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Game Info:

Persona 4 Golden
Developed By: Atlus
Published By: SEGA/Atlus
Release Date: June 13, 2020 (November 20, 2012 on PS Vita)
Available On: Windows, PS Vita
ESRB Rating: M for Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence
Genre: Role Playing Game
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $19.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you SEGA/Atlus for sending us this game to review!

Persona 4 Golden was originally released on PlayStation Vita in 2012, and really ended up defining that console for many; for a system that had a hard time selling, Persona 4 Golden ended up being one of the top ten most sold games, and certainly one of the most fondly remembered. In a surprise announcement, SEGA/Atlus released Persona 4 Golden on Windows PC in June, 2020. While the PS Vita may have lost yet another exclusive, now a much larger audience can enjoy this unforgettable game.

Our unnamed protagonist, who I'm going to call Yu Narukami (that's his canon name from other media) is a student who has to move to his uncle Ryotaro Dojima's house along with his adorable cousin Nanako for his second year of high school because his parents have work overseas. He leaves the city to visit the countryside town of Inaba, where we meet him arriving at the Inaba train station. It doesn't take long before he awakens to his powers, and is summoned to the Velvet Room where he is told that this year will change his destiny forever if he rises to the coming challenges. He quickly learns that he can go inside of Televisions – and that there’s a whole new world contained therein.

What quickly unfolds is a murder mystery that spans most of the game, where characters suddenly disappear when the fog rolls in, only to have them killed and put on display in a rather shocking fashion. There is also the strange happenings on the Midnight Channel; if you stay up to midnight on a rainy day, the TVs will show strange images, even if they aren't turned on. These mysteries are handled quite well, with various twists and turns in the story, and it's very easy to accidentally get a bad (or less good) ending by accepting things as they appear.

The game itself revolves around two parts; the first is your time getting through school, where you choose activities to fill each day, like studying, reading a good, working a job, or spending time with your friends. Each of them can either raise a personality attribute, or increase the bond of your social links, both of which are important not only for progressing the story (and getting better endings), but can play a role in battle as well. One of the game's major themes is that we can't do as much alone as we can together with people we care about.

The second major part of the game is the dungeon crawling and turn-based RPG combat. This takes place inside of the TV World. Each dungeon is semi-randomly generated, with mostly simple corridors and rooms where you find enemies to fight. You can avoid battle most of the time if you choose, though you may find yourself underpowered if you do so. In battle, each party member has a Persona which they can draw skills from (the protagonist can actually choose his Persona before or during battle; everyone else is assigned one that they use during the whole game). These skills are used to attack Shadows, which is another name for the enemies. When you defeat them, they drop experience, money, and items. You can also trigger a Shuffle Time, which is a way to get even better rewards from battle.

Much of this game’s themes revolve around Tarot cards. Each of your Social Links represents a card, with the protagonist representing the Fool. These are called Arcana. One is Magician, another is Lovers, another is Priestess, and so on. These cards come into play not only with the Arcana of Persona and their Social Links, but also in Shuffle Time. When this happens, you have a bunch of cards available to choose from after battle. These range from experience gains or losses, to new Personas for Yu (no one else can get new Personas this way), to upgraded levels or skills for Yu's active Persona.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Very long and deep adventure that never gets boring; characters are all wonderfully charming; ending is incredibly satisfying; resolution scales to at least 4K and looks as good as you can expect a Vita port to look; incredible art, music, and voice acting; deep gameplay mechanics and enjoyable fast-paced battles; lots of endings
Weak Points: Occasional crashes; might be too long for some; best endings are easy to miss if you don't have a guide
Moral Warnings: Most common curse words, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch',  and 'b*st*rd'; some blood present in certain scenes; partial nudity in a bath scene; there is a beach scene with everyone wearing swimsuits; some characters have sexual identity issues that are mostly resolved through the story; some monsters/Personas wear practically nothing, with fully exposed breasts (with no nipples), while others wear form-fitting clothes that show nipple bumps; some other monsters/Personas are clearly shaped like male genitalia; Persona descriptions can be quite mature, and mention sexual things; entire player character party gets drunk (though it is claimed not to be alcohol, they all act like it is); all Personas are aspects of personality, and run the gamut from angelic to demonic, and everything in between, including names like Michael, Satan, Lucifer, and Beelzebub; Persona types based on tarot cards, which play a prominent role in the battle system

Personas are based on the psychology of Carl Jung, who suggests that each person has a face they present to the world, and Shadows, which are aspects of our unconscious mind. He also found through his hypnosis experiments that people's unconscious seems to innately know about ancient archetypes that extend beyond the local culture. This is the basis for the 'Persona' and 'Shadow' system of the Persona video game series. Persona 4 Golden explains this in much more detail than the other titles I have had exposure to.

As an aside, my first Persona game was actually Persona 5, and this one, which was released earlier is now my second. I found some of the contrasts between the two striking. Unlike in Persona 5, Shadows in this game are not always inherently evil. Rather than being a corruption of oneself, they are instead another repressed side of you that you have to accept. The game hinted that the seemingly inevitable conflict between your party and a character's Shadow could have been avoided if they would have accepted their Shadow as a part of themselves before the conflict. In every case they do accept it afterwards, and their new Persona powers manifest as a result.

