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Persona 4 Golden Review: An Experience We All Need To Have
About 20 hours into this game I sat there and started thinking, “how am I going to start this review?” The same question was asked when I was 30, 40, 50, and even 60 hours in. My problem was that my mind was so caught up in this game that I couldn’t even fathom where I should begin. It has been so long since a game, or any kind of entertainment really, has really taken my life by storm like this. From the first minute to the last, I found myself completely wrapped up in this mystery and these characters. Person 4 Golden started out as an unknown experience for me. I never played the original on PS2 nor did I ever play a Persona game. I’m not stranger to the Shin Megami Tensei series but Persona never caught my eye. This was, for all intents and purposes, an impulse buy.
Persona 4 Golden started out like that for me. It turned out to be one the most amazing experiences I ever had in a video game let alone movie, comic, book, or anything. Simply put, this is an experience you cannot miss.
There are a lot of factors that go into why I feel that way. One of the things that made me realize that I felt this strongly about this game was when I tried to sum up my experience with it to a friend. All that came out of my mouth was, “Ah..a-ahh…” There was just no way I could such a thing. I could summarize the basis for the story with no problem. The experience, though? How could someone sum up what this game puts you through?
That’s a question I still haven’t been able to answer. I’m going to try in this review but I make no promises. Let’s begin!
There’s no way I could start this review without first talking about the cast of characters in Persona 4 Golden. They are the bread and butter of this game and the sole reason you may find yourself enthralled with it. After all, what’s a game without engaging characters? What’s an RPG without a cast to care about?
That last question is paramount here. I have never cared about characters in a game like this. If Persona 4 does anything very well it is making sure that you care about this cast. Each one has their own personality, traits, methods, issues, and strengths.
Why do I care, though? How does the game make me care so much about these characters? It’s because through you they each face their true selves. The characters are very human and they come face-to-face with their flaws and inner thoughts. It’s through you that they gain the courage and will to do so and come out a better person. Persona 4 makes you delve into these character’s true lives and see them for who they really are and it is your strength that helps them overcome that experience and move on.
That is only something a true friend would do for someone. That’s really what this cast is: a group of true friends fighting for a similar goal. Throughout this game you’ll encounter a variety of different characters and it doesn’t take long for the game to make you feel excited for when a new one pops up. The more the merrier in Persona 4 and when you feel that way this early in the game, you know you’re in for a good time playing.
When I think back to the character I met in this game, especially the party members, I actually begin to smile a bit. These are memorable characters that you will remember for a long time. It’s like that children’s book with the funny little animal that you always liked to read about as a kid or the cartoon show that you watched every day and you could tell anyone about anything about. Persona 4′s cast is a strong one. You will be hard pressed to forget about these characters anytime soon. Whether it’s Chie’s affinity for food, Teddie’s drive to live life to the fullest, or Nanako’s innocent view of events you’re going to love every second of these characters as they progress through the story. What more can you really ask for?
Explaining Persona 4′s story is actually easy. This is a game about a teenager who goes to live with his Uncle in a small town for one year. After you arrive, grizzly murders start to happen and a thick fog rolls through every now and then. As un-explainable as it is to the rest of the world, it seems you and your new found friends have a lead. You all have the power to journey into a different world where the murders are actually taking place. Persona 4 is about overcoming hardships, reaching out to the truth, and solving this mystery.
Sounds simple, right? It’s all but that. The main theme of the game, “Reach Out To The Truth”, is one that players need to keep in mind throughout the entire game. You’ll be face with many decisions and riddles and even though you have the support of this wonderful cast you still need to ensure you have your thinking cap on.
Every day in the one year you are in this small town is important. There’s a lot more to do than just solve a mystery. After all, you are a teenager and have a life to live. That’s where the uniqueness of Persona 4 comes into play. This isn’t just an RPG. This is also a Life Sim, as well. A JRPG Life Sim with a side of Pokemon and Phoenix Wright. That is perhaps the best way to describe Persona 4 in terms.
