Thou art I… And I am Thou… Should you establish a bond with this stylish JRPG? Find out in our Persona 4 Golden Remaster review.
The Megami Tensei franchise started as an extremely niche RPG series way back on the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) in Japan in 1987. After some reasonable success over the Famicom and Super Famicom generations in Japan, the geniuses at Altus decided that a spin-off focusing on High School aged characters was a good idea. This also coincided with the first release of a Megami Tensei game in the west – Revelations: Persona.
The overarching theme in the Persona spin-off series is a focus on the human psyche and the dichotomy between how a character wants to be perceived by the people around them and what is in fact their true self. The Persona series also features strong use of psychological themes and Tarot cards along with various religious, mythological, and literary influences.
Tarot cards play an important role in your adventure.
These elements were a massive hit and one could argue that the Persona ‘spin-off’ series has now become more popular than the original Shin Megami Tensei series. Despite the release of the much-hyped PS3 in November 2006, Persona 4 released on the Playstation 2 console to critical acclaim in 2008 and was amongst the final wave of amazing JRPGs that appeared on the PS2 after the PS3 dropped including: Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES, Odin Sphere, Ar Tonelico 1 and 2, Rogue Galaxy, Atelier Iris 3 and Wild Arms 5. To this day, Persona 4 remains the highest rated PS2 RPG on Metacritic not named ‘Final Fantasy‘.
Persona 3 was popular. Yu Narukami has the official calendar to prove it.
An expanded version of Persona 4 was released on the PS Vita handheld in mid-2012 – this time being one of the first games released on the system. The Persona 4 ‘Golden‘ version added new characters, Social Links, Personas and side quests plus some extra animated cutscenes. Once again, Persona 4 Golden was a massive success, and it holds the title of the best rated game on the PS Vita from any genre.
Following this massive success, there were a few years where only some further spin-offs from the spin off series were released (‘Persona 4: Arena‘ the one-on-one fighting game and ‘Persona 4: Dancing All Night‘ the rhythm game). However, fans were rewarded for their patience with the blockbuster Persona 5 (2017), being widely seen as the best JRPG of that year. The Persona 5 ‘extras’ version ‘Persona 5: Royal‘ released in 2019 further enhanced that title and is considered the best JRPG released in many years. These ongoing successes have fully cemented this series amongst the big hitting JRPG franchises.
It did take a few years for the true follow up to Persona 4… maybe your nose is the problem?
It’s now 15 years since the original version of Persona 4 and the classic JRPG combo of Persona 3 Portable (PSP version) and Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita version) have been remastered in HD for release on the Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 and Xbox. Does P4 Golden deserve to retain its title as an absolute classic? Or has it aged poorly like a dilapidated shrine that is best avoided? Find out in our Persona 4 Golden Remaster review!
Persona 4 Golden Remaster Review – Story
The story of Persona 4 starts innocently enough – the silent protagonist Yu Narukami (who you can rename if you desire) has travelled to the fictional rural town of Inaba from Tokyo to spend a year with his Uncle while his parents are working abroad.
Meet Uncle Dojima – who for some reason always carries his jacket over his shoulder.
Yu/you will spend the next 12 months at the local high school and living the relatively slow life of the small town… or will he? Soon after Yu arrives, Inaba is thrown into disarray due to the shocking murder of a local TV personality, with her body strung up for all to see on a TV antenna. Meanwhile, Yu meets his new school buddies and is informed of a strange phenomenon known as ‘The Midnight Channel’ – if it is raining at midnight then watching a TV that is switched off is meant to show you your soulmate. One of Yu’s new school acquaintances strangely appears on the Midnight Channel, and within a week also becomes a murder victim.
Small town… big problems.
Soon it’s revealed that the Midnight Channel and the murders are somehow linked. Yu and his closest friends decide to investigate Scooby Doo-style and discover that there is a whole world within the town’s TVs that houses ‘shadows’ created from people’s repressed emotions. This isn’t some baby’s Nancy Drew adventure though. Due to the heavy topics covered, it feels more like a UK/BBC murder mystery. It is only by entering this strange TV World and enlisting the help of its equally strange inhabitant, Teddie, that Yu and his friends will be able to prevent further murders occurring.
