A Landmark in my Gaming Legacy
Anyone that knows me could tell you that I’ve played a lot of games in my 24-year lifetime . Most of the time, I’ve been fortunate enough to play some truly stellar titles, and I sing praise for more games than I don’t. That’s a good thing, as I obviously don’t want to play anything that would be the equivalent of garbage. However, throughout all of the great games I’ve played, there is a small handful that have cropped up that I can consider the best of the best, games that will go down in history as truly legendary experiences and leave a permanent mark on my legacy as a gamer. Over the span of the last week and a half, I have been blessed to have played one such game that I can hereafter count amongst the absolute finest titles I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. That game is Persona 4 Golden.
I really don’t even know where to start with just how absolutely mind-blowing this title is, but I guess I’ll start with why I even picked it up in the first place. As anyone who has read this blog within the past month knows, I purchased the Solid Gold Premium Edition, of which there are only 10,000 copies in existence, so not only do I now own a phenomenal title, but perhaps the rarest version of it. However, I came close to canceling due to some shipping discrepancies with Amazon. I can only imagine how different the past week and a half would have been had I not picked this up and instead opted to buy it at a later date. To think that I almost didn’t even experience this game is now unthinkable after I’ve finished it. It’s a travesty just to think about it. Hell, when the game came in, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to get around to playing it anytime soon, as RPGs are a serious investment of your time and I have a growing backlog that I could play leading up to Christmas. The real reasons I wanted to get the game in the first place at all were because I heard it was a unique and fun RPG (boy, is that an understatement) and I also wanted to know what exactly was going on in Persona 4 Arena, considering it’s a fighting game from Arc System Works, which also developed Guilty Gear and Blazblue, that takes place two months after the events of this game, so I really wanted to pick it up, but held off until Golden came out. In the end, it paid off in more ways than I can possible describe.
So, allow me to just come out and say it: Persona 4 Golden is one of the greatest games I have ever played. Period. It’s Final Fantasy IX-caliber, folks, and anyone that knows me well enough knows how I highly regard that title as my favorite of all-time, alongside a few Mega Man X titles and Ocarina of Time, so this is nothing to scoff at. I walked into this not really knowing what to expect, but after the first several plot-heavy hours of getting to know some of the key characters in the game and watching the game’s mystery unfold, I found myself getting sucked in. The more I played, the more I became involved in the nuances of this little town called Inaba, where the game takes place, and all of it’s unique and colorful inhabitants.
In fact, the characterization of this title is its greatest suit. A key feature in the game is forming Social Links with certain non-playable characters and members of your team in order to increase you bond with them, thus giving you additional perks like the ability to help knocked down characters in battle, cure ailments, and also giving experience bonuses when fusing Personas, which are essentially inner selves in the forms of different monsters, mythical creatures, and gods that sort of act like Pokemon in a way, though are far more visceral-looking and have Final Fantasy-esque techniques. It actually got to the point that, sure, I liked the perks, but I started to care about the characters I was speaking to. I didn’t want to let them down. They are so genuinely likeable and even realistic in their dilemmas that I wanted to acquire and max out as many Social Links as I possibly could. On top of that, the writing and voice acting is amongst the finest I’ve ever seen and heard in any game. Considering the game takes influences from anime, that’s saying a lot, as some English dubs of anime shows and games can be downright painful to listen to. The opposite applies here. Every voice is perfectly suited for the character and an absolute joy to listen to. It got to the point where I became attached to the characters, and when the credits rolled, I didn’t want to say goodbye. It’s very rare that I get so attached to the characters in any game, but when they’re all so likeable and human and you have the ability to interact with them more than just by watching cutscenes unfold, it’s difficult not to, and the experience is greatly benefited by it.
Beyond the amazing characterization, there also lies a murder mystery that kept me tangled in its web for the entire 67-hour ride. You read that right. It took that long to get through the game all the way to the true ending, and that included doing everything I could in the time I was given. See, you only spend a year in Inaba, as you’re just temporarily staying with your uncle and cousin while your parents are out of the country due to work. Barring plot points, you can spend every afternoon and evening doing what you want. The game has an inherit freedom about it that truly allows you to shape the experience as you see fit. Inaba may be a small town with few inhabitants, but there’s always something to do, and everything you do benefits you in some way, whether it’s hanging out with key characters, going to clubs and part-time jobs, or going to grab a meal at a local diner, among many other things.
