Many people hail Persona 4 as one of the best Japanese RPGs of all time. At least those who’ve played it. Originally released in 2008 at the end of the PlayStation 2’s life cycle, and re-released as the enhanced Persona 4 Golden in 2012 on Sony’s ill-fated PlayStation Vita, Persona 4 never had the chance to gain the recognition that its superb sequel, Persona 5, enjoyed. That changes with Persona 4 Golden’s Steam debut. People who’ve never touched this modern classic can now do so on PC, via a version that sports high-definition graphics and improved frame rates. Featuring an engaging, Carl Jung-influenced story, fun side activities, and thrilling combat, Persona 4 Golden isn’t just an excellent JRPG, it’s one of the best PC games.
For the uninitiated, the Atlus-developed Persona 4 Golden takes place in Inaba, a fictional Japanese town. You play as a high schooler who moves there to live with his uncle and cousin after his parents travel abroad for work. Unfortunately, the town is soon rocked by a series of mysterious murders that occur on foggy nights. You soon learn that the murderer kills victims by tossing them into a dangerous dimension called “The Midnight Channel.” The player-named protagonist, along with a colorful cast of classmates, must stop the serial killer, while simultaneously living his everyday life as a student.
The plot borrows heavily from Jungian theory, which states that people have “personas” they present to others and “shadow selves” they hide from the world. The theory also involves a collective unconscious that links all human minds. Persona 4 Golden uses these concepts to inform its gameplay. Personas are entities you and your party members summon in combat to unleash magical attacks, cast buffs, and hit enemies with status ailments, while the Midnight Channel’s dungeons represent the victims’ subconscious. Jungian concepts aren’t mainstream ideas, so having them serve as Persona 4 Golden’s backbone is a nice touch.
The New Style
Persona 4 Golden also distinguishes itself from other JRPGs by featuring a contemporary setting and an intimate, character-driven story. Though the game features teenagers entering the world of the unconscious to battle monsters, Persona 4 Golden’s tale lacks earth-shattering threats like those in the Final Fantasy or Ys series.
Naturally, a modern-day JRPG has a modern-day soundtrack. The score—one that borrows heavily from pop, jazz, rock, and electronica—sets Persona 4 Golden apart from the average, classically scored JRPG. Persona 4 Golden is as fresh now as it was in 2008.
You battle monsters using basic attacks and personas. Each party member uses a weapon that was either found in dungeons or purchased from the town’s weapon and armor shop. The combat tools include swords, knives, folding fans, and even a school desk. One character even makes use of firearms.
Most enemies have exploitable, elemental weaknesses. For example, some creatures are vulnerable to electricity, while others are vulnerable to ice, fire, or wind. Attacking opponents with elemental attacks momentarily stuns them, giving you a chance to follow up with another blow. If your party manages to stun all the foes in a combat scenario, your entire party performs a deadly group attack that deals massive damage. As a result, it’s crucial—and highly enjoyable—to discover monsters’ vulnerabilities. Plus, stomping beasties before they even have a chance to strike back never grows dull.
Hero and enemy attacks are flashy and punchy affairs, thanks to the combat’s exaggerated animations and booming sound effects. Camera movements accentuate the action with quick pans or sudden zooms. Despite Persona 4 Golden’s turn-based combat mechanics, the battles are frenetic and exciting.
The Hand You’re Dealt
Like Persona 3, Persona 4 Golden includes the addictive Shuffle Time, a randomly triggered mini-game that tasks you with pulling a single tarot card from a group of five. Certain cards moderately refill your health points (HP) and skill points (SP), while others give you keys to unlock treasure chests filled with money, weapons, or other items. Some cards bless you with personas or extra tries to pick more cards. If you manage to select all five tarot cards, you’ll receive a Sweep Bonus that guarantees you’ll enter Shuffle Time at the end of the next battle.
Not all cards are beneficial. Some halve your experience points and money, while others delete the loot you earned after a battle. While this sounds negative (and it is!), it’s possible to turn things to your advantage by wisely choosing cards. For example, if you pick a card that grants extra money, it nullifies a card that halves your rewards. With a little smarts and luck, you’ll manage a clean sweep without losing precious experience or money. It’s rare to walk away from Shuffle Time with an empty hand, which makes the mini-game a vital gameplay element.
Cards aren’t the only game item that you must manage; personas require your attention, too. Packing more than 150 unique personas, Persona 4 Golden encourages experimentation. This is especially true when you combine personas to create new ones. New personas come with inherent abilities, but it’s possible to give them select skills from the source personas. Creating the perfect persona becomes an entertaining goal as you play.
The Persona(l) Touch
Persona 4 Golden is far more than monster-slaying battles and card games. The protagonist spends a lot of time in the real world hanging out with friends, studying for midterm exams, attending basketball practice, fishing, and other activities you’d expect from a teenager. These activities would be side quests in other RPGs, but they represent half of Persona 4 Golden’s gameplay. Establishing and reinforcing social links in the real world strengthens your character, allies, and personas. In addition, personas found in the Midnight Channel help reinforce your bonds in the real world. In this way, these two seemingly disparate real-world and mind-world gameplay elements complement one another.
