Video game review: “Persona 4 Golden”


Credit: Elizabeth Zhong

Join WSPN’s Kris Poole-Evans as he reviews the best and worst video games to play.

“Persona 4 Golden” originally released on the Play Station Vita in 2012 and came to PC in June 2020. Golden is a re-release of “Persona 4” which came out in 2008. The developers, Atlus, really have a knack for milking their popular series seeing as “Persona 4” got seven spin-offs after it’s initial release.

Golden starts with second year high schooler, Yu Narukami, in a train on his way from Tokyo to a small rural town called Yasoinaba, Inaba for short. Upon arrival, he meets his police officer uncle and seven year old niece, Ryotaro Dojima and Nanako Dojima, respectively. Dojima stops for gas on the way home which lets Yu explore the small town. Before getting back into the car, he is stopped by a gas station attendant who shakes his hand and welcomes him to town. Yu, Dojima and Nanako all head home and help Yu settle in and prepare for his new life in Inaba. The next morning starts the typical JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) experience: bond with newfound family, make friends, learn about user interface, noted for the unique color and style and go to school. At school, Yu meets three students from his class: Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi and Yosuke Hanamura, although you don’t officially meet Yosuke until a few days later. On their walk home, Chie and Yukiko tell Yu about their boring, little town. As they walk, they notice police cars and caution tape and go over to investigate. Curious residents gossip about an alleged murder that took place which immediately grabs the attention of the trio. Yu eventually gets shooed away by Dojima and his partner, Tohru Adachi, saying to leave this to the police. Shaken, the trio goes home. The next day, Yu hears about a show called the “Midnight Channel,” potentially connected to yesterdays murder as the victim was on the Midnight Channel recently. Curious, Yu and his friends all agree to watch it later that night and see if it’s legit. When watching, Yu finds out he’s able to stick his hand inside the TV, having his hand pass through the screen like it’s water. Unfortunately, Yu’s friends don’t believe a word he says. Of course, it wouldn’t be a JRPG without weird mystery and magical powers, and the power aspect come inside the strange world in the TV. After a lot of teenage angst, unrequited love, terrible parents and some really tacky looking magical glasses, Yu finds his way through the TV world along with his equally confused friends.

Like my last review, I did my best to be as vague as possible. Most games, Atlus specifically, have this really important surprise factor, and even the littlest thing can ruin it. Persona 4 Golden was the fourth game from the Persona series I played. I didn’t play them in order, but it’s nothing to cry about seeing as they aren’t related to each other. Sure, there are Easter eggs you can find but nothing crazy. Plus, a good portion of the Persona fandom haven’t even played one or two given that Atlus really only focuses on Persona’s 3-5. However, since it had been a few years since “Persona 4” came out when I played it, I knew I was bound to run into spoilers. Honestly, I think the best way to go about the Persona games is to go in completely blind.

Every song on the Golden soundtrack is downright genius. I honestly don’t know how they manage it; it’s seriously like magic. Golden’s music is the kind of peppy music that you would expect to get tired of after a few days, but you don’t. Almost like brainwashing to an extent. I thought I would hate Golden’s opening, “Shadow World,” after a few listens, but it only grew on me. That antagonizing harmonica will stick with me for years to come. One thing’s for sure though, and that’s the fact that Golden easily has the best ending credits song. “Never More” is the kind of song that makes you want to both laugh and cry, which some could argue is perfect given Golden’s bittersweet ending. “Pursuing My True Self” from “Persona 4” is up there with tracks like “Daredevil” and the Persona 2 Innocent Sin battle theme in terms of best Persona tracks, an opinion that would most likely get me slaughtered on Twitter.

The worst part of Golden is how they dealt with Yosuke Hanamura. Yosuke was, and still is, my favorite character and social link. I really enjoyed his backstory, and while I can’t necessarily relate to him for most things, I feel for him. Yosuke was originally planned to be a romance route for Yu, which would have completely opened a new path for Persona in terms of gay romance. I don’t know much about why it was taken out or what prompted the route in the first place, but I remember being upset when we never got it. The problem was not only because fans were upset about not being able to romance our dumb trashcan boy, but also because without that redemption Yosuke is just a homophobic character. From what I gather, the romance route was a way to shine light on Yosuke’s bad behaviors and work through them. Minor spoiler, but later in the story we meet a “gay” character. I’m putting gay in quotes because that entire part of the game was just… awful. They dealt with it horribly and over sexualized it way too much. Yosuke was always the one to make weird offhand comments during this arc, and he also makes that character feel extremely uncomfortable later when the three guys are sharing a tent. It’s upsetting. It really is. I practically grew up with this game, so to see how queer people like myself are represented, especially in games I love and enjoy so much, was heartbreaking when I was old enough to realize it. There’s another situation like this with another character named Naoto Shirogane, but I honestly can’t even talk about that without getting heated. I am in no way condoning homophobic characters, I should clarify, but I guess it was expected looking at Atlus’ poor track record with gay folks.

Gameplay wise, “Persona 4” is similar to “Persona 3” since they were made pretty close to each other. I may enjoy “Persona 4” and say it’s one of my favorites from the series, but I hate the layouts of the dungeons. The user interface was so frustrating to navigate when running from enemies or even just exploring. There’s not much to complain about other than it making me want to rip my hair out sometimes.

Despite that, I’m giving “Persona 4 Golden” an 8/10, but a solid two of those points are for pity and nostalgia. I definitely recommend this if you haven’t played a Persona game because it’s the perfect one to introduce you to the series. Not to mention, it’s the easiest one to get a hold of given its PC port. This game is what pushed me to play similar JRPG’s, and while the plot gets really strange at times, I couldn’t have asked for a better start.