Returning to the plot, it has several twists and turns and keeps giving you more questions to ponder. I actually found myself trying to figure the mystery out even while not playing the game. Who committed the murders? What’s with the TV world? What exactly is the Midnight Channel and why does it show certain people? Where did this power I have come from? The only way to answer every question is to attain the true ending, which takes good decision-making in order to attain. Most games I play anymore seem to have rather ho-hum plots that are straight-forward and don’t shape the outcome around the player nearly enough. There’s a couple that stand out here and there, but nothing like Persona 4. I haven’t played a game that kept me this involved in the plot in a long time.
Then there’s the battling, which is a tried-and-true turn-based system, like Japanese RPGs of yore. It’s very well-paced and has an amazing level of strategy layered in. Picking the right Persona for every situation is crucial, as every enemy has their own weaknesses to exploit with certain attacks. Plus, it can be set to delegate commands to your party members, or you can take total control and issue every order yourself. I prefer the latter, but having the option is fantastic and makes the experience open to any sort of RPG fan. I always looked forward to jumping into the TV world and taking down Shadows. The battling and dungeon crawling aren’t the heart of the experience, as the game emphasizes characterization and plot above all else, but it is undeniably another strong asset of the game. Plus, having the freedom to jump into the TV world almost anytime to train and level up keeps things flexible for battle-hungry players, as well as the possibility of picking up more Personas to use in fusion just by simply winning fights.
I was in love with the art style from the moment I watched the intro. This is anime through and though, folks. However, that shouldn’t put anyone off, as it never suffers the pitfalls of common anime stereotypes, like tons of forced fan service, for example. The menus are among the slickest I’ve seen in any game to date, and the visuals, while they do hail from a 4-year old, PlayStation 2 title at this point, are given a huge face lift to accommodate the power of the Vita. Colors pop off of the system’s OLED screen, and the amount of detail put into environments is impressive, given the game’s age.
To top it all off, the music. Oh, the music. Shoji Meguro, the lead composer for the Persona series, has done an outstanding job here. Most of the tracks actually have vocals in them, but they fit the game perfectly and I actually came to enjoy these catchy tunes. I was afraid they would start to grate by the end of the game, but the battle themes kept me motivated all the way up to the final fight, where some of the best pieces in the game shine through. The music also has an air of emotion about them, too, and always fit the mood. I swear, the track “Snowflakes”, which played near the end of the game while walking around school and town, nearly brought me to tears as the end of my year in Inaba encroached upon me. Hell, the ending nearly made me cry. That’s something I can only say about a very, very small amount of games. Just imagine a grown man nearly brought to tears by a game. It happened, people, and the music played a crucial part in it. Best of all, I’m not ashamed of it. Even if I had started bawling, I wouldn’t have been ashamed. Games are just as much an art form and a means of expression as movies and music, and this game is among those that truly showcases just how games can be a moving experience, as well. In fact, this may very well be the new standard.
I already miss Inaba. I miss the characters I got to interact with. The high school camaraderie, the hijinks, the highs and lows; all of it. It’s a title with emotion and character that does a damn fine job in making you feel as if you’re a part of the world. The fact that your character never talks only further emphasizes that. I’m not entirely fond of lead characters that don’t speak, but having him speak here would have hurt the game, in the end. It would have made it felt like you were watching instead of being actively involved, and that’s not at all what this game is going for. Getting to select responses during conversations makes you feel more involved with the characters and how you develop your bonds with them, as it also is a means to project your voice into the game, in a way.
I could go on and on about how fantastic this title is. There simply aren’t enough positive adjectives to describe it. Persona 4 Golden is an experience I didn’t want to end simply for the fact that I wanted to continue to interact with this wonderful world, but I also wanted to finish in order to see the plot come full circle. It’s bittersweet. Now that my time is done, though, there is always New Game+ and I could go for more Trophies, but when it comes to RPGs, I usually leave them alone for a little while after finishing them. It’s hard to jump back in a world and start over once you’ve already seen what’s happened in the end. I’ve already attained closure, so starting over again could potentially ruin that feeling. However, the story of Persona 4 is not yet over. Remember how I mentioned Arena? That’s now #1 on my most-wanted games list. I must see how this continues and I look forward to seeing the characters I experienced this adventure with involved in a fighting game with a full-blown story mode by the writers of the original game and wrapped around a 2D fighting system from the makers of the stellar Blazblue franchise.
I hereby welcome Persona 4 Golden into my personal Hall of Fame, as it certainly has left its mark on my gaming legacy. I’ve simply never played anything like it, and I feel very, very fortunate to have had the pleasure of being exposed to something so flawless. A very, very big thank you is now owed to ATLUS for bringing this game into being, and I look forward to indulging myself further in this series while also reflecting on the enriching, engrossing, and emotional experience this game has given me. It’s why I play games in the first place, and I will certainly never forget this experience for years to come.