Each character and persona belongs to, and is defined by, an Arcana class. If, for example, you possess a Fool Arcana persona, you’ll strengthen your Social Link bond with a party member who belongs to the same class. Spending time with buddies strengthens your association with their class, which in turn makes same-Arcana personas stronger. It’s possible to form bonds with characters even if you don’t currently have a persona that matches their Arcana, but it will take longer to reach the next Social Link level. Because of that, you’ll want to be sure you always have a wide range of personas in your repertoire. The stronger your Social Links, the stronger your personas (and vice versa).
Be it a recently married woman having problems raising her stepchild, a fellow student trying to break away from his family’s oppressive legacy, or your lonely little cousin, each character has struggle. It’s up to you to help folks you’ve bonded with via Social Links. During conversations with these people, you’ll occasionally encounter dialogue choices. Selecting the right choice (indicated by a cheerful tone) helps deepen your bond. It may sound mundane, but spending time with party members and people you’ve met in town is quite enjoyable and helps you feel closer to Inaba’s citizens.
Performing specific actions raises the protagonist’s Knowledge, Courage, Expression, Diligence, and Understanding traits. Studying, for example, boosts your Knowledge, while folding envelopes at work raises Diligence. You can’t partake in certain events or initiate conversations if the related trait carries too low a rank. For instance, your character won’t enter a shrine at night or stand up to bullies if he has a weak Courage rank. Persona 4 Golden offers numerous ways to elevate these levels, so it’s always good to keep track of what aspects you need to focus on during your adventures.
You have a limited number of days to rescue victims from the Midnight Channel. During this time, you must become strong by level-grinding in dungeons and strengthening social links. Should you fail to rescue the victim in time, it’s game over. This may sound stressful, but Persona 4 Golden is very generous in regards to the amount of time it gives you to save victims. It’s also satisfying to figure out how to best spend your time. Should you level-grind to gain experience points or should you go to the movies and deepen a bond? Do you spend your evening speaking with your uncle or earning money cleaning dishes at the local pub? Some people may find this freedom overwhelming, but the options mirror the way we must make hard choices in real life.
Persona 4 Golden’s gameplay alone makes it exceptional, but its story and characters are the primary reason to dive into the adventure. Yes, the narrative comes off as cliched at times; coming-of-age stories are tales as old as time, after all. Still, the voice actors’ earnest and heartfelt performances make the narrative memorable.
You get a real sense of everyone’s personalities as the story unfolds. There are some stumbles and awkward moments, but for the most part, Persona 4 Golden is a prime example of how to handle characters and their respective arcs.
Persona 4 Golden on PC is an enhanced version of the PlayStation Vita game, but it looks surprisingly good. Part of this is a result of Persona 4 Golden’s stylized art style, which gives the game a look and feel all its own. The upgraded textures are crisp, and they look fantastic on a monitor or TV screen. The same is true for the anime-style cut scenes and the characters’ in-game portraits. Persona 4 Golden has never looked better.
Since it’s a relatively old game, Persona 4 Golden won’t tax your gaming rig. At a minimum, your PC needs an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and the Windows 8.1 operating system.Unless you have an ancient PC, you’ll have no problem experiencing 60 frames per second play at 1920 by 1080-pixel resolution. Persona 4 Golden ran without a hitch on my gaming desktop, a PC that contains an Intel i7 4790 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU.
Speaking of graphics options, you won’t find many here. Persona 4 Golden lets you adjust the rendering scale, enable shadows and anti-aliasing, tweak the shadow quality, and adjust the contrast. The display settings let you change the resolution, select screen mode (full screen, borderless, windowed), and turn on V-sync. The game supports both mouse and keyboard inputs, as well as game controllers. It uses the controversial Denuvo as its DRM solution.
Persona 4 Golden on PC is superior to the PlayStation Vita version in almost every way. That said, there is one quality-of-life feature that’s missing: quick save. The Vita version didn’t have quick save, either, but you could put the handheld to sleep and pick up where you left off. There is no equivalent feature in this Steam version. Some people may view this as a minor gripe, because the game lets you fast-travel to any Inaba save point or use the Goho-M item to return to the Midnight Channel’s save point. While all this is true, it would still be better to have a quick save feature on hand in case of an emergency.
Persona 4 Golden is as great on PC as it was on PlayStation Vita. Its turn-based combat is fast, fun, fluid, and encourages strategic thinking. The contemporary, rural setting and Jung-inspired narrative sets it apart from other JRPGs and allows it to tell a story that breaks genre conventions. Most importantly, the characters and their unique quirks make for a highly entertaining gameplay experience. Persona 4 Golden is a JRPG classic and a must-own PC game.