Persona 4 Golden (Switch) Review
Persona 4 has long been one of my favourite games. I’ll happily concede that it’s probably not the best game in the Persona series, but that doesn’t make it bad by any means. It’s a quaint little story that has some of the best combat in the series and tries its damn hardest to do things right.
Let’s set the scene. Our protagonist, named by the player like most other Persona games, is sent to live with his uncle in a rural Japanese town with little much of interest. It’s not because he’s a criminal like Persona 5, rather his parents are working overseas so he needed to stay somewhere.
In this sleepy little town, there’s a few shops, a school, and a bunch of houses, but that’s about it. It’s a quaint existence, away from the hustle and bustle of big city living. It might feel a little bit small and limited compared to Persona 5, but as a setting it allows for much more intimate storytelling.
Shortly after our protagonist arrives, people start turning up dead, dangled over transmission towers. There’s rumours of a “Midnight Channel”, a mysterious TV show that comes on at the stroke of midnight and allegedly shows your deepest desires. Our protagonist and his friends decide to tune in, and they see a girl. The next day, that girl is dead.
After a silly sequence in which our protagonist and his friends discover they can enter the TV realm (it’s Persona, which means plenty of anime nonsense), they discover that there’s more to the Midnight Channel than meets the eye. It’s a place filled with shadows created and fueled by repressed emotions, and those shadows are doing real damage to anyone who might stumble in.
As previously mentioned, Persona 4 tries to go down a much more intimate route with its storytelling, and mostly pulls it off. There’s genuine moments of touching emotion on display, with our heroes diving deep into their own psyches and overcoming their deepest, darkest selves.
There’s a heavy theme in the air of accepting and overcoming every part of yourself, not just the parts you like, and that theme is almost always handled very cleverly and very carefully. I say almost because there are some moments that are, to put it lightly, a bit yikes. There’s some overt homophobia in some parts, a bit of light transphobia in others, and generally just a weird take on femininity that feels contrary to what the game tries to achieve, but for the most part it’s a wonderful story that’s worth experiencing for yourself.
In terms of the actual gameplay, if you’ve played Persona 5 you should know exactly what to expect here. Your days are split up into social aspects, where you spend your time with friends and boosting your skills, and dungeon-crawling aspects, where you hop into a TV and fight monsters.
The social aspects are fine, I guess? They can be a bit stressful, and a bit opaque, as you never really know what’s going to be important to spend your time on until it’s far too late to change course. Still, it can encourage you to play through multiple times to see how different paths pan out, if you’re willing to sink another 80 hours into it for some reason.
The combat is basically identical to Persona 5, or rather Persona 5 is basically identical to Persona 4. It’s familiar, it’s good, and it feels incredibly satisfying to pull off in every encounter, from small guys to big bosses. Dungeon crawling feels a little archaic in comparison, but it’s good enough and the dungeons don’t drag on forever like certain other games so they’re more than tolerable.
As for the quality of the port, there’s really nothing to complain about here. Persona 4 Golden was solid on the Vita, it was solid when it came to Steam, and it’s solid here on Switch. It’s very much a game that should be played handheld, in my opinion, and I played it on the Lite to get as close to the Vita experience as possible. The text is large and legible, the graphics look fine for a 15-year-old game, and it all runs incredibly smoothly without a hitch in sight.
There are a few small additions compared to previous versions, like a quick save option that lets you back out and close the game down at any time, and an option to change the difficulty settings at any point, but otherwise it’s just Persona 4, as good as it’s ever been.
Persona 4 Golden has always been one of the most solid games in the Persona series, and the Switch port is no exception. It’s a lovely story bolstered by a fantastic combat system, and it’s worth playing for newcomers and veterans alike.
+ Looks and runs great
+ Soundtrack is wonderful
+ Combat and dungeons are best in the series
- Story is nothing special
- Social aspects still opaque and frustrating
- The Junes theme song