Enough of explaining the story, is it any good? Not only is it good, it’s addicting. You may find yourself being like me where you can’t bare to wait to see what is going to happen the next day. Not only is the mystery extremely interesting and gripping, the simulation part of the game is the same. You are in charge of the main character’s life. You choose how he spends his days and nights. Will you study for the big test at school (which you actually have to take and answer)? Are you going to further your relationships with your friends? Will you get a girlfriend? Will you solve this mystery in time?
Time is of the essence in Persona 4 and you are constantly reminded of that thanks to the date and time fixated in the top right of your screen. Time moves from Early Morning to After School to Evening and it goes quickly. How you choose to live your life and crack this case is up to you but remember one thing: time waits for no man.
Your decisions have a direct effect on the game and how it unfolds. That’s the glory of Persona 4. Not only does it give you an amazing cast of characters but the story and the way you effect sucks you in as you can’t wait to see how it will all conclude.
The gameplay for Persona 4 is split up into two: RPG and Sim.
The Sim side of the game takes up the most time, actually. Trust me, that’s not a bad thing. By the time you actually have full control of your character and do whatever you want with your days, you’ll be plenty busy. The issue here is that you only have so many days in between events to do things before the RPG side kicks in and things get serious. That means you need to plan out how you’re going to deepen you relationships, do side quests, train, study, and just generally be a teenager.
Sounds like a lot to do but it really is enjoyable. You are essentially living a character’s life amidst the most stressful and hardest time in his life so far. The balance between life, school, work, and the mystery is a tough one to handle. What you spend your time on is important and will help determine how the game will unfold. You have a lot of options and only so much time to pick them. Spend your time wisely.
Sound intriguing? Sound tough to manage? Thankfully the level of fun each option is gets rid of the stress of time management. No matter what you decide to do in this game with your Sim time, you’re going to find enjoyment out of it. Whether you’re trying your hardest to raise up your skills such as Courage and Knowledge or taking a part time job at a hospital, you’re going to find things during these events that help grow your character, powers, and relationships. There is literally nothing in this game that has no meaning to the story and/or your character.
The RPG side of the game only occurs during two different times: mystery events and whenever you decide to go into the other world and train up your characters. True, you can head in and play the RPG side of the game whenever you please but you will be forced inside at times. Time is still a very important factor here, though. During mystery events you only have a certain amount of time before a dungeon “expires” and your goal will be lost. What happens then? Game over. This is where save files becomes important. It’s either you save in multiple slots at different times in the story in case you mess up or you face the consequences and have to start over.
I made the game even worse on my self with time management since I stuck with one save file the entire time. I’m a glutton for punishment!
The RPG side in Persona 4 is very in-depth. The combat is similar to your classic JRPG style but it does several things to keep itself fresh throughout the game. For one, you always have a guide to help you combat enemies. Some may think this can be annoying but I found it to be perfect for how these characters interact with each other outside of the dungeons. Half-way through the game the whole guide dynamic improves to become a real driving force in battles.
The use of Personas in also a huge part of the game. A Persona of an embodiment of a persona’ true self and ego. All of your friends have one and that gives them their powers and skills. Luckily, our main character is a special boy! His destiny is that of the wild card and thanks to that he can change Personas whenever he wishes. Although you’ll start out with one, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to find new ones or create them through fusion. This is that quasi-Pokemon portion of the game I mentioned. Collection Persona, fusing them, checking fusion forecasts, and registering them in your Compendium is a fun thing to do.
The game keeps it self fresh during both sides of gameplay thanks to new elements being introduced nearly all the time. This isn’t a game where you figure out how to play and that’s it. Persona 4 teaches you the basics and then throws in new stuff throughout the game, even towards the end. I never once felt that the game was repetitive. Even when I had to grind 10+ levels to be strong enough to tackle the next boss, I was having an enjoyable time. There’s enough going on and plenty to do and see that Persona 4 should keep you busy from minute one to the 60th hour. This game does not allow you to get bored.
Rarely do I ever put a section just for music or soundtracks in something I review but I couldn’t help it here. So far my review of this game is extremely favorable and this carries on into the music. While you may hear certain tracks over and over again (town themes, mostly) I found myself moving to the beats, tapping my feet, humming the tunes, and even buying the soundtrack. For weeks now I have had YouTube open to a playlist I made and continued to update with tracks I had heard in-game and wanted to keep listening to.
