A top-tier role-playing game is generally a finely crafted concoction of several ingredients: an interesting setting, an engaging story, enjoyable characters and interactions, and gameplay that makes your interaction with all of the aforementioned elements feel meaningful and worthwhile. When all of these individual factors are developed to high standards, the result is an RPG of exceptional quality–and that is exactly what Persona 4 Golden is.
This re-release of 2008’s excellent PlayStation 2 game takes place in modern-day Japan. The protagonist is a high school student from a big city whose parents have been sent away on business. They send him to live for a year with his uncle–a police investigator–and his young cousin in a small countryside town. Almost immediately upon the hero’s arrival, strange things begin to happen in this otherwise dull little hamlet: a string of people turn up dead, and rumor spreads of a supernatural television broadcast that shows bizarre programming. The hero and a crew of his newfound classmates soon discover a horrible secret: there’s a separate world within the televisions that twists human desires and hidden feelings in potentially lethal ways, and it’s somehow tied to the serial killings. It’s up to the group of friends to harness the supernatural power of personas, put a stop to the sinister killing spree, and decipher the secrets behind the TV world.
The contemporary, real-world-inspired setting of Persona 4 is already an excellent conceit in the heavily fantasy- and sci-fi-driven world of RPGs. But it’s far from the only element that sets the game apart from the crop. Unlike most RPGs, Persona 4 operates on something of a time limit. From the day you arrive in the country village of Inaba until the day the school year ends, you advance through the game on a calendar. Dates and deadlines are very important; not only do you have important events in school and in your personal life to deal with, but you also discover that the serial killings follow a specific time pattern. You need to explore and rescue potential victims from the TV world before they are killed–a task that usually takes several days to complete.
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