Persona 4 Golden (PC) (2020) Review: A Golden Opportunity

  • Persona 4 Golden (PC)
  • Publisher/Developer: Atlus
  • Platform: PC (Steam), also available on PS Vita
  • Release Date: June 13, 2020

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Yes, yes, I know. I’m supposed to get to Persona 4 in the actual Persona retrospective before I cover the updated re-release. I think we all know it’s unlikely I’ll even get to Persona 3 in that series, let alone Persona 4. Yet, I wanted to talk about the surprise PC release of Persona 4 Golden, so here we are.

In case you’re not familiar with Persona 4, it is a JRPG originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2008. The Persona series is a spinoff of the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise, which also includes titles such as Devil Summoner and Digital Devil Saga as well as the mainline SMT games. Persona 3 had soft-rebooted the series in 2006 by turning the gameplay from a traditional JRPG into a life simulator/dungeon crawler hybrid. The main characters still summoned Personas in battle, but this time only the player-controlled character had access to all the different Personas that could be fused in the Velvet Room. These Personas would get stronger as you built up relationships in your daily life via the Social Link system, and you’d take them to battle in procedurally generated dungeons. I really need to get to Persona 3 in the actual retrospective, but that’s the short version.

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Persona 4 is set in the fictional rural Japanese town of Yasoinaba, or Inaba for short. The main character, who is named by the player but is officially known as Charlie Tunoku Yu Narukami, is sent from “the big city” to live with his uncle in Inaba for the next year as his parents got transferred to work overseas.

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Country life in a nice and friendly town like Inaba really wouldn’t be all that bad if it wasn’t for the fact a series of grisly murders starts immediately after Yu arrives in town. Yu hears a rumor about a “Midnight Channel”, which involves staring at a TV screen at 12:00 AM on a rainy night and supposedly seeing your soulmate, although it soon becomes evident those who show up on the Midnight Channel die shortly afterwards.

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YU NOOOO

Yu also discovers he can enter a mysterious world inside the TV, and while in there he’s able to summon Personas. So do his friends, although their Shadows (essentially a version of themselves that emphasizes all of the facets of their personality they hate the most) need to be beaten up first, and that involves exploring procedurally generated dungeons based on their subconscious.

In the dungeons, you encounter lesser Shadows that also need to be beaten up in turn-based JRPG combat. The turn-based combat in the Persona games is heavily based around hitting weaknesses and knocking enemies down for powerful group attacks, and it all moves along at a wonderfully quick pace.

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Why can Yu summon Izanagi without facing his Shadow? Who’s throwing people into the TV world and why? Why is this bear mascot so annoying and why isn’t there anything inside the suit? Why does Yu sometimes have dreams where he and one of his friends are wearing luchador masks and wrestling? These are only some of the mysteries to be solved in a 80 to 100-hour playthrough of Persona 4.

Well, I still haven’t figured out that last one. Yu Narukami is a strange man.

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Persona 4 Golden adds an extra month of gameplay, additional scenes, a variety of tweaks and bonuses, and a new dungeon. This dungeon is all centered around Marie, a… somewhat unpopular character also introduced in Golden, and is quite possibly even less popular than Marie herself thanks to its gimmick.

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I don’t dislike Marie as vehemently as most players seem to and I actually quite like the mystery of who or what she is and where she came from, but her dungeon is an absolutely nightmarish slog and her Social Link scenes stand out like Jack Frost at a barbecue. Basically every one of her scenes goes like this: You visit some location in or around Inaba with Marie and run into some of your party members, who just can’t stop talking about how cool and cute Marie is.

You also have to listen to her (intentionally) awful poetry at times, which doesn’t help matters. I just came to the Velvet Room to fuse some Personas, I don’t need to hear a rap about clowns.

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Mainline Persona games have never ventured outside the Sony console and handheld ecosystem, so fans of the series were quite surprised to discover it was making its way to PC. Not only that, but the first Persona game on PC since the long-forgotten port of Revelations: Persona would be a title that had previously been exclusive to the PlayStation Vita and its microconsole counterpart, the PlayStation TV.

Persona 4 Golden was the killer app for the Vita, and again for the PSTV when people bought the microconsole to play the game on the big screen with an actual controller. Or was that just what I did? Based on the PSTV sales numbers, it probably was…

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“But they never make any sense! So just guess until you get it right.”

