Honestly, I still can't believe that 2020 is offering not one but two definitive Persona experiences. At the end of March, Atlus launched a refined and expanded version of its fantastic role-playing game Persona 5 in the west and since last week its predecessor - Persona 4: Golden - has been available on PC. The announcement caused a strong reaction from the series' enthusiastic community and once the game was available on Steam, that community couldn't contain themselves anymore. This enthusiasm is no mere coincidence either because Shin Megami Tensei: Person 4 is still a fantastic game, even after all these years.
Persona 4 takes us to a rural part of Japan, more specifically to the small village of Inaba. It is a strong contrast to the futuristic backdrop of Persona 3 or the urban surroundings we find in Persona 5 - but this location is calm and intimate. We are in Inaba because our parents are travelling abroad for a year, so we come here from the big city to stay with relatives: a police officer and his young daughter. We quickly make a few friends in school and everything seems normal, but then a series of murders begins, and we quickly become involved. Of course, there is a higher power pulling the strings behind the scenes, and thus it's our job to understand and then overcome this ordeal in order to bring the story to a worthy conclusion.
What Persona 4 is particularly good at is the feeling of progress, as our character development goes hand-in-hand with the successes we enjoy in our social life. Similar to each of the three latest Persona main entries, we have to plan our free time carefully and think about how we want to spend our time. If we deepen our bond with different characters, we get in-game advantages. On the other hand, if we do something solely for ourselves it also affects various aspects of our everyday life. Everything is connected and soon enough there are so many options that thinking about all the possibilities could make you feel dizzy. However, over the 70+ hours that it takes to complete the game, you'll learn what you need to do as you work toward your next goal.
Persona 4: Golden expands the PlayStation 2 game with even more content, which not all players will find attractive (in regards to the already extensive playtime). However, the changes to the portable version of the game are numerous and sensible, which is why even players who already know the original can look forward to returning to this grand mystery and its new ending. For fans, the integration of additional supporting characters, social events and numerous gameplay additions is really exciting. The package doesn't expand the main game to the same extent as Persona 5 Royal did, but the Golden version is so good that it basically replaces Persona 4 in every aspect.
And that's why it's so nice that we can now experience this JRPG on PC. The Steam version runs up to 4K resolution and provides us with two or three visual settings. Atlus has chosen to protect their intellectual property against software piracy, and therefore partnered with the controversial Denuvo copyright. My technical understanding of this topic is limited, but I can say that there is a noticeable lag on some systems, which can manifest itself in the free movement and during the video sequences. These reports were shared by a lot of users after the release - sometimes restarting the game helps to fix these issues.
Unfortunately, the PC port has not revised all aspects of the celebrated original with the same care. In some video sequences, in particular, stretched textures stand out (although these were already inconsistent in the Vita version, to be fair). Basically, you can tell when the material was integrated into the game just by looking at it. Very rough drawings have been in the game since 2008, and the better-scaled sequences came into play in 2013 with the PS Vita revision. However, since the game is very long and the errors are purely visual and only happen every now and then, these blemishes aren't a huge problem.
From today's perspective, the presentation of the various gameplay systems isn't easy to ignore, because Persona 4 is a far more archaic experience than Persona 5. The dungeons are visually unimpressive, linear and partly procedurally-generated, and they're paved with nasty enemies. With the wrong team, these turn-based encounters can become very challenging, but Golden adds some welcome quality-of-life improvements that reduce the XP grind and give us more regeneration options between fights. In contrast to the original, this part of the experience has been made much more pleasant overall, but you're still playing a game made in a different time. The game's old school origins also mean that a party wipe will throw you back to the main menu, so you better save often.
Many fans like Persona 4 because it feels so down-to-earth and personable, although this crazy parallel world with all its silliness is always the centre of the attention. It's a great game, funny and heartfelt and worth your attention, even after all these years. While it doesn't hide its age very well, with a few exceptions, Persona 4 still convinces on the PC in 2020. For less than £20 you really can't go wrong as this is still one of the most charming experiences you'll find pretty much anywhere.