Persona 4 Golden is a turn-based role-playing game with dungeon crawling. It is a remaster of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 originally for the PlayStation 2, with additional content, music, and more.
You play as Yu Narukami, a high school transfer student who gets caught up in the supernatural murder mystery that overtakes the small town of Inaba, battling Shadows in the evening. During the day, you simulate the life of a student by going to class and hanging out with friends.
Pro Intriguing story about helping your friends conquer their "Shadow" selves
With the supernatural murder mystery that overtakes the town of Inaba, the friends you make are each forced to face their dark sides, or their Shadows. These are the parts of their personalities that they don't want to accept, such as one character's disdain toward her friend for being more comfortable with boys, and another's fixation on her audience's voyeuristic obsession over her body as a sexual object. Some of the themes can get quite heavy, but they're all intriguing in their own ways, showing how the group of friends encourage each other to accept their dark sides and push forward as a unified group.
Pro You get to collect and control many types of demons and angels as your Personas to fight in battle
Your Personas are demons and angels that you summon to use their spells and special abilities in battle. Fusing different Personas together lets you create stronger ones with better abilities. You can switch your Personas in and out of battle as needed to exploit enemy weaknesses you come across. And there are hundreds of different types of demons and angels with their own fitting designs and relevant mythological lore, ranging from familiar names like Shiva, Lilith, Valkyrie, Phoenix, Raphael, and many many more.
Pro Building friendships with characters through Social Links gives you an edge in battle
There are all sorts of characters to get to know and befriend through the Social Link system. You can make friends with your classmates, your party members, and a few other characters in the community of the city you live in. Spending time with them gives you a contained, and often touching story where you get to know them more and help them solve a personal struggle. After reaching the end of their Social Link, you're able to fuse special and powerful Personas that can help you tackle some of the game's hardest challenges. It's a neat system that gives you a gameplay incentive for building relationships.
Pro Fun and rewarding turn-based combat that focuses on exploiting enemy weaknesses
The battles in Persona 4 Golden are fun, especially once you get the hang of the system. You fight with your Personas and your party members, who have their set Personas of their own, aiming to pinpoint your enemy's elemental weaknesses and exploit them. Once you find the weakness, you and your team are rewarded with an extra turn; if you keep landing the right attacks, then the game lets you chain a finite number of turns one after another. If you don't look up a guide, then finding weaknesses is a matter of trial and error.
But this also applies to your enemies -- if they exploit your weaknesses, then they get extra turns instead. The bosses are pretty hard since they hit for a ton of damage, so you absolutely need to take advantage of gaining extra turns. And as you get farther along in the game, you get access to buffs to your party's attack, defense, evasion, and more, as well as debuffs to debilitate your foes. As you get better with the combat and earn some tough victories, the sense of satisfaction you get helps you to keep pushing forward.
Pro Cool and modern sense of style with the visuals and soundtrack
Everything in Persona 4 Golden is stylistically on-point. The recurring yellow in the eye-catching menus and UI, and text boxes gives the game a distinct aesthetic. The character designs are also really cool, with slender forms and a modern yet laid-back sense of fashion. And the trip-hop/hip-hop soundtrack blends classical, rock, pop, and synthwave sounds together in such a unique way that no other game really comes close to. Despite all the different ideas, it all comes together as a cool and cohesive look.
Pro Features some nice bonus additions over the original Persona 4
Persona 4 Golden is the definitive edition of the game, with lots of great improvements. Aside from the slightly updated graphics, there are a ton of gameplay bonuses, with new Social Links, stronger Personas to collect, new ways to hang out with your friends, fun school events, an extra ending, and a new Golden epilogue that you earn from completing the optional dungeon.
While going for the True Ending and/or Golden epilogue, you also get to play through an extra month and a half or so in the winter, with new music to go with the time of year. The quality of life improvements make gameplay smoother as well, making this an excellent option for both new players and longtime veterans.
Con Takes a long time to get going at the start
There's a good two or so hours of story exposition and tutorials that you have to sit through before the game picks up. It's a lot of reading and hand-holding, and explaining story concepts over and over again until you absolutely understand what's going on. If you decide to pick this up, be prepared to spend those first couple of hours on rails.
Con The murder mystery is repetitive
The story in Persona 4 boils down to a "flavor of the month" mystery, with each of them playing out mostly the same. You find out that a character is in danger of being murdered, so you go around town asking people for more information about the person to learn more about them. And then you go save them, fight a boss battle, the character faces their Shadow self, and then rinse and repeat with someone new. Things don't really switch up until later on in the game, which makes the story feel formulaic, especially if you don't care for the characters.
Con The story gets weighed down by cheesy anime tropes
If you dislike anime because of the tropes, then Persona 4 may not be for you. You have your standard, blank slate main character who's loved by everyone just for listening to their problems like a reasonable person, a cast of characters who fit squarely into stereotypes, and a typical anime and JRPG plot where you defeat a god with the power of friendship. It's nice that this game has such a cheerful tone, and that the characters are likable for the most part, but a lot of it is pretty tropey and predictable: love it or hate it, basically.
Con If your main character gets hit with an instant kill spell, it's game over
The most frustrating part about the combat is that there's a certain degree of unpredictability and randomness to it because of instant kill spells. There are light or dark spells that, if they hit any of your characters, there's a good chance that they will die in one shot. If they have resistances to light or dark, then they stand a better chance. But if your main character gets hit, and they die, it's an automatic game over, possibly throwing hours of progress down the drain.
Con The new Persona 4 Golden character, Marie, is insufferable
It would have been better if the writers had left this new character out. Marie doesn't quite fit in Persona 4 Golden, with her personality that's constant angst and anger, all the time. She has her reasons for being like this, yes, but you won't learn these unless you complete her entire Social Link and the optional dungeon. Before you learn of her motivations, she seems one-note in a way that clashes with the game's happy themes. It's hard to find anything to like about her.