The PC version of Persona 4 Golden was announced and released on the same day, June 13. Due to some leaked information essentially confirming the port’s existence in the week leading up to the release date, the Steam launch might not quite have come as the surprise Atlus had hoped, but I doubt they minded because P4G immediately shot to the top of the Steam sales charts. Encouraging for sure, but how does the port itself fare?

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“Case closed. Let’s get drunk.” (okay I promise that’s probably the last hiimdaisy reference in this article)

Persona 4 Golden on PC is a straight port of the Vita original without any real extra features or content to speak of. The game obviously supports higher resolutions and frame rates (including those above 60 fps, which is nice), but the graphical assets are largely identical to the Vita version, at least in terms of the 3D models.

The 2D assets used in the game’s UI have been upscaled quite nicely and look extremely crisp at high resolutions. The overall presentation is nothing spectacular, but that is to be expected considering this is still basically an up-rezzed PlayStation 2 game from 2008. I do wish you could disable the motion blur, as this PS2-style implementation isn’t too attractive.

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I have seen plenty of complaints about various performance issues with this port, but haven’t been able to replicate any of those problems myself. Players have reported issues such as stuttering FMV cutscenes, crashes, and the game refusing to launch altogether, but I’ve had a mostly smooth experience in my first dozen or so hours. I had a few odd frame drops early on, but then I took a closer look the visual settings menu and noticed the game’s resolution scaling defaults to 200%. I was running it at 4K, but the game was actually rendering at 8K internally!

The only blemish I’ve encountered is the brief stutter that occurs every time I perform an All-Out Attack. When I knock down all the enemies and one of the party members says it’s time to finish them off, there is a split-second hitch as the dialog box pops up. This happens regardless of resolution or settings and is very clearly a bug, and was also mentioned by PC modding guru Durante (of Dark Souls DSfix fame, among other things) in his look at this port over on IGN. If you want a full technical breakdown of P4G on PC, I recommend checking out Durante’s article.

So, with the graphics stuff out of the way, what else is here? Well, first off, Persona 4 Golden on PC offers dual audio support, meaning that the original Japanese voice track is officially available for the first time ever to international fans. The whole “subs vs. dubs” debate is not something I particularly wish to get into because it’s all down to personal preference, but just having the choice is highly appreciated.

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The FMVs are finally subtitled as well, even if you select English voices. Just remember to enable the option.

Again, this is all personal preference but for me, Persona is one of those games I definitely prefer to play with the original Japanese voices because the Japanese setting is so intrinsic to the experience. That, of course, includes the language. Nothing takes me out of the setting as efficiently as American voice actors mispronouncing the names of the characters they’re portraying, and while Persona 4 is not an egregious offender on that front (there are instances of emphasizing the wrong syllable and that kind of thing, but nothing too major) I’d just rather not deal with it.

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Besides, when you set the voices to Japanese, you can notice some interesting choices made by Atlus USA in the localization. For example, early on in the game most of the main characters aren’t close friends yet, so in the Japanese version they refer to each other using family names as is the Japanese custom in such a situation. Yosuke and Chie call each other Hanamura and Satonaka respectively.

On the other hand, Chie and Yukiko Amagi are close friends, so they use their given names whereas Yosuke speaks to Yukiko using her family name. This was all thrown out of the window in the localization.

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As tends to be the case with teachers in these games, basically everyone on the Yasogami High faculty is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

In the English-language version, the use of family names in conversations between the party members has been axed entirely. Now, Yosuke and Chie simply use each other’s given names (aside from the scene where Yosuke reveals he’s accidentally broke Chie’s DVD of “Trial of the Dragon”, in which he calls her “Miss Satonaka” to theatrically beg for forgiveness) and Yosuke refers to Yukiko as “Yukiko-san”, as does a nameless student who talks to her earlier in the scene. While it’s usually affixed to family names, this can be a cromulent use of the -san honorific to convey respect, but since the characters don’t know Yukiko that well they should probably be using her family name instead. As Japanese honorifics in English speech tend to look somewhat out of place anyway, I’m not sure why the localizers didn’t simply use the family names in situations like this.

