Persona 4 Golden (P4G, from now on) is so damn good I’d say you should track down a PS Vita just to play it.
P4G is a remastered version of a Playstation 2 game, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. Since there were over a thousand games on PS2, it’s reasonable that I’d never played it back then- but shockingly I’d never even heard of it until recently.
I somehow have a Vita, and I don’t really use it much since there’s not many games really exclusive to it. But a few months ago I was doing some research- looking into what the ‘must-play’ games on the platform are. Persona 4 Golden was on every single list I came across- and after playing it I absolutely see why.
I did hold off from it at first though. The whole anime thing was kind of a turn off for me. I never really got into any non-licensed anime shows, they always seemed too cheesy and melodramatic for me. Anyways I eventually caved due to boredom and a PS Store gift card, so I took the plunge for $20.
P4G is probably my favorite game of all time now. It’s passed the likes of Final Fantasy VII, FTL, and The Last of Us. Shit, man. It’s really freaking good. So I’m gonna talk about it for a while. Maybe for all three of you out there that also have a Vita this will compel you to download it off the PS Store. Or maybe it’ll get you interested in the upcoming Persona 5 for Playstation 4. Who knows. And as usual, who caaaaaaaares?
P4G is a JRPG with turn-based combat and open-ended dialogue systems. You play as a teenager (canonically named Yu, I think, though you name him yourself) who moves to a rural town in Japan called Inaba. Shortly after your arrival, a string of seemingly unrelated murders occur- and you take it upon yourself to solve the mystery.
How do you do this, you ask? By jumping into TVs, of course. Yeah, I know. This game is weird, and I love it’s weirdness. Anyways- without diving into spoilers, Yu has the ability to jump into the ‘TV world’ where he and his friends can explore dungeons, fight monsters, and prevent further murders.
But teenagers can’t fight monsters on their own- so they summon these creatures called Personas, who are supernatural entities called upon to deal with problems you can’t deal with on your own. It’s all kind of silly and weird. But it’s cool, man. C’mon.
Anywaayyyys in addition to the TV world stuff you also have to go to school, make friends, work, and piece together the mystery of the murders in the real world. It’s a really cool role-play- because you’re just this average kid in school and you get to do normal things like get soda with your friends after school or go to soccer practice. But you also get to save the town from this seriously dark threat.
Wow. It’s hard to unpack this game. There’s so much to it. It’s so dense, as some would say. I’ll take the rest of this post to dive into the major aspects that really stand out to me.
Calendar and Day/Night Cycles
Something interesting about P4G is it’s time systems. When you start the game you’re prompted with a statement, something along the lines of “you have a year to figure this out.” Then the game begins. It’s all very cryptic.
Anyways, you play through each day of your character’s life for an entire year, and each day is split up into components- morning, afternoon, and evening (though sometimes there’s extra components, if for instance, something happens at lunchtime). At any time you have the choice to engage in one activity, just one. After you choose that activity, time progresses.
So mechanically the game forces this sense of overwhelming pressure on you. You have so much to do in so little time. Were you planning on jumping into the TV world to save somebody from being murdered today? Well that’s too bad, because you’ve got midterms coming up and you’d be well served to prepare for them. Also, your friends in the band club miss you and you feel bad for neglecting them. But you need time for yourself too, right? Can’t you just go fishing one day, or maybe go watch movie with your girlfriend? But crap- it’s Halloween and you promised your other friend you’d give him a hand at work. Are you going to bail on him?
Well you get to make these choices. And there’s so many different choices to make that after 110 hours of gameplay, I haven’t even resolved most of the character storylines.
There’s also a weather mechanic that ties into the time system. With every calendar source you get a one-week weather forecast. And that’s useful, because any time heavy fog sets in (which is after several days of rainfall,) somebody is murdered. So you might be thinking- well you can just jump into the TV world on the last day of forecasted rain to prevent the murder.
You can’t, and you shouldn’t, actually. Forecasts change over time, and to this day I haven’t been able to prevent a murder in one trip to the TV world (excluding New Game + runs). It’s a daunting task, and the game normally reminds you that you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew in one day. It’s cool and stressful, having this looming, variable threat constantly ahead of you.
Stylish and Fast Combat
The combat in P4G is kind of streamlined- but that doesn’t mean it isn’t deep. It’s streamlined in the ways you want it to be streamlined. After all, this is a turn-based JRPG- so you’ll be happy to note that not a single attack animation takes over 2-3 seconds.
That’s pretty significant. Add in the fact that combat looks, feels, and sounds cool- and you’ll actually be looking forward to enemy encounters rather than dreading them.
Your combat and party statistics are governed by two main things- your equipment and your chosen Persona. While you do gain experience points to level up, all you ever really gain is HP and SP (which are the points required to cast Persona abilities.) Equipment handles the entirety of your attack and defense stats, and the Persona you have active determines things like elemental weaknesses/strengths and has a kind of multiplier effect on the rest of your stats.
This is good, because you don’t have to have cluttered combat menus that get in the way of killing evil things. But once again, don’t mistake this for an over-simplified system. You have to identify enemy weaknesses, exploit status changes, shift attacking styles, and coordinate ‘all out attacks’.
There’s much more to it all, but that’s stuff you should have fun figuring out yourself if you ever decide to pick up the game. Anyways, I said the combat was stylish, and I’m lazy- so go google some pictures of P4G combat.
A huge part about P4G is managing your relationships with the people around you.
Most of the characters you meet join your party and help you solve the murder mystery, so you’ll always be in quick contact with them. And you’ll like that, because the characters you’ll spend time with are actually pretty compelling, and getting closer to them helps you solve the mystery easier.
With each character you can have a relationship with, you’ll develop something called a Social-Link. Each Social-Link is representative of a different suit of Tarot card that is linked to different kinds of Personas. So what does that mean?
Well pretty much- developing social links with characters helps you create more powerful Personas. So for example, if you ‘max-out’- the ‘Fool’ arcana Social-Link, you’ll be able to create incredibly powerful ‘Fool’ Personas.
Also, by developing Social-Links with core party members, they’ll learn new actions that will help you in battle- such as taking a mortal blow for the player character, or performing follow-up attacks, or being able to knock an ally out of confusion.
And you have hard decisions to make. It’s very hard to max-out every single Social-Link in a single play through, I’ve yet to even come close to it. So you’ll have to decide, do you want to spend time developing Social-Links with characters you like spending time with, or do you spend time with characters linked to a type of Persona you want to develop. It’s cool stuff.
There’s so much more to P4G that I haven’t touched upon. It’s theme of ‘sifting through the shit’ to find the truth, the awesome soundtrack (click the damn link, you bastards), the engrossing setting of Inaba, and it’s meandering and fascinating plot are all things I’d like to have written about. But dang, dude. I got’s stuff to do.
Anyways, look past the anime cheesiness if that’s what’s holding you back. The game’s great. Who caaares am I right?