Persona 4 has left an indelible mark on the industry. While Persona 3 was the installment that both created and popularized a gameplay flow and made this “child” more recognizable in the mainstream community than its Shin Megami Tensei parent, it was Persona 4 that further uplifted the series and cemented the series’ place in the RPG genre. The Persona 4 Golden PC port is the perfect introduction for a larger community to the series.
Persona 4 Golden begins as every installment does. A young adult finds themselves displaced. Their former, comfortable life is gone, and they are alone in a new home and at a new school. In the case of our avatar here, at least the landing is a comfortable one. He’s welcomed into the small town home of his uncle, Ryotaro Dojima, and his cousin, Nanako. But this won’t be a chance to enjoy a slower-paced life than the one he led in the city.
What follows is a story about growing up. It isn’t perfect, and certain elements haven’t aged as well as others. (Some people will take issue with Kanji and Naoto’s personal journeys, and that’s valid.) As a whole, it’s generally delightful. Perhaps I’m looking at it through rose-colored glasses. I still love these teens, their relationship dynamics, and how we see them grow up. Yeah, a lot of times, we don’t see major, obvious changes. It could be a subtle acceptance of something that could have been bothering them or a potential life path. (Which honestly might be more realistic, since major life changes in the life of a teenager over one year probably wouldn’t happen.)
Persona 4 Golden’s gameplay progression is a mix between managing your avatar’s daily life and heading with your buddies for madcap, lifesaving hijinks in the Midnight Channel. In your day-to-day life, you answer questions in class, attend your clubs, and work at jobs. You also spend time with people to build up Courage, Diligence, Expression, Knowledge, and Understanding stats so you can be better at certain things or actually make progress when forming Social Links with notable characters. (Which you want to do, because you want those event segments and Persona fusion and creation boosts.)
Periodically, someone will be thrown into the Midnight Channel. You then have to watch the weather reports and save them before the fog rolls in and the rampaging Shadows kill them in the other realm. It’s rather well-balanced, though I defaulted as always to completing each dungeon as soon as possible to keep everyone alive and give myself as much time to perfect my avatar’s day-to-day life.
When you’re in the Midnight Channel, there’s traditional dungeon-crawling and turn-based battling. Your goal is to get through each person’s prison of their own making, as this other world preys on their own anxieties and fears to trap them in a dungeon. Battles are turn-based, with players able to control everyone’s actions. Each Persona has elemental affiliations that can be used to prey on Shadows’ own weaknesses.
The protagonist, as the wildcard, is able to equip multiple Personas to increase his range. After fights, you can acquire new ones, which can be fused in the Velvet Room to make new and better allies to help you in the trials ahead. There are five difficulty levels, to keep things manageable, though I imagine some might rely on the less taxing ones to help eliminate any kind of grind.
Since this is a Persona 4 Golden PC port, players will have the optimal version of the game. Even more detailed, animated cutscenes appear. Marie is around as a new Social Link and a Velvet Room attendant specializing in Skill Cards. (There’s another notable Social Link too in Adachi, your uncle’s partner who is also working on the murder mystery.) You have new activities, like an opportunity to get a scooter license or garden, and there are new interactions with allies. There’s an additional storyline with an extra dungeon to explore too, which results in a different ending.
The internet elements remain, so you could send Rescue Requests in dungeons or use Vox Populi to see what other people decided to do with their in-game free time. As I was playing ahead of launch, I wasn’t able to really make the most of either of those elements and see how valuable they were. Vox Populi always had suggestions for me, of course. (It can be a helpful way to check and see who is available to talk without actually looking around.) But there weren’t exactly an overwhelming amount of Rescue Requests, as you might imagine.
While this is mostly a case of a classic JRPG suddenly being made available for a much larger audience, this is also a remaster. This means, well, it looks much better than it did on either the PlayStation 2 or PlayStation Vita. Every environmental object is much clearer, to the point where you can make out labels on cans. (I never realized Jack Frost was on the vending machines on main street! Then again, it has been a while.) The character models for both people and Shadows are especially crisp and clear in a way I didn’t fully appreciate until I headed into Yukiko’s dungeon for the first time. The bosses all look exceptionally stunning, perhaps due to their larger sizes. It’s a lovely touch-up that helps nail the details and is more impressive than its original appearance on smaller screens.
Combine this with the vibrant color scheme, and the Persona 4 Golden PC port absolutely pops. And sounds great too, given you have that incredible soundtrack and both English and Japanese voice acting options. There’s an unlocked frame rate, which I really didn’t notice until I started doing some serious dungeon crawling. I was also delighted to see it ran perfectly on my laptop even while keeping the shadow quality on high, turning anti-aliasing on, and setting the rendering scale to 150%. (The rendering scale can go up to 200%, and you can also adjust the anisotropic Filter.) Both the keyboard and gamepad controls can be reconfigured, though you won’t have as many remapping options with a controller.
It’s good to see Persona 4 again. The more modern entries have all been built on a solid foundation that is continually being refined, and the Persona 4 Golden PC version is a really good example of exactly how well a series known as a PlayStation staple can play on a new platform. It’s a strong showing that is genuinely fun to return to, even if I think certain characters’ stories deserved better representation and development. I’m glad a whole new audience will get to visit Inaba.