When I originally bought my Playstation Vita back in 2015, I was already well aware of many of the most highly recommended games. Danganronpa, Freedom Wars and Dragon’s Crown were amongst their ranks, but no game had higher praise than Persona 4 Golden.
Before I first played Persona 4 Golden, my experience with the franchise was extremely limited. I remember seeing gameplay clips of Persona 3 on G4’s X-Play back in the day, and beyond, that my only experience with the games was from two of my best friends.
They had both become huge fans of Persona 4 in the few years prior, with one of them also falling in love with Persona 3. As such, I had a fairly decent overview of what the Persona games were all about. I would often listen to them gush about how great the games were, or even watch them play through bits of it. Fast forward to a PSN flash sale in 2015, and I’m suddenly playing Persona 4 Golden for myself.
It actually took me quite a few hours to really get into the game. The opening felt a bit too lengthy for me at the time, but in retrospect, I know that this was a necessary step. It does a great job of setting up the story, world and characters, so that the main narrative doesn’t have to waste time once it gets going.
I can’t exactly remember at what point in the game things finally started to click for me, but I do remember being absolutely enamored with just about everything it had to offer. Persona 4 Golden is equal parts dungeon crawling, turn based jrpg, and high school life simulator. At times you’ll be grinding shadows to prepare for the next boss encounter, while at others you’ll be getting in one more study session before your exams.
What makes Persona 4 Golden so special is that both halves of the game are engaging. The combat system is a fairly standard turn based affair, with the key to victory being exploiting enemy weak points. The variety comes in the form of choosing which Personas you take into battle, as well as being able to adapt to different situations on the fly.
Many people would argue that the high school life is the best part of the game. I already mentioned studying for exams, and I couldn’t be more serious about that. Persona 4 Golden made me stress about getting good grades more than I ever have in real life. Outside of academics, you can also take part in extracurricular school activities, and develop your bonds with your friends.
Persona 4 Golden has a mechanic known as social links. Essentially, there are a number of characters that you can form a special bond with in the game, and take part in their personal story arc, and doing so with your party members actually helps with their skills in combat.
Persona 4 Golden has a really strong narrative, but what makes me truly love the game is the cast of characters, more specifically, your party members. Yosuke, Chie, Yukiko, Rise, Naoto, Kanji and Teddie, these people didn’t feel like just video game characters to me, they felt like genuine friends.
None of them are trope-y, one note or stereotypical, they are each fully fleshed out people, each with their own dreams and sets of problems. On the surface, Yosuke feels like just a comic relief character, but he actually deals with serious issues of guilt and self doubt. Another example would be pop idol Rise, who struggles with the realities of being a celebrity. Examples like this can be given for every character, making them much more endearing and relatable.
It’s rare that video games make me feel anything other than just the sensation of having fun, but Persona 4 Golden managed to do just that, and on multiple occasions. Hanging out at Junes with my friends was super familiar and comforting. Going on a vacation to a ski resort, and getting snowed in with my girlfriend Chie was strangely romantic, and I adored checking in on Nanako and Dojima.
One moment that will always stick with me is Persona 4 Golden’s Inaba culture festival. As I stood with my friends and watched the fireworks illuminate the night sky, a feeling of profound sadness washed over me. I should’ve been overjoyed to be sharing such a special moment with these people, but I finally realized that my time with them would soon come to an end.
I didn’t want to leave Inaba. I didn’t want to stop living with Nanako and Dojima. I didn’t want to stop making memories with my friends on the Investigation Team. Even as I inched closer and closer to the final boss, I just wanted time to stop so that I could enjoy my days with the people important to me.
It’s those types of moments that make Persona 4 Golden so special to me. No other game has given me the same warm feelings that this game has, and that sentiment rings especially true for the happy moments. Another one of these would be getting to visit Inaba just a few months after moving back home.
It was a nice surprise to see how much the crew had changed. They were still recognizable as my friends, but each of them had attained a new level of maturity and personal growth. Whether it be Naoto embracing her femininity, or Yosuke gaining the confidence to carry on, I was extremely proud of each and every one of my friends.
Just thinking about Persona 4 Golden makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Even the game’s rural setting gives me a strange sense of comfort and familiarity, and I always find myself having flashbacks to specific moments that happened in the different locales. Not only is Persona 4 Golden one of my favorite games of all time, but it is one of the best experiences I’ve had in entertainment, period.