A wholesome coming-of-age story swaddled within a grim murder-mystery, Persona 4 Golden is a beast of two natures. A Japanese role-playing game (RPG), Persona 4 follows a high schooler who has moved to the small Japanese town of Inaba for the year. Before he gets a chance to unpack, a gruesome series of killings take place, with victims found strung from TV antennas and phone lines across town. In the meantime, an urban legend called the Midnight Channel makes the rounds of his new school, promising viewers a chance to see their soulmate appear on TV if they stare into a blank screen on a rainy night.
There’s a dark ring of truth to the rumour – though it’s not soulmates that appear on the Midnight Channel but flickering images of the killer’s next victim, writhing in pain and shrouded in fog. When the protagonists discover they have the power to enter the Shadow World, a warped realm where the killings are taking place, they receive powerful abilities called Personas and begin wading through randomly-generated dungeons and turn-based battles in the hopes of putting an end to the murders.
It’s not all grim. Persona 4‘s visuals are garishly colourful right from its catchy opening movie, and when you’re not entering the Shadow World to fight monsters and save victims of Inaba’s serial killer, you will be doing everything a normal student does. You’re free to spend your free hours as you wish – whether that’s working a part-time job for cash, hanging out with your friends or studying for school – as long as you stay on top of the game’s deadlines, which requires saving the Midnight Channel’s reluctant stars by certain dates. Fail that, and it’s game over.
Again, though – it’s not just about the murder! By the time you roll credits on Persona 4 (expect that to take 65-75 hours), it won’t be the image of a body hanging from an antenna that lingers in your mind. It will be Persona 4‘s relentlessly catchy original soundtrack that’s bursting with noughties pop bangers, or conversations with characters you’ll come to see as cherished friends during your time in Inaba. Maybe it will be a little murder, as a treat – the plot is properly gripping until the pacing starts to wobble toward the end of Golden‘s bonus content – but thematically, it’s remarkable how many plates Persona 4 manages to spin at once.
Though it’s been 15 years since Persona 4 first launched, you would have a hard time guessing its age. The game’s delightful cast and tense plot match 2016’s Persona 5 without skipping a beat, while much-needed additions like a quick-save feature make this version of Golden the best way to play it. However, Persona 4‘s dungeon-crawling – while an improvement on Persona 3 – still lags behind the polish of 5, and it can grow tiresome to sweep numerous floors in search of a randomly-generated way to progress. When you eventually crawl toward Persona 4‘s end, the dungeons can start to feel like a chore to complete for the sake of progressing the story.
However, that remains a grating niggle in the face of Persona 4‘s wider strengths. A decade and a half later, Persona 4 remains a legitimately essential JRPG – and now developer Atlus has ported it bloody everywhere, there’s no excuse for skipping it.
There are few games as colourful, vibrant, or touching as Persona 4. Thanks to an endearing cast, near-unrivaled soundtrack and captivating plot, expect to leave a piece of your heart in Inaba when you finally reach the credits of this gem.
- Lively, entertaining characters who are a delight to bond with
- Fantastic soundtrack
- A high-stakes plot that still finds time for moments of sweetness
- The dungeons can become grating by the end
- Likewise, the story continued in Golden stretches a little too long