Although I’ve been gaming for almost 30 years there’s always been a couple of genres that I’ve never really managed to get into. Real time strategy games, (Unless Sim City counts) and Role Playing Games. In fact my only real experience of playing any form of RPG up until now was Defenders of Oasis on the Sega Game Gear and even that was a struggle.
So for me to take on a Japanese RPG like Persona 4 Golden is taking me right out of my gaming comfort zone. But since owning a PS Vita it’s been one of the titles that has been mentioned time and time again by various websites and YouTube channels as being one of the best gaming experiences on the platform. And as it just so happened to be going cheap on the PSN store before Christmas I decided to give it a try. 60+ hours later of gameplay later I’m glad I did!
You take on the role of the initially un-named protagonist who moves from the big city to the quiet town of Inaba to spend a year living with his uncle Ryotaro Dojima and his young cousin Nanako. During his stay he attends the local high school and becomes friends with Yosuke, Chie, Yukiko and later on in the game Kanji, former Japanese idol Rise and Naoto Shirogane – a young police detective who eventually ends up attending the same school as the others.
Not long after you arrive in Inaba and following a couple of recent murders, Yosuke, Chie and you investigate the widespread rumours of the Midnight Channel. Apparently if you stare into a TV at midnight when it rains you will see your supposed soulmate. Or so you’re led to believe. When you actually try out the rumours for yourself you realise that you are actually able to fully enter an alternate world through the TV screen, which is where you’ll end up spending a good portion of the game. The rest of your time is spent living out your everyday teenage life. You go to school, attend after school clubs, eat at the local Chinese diner and hang out with your friends. And it’s through the time spent with your friends and other key characters within the game that you will start to build up ‘Social links’. Each link that you manage to build up helps to improve and strengthen the persona inside of you. The stronger the link, the stronger the persona.
Your Persona or to put it another way, ‘That alternate creature that lives inside of you’ is pretty much key to progressing through the dungeon crawling sections of the game. At various points during the story certain characters will be kidnapped and thrown into the TV world by a mystery culprit. You then have a set number of days to investigate the TV world, track them down and save them. Each of these sections takes the form of a multi-level dungeon that’s jam packed with treasure to find and monsters to fight. These monsters or ‘Shadows’ as they’re known as in the game take the form of all manner of inventive and highly creative creatures such as dismembered hands, lions on wheels and even what appears to me to look like Skeletor’s head on a wooden body. I could be wrong but that’s what it looks like to me.
At the end of each dungeon you’ll face a boss. This in particular is where having a strong Persona comes into play. You’ll need to use each of your teams Personas individual strengths against the boss’s weaknesses. So you might get one of your team members to bombard a boss that’s vulnerable to ice magic with ice attacks while another team member is the dedicated healer, constantly casting healing spells to top up your health levels. It’s all turn based combat at the end of the day, but there’s a certain satisfaction to be had from conquering a tricky boss through effectively micro managing your team. Oh, and some of those boss fights are pretty damn long by the way so make sure you keep your Vita’s charging lead to hand!
And that’s pretty much Persona 4 in a nutshell. Obviously, there’s an in-depth and rather emotional story to work your way through and you’ll find yourself getting more and more sucked into it as your play time progresses. You’ll get to know each different characters personality traits and after a while you’ll start to care what happens to each of them as well. It’s a game that’s almost a bit like a really good television drama where you can’t wait to watch the next episode because you want to see what happens. It offers such a wealth of fun and escapism without ever really becoming too grindy or boring. It took me just over 60 hours to reach the end credits yet I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer.
If you’ve never tried a JRPG before then I highly recommend Persona 4 Golden as a good entry point. It’s certainly opened up my eyes to a new genre of game that I can’t wait to explore further.
Originally published December 21st 2017.