Impact Oldies: Persona 4

Do you ever feel glossy-eyed when reminiscing about your high school days? Do you relish immersing yourself in a perplexing mystery? If this sounds familiar, look no further than Persona 4: Golden, a Japanese-RPG that puts you into the heart of a conundrum only you and your friends can solve.

As the protagonist you arrive in Inaba, a town where the most unusual thing seems to be its profound rurality. You meet your uncle and younger cousin, and are told you are spending the year with them. Before long, events take a darker shift. Bodies surface in odd locations, an urban legend proves to be real, and at its core is a mysterious world residing within a TV. You are bound by fate to uncover the truth behind these baffling phenomena.

The gameplay is comprised of two central aspects: plot-driven social link building and classic RPG dungeon crawling. By day, you manage your daily-school life; you take tests, attend clubs and socialise with your various new compatriots. You build your social links by spending time with one of your new chums, not only adding to the narrative, but also bolstering your strength when braving the TV dimension. The character development this provides delivers some surprisingly engaging plotlines, tackling topics such as domestic ennui, loneliness and masculinity among other themes.


By night, you explore the enigmatic TV dimension, charging through convoluted hallways in themed multi-levelled dungeons where  you encounter enemies in the form of “shadows”.  In keeping with these themes, you and your party meet their challenge using Personas: allies birthed from confronting and accepting one’s own shadow. Personas afford their user an assortment of abilities, from a selection of spells to physical attacks.

The combat itself is primarily turn based, but adds an interesting twist. Exploiting weaknesses allows you to incapacitate enemies, making them vulnerable to further punishment or a devastating group all-out attack. Triggering these events offers an immense satisfaction that helps eliminate some of the potential boredom of dungeon-running. The lack of variety inside dungeons (despite the themes themselves being vibrant and intriguing) can be a drawback for some.

The main character himself can recruit several personas, allowing you to assemble and customise your own dream-team for abating the shadow’s threat. Personas can be collected after certain battles, then fused to create even more ferocious allies. Social links once again come into play here, augmenting newly birthed personas with an infusion of additional XP to further boost their strength.

Overarching both the combat and plot mechanics is a unique calendar and time management system. Completing actions such as advancing social links, studying or entering the TV world takes time to complete, adding a strategic element to how you plan to build both your character and your experience. Admittedly this may take some getting used to: opportunities to complete certain tasks can be missed, but once the plot is comfortably underway this becomes less awkward. The time progression adds a palpable urgency to your desperate plight, where characters can die if you wait too long to rescue them.

This game, a Vita-exclusive re-master of the 2008 PS2 original, remains much the same bar a few embellishments. While the visuals may look slightly dated, the gorgeous character art and vibrant colour palette keeps the game aesthetically pleasing. Considering the original made its debut 7 years ago, the mechanics feel as fresh as ever. Its cutting-edge blend of visual novel and traditional RPG easily remains stalwart in the modern gaming arena. All things considered, especially for Vita owners, this title is an essential buy.

Stephen Hill

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