WHO are WE? I think the more important question is WHAT are YOU?
As more and more potential victims are sucked into this mysterious place, their repressed personalities appear on the Midnight Channel showing what may be the true identity of these targets. It is only by assisting the subject of these weird ‘TV shows’ to confront their hidden desires that they may be able to be saved.
I guess Kanji’s secret desire is to become a florist that caters to gentlemen… right?
Yu and his party have a limited time to get to the bottom of the mystery and identify the culprit at the centre of this puzzle enveloping the whole town. There are some excellent twists and turns along the way. For those that never played the game before, the identity of the true culprit (or is it culprits?) is indeed a shock.
Oh, well I guess that clears things up.
What really makes the plot of Persona 4 Golden great though, is the amazing cast of characters and their interactions with each other. As they say, it isn’t about the destination, nor is it about the journey – it is about the friends we make along the way. What makes this cast so great is that in addition to the main character we really get to see each individual team member at their lowest ebb before they become integrated into the Investigation Team and we see them at their best.
Welcome to the team… did you just touch my ass?
It is important to keep in mind though that this is not a kid’s JRPG. If the murder scene photos above didn’t already clue you in, this game tackles some very serious topics. Homosexuality, transgenderism, strip clubs and pornography are all discussed, sometimes at length and as essential elements of the storyline.
Rise exposed? She’s only 15 years old!!
Additionally, whilst these characters are obviously teenagers in high school (between 15 and 18 years old) there is a LOT of sexual innuendo throughout the game.
What could she possibly be talking about? A soda? I guess that’s ok then.
Yu can also romance any of the female characters, including multiple girls at the same time – this does lead to a very awkward Valentine’s Day though. I must admit I felt a lot more uncomfortable at times playing this game now in my 30’s as opposed to my previous adventure in Inaba almost 15 years ago.
As long as you aren’t easily triggered by the topics mentioned above, this is definitely an adventure worth experiencing. Persona 4 Golden’s story has a satisfying and emotionally charged conclusion – if you are able to reach the ‘True’ or ‘Golden’ ending that is. Every single playable character, and other NPCs who form part of Yu’s massive Social Link network, goes through significant growth both as an individual and as a member of the team or resident of the town.
What a team!
Persona 4 Golden Remaster Review – Gameplay
Persona 4 Golden is truly a game of two halves. Fortunately, both of these halves are excellent and meet together perfectly to make one whole cracker of a game. Part of the game is a traditional dungeon crawling JRPG where Yu and the Investigation team hunt through partially procedurally generated floors fighting leagues of shadows to save the current victim of the Midnight Channel before another murder can take place.
Each of the characters can either attack, guard (actually essential for success in some of this game’s tougher fights) or use the power of the game’s titular Persona to cast healing magic, support buffs/debuffs or devastating elemental attack spells. Each member of the Investigation Team has access to one unique Persona throughout the game, however, main character Yu is a special case and can hold up to 12 different Personas at once from a total list of over 170 across the game’s 23 tarot cards or ‘Arcana’. Yu’s Persona come from all of the world’s different mythologies – including celestial beings such as Vishnu, Shiva, Satan, Phoenix, Jinn, Gorgon, Ares and Thor.
I am the Mighty Thor. Fear the power of my jock strap!
All characters (including enemies) can have up to 8 different skills learned at the same time. Learning new skills either through levelling up or through a ‘skill card’ system when already full will require you to forget a skill Pokémon-style. Each character/Persona has specific elemental strengths and weaknesses, though Yu’s affinities will change based on his currently equipped Persona – which can be switched up at will every cycle of the game’s classic JRPG turn-based combat.
The nature of Monkey is IRREPRESSIBLE… except against fire attacks.
Enemy shadows also have various elemental strengths and weaknesses, including to basic physical attacks. It is essential to learn these weaknesses (though the game handily keeps track of these for you) as the Persona series uses the ‘go again’ mechanic in battles. If you strike an enemy’s weakness, or should they attack one of your characters with their weak element, then the attacker will get to attack again while the character on the receiving end is ‘knocked down’. This can lead to you being on the giving OR receiving end of multiple attacks in a turn which can be absolutely devastating.
