Unlike most JRPGs, Persona 4 Golden doesn’t push you to go on a town-hopping adventure with magic and monsters waiting for you around every corner. Everything about the setting is, dare I say, quite unremarkable and ordinary in the far-reaches of countryside Inaba. And yet, I would regard this game as Game of The Year for a good number of reasons.
There lies a mystery lurking beneath the surface of Inaba: a resident’s wife had been murdered and a team of investigators, supervised by Yu’s homestay father Dojima, managed to uncover clues which put the small town of Inaba at the center of this webbed mystery. Strange patterns emerged throughout the course of the year – the most significant of which is a fog that foreshadows death appearing during midnight – and it’s up to Yu and his band of buddies to stop such an event from taking place. How do they do this, you may ask? By hopping inside a store TV and beating the source of this recurring evil with their newly acquired monster allies and magical powers, of course.
Aside from beating the source of evil and saving people, you will frequently engage in typical fashioned day-to-day activities. You will find yourself acing exams (or failing it, like in real life), hanging out with friends and family and increasing their Social Links thereby expanding dialogue options and combat fervor, working multiple part-time jobs with eccentric side characters, attending eventful school trips and festivals, and strolling around the small-town stores and establishments scattered around Inaba. Heck, you can even use a day to train in the TV world during your downtime if you wish.
The music is top-notch. It’s the same dozen or so tracks on rotation for 60 hours (sans certain dungeon-exclusive music) yet it’s all so catchy and mood-indicative while never getting old. The soundtracks have songs that are upbeat and jazzy with a barrage of brass horns, while the more sad scenes play slow and melancholic piano melodies. Some soundtracks are amplified by J-pop singers, which deserve their own seal of approval. Whatever the scene is, your ears will be the first ones to know what you are in for.
The dungeon crawling elements left a lot to be desired. The floors are procedurally generated, but once you get a hang of it there really isn’t anything remarkable about the floors as they are essentially rehashed patterns of the same theme.
The Shadows provided a challenge that became progressively harder as you pressed on. Each Shadow has their own respective types, strengths, and weaknesses associated with it. You can control up to four characters you bring along in order to beat the monsters. Upon the enemy’s defeat, there’s a chance for random loot to drop which yields you better tools to more easily slay monsters, alter floor difficulty, or even craft better allies, fittingly called Personas, to aid you in battle.
The addition of combining Shadows to create even stronger Personas offered an alternate mode of progress that detoured from the usual old JRPG approach of downright grind fests. This added feature is a keystone of Persona games, and aptly put, a nice way for a casual like me to essentially make use of the dropped loot from my dungeon-crawling journey while also creating and discovering stronger partners in the process. Another thing I did to curate a more enjoyable time was I enabled an Experience accelerator a couple of arcs in so that I can focus more on the story because beating shadows do tend to get repetitive, and honestly, no regrets there.
The world beyond the TV is charming and intimate. The candid interactions with your friends, the precious family time with Nanako and Dojima, and the quaint countryside all created a harmonious Mega Beef Bowl full of absolute goodness. These moments all played out like one continuous high school memory with moments of carefree laughter, intense vulnerability, and finally, acceptance, generously sprinkled with loads of character.
Real is perhaps the biggest understatement of the century to how I would describe my connection with Inaba. The characters had entangled me to their world and would not let go. For reference, I completed the game six full months ago and yet the emotional connectedness of the daily, slice-of-life elements still living in my head (rent-free!) goes to show how emotionally impactful the game is. It drawn me in with its simplicity, its seemingly nostalgic character interactions, and its well-executed, overarching theme of self-acceptance.
The main cast has their moments as flawed characters, each with their respective dungeons and shadow personas that loudly put to life the character’s inhibited thoughts. The battles against these shadows are usually reserved towards the final league of the dungeon, portraying that the strongest and most difficult battles are the ones of an extremely intimate nature. The crossover between the inner psyche and the dungeon boss carries such a spectacular connotation with its core message, and I think if a game is capable of leaving that strong of an impression on a player, then the game has absolutely served its purpose as a work of art.
No matter how much you force yourself to fit inside a box, or how much you submerge genuine thoughts and feelings within your subconscious in hopes of regaining a better sense of control and bliss, there will always be some negative energy welling up inside that will manifest in stronger, more maleficent ways. It is up to you to recognize that, accept that, and work in tandem with it to eventually subdue it – with the help of your friends along the way. That is the core of Persona 4 Golden’s message and Atlus executed it phenomenally. The game does not need updated graphics or free DLCs to force you to take the plunge. If you want an evocative experience with an unforgettable cast of characters, Persona 4 Golden is the JRPG that will exceed all expectations.
9.5/10 – Incredible