, even if the content could be better. Cutting out the filler would certainly make things snappier, but listening to the Investigation Team playfully bicker does wonders for rounding out their relationships. Persona’s always excelled at its character stuff, but one of 4’s triumphs in particular is how rounded out the full group dynamic is. These meandering, talky scenes flesh out the dynamics of the cast and giving definition to one character often helps round out their friends as well.

Persona 4.jpeg

For example, let's look at Chie Satonaka and Yukiko Amagi, two best friends who become some of your earliest party members. Chie is a tomboy in every way, generally carrying an intimidating demeanour and being obsessed with martial arts. Yukiko is the exact opposite, a demure, feminine beauty who's training to overtake management of her family’s inn. Chie’s Shadow reveals her insecurity over her lack of femininity, and her feelings of superiority over Yukiko due to her greater independence. Yukiko’s Shadow feels trapped and helpless, constantly relying on the strength of others, primarily Chie, to help her through life. Chie wants Yukiko’s femininity, or at least the feelings of acceptance that accompany it, but with it out of her reach, settles for the satisfaction of having qualities Yukiko herself desires.

Crucially, while both women accept these feelings in themselves, they don’t let it invalidate their other feelings. Chie may get some satisfaction out of seeing that Yukiko’s femininity doesn’t solve all of her problems, but that doesn’t in and of itself make her a bad friend. She doesn’t revel in her friend’s problems, or prioritize that satisfaction over Yukiko’s happiness. Similarly, Yukiko may take more than she gives in her relationship with Chie, but that doesn’t discount her genuine affection towards her. Selfish feelings like that are an inevitable part of any relationship—it’s simply human nature. But the answer isn’t to pretend those feelings don’t exist, or to beat yourself up over it. The answer is to make sure you can still be there for them, that you add more to their life than you take away, and to accept that their shortcomings are only an aspect of them as well.

Persona 5.jpeg

Learning to accept yourself can be a bit of a cliché theme. It’s an idea that’s pounded into our heads from after-school specials, from platitudes about how everybody is unique and deserves acceptance. Persona 4 makes the idea sing not only by offering a greater deal of complexity to its issues, but by focusing on the uglier parts of ourselves that, maybe, we shouldn’t accept. That we shouldn’t like. But they’re undeniable, and pretending that you don’t have these flaws will only make them worse. Perhaps that’s why it carries such a happier tone despite carrying the same darkness as the rest of the series. Instead of focusing on the harm caused by people’s flaws, it focuses on our ability to incorporate those flaws into ourselves, the freedom that comes with accepting who you are, and the beauty of doing so without succumbing to your selfish side. How could that be sad?




I hope you enjoyed this edition of GBAtemp Recommends. If you'd like to see more, leave your feedback in the thread below or check out our previous articles.

 

smileyhead

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I literally bought a PSTV just for Persona 4 Golden, and I like the story, but I don't think JRPGs are for me.
Though, for anyone interested in the story, I'd recommend watching the anime. There's both a P4 and a P4G one; the former focuses more on the actual story, and the latter on the new social link girl that was introduced in P4G, I think.
 

Silent_Gunner

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Man, the thought of playing Persona again without the snappiness of selecting your options in Persona 5 is kind of hard to fathom, in addition to having dungeons with actual designs and gimmicks to them as opposed to hallway after hallway.

I've never personally played Golden myself, but isn't the Forest of Memories or whatever it's called this game's Tartarus-equivalent?
 
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Xzi

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Got a Vita real cheap a while back, still have yet to start playing P4G. Now that it's practically confirmed for a PC release I figure I might as well wait on that for the best experience. Hopefully it has some enhancements and isn't just a straight port with super low-res textures.
 

Justinde75

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Finally we can play P4G on a big screen (probably)
(And yes the PSTV, but who owns a PSTV)
Hope P3FES is next with party control!
 