Fortunately, the Investigation Team has an additional bonus group attack that can be triggered when all enemies in a group are knocked down at the same time, in addition to a few ‘secret’ attacks that can fire off if your group attack is not quite strong enough to wipe out the opponents.
Yu and up to three of his team members can be in the party at the same time (total of 4), with any additional characters waiting on the sidelines to be switched into the team at any time. Bonus attacks will be learnt through the game that will trigger at random depending on certain combinations of characters you have in or even OUT of your team at any time.
After his original awakening, Yu is shown how to ‘fuse’ obtained Personas into new and stronger creations. There is a complex fusion system where the Arcana and level of two or three Personas used in the formula will determine what the resulting Persona from the fusion will be – fortunately you do get to see the result before committing to the fusion. Yu is also able to pass on specific skills from the Personas used in a fusion which can allow for powerful combinations of skills particularly in the late game.
Izanagi – I CHOOSE YOU!
Finally, there are some special fusions that require four, five or even six specific Personas to create some of the most powerful options for Yu near the end-game.
The easy-to-learn / difficult-to-master battle system is a pleasure to play throughout this massive adventure, though if you are unprepared for a boss or even a new enemy type with a poor team line up, it can be very easy to get a game over screen. The game is relatively nice about this though and will allow you to restart from the beginning of the current dungeon floor rather than your last save file.
The only way to learn his weakness is through trial and error.
Finally, it is important to note that while the default setting is that the player controls only Yu with the other characters in the team being controlled by the game’s AI, we are able to change this to allow all characters to be controlled with Direct Commands. I STRONGLY recommend this as it makes the battles both much easier to manage, and much less frustrating.
Don’t forget to change to ‘Direct Commands’ and to save regularly!!
The other and larger part of Persona 4 (at least in terms of time spent in each section) follows Yu simply living his life in Inaba. Each day of the year will contain some unskippable activities (such as going to school) in addition to up to two separate time periods where Yu can select activities to complete. Though some tasks are more worthwhile than others:
There is a massive amount of choice here and some of the activities available are essential to meet new characters that become important during Yu’s time in Inaba. There are multiple extra-curricular school activities such as Music class, Drama, Soccer or Basketball and a heap of part-time work options including tutoring, envelope folder and hospital janitor.
That’s not true Chie, there is a bunch of stuff to do in Inaba.
There are also a number of other diversions available such as taking characters out on movie dates, and the obligatory JRPG fishing minigame.
Don’t think that the simulation/life part of the game isn’t important though. Other than the obvious things like working to earn money to buy equipment and items for your next dungeon dive, this is where the Social Link elements of the game take place. By getting close to school friends, work colleagues, family members and the occasional complete stranger, Yu can level up the 23 different Social Links – each of which is linked to a specific Arcana. As these Social Links become stronger, characters may receive additional skills for use in battle and Yu’s Persona Fusions will also become much stronger.
As the main character, Yu also has a unique set of five attributes that impact only the Simulation portion of Persona 4 Golden. Knowledge, Diligence, Expression, Courage and Understanding have zero impact on dungeon crawling, but they can be gateways to part of the simulation experience. For example, you need a certain amount of Knowledge and Understanding to take the Tutoring job that is available, or you may need a Persuasive level of Expression to be able to give certain responses to questions.
These five attributes can be increased by completing various activities during the day – Knowledge can be increased by studying at night, the Drama club at school is a great way to boost your Expression and attending the training sessions for school sports improves your Diligence.
Is this the first time you have met a teenage boy?
In the early game it may seem like there is way too much of a focus on the Simulation side of the game, but honestly this is the part of the game that I enjoy the most. The day-to-day interactions are like the best parts of a hilarious ‘slice of life‘ anime, particularly once you have assembled most of the team and start going on day trips together.
Japanese boys will be Japanese boys I guess.
Persona 4 Golden Remaster Review – Presentation
Persona 4 Golden is a 10 year old game, but has been given the old ‘HD’ spruce up for this release on Nintendo Switch and other ‘previous gen’ consoles (PS4 and Xbox One – obviously playable on PS5/Series X as well). The beautifully drawn backgrounds of Inaba and surrounding areas look better than they ever have in HD. The 2D anime style character portraits also look excellent and full of emotion.
