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Review: Persona 4 Golden - 2 parts - Part 2 Complete - SPOILERS

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Persona 4 Golden: Review Part 1 - Story and Characters

I've just finished my second run of Persona 4 Golden earlier today and thus thought that this is a good time to share my thoughts, both good and bad. Mostly good, thankfully - to the point that I recommend both this and Dancing All Night, which I will review that sometime later. Interestingly enough, TMSFE was the game that aroused my interest in Atlus's games in general and this game in particular, so I have to thank TMS for that.

Main Story
Synopsis: So you are a high-school student sent to live with your uncle (who is a detective) on your mother's side in the sleepy Japanese town of Inaba, while your parents are working overseas. Rumor are abound that on a rainy midnight, the TV in your house turns on and you get to see your soulmate on the screen. Meanwhile a series of bizarre murders and disappearances is occuring around town. You, and two of your new classmates try out the rumors to the test, and it turns out you can enter the TV via the screen. You find out that there an entire new world inside the TV. Could it have something to do with the murders and disappearances?

In many ways, Persona 4 Golden was the story that hit almost all of the high notes for me. The main story was a perfect example of how a lighthearted story can nevertheless be a thought-provoking one. On the epic scale, there was an important story to learn about how it is easy to be caught up in the rumors and gossip fed by the media (and the TV in particular, being the plot-driver in the game), and how the main characters struggle and overcome the deception that comes with the TV. One climatic scene (which potentially leads to the bad ending) is noteworthy, as it particularly relates to the portrayal of suspects in a crime. Unfortunately, Japan has a particularly strong attitude towards "guilty unless proven otherwise", arising from honor versus shame, which Atlus questions in the story. (Although, if Michael Jackson and others are any indication, North America and Europe aren't free from such prejudices either.)  Interestingly, the same thing gets revisited in Persona 5, except from a legal point of view, where Atlus questions the often rigged criminal court system of Japan, which has a 99.9% conviction rate, compared to 90-97% of various European and North American countries. It is only the heroes' efforts in digging deeper and not trusting the rumors of the media's portrayal of the serial murders that they got to the final boss, and it shows that we need to draw our own conclusions instead of having the media do it for us.

Another highlight of the main story which is also related to the next argument below is how the power of friendship is portrayed. While the story is presented optimistically with the main party being good friends, they all actively work towards a common goal of identifying the serial killer - showing the importance in actually putting in the effort to achieve the end goal. Another aspect done right was that the same power can end up being harmful in the wrong circumstance:

Spoiler

In the same climatic scene previously mentioned, your friend insists on playing vigilante, on the first suspect you discover, which actually leads to the worst ending. Your previously kidnapped niece dies, the killer gets away, and a lot of questions remain unanswered. And the ending also implies that your friends have become distant to each other.

In saying this, there are some areas that could see improvement. Persona 4, being a JRPG, isn't entirely free on some of the negative aspects of anime jokes (including an infamous accident between the two genders in a hot springs), sadly didn't get adapted out in Persona 4 Animation. Thankfully, they are mostly confined in the more comedic chapters while the main story is quite serious (if still fairly optimistic). Another thing worth noting is that I was able to find very few plot holes in the story. There is a seeming plot hole that some people talks about, but it is a plot point that is actually justified when you spend some time thinking about it, which I shall elabourate in a later post.

If there is a game showing why fake news is a real threat, this is the game.

Characters and their arcs
On the more mundane side of the story, if Atlus was trying to make me relive my high school years in Japan, it has been quite sucessful. Whether you are exploring the world inside the TV infested by the Shadows materialized from the collective subconcious, or you are at class listening to your teacher, you will be spending time with people. Persona has a variation of the dating sim system called the Social Link, which both provides character-specific arcs and various gameplay/battle bonuses like Fire Emblem's support system. Almost all of the people that the player character (canon name: Yu Narukami) befriends have their own stories and struggles to tell, which might as well be from real life. And in relation to me previous point about searching for the truth, many of said characters are actually different to how they are portrayed in their TV footages. Spoilers below:

Spoiler

For example, Yosuke Hanamura, who becomes Yu's friend and earliest party member, struggles in fitting into rural life. Yukiko Amagi, another classmate who is the daughter and inheritor of the family that runs the famous local ryokan, struggles with what she thought as the lack of her choices in her life. Kanji Tatsumi the school's delinquent, struggled with his gender expectations imposed from others and got the wrong idea of masculinity, which led him to his delinquency.

Everybody has their stories and their struggles to tell about, and it feels like I am talking to a friend or a family member in real life. And if there is one thing that all of the stories argue, it is of the importance to being honest with yourself, and it is through this that you will be able to move forward. Particularly, in at least two characters cases, gender roles are brought into question; one of your underclassman learns that there's nothing wrong in liking hobbies that are considered to be associated with the opposite gender. Another, who is working part-time as a skilled professional on top of being a student, realises that it is not her problem that she, as a girl, would be disrespected at work - it's society's misogynistic views that is the problem, and keep in mind that Japan's gender gap was ranked one of the worst according to The World Economic Forum in 2017.

Spoiler

The first one is the aformentioned Kanji Tatsumi, whose family runs a textile shop, and who likes knitting and dressmaking. Second is Naoto Shirogane, a young genius detective, who, like Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, initially dressed and acted like a boy in order to not have to face misogyny from the local Police she works with.