At times when fighting in dungeons I found myself running around, liking the new song I was listening to, getting into a battle and actually not liking the fact that the music stopped for the battle theme. I would then stand around in the dungeon listening to the song. I went as far as turning my sound completely down in one dungeon and just having a YouTube recording of the song playing over and over again as I ran through and battled my way to the boss.
This soundtrack is just as gripping as the game itself. Each track represents an area so well that you start to picture the scene in your head while listening.
My favorite tracks have to be “I’ll Face Myself, “Heartbreak, Heartbreak”, “The Almighty”, “Secret Base”, and “Signs of Love”.
I mentioned before that the theme of this game is all about reaching for the truth. Since this is a mystery at heart, the phrase holds a lot of meaning but it goes further than just trying to find a killer. A recurring event in this game is when a character has to face their true self and learn to accept who they really are and begin to work towards bettering themselves.
Throughout the game you’ll deepen relationships with characters and as you do you start to see just how hard everyone is working not only towards this case but also trying to become better in their own lives. It’s obvious that because of the events of their Persona’s awakening these character had to face a lot of truths about themselves and although the support of the cast and your main character helped them, the thought that others had finally seen who they really is daunting to them.
This game’s cast is very surreal in the aspect that these are all human elements that we ourselves have to face at one point or another in our lives. Some of us will continue to deny the truth and keep running. Others will turn and face the truth and move on to try and be better. Not everyone can do this and it certainly is harder doing it alone.
Persona 4′s story have us, as players and humans, come face-to-face with scenarios that show many different types of people go through this exact experience. It doesn’t stop there, though. Their battles continue as they struggle to come to terms with the truth and to better themselves. Accepting something is only the tip of the iceberg. Putting action into words and experiences is the key and this game shows the full sequence from acceptance to realization and success.
What this game can do for us beyond giving us a great story, mystery, and overall experience is showing us what it takes to face ourselves. Some of you playing this game may take away from it what I did and some of you won’t. Thankfully, I feel like I got the message behind this game’s story. We all have desires and we all have thoughts. There are layers to each of us that we hide from others but when it comes down to it, that is what holds you back from your own greatness. Some times you just need to lean on a few shoulders and face yourself. Whether you try and do that on your own at some point in your life or this game gives you the message that you should try now, think past the game here and really look at what this story is trying to tell you.
For me, it was an eye opener and I’m more than glad to have played through this wonderful game and realize things about myself that I denied for years. I never thought once in my life that I would say a game made me think this way. I’m happy I was wrong.
Persona 4 started out as an unknown to me. It was an impulse buy and I risked money since I had no idea what it was about or why it was labeled as this amazing game from people online. All I knew is that thanks to all these great Vita releases lately I’ve been transfixed on this portable system. I bought Persona 4 Golden because of the reception it was getting and I wanted to own more great games for the Vita. Is that a good enough reason to buy something? Hell no.
However, if I didn’t indulge myself at that moment in time and purchase this game I wouldn’t be writing this review right now after having experienced this thought provoking story. I wouldn’t have been able to spend time with this amazing cast of characters, which is now cemented in my mind as one of gaming’s greatest ensembles.
Persona 4 started out as an unknown to me. It has since become of my favorite games. It feels weird to say that a remake of a 2008 PlayStation 2 game is my Game of the Year in 2012 but I can’t spin it any other way. Persona 4 Golden, for me, is a hell of a tale, an experience I’ve never forget, and one that I’ll continue to recommend that anyone who owns a Vita must play for themselves.
As thorough as this review may seem I still don’t think I’m able to summarize my experience with Persona 4 Golden. I said a lot here and although I can’t really come up with much to complain about, I will say that I was sad to see it end. That alone says a lot about this game to me. I hope it does for you, too.
Note: This review was completed with a 77-hour playthrough receiving the “True Ending”. Persona 4 Golden released for the PS Vita on November 20th, 2012 and as of this writing holds a 94 rating on Metacritic.