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masagrator

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I literally bought a PSTV just for Persona 4 Golden, and I like the story, but I don't think JRPGs are for me.
Though, for anyone interested in the story, I'd recommend watching the anime. There's both a P4 and a P4G one; the former focuses more on the actual story, and the latter on the new social link girl that was introduced in P4G, I think.
OG anime is a piece of garbage. This is result of bad management, Staff shuffling, not paying on time...

https://myanimelist.net/news/11968555
 
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Silent_Gunner

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OG anime is a piece of garbage. This is result of bad management, Staff shuffling, not paying on time...

https://myanimelist.net/news/11968555

Video games should do video game things and anime should do anime things. After all, nowadays, you can Stand to watch the inspiration for the Persona series and go on a very Bizarre Adventure featuring gay Belmonts fighting against gay Dracula that took over your great-great-grandfather's body and is using it to kill your mom and inspire a Japanese highschool teenager's angst and anger towards his enemies!

;)
 
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Chary

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I love, love, LOVE Persona 4. I hold it so close to my heart, especially because it had such an impact on me as a teenager. I remember buying a Vita specifically to play it, just because I’d heard so many great things about it, and boy did it deliver. The characters, the music, the small town vibe, the colorful presentation, the murder mystery story—everything just hit all the right notes for me. This was the first game I Platinum’d, this game was the reason I started writing about games. I am so incredibly excited that I can re-play it soon, and that many others will get the chance to experience it for themselves, assuming we see the PC port reveal tomorrow.
 
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I always found it kind of hard to get into Persona 4, mostly due to the more comedic feel and the gosh darn PS2 Classic version always deleting the saves. The latter made it kind of hard for me to give it a fair shot though tbf, so maybe I can get back into it when the PC version comes out (if it's real)
 

Silent_Gunner

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I always found it kind of hard to get into Persona 4, mostly due to the more comedic feel and the gosh darn PS2 Classic version always deleting the saves. The latter made it kind of hard for me to give it a fair shot though tbf, so maybe I can get back into it when the PC version comes out (if it's real)

If you have to, just play the PS2 original on PCSX2. Yeah, it's not through "official" means, but we're on GBATemp, not Twitter and their sad clown political show.
 
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If you have to, just play the PS2 original on PCSX2. Yeah, it's not through "official" means, but we're on GBATemp, not Twitter and their sad clown political show.
I've actually got that all ready to go, but I'm sorta just waiting to see if this whole PC port thing is real :/ also the PS2 version has this really weird like ghosting or something? Doesn't make it unplayable but boy it sure is ugly
 
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Chary

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OG anime is a piece of garbage. This is result of bad management, Staff shuffling, not paying on time...

https://myanimelist.net/news/11968555
While there's some bad animation, and it's horrible they didn't pay on time, this anime has some hilarious moments. If you don't consider it to be a straight adaptation of the game, and moreso a complimentary piece, it's great.


 

Sansgaming420

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Persona 4 is the worst Persona game by far imo. The story barely feels like a murder mystery, it's mostly just filler with a true final boss that comes out of nowhere. Teddie is incredibly annoying and Red clothes girl is one of the least interesting characters ever written. And of course, the level design is just lazy, poorly done randomly generated hallways where you fight the same 10 blob shadow reskins over and over.
 

HRudyPlayZ

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I have been craving for ps vita for a long time, now I can ditch that thought as P4 golden is available on PC
I would still recommend you to still buy it ;)
It's a great handheld with an active hacking scene and there's a lot of great things you can do with it, like streaming your PC to make it portable :)

Keep in mind that the P4 Golden port for PC is still a rumor for now and to me it wouldn't seem that logical to port P4G instead of P5R first as it is the latest and most popular game...
 
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eriol33

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I literally bought a PSTV just for Persona 4 Golden, and I like the story, but I don't think JRPGs are for me.
Though, for anyone interested in the story, I'd recommend watching the anime. There's both a P4 and a P4G one; the former focuses more on the actual story, and the latter on the new social link girl that was introduced in P4G, I think.
I actually watched the anime because
I would still recommend you to still buy it ;)
It's a great handheld with an active hacking scene and there's a lot of great things you can do with it, like streaming your PC to make it portable :)

Keep in mind that the P4 Golden port for PC is still a rumor for now and to me it wouldn't seem that logical to port P4G instead of P5R first as it is the latest and most popular game...
I personally think it makes sense to port p4g first as they want to know whether persona has a market on PC or not.
 

masagrator

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I actually watched the anime because

I personally think it makes sense to port p4g first as they want to know whether persona has a market on PC or not.
Plus P4 and P3 are available only on dead platforms. P5 will be living many years thanks to PS5 backwards compability.
 
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