Back in 2013, I got my first real part-time job. I went to the interview, got asked to ‘sell’ a phone to the manager, and promptly revealed that I knew nothing about phones by reassuring him that the ‘screen was big’ several times. Not my best moment, but somehow I persuaded them to give me a job and I started work a few days later. It was a second-hand store, selling games, movies, some consoles and laptops etc. Being a second-hand store, the majority of games we had there were pretty main stream. FIFA lined the shelf for days, and we could’ve built a house for the homeless with the number of Call of Duty copies we had to hand. The Vita, Sony’s rather unsuccessful follow up to their PSP had a very slim presence in our store, pretty much limited to a copy of Assassin’s Creed and some licensed piece of shovelware. Just after I got my first paycheck, I decided to treat myself and the local new game store, and picked up a PS Vita and two games. I was very impressed by the power of the console, but also found myself drawn to a couple of indie games such as Guacamelee. No one game managed to completely grip me however, no matter how much I loved the console itself. Then one day at work, I saw Persona 4 Golden on the shelf. I had never heard of Persona, but I picked up the case and read the back of the box. Murder mystery, Japanese rural town, RPG… It sounded like something right up my alley and decided to pick it up using my staff discount for the first time. I fell deeply in love.
The Persona series is somewhat infamous for its slow starts as it gradually introduces you to its story, its characters and the themes it’s going to tackle. While Persona 3 and 5, which are both set in the city can feel like it takes an almost interminable amount of time before they really get going, Persona 4 manages to walk a nice balancing act thanks to its setting. The sleepy town of Inaba makes you feel at home very quickly. The shopping district, the riverfront, they all become places that you know and look fondly on almost as if they were places in your real life. Persona‘s signature ‘social links’ system helps this process. The post-Persona 3 games all feature this system, wherein spending time with some characters after school or on your days off will increase your ‘social rank’ (basically affinity) with them. These take place as little skits wherein the characters open up about their worries, their hopes, their hobbies and their feelings on how the story is going. These ‘social links’ then also help you out by giving you bonus experience when creating new personas to fight for you or by unlocking new actions to use in battle. Story, setting and gameplay mechanics are tightly interwound here and work together to create a game that hooks you from start to finish.
While not quite as slick as Persona 5, Persona 4 has its own unique charms. It still feels very stylish, in a somewhat retro kind of way, its bright yellow tone pretty uncommon in the video game market. The graphics aren’t anything amazing, but they do their job and make room for the gripping story. The dungeons are maybe the only weak point of Persona 4 when looking back at it from a post-Persona 5 world. Whereas in the most recent game in the series the dungeons have been carefully designed and crafted, Persona 4 uses randomized dungeons which change every time you move between floors. While this does lead to them being somewhat non-descript in layout, their themes are pretty interesting and they are leagues above the singular, gigantic dungeon of Tartarus at the heart of Persona 3.
After starting Persona 4, I quickly sank a lot of time into the game, reaching the end credits after about 75 hours. Many of my friends had moved to uni, which left me feeling a little bit like I didn’t quite know what I was doing in my free time, so having this group of characters with whom you were supposed to bond, hang out and chill really meant a lot to me. For a while Persona 4 was the poster child for the franchise, and while that role might now have been assumed by Persona 5, Persona 4 Golden remains one of the best RPGs you can play, and comes with my utmost recommendation.