You meet quite a few characters throughout your journey investigating the murders and kidnappings. Each one has some aspect of themselves that they are repressing. Some of these things include a desire to be liked, a hope to expose their real self, and even aspects of their sexuality. Each of the main cast’s dungeons (for lack of a better term) exposes something that the character is embarrassed about. One of the girls says she wants to ‘score’ with guys, and another is shown in a tiny bikini and promises to ‘show it all’. One of the guys is shown in an incredibly stereotypically gay way, talking about ‘manly’ things and wanting other men to join him in his bath house. Yet another is a girl who everyone at first thought was a boy because she hid her true self well, and her dungeon ended with a machine that would have operated on her body (presumably to change sex, though that is not explicitly stated).

Interestingly, each of the characters mentioned came to terms with their impulses in a much healthier way. The two girls initially mentioned became calmer and more self confident, and eventually become quite relaxed and unguarded around their friends. The other two, Kanji (the guy who’s Shadow acted gay) and Naoto (who is discovered to be a girl rather than the guy she presents herself as) are much more interesting cases.

In the case of Kanji, after he accepted that part of him was attracted to guys, he explained that it wasn’t a case of disliking girls, or even not finding them attractive; he was just afraid of rejection, and how mean they can be. He found guys easier to handle, so he fantasized about not needing women. That’s how he explained it to his friends, anyway. As for the rest of the game, some jokes are poked at him for his sexuality, but he does crush on a girl... who everyone thought was a guy at first. Whether he is straight, gay, or perhaps bisexual is a debate that has raged online for over a decade, as the developers left it intentionally vague.

Naoto presents herself as a guy because she felt that people would take her detective work more seriously as a man than a woman. She eventually comes to terms with the fact that she is a woman, no matter what she would otherwise want to be. This acceptance of reality is refreshing and, while it takes a while for her to start dressing in female clothing, she eventually comes around.

One of the other social links has a woman (cougar?) who at first hits on your character really heavily and strongly hints that she wants to offer you new experiences of a sexual nature. As your social link grows, this changes quickly, but was a moral concern to note.

Some of the guys (well, most of them) try to sneak a peak at the girls in the bath. Getting dates, sneaking peaks, or otherwise is a recurring source of humor (usually at their expense) for the guys of the party, including Yu. Teddie, who starts off somewhat innocent, can be the most cringey in this area. The protagonist is, well, a total chick magnet in this game and can choose to date one or all of the girls. Being a faithful guy myself, I chose one, but there is apparently a scene of doom if you choose to be a two (or ten) timer as you have to break their hearts one at a time.

Thematically, this game is much lighter hearted than other Persona games (not including the spinoffs). Adults are generally your friends (with obvious exceptions), and your goal is to return peace to this idyllic country town of Inaba. I consider this somewhat of a product of its time (late 2000s), as the theme of ‘finding and accepting yourself’ is certainly a common theme of that era. While I have not played Persona 1-3, based on my cursory research, they are all much darker and more mature in theme, and Persona 5 is definitely also fairly dark. Rather than rebelling against authority, you desire to help the police, even if doing so is exceedingly difficult, as let’s face it – who’s going to believe that you can go into the TV?

Persona 4 Golden
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 94%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 47%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 2/10
Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

Violence is typical RPG violence, where you give a command and something happens. There are some scenes with blood, but they aren’t common that I recall. Most common curse words, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch', and 'b*st*rd' are present. One song sounds like it's saying 'sh*t' when it's actually saying 'shot' in English, but they are singing it with an accent. There is a club scene where the entire player character's party drinks a liquid that they are sure isn't alcohol, but they all start acting drunk shortly after they drink it. Other adults also drink alcohol.

Both Personas and enemies can wear skin-tight clothing, sometimes with protruding nipples. Others wear nothing, but no privates or nipples are shown. Like other Persona games, then infamous Mara is present, which is basically a large male phallus sitting in a chariot wheel. Little is left to the imagination. Personas are all aspects of personality, and range from simple mythical creatures like pixies to holy and demonic creatures, like Michael, Beelzebub and Lucifer. Of course magic use is heavily present. The ultimate final boss also draws heavily on Japanese mythology. (Thanks, Daniel Cullen!)

On the positive side, as mentioned before, Yu stays with his uncle and cousin. Their relationship becomes extremely close, and Nanako ends up calling him 'big bro'. You help the family work through struggles, encourage a dad who is not home very often to balance work and parenting better, and Yu puts himself and his friends through significant risk in order to keep his family safe. Others in town also benefit from his wise beyond his years advice; he helps a new step-mom and son heal their relationship, helps a woman who struggles with priorities and morality at work, and so on.

One of the overall moral themes of the game is that we all have a dark side that we have to accept. This is also true in real life, and consistent with the Christian world view that all sin and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). In this game's narrative, you can't overcome the darkness in your life until you see it and address it head on. This theme is repeated and reinforced throughout the story.

From a technical perspective, it's a mostly solid port with some notable flaws. It supports 4K resolutions, along with 200% resolution scaling, making everything look really sharp. It also scales down reasonably well, though the videos require more CPU power to render without stuttering than expected. The game ran okay on my GPD Win 2, but the intro video stutters quite a bit. It ran perfectly on my other machines. The biggest problem I had was occasional crashes. I tend to take a lot of screenshots when reviewing a game, and if you take too many it crashes to desktop suddenly. I had to redo major boss fights at least twice because of this. If you aren't as obsessive about taking screenshots as I am, it'll likely be a lot more stable for you.

Persona 4 Golden has an interesting story, enjoyable gameplay, and fantastic music and voice acting that most certainly deserves the massive accolades it's gotten in the eight years since its PS Vita release, and now being on PC, it has access to a much larger audience. That said, there are loads of appropriateness issues to consider, especially on the sexual and occult side of the spectrum. Please consider them carefully when deciding whether or not to play this very enjoyable RPG that lasted me over 140 hours.

About the Author

Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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