Persona 4 Golden review: "A near-perfect remaster"
Persona 4 Golden is regarded as one of the gaming’s finest Japanese role-playing games, if not one of the best games of all time, and has finally come to a new slew of modern consoles: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Trapped on the PlayStation Vita for years before being ported to PC in 2020, a remaster on other consoles was long overdue - so that it may give the beloved dungeon crawler-social sim the wider attention it deserves.
Playing the Xbox Series X/S version for this Persona 4 Golden review, however, reveals we’re even luckier than expected. Right from the technical improvements to revisiting the core of the game itself, Persona 4 Golden is the best it’s ever been. Not only is this officially the ultimate way to play this JRPG classic, but also a reminder of why this was the game that put the Persona series on the map.
The same classic story fans remember
With the upgrades solely being graphical and quality-of-life improvements, the classic tale of the 2012 Persona 4 Golden remains the same.
In your new rural home town of Inaba, a string of mysterious murders start after your arrival.
These killings are surrounded by the rumour of the Midnight Channel - where looking into the television on a rainy night meets a person with their soulmate - actually ends up with victims being taken to another world and meeting their death.
As you and your new friends investigate and hunt for the truth, exploring otherworldly dungeons and taking on demon-esque Shadows with the power of your monster-like Personas, you’ll also explore Inaba itself and forge incredible heartfelt bonds along the way.
Persona 4 Golden has many layers to its story, gameplay, and the worlds surrounding them both. Thankfully, for new and even returning players, P4G takes its time in the 90 minutes to 2 hours kicking off the story - building up intrigue whilst you slowly get to know the cast and the mystery surrounding the town, maximising your investment for when the plot shifts gear.
A simply gorgeous remaster
Originally home to the PS2 in 2008 as Persona 4 before being revamped for PS Vita as the advanced 2012 Golden, P4G does show its age at first glance. Still, one second longer, and you’ll see that this is probably the most outstanding a master of such a game could look.
Simply put, as native ports for the Xbox Series X and S, Persona 4 Golden’s graphics absolutely pop when in 4K. Sure, blocky environmental textures and doll-like character models originally meant for smaller displays can sometimes be jarring on larger modern TVs.
Nevertheless, the higher resolution performs as much of a service as one could have hoped. Not only are the colours of characters and environments more vivid, but even background assets like in your kitchen or the walls of dungeons stand out and add a new depth to the visual experience. The result: the visuals have become immortalised with a vintage, retro charm.
Paired with the buttery smooth 60FPS, whilst playing on the Series X with comfortably adapted controls, almost everything in Persona 4 Golden is brought up to scale to give it new life - looking gorgeous on the 43” and 55” 4K TVs used for this review.
There are only a few instances where some of Persona 4 Golden’s visuals don’t translate as well. Along with the game’s anime cutscenes now appearing at a lower resolution in contrast to the rest of the revamped visuals, certain elements - like posters on the train in the opening cut scene - look stretched and pixelated.
Meanwhile, the effects displayed above characters to convey emotions like confusion or upset, look quite pixelated as well. Although slightly immersion-breaking, these are small and momentary nonetheless and can be eventually gotten used to these as a by-product of the ports.
Welcome quality of life improvements
Along with a graphical makeover, the Persona 4 Golden remaster brings a couple of other wonderful quality-of-life improvements that you’ll wonder how you ever did without.
No longer having to complete the game before choosing a higher or lower difficulty level is a welcome change. Although by comparison, the new quick save functionality feels like a godsend - no longer having you worry about losing your progress when needing to stop playing halfway through a dungeon.
Additionally like in the PC port, you can now too switch between the English and Japanese dubs to whichever you prefer. Even though you sadly cannot do this during the in-game and anime cutscenes, it’s an appreciated option whether you’re a purist for either type of dub, or like to sample both to determine which you like best.
What’s more, both the original English and Japanese dubs remain stellar - both casts giving their characters down-to-earth and larger-than-life performances to fit tonal shifts in the story.
Although, the English cast executes the latter slightly better - courtesy of talent who’ve gone on to become industry veterans like Johnny Yong Bosch (Devil May Cry 4 and 5), Yuri Lowenthal (Marvel’s Spider-Man), Laura Baily (The Last of Us Part 2), and Troy Baker (The Last of Us and what feels like almost every other game ever).
What makes P4G great still shines
All in all, the technical improvements pair amazingly with the dungeon exploration and turn-based strategy gameplay, along with gripping and gorgeously performed narratives. Not to mention the audibly sensational soundtrack. If you’ve only played Persona 5 or have heard word-of-mouth praise about the series before, you’ll already have an inkling as to what makes the Persona games so exceptional.
One of the Persona series’ greatest strengths, is its timeless storytelling. With a skilful interweaving of tones - able to quickly shift from social simulator comedy and slice-of-life charm, to hard-hitting drama and sometimes horror - all in an organic way.
This continuous shift of genre goes hand-in-hand with dungeon crawling, fighting Shadows, and adding to your collectable array of Persona monsters versus your everyday life in Inaba.
By alternating between the TV world and your smalltown life, one benefits the other through collecting new Personas, materials, money, and experience, and progressing the story - along with developing your real-world stats and relationships via Social Links to create more powerful Personas respectively.
In line with the Persona series as a whole, both sides of the 4 Golden coin keep neither becoming repetitive - whilst coming together for one addictively rewarding experience.
Even with characters that might be uniquely zany to Persona 4 newcomers - like a crochet-loving high school delinquent with a heart of gold, to an adorable talking teddy bear - all manner of fans will fall in love with Persona 4 Golden’s cast all over again if not for the first time.
After all, anyone’s heart that doesn’t melt after Nanako’s renditions of the Junes song is factually made of stone.
Its message continues to hit home
Of course, at the heart of it all, what makes Persona 4 Golden truly incredible to this day, is how it makes us see ourselves even in this world of extraordinary fiction. Within the dark fantasy is a relatable story in that we all have parts of ourselves we don’t like, taking the form of horrifying Shadows as a way of coming to the surface after being emotionally repressed.
However, it’s accepting those parts of us, owning them, that makes us stronger altogether. In Persona 4 Golden, these manifest into the series-iconic Personas to fight evil. Whilst a powerful metaphor, its message holds strong and true in its own right, staying with us long after we put the controller down.
Is Persona 4 Golden good on Xbox Series X?
Persona 4 Golden was always ahead of its time in narrative and gameplay. Now other platforms and their graphical enhancements have caught up to give one of history’s most exquisite social sim-dungeon crawlers the attention and wider player base it deserves.
Not only does the game itself hold up, but has been given new life with its long-overdue enhancements. It's been well more than worth the wait to see Persona 4 Golden on modern consoles.
With new high-resolution graphics, 60FPS, and the more than welcome quality of life features, it all combines to modernise a classic for a new generation - with only a few nitpicks in translation. In short, it raises the bar for remasters altogether - now looking almost as breathtaking as the story and its writing, both of which have aged like a fine wine.
Even if you’re playing the remaster on less-powerful systems, Persona 4 Golden will still be a visual and immersive treat on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4 in at least 1080p HD and its various other tweaks.
In 2023, Persona 4 Golden is still the JRPG gem loved by millions. What this remaster on Xbox Series X/S has done though, is magnificently reaffirming as to what we already know: it’s a timeless classic as well.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Code provided by the publisher.