In mid-2020, I began playing, according to multiple reviews, one of the greatest JRPGs ever released, Persona 4 Golden. Over the last few weeks, I’ve sat down with the game more often and have made some headway in its murder mystery plot. It’s a helluva game that I won’t spoil–mainly because I’ve still got half of the story to unravel myself. What I will say is this: overall, the way the story is presented rivals and often surpasses Persona 5. That’s saying a lot since I also always list Persona 5 as one of the greatest JRPGs ever made.
Whereas 5 was about people using their privilege and skills to right wrongs in society as a whole, P4G is more about regular teenagers with supernatural powers trying to take down a serial killer in a small town and everyone coming to terms with themselves. It’s less about grandiose movements and causes and more about what makes this small town tick, down to the murderer disturbing the peace.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Persona 4 Golden is the Diamond is Unbreakable to 5‘s Golden Wind. While both are amazing stories and great for their own reasons, the small town setting of Golden and its base model have grabbed me in a way that even Persona 5 wasn’t able to. Every character, even the most minor of minor characters, is well-written. Because of that, there hasn’t been a Ryuji/Morgana moment yet (thank God). No characters’ development gets fridged because of rivalry or “let’s force some tension into the group” dynamics. Additionally, you want to see where each character’s social link storyline takes them, versus feeling as if you’re just doing it to unlock new Persona fusions or stronger abilities.
From Rise, the idol who wants to live on her own terms, to the adoptive parent who questions if they can bond with their kid, each character’s individual storyline has enough meat to it that you could’ve made a whole game based on one. Instead, by incorporating them all into the larger game, like with 5, you’re given a city that has a lot of life and a lot of will to combat its fate. What helps differentiate P4G from P5 or P5R is that the stakes seem higher. I know that’s crazy to imagine, considering Persona 5 has you battling actual gods to keep them from warping reality. There’s no real doubt, however, that the Phantom Thieves will save the day. There’s several seeds of doubt dropped in throughout P4G that make you question both whether the characters will solve the mystery and also if their actions are adding more harm to the situation as a whole.
I’ve come to realize that Persona games are about challenging social norms and finding a place to belong in a sea of insanity. That’s especially true in Persona 4 Golden, as Yu and his Investigation Team are as different from each other as you can get. At first glance, there’s no connecting thread as to why they’re together besides they’re trying to solve the murder mystery. The Phantom Thieves were all wronged by society. As the game continues, we see this group of friends become partners and allies, sometimes even lovers, all while realizing that they matter–even the dark bits. Why? Simply put, we all need to reach out for our truths.
Persona 4 Golden is now available on Steam.