I love you Rise and your beautiful… hair.
Anime-style cutscenes that are peppered throughout the game are well animated and look great despite being in an old-school style. These moments do a lot to bring out the humanity in these characters and build the player’s connection with this team and their goals. They also work well to build a sense of dread and urgency in the mission as Yu’s friends are placed in dangerous situations.
It isn’t just about the animated cutscenes though. Some of the in-engine moments between characters provide just as much emotion or humour. Such as this moment where some of the girls try their hand at cooking:
Or this interaction between Yosuke and one of the girls from his class:
There is both English and Japanese voice acting available. Not all of the text in the game is voiced but the majority of the important moments are enhanced in this manner. The battles also contain heavy voice use for character attacks and also for ‘assist’ comments that can be important to look and listen out for – as following the suggestions here will increase your chances of success. Personally, I prefer the Japanese cast, but this is an occasion where the English team has also done an excellent job.
As is typical of the Persona series, the soundtrack in Persona 4 Golden is excellent. Dungeon music, battle music and town background tracks are all excellent ear worms that you will keep humming after turning off your switch at the end of a session. Given the massive length of this game, there is a chance that some of the tracks may become repetitive though. Here are a few of the standout tracks:
Enhance your social links while jamming out to “Signs of Love”.
Be prepared to hear “Reach Out to the Truth” at least a few hundred times.
“Your Affection” is bound to get stuck in your head.
It is clear that the team wanted to distinguish the burgeoning Persona series from the core Shin Megami Tensei series with a lighter tone. Those that have played Persona 5 will find that Persona 4 does not have the quite the same sense of style in regard to both the visual and audio presentation.
However, what is here in Persona 4 definitely laid the groundwork for the next game in the series, which I would argue has the best sense of style in any JRPG. Persona 4 pushed the PS2 its limits, but consoles have come a long way since that time. Even with the HD paint job, this game runs exceptionally well on the Nintendo Switch system in both handheld and docked mode.
Phantom Thief you say?
Framerate remains smooth with no noticeable issues, and I encountered literally zero bugs or crashes despite dropping a massive amount of time into the game. Pleasingly, the loading times are almost non-existent for Persona 4 Golden, which allows heavy use of the game’s fast-travel system (or save scumming if you want to min-max your gameplay).
Persona 4 and Persona 4 Golden were in the absolute top tier of JRPGs on their respective systems on initial release. Despite a 10 year gap, the HD remaster of Persona 4 Golden shows that this is a simply a classic game, and it remains amongst the best JRPGs that have ever been released on any console. This is a massive game that will take about 60-80 hours to complete a single playthrough, with a ‘New Game +’ option available for those wanting to experience more of the magnificence on offer. Definitely value for money.
Persona 4 Golden is one tasty meal. Cheers ATLUS!
It is a pleasure to spend time with the investigation team in Persona 4 Golden. I would go as far as to say that this cast is not only the best cast in a Persona title, but indeed that this crew deserves a place in the top handful of RPG casts ever. This game covers deep topics but provides plenty of humour and fun in between the serious and dark moments.
If you played this game back in the day, it is definitely worth a replay. If you are lucky enough to have not yet experienced this masterpiece, now is the perfect time to dive in and solve the mysteries of Inaba.
So, why should you play it?
- To experience for the first time one of the best RPGs ever made (or replay a classic)
- Join the amazing Investigation Team and solve a mystery with both seriousness and humour in spades
- With 170+ Persona you can ‘catch ’em all’ and then go visit the steam bath or strip club (I don’t recall those options in Pokemon)
But, why shouldn’t you play it?
- You don’t have the time to spend on a massive 60+ hour adventure
- JRPGs or anime styled games aren’t your thing
A review code on Nintendo Switch was kindly provided by Five Star Games for the purpose of this review. Enjoyed our Persona 4 Golden Remaster review? Check out our review for the Persona 3 Portable Remaster and follow us on Facebook to join the Persona discussion!