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Signs of Love -- A Persona 4 Golden Retrospective Review

Signs of Love -- A Persona 4 Golden Retrospective Review

I’ve wanted a PlayStation Vita for a while. After picking up a New 3DS XL last year, I found that it was missing something. Mario and Zelda are all well and good, but I struggled to find anything to really lose myself in. I toyed with the PS Plus games I’d grabbed over the last months before diving in and picking up Persona 4 Golden, a game that many hold in high acclaim.

I can’t play Persona 4 Golden without my feet tapping away beneath my desk. Introducing the characters as they dance along to the music immediately sets a young, fun tone that I haven’t felt from a game in a long time. It pushes all the buttons to take me back to when I was 16 and spending summer afternoons hanging out with my friends.

Persona 4 Golden casts you as a transfer student joining a new school after moving out of the city to live with your uncle. Shortly after, a renowned TV presenter is found dead, and you discover that you are the only person who can find the killer and solve the ‘mystery of the Midnight Channel’. What starts as an urban rumour later becomes real, as townsfolk appear on TV screens during rainy nights, and disappear before showing up dead when the following fog clears.


It becomes apparent that you have the power to enter a realm within the TV at will, and when inside you are attacked by Shadows, monsters born from people’s negative emotions. Cast into this place by the killer, the victims face their own Shadow -- an amalgamation of their deepest thoughts, fears, and desires that will kill them if you can’t help them accept their hidden selves.

Like its characters, Persona 4 Golden has two sides. You encounter your friends’ Shadows during the story, with sexuality and depression being key themes repeated throughout. But when outside of the Shadow realm, you attend school and decide how to spend your afternoons and evenings. You can spend time with most major characters in the game to enhance your Social Rank with them, a system that affects the power of your Personas, your weapon within the TV. Attributes such as courage, expression, and diligence can be improved through activities like reading purchased books, working a part time job, and tending to a vegetable garden with your cousin. These tie back to your Social Links by giving you access to new conversation options, and opportunities to improve your Link with certain characters that would otherwise be locked off. For example, one key character requires the highest courage to approach.

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Everything you do in Persona 4 Golden affects something elsewhere in the game, which means you must carefully weigh up your options when short for time. The story beats operate on a timed system. After someone appears on the Midnight Channel, you have a limited number of days to rescue them. You attend school automatically Monday through Saturday, occasionally being given a glimpse of a lesson to answer trivia questions on various subjects, and then the game opens up after school. You can visit different areas of Inaba, buying items for use in combat, completing side quests for townsfolk, attend after-school clubs, or hang out with your friends to build those Social Links.

Spending time with people is optional, but is a chance to learn more about them, and are often some of the best moments in the game. The superb translation and voice acting help to make these characters lovable and I have laughed out loud at some of the more absurd situations they get into. After rescuing someone from the TV, there is a quiet period, and this is when you spend the most time with your friends. School trips, festivals, and trips out to the beach bring some of the biggest laughs. It’s not often that I can play a game or watch an anime about school kids and not hate at least one of them, but Atlus has filled Persona 4 Golden with characters that I genuinely want to spend time with. They’re all genre tropes of course, but they’re written and played just right. Yosuke -- the fool you meet early on who becomes your best mate, Chie -- a kung fu lover who will sooner get in a fight than talk things out, and Yukiko -- the pretty one, with dreams of escaping her family and forging her own life, are the first you meet.

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These friends are your allies in combat. As you progress, new characters become available to join your party when you venture into dungeons. Combat in Persona 4 Golden seems like your standard JRPG but I have never had much experience with this genre. As you move through the dungeon, you will see Shadows ahead. When you or an enemy are hit, it transitions into the fight, but if you can hit them from behind, you will have an advantage, but if they hit you first, they will. The advantage is a free hit with all characters in the party. Against one enemy this may barely make a dent on your health, but if you’ve run into one of the larger groups of the later dungeons, you could be in a bad way before you’ve had a chance.

You and your enemies all have at least one weakness, and will be stunned temporarily if hit with that element. When you hit a weakness, you are offered a second attack. If you can continue to hit weaknesses on all the enemies in an encounter, you can keep attacking without ending the turn. If all of the enemies are knocked down, a prompt to use an All Out Attack is given. Here, all of your party attack all enemies for massive damage. You have to find and exploit the weakness of your enemies while also being aware of your own, and taking caution when necessary.

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If certain criteria are met in a fight, you will enter a mode called Shuffle Time when combat is finished. Here, a number of cards with different boosts will be dealt. These can range from money and exp boosts, to instant level ups, to the chance to enhance one of your personas attacks, but some cards give negative effects. One card may reduce all earnt money from this fight to zero, but you’ll then be allowed to draw two more cards. Through strategic selection of these randomly dealt cards, it is sometimes possible to take all of them. If you do this, you will be given the Sweep Bonus. It guarantees that you will have a Shuffle Time after your next fight, and you’ll also be able to select three cards from the start instead of one. Trying to chain a combo of Sweep Bonuses adds another incentive to fighting, as being able to draw more cards will give you more rewards faster.

What should feel like two halves of different games have been blended together superbly and I never know which side I prefer. As an introduction to JRPG’s, this game teaches you at a pace that will give you a deep understanding of the mechanics without you even realising. While not appropriate for a younger audience, if you’re like me and have missed out on this genre, this a great place to jump on.


I understand this is a long piece, so if you made it this far, I hope it’s because this game has piqued your interest. I don’t know anyone who has played this game and not loved it. After this, there are a handful of other games in the Persona 4 series using the same characters, including a fighting game and a rhythm action game. I’m definitely picking those up. Time will tell if Persona 5, coming to PS4 and PS3 sometime later this year, will best what is already one of my favourite games of all time.

Tom Bickmore

Tom Bickmore

Staff Writer

Biggest mug at GameGrin

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