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The dialog boxes also have the full names in the original Japanese release, but there probably wasn’t enough room to accommodate them in the localization.

Doing so would also have improved the scene slightly after this one, where a random creepy guy comes up to Yukiko and, in Japanese, calls her by her given name out of the blue. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work in the localization, so he calls her “Yuki” instead and it just feels kind of forced.

I’m far from a Japanese expert so I don’t have the capacity to go into detail about this kind of thing, but I get the feeling Legends of Localization would have a field day with Persona 4.

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With that localization tangent out of the way, let’s get back to the port. The PC version offers the difficulty customization menu right from the get-go, which of course was available on the Vita as well but only on New Game+. In this menu, you can adjust your difficulty whenever you wish. The menu includes modifiers for damage given and taken, money and EXP gain, as well as retries in dungeons and battles.

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Yu dying in a battle means game over, as is usually the case in Megami Tensei games. Golden introduced retries in dungeons, so if Yu eats an insta-death Mudo spell you get to start from the floor you died on instead of returning to the last save point. Very helpful for reducing frustration.

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The dungeons are still randomly generated, with enemies wandering around on the map. You can gain an advantage by clobbering them from behind, or if you’re an idiot like me you can miss and the enemy gets the first turn instead. Enemies can also pop up from treasure chests, which is annoying and seems to happen quite often in the first dungeon in particular. I presume it’s tied to your Persona’s Luck stat, which would obviously be very low in the early game.

If you need more help, you can enable retries in battles so you don’t lose any progress whatsoever. This can be used to cheese fights because you can just keep getting full heals every time you die, so it’s probably not something you want to rely on too much if you want to retain even a semblance of challenge. For the most part, Persona 4 isn’t a particularly difficult game by franchise standards, and Golden is even less so thanks to various quality of life improvements such as the skill card system (originally introduced in Persona 3 Portable) and the ability to choose the skills to pass on in fusions.

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This rather infamous boss is a lot easier in Golden than in the original. Generally speaking, Persona 4 has an inverse difficulty curve where the first couple of dungeons and bosses are the toughest, and while that is still the case in Golden it’s not quite as brutal as the original game where the difficulty curve resembles a brick wall early on.

In all previous games, the skills your fused Persona would receive were randomized and you could re-roll the fusion to try to get the exact skills you wanted. This often took forever and was completely mind-numbing, and while I assume you were meant to accept whatever skills the RNG gave you… well, nobody actually did that, did they? Golden simply lets you choose the skills you want, which streamlines the fusion process significantly. Of course, this is all retained in the PC version.

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Overall, Persona 4 Golden on PC is a solid release and an excellent way to play Persona 4, or at least it is if you manage to avoid the issues some players have been reporting. While there’s nothing mind-blowing here if you’ve already played through Golden multiple times on the Vita, just having this classic game available on PC and playable at high resolutions and frame rates is very much appreciated. Just keep in mind this is still very much an old PS2 game, and not all aspects of it have aged too gracefully (and, in some cases, weren’t that great in the first place).

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I will not hear a single word against the Meat Dimension, however.

The pacing has been improved since Persona 3, but there are still stretches with nothing interesting happening and the tutorial (everything from the intro to the first proper dungeon) takes hours unless you make liberal use of dialogue skipping and/or the fast forward function. Some of the comedy scenes are painfully unfunny (especially everything involving Hanako and Ms. Kashiwagi or “Mystery Food X”), although there are many others that are genuinely hilarious so it’s not all bad. The excellent voice acting helps smooth things out as well.

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Basketballs, that is. He can’t stop polishing those balls, man. Those balls are on fire.  Whoops, there’s another hiimdaisy comic reference.

The randomized dungeons simply aren’t as interesting as their hand-crafted counterparts in Persona 5 or even in contemporary games such as Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The character of Marie feels largely tacked on and her dungeon is awful. The writing, while generally very good, sometimes stumbles a bit when delving into sensitive themes.

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So, Persona 4 Golden is not a perfect game by any means. It is, however, a fantastic RPG and easily one of the best of its generation. This game features some of the most memorable characters you’ll meet in an RPG, a thoroughly fantastic soundtrack, and a genuinely engaging central mystery. If nothing else, it is definitely the most cheerful game about serial murders you’ll ever play, and now you can do so on PC!

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