Of course, like all games, there are some areas that end up being flawed in the storyline. The aformentioned former has some unfortunate implications with his gender identity that ends up being used as a punchline a couple of times in the story - perhaps not helped by the fact that his sexual orientation has been made ambiguous to this day. The aformentioned latter, on the other hand, ends up being the closest to being a Mary Sue, due to her struggles not being all that apparent in her social link.

Spoiler

I'm talking about Naoto here, as her struggles with her being female (and therefore her gender representation in her work) did not seem to be examined all that much. Instead of a social link that focuses on Naoto playing through a detective game and rediscovering her passion for her detective work, it would have been better to focus on her interactions with Uncle Ryotaro (detective and Yu's Uncle) and other officers, how Naoto gets heard in the police department, how Ryotaro relate to Naoto and other officers, and how both battle against the ageist and misogynistic attitudes of their colleagues.

Overall, however, the majority of characters are very well-rounded with realistic stories that showcase some of the issues that Japan faced back in the late 2000s and early 2010s. All in all, I am looking forward to what Persona 3 and Persona 5 has to offer in the story and characters departments.

Part 2 - Continued in this post.

Edited by henrymidfields

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Persona 4 Golden reminds me of Sonic 06. It real bad but the music is alright, not amazing, but it's okay. I dislike basically everything in this, but that's also due to my bias for Old MegaTen. Old MegaTen used to have life and now we have waifu wars and a fanbase that has no respect for the classics. Also Atlus is a stupid bitch. 

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Persona 4 Golden: Review Part 2 - Gameplay, Audiovisuals, Conclusion

Gameplay
Gameplay is a mixture of standard RPG with the TV world as the dungeons, with dating sims in the real world. The former isn't much different from your standard RPG, as the battles are turn-based, although with some variations. The trick is to aim for the enemy's weakness or a critical hit, which makes the enemy trip and fall down and allow you an extra turn.There are other further advantages for attacking the weak points including bonus actions from allies. Due to the extra actions you can create, most normal battles can be finished within 1-2 turns on the lower difficulties. The reverse is also true, where enemies can take advantages of your weaknesses. Each characters are given a persona that they can summon for skills, and said personas are metaphysically linked to the the playable characters with their different status and elemental attributes. Yu (the hero) can use multiple personas with different attributes, elemental resistances and weaknesses. The good news is that the battles are generally very quick, and levelling up - at least on the lower difficulties - is also generally stress-free, which I appreciate, as I don't have the time or the will to spend countless hours grinding. The bad news is that the dungeons themselves can look quite repetitive, with little in the way of visual interest - although I personally did not care too much about this. As in Shin Megami Tensei, Yu's multiple personas can be fused to create stronger/higher-levelled personas, which is practically required to keep up with the level curve. While all of this sounds complicated, this is more than helped by having five difficulty levels you can choose at the start of the game, with the lowest difficulty option particularly suited for beginners, or for those that want to focus more on the story, while the highest difficulty is for veterans who had prior experience with the Persona series and want an extra challenge.

Outside of the TV world, you spend your time at home, school, and generally around town. Barring certain mandatory events that come up, you have choices in how to spend your afternoons and evenings. Do you want to spend time studying in the library (in the afternoons) or at home (in the evenings) to raise your knowledge and keep on top of exams? Or do you participate in your sports/cultural club to make friends (and raise your Social Link; explained later) and train being more diligent or more expressive in your emotions (raise your Diligence/Expression)? This is one of the few gameplay elements that are integrated into whatever slice-of-life story you want to create for your player character, and you have a lot of options you can make in spending your school days. Out of the above, Social Links play a large role in both telling the minor stories of the different playable allies and supporting characters, and providing various gameplay bonuses so it is recommended that you prioritize talking to your friends whenever you can.

Generally speaking, as my first Atlus game ever, I found the whole system to be easy to pick up and get going with. There is a lot of railroading in the first in-game month (or roughly speaking, the first 10-15 gameplay hours without skipping), but I did not mind any of this as the interesting story kept me hooked. The game is generally good in giving you a wide margin of error in not screwing up your gameplay (which includes meeting mandatory deadlines for rescuing people from the TV World), and gives you opportunities to save during mandatory events as well. One warning could be that there is one social link and a couple of storyline branches selections during December in-game which I would recommend using a guide to access the best ending, but otherwise the game is easy to get through without one.

Graphics and Music
 The graphics and the music also deserves praise here for adding much to the story of Persona 4. Much of the depicted scenes are very detailed, which allows me to immerse myself into the story and believe that Inaba actually exists in Japan. It is one of the most obvious testament to how Atlus put in a lot of effort into the game. The music is also worth listening, due to its usage of popular music that I feel is quite unique. The incorporation of various genre elements (jazz, hip hop, funk etc) into the urban popular style of Persona's music is both different to the symphonic music heard in most JRPGs, or the J-Pop music heard in Japanese popular culture in general. All in all, the audiovisual aspects of the game further contributes to the already strong story Persona 4 Golden Provides.

Conclusion
As I said before, my first Atlus game I experienced is an experience that I have zero regrets with. If anything the only regret I have with this game was to not experience it earlier. Persona 4 Golden both succeeds as a relatively lighthearted entry into the Persona (and maybe even SMT) series, and as a nevertheless thought-provoking and coherent social commentary of how we can over-rely on the media. To the people who are on the fence about the greater Shin Megami Tensei franchise (which the Persona series is/was a part of), I definitely say jump straight in with this one first, then move to Persona 3/5 and other entries when you have the chance. To the people who previously played the other series entries, I will also recommend giving a try with at least one playthrough for the main story.

Edited by henrymidfields

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