Holy mackerel! Inconceivable, even, I thought a time or two along the way. But, an almost 2 month long, accumilated 200+ hour journey has finally come to an end. Persona 4: Golden has been concured.
Not many games would keep me this dedicated across that many hours of playtime. I had to beat games like Borderlands 2 or GTA: San Andreas several times to reach hours like that, or keep playing games like Rock Band and it's weekly DLC that kept things fresh almost everytime I switched the game on. But, Persona 4: Golden had the gameplay and narrative punch to carry me on to the very final 4 realsies end.
When that credits sequence hit, I almost couldn't believe it. No more false conclusions. No stone left unturned. This was the end, to be sure. For all those hours I spent in this game with these characters, I wanted to spend even more. It was practically a second life. One not easy to just set aside for another day.
Relatable. Best friends. School. Battling Shadows and gods! And, I have to say, it was super satisfying. Persona 4: Golden has become one of my favorite games of all time.
I'm not going to lie, though. At times, it felt like more work than pleasure. And it certainly isn't a perfect game.
Naturally, 200 hours of anything would tire anyone out to at least some extent. I played for as long as I did thanks to a trap ending that I saved over like a dolt, thinking I had done all that I could've to avoid it. So, in the strictest sense, I did "beat" the game twice. But, any of the game's Bad endings are far from rewarding. Even ignoring that, one can hardly call them endings at all.
Again, in the strictest sense, they are "endings". But, fuck 'em, ya know?
Nanako's dead, Teddie's run off back to his world and is tragically depressed, we killed a person that may or may not have been the one behind everything, the fog around town is still present so it's safe to assume we didn't do a damn thing, Dojima's now completely alone and who knows how well his mental state is, your friends are somber in their goodbyes...
HAPPY FUCKING TRAILS, NOW! SO LONG! GO PLAY SOMETHING ELSE!
It's really smart to have dialogue choices mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, to then suddenly have them be what keeps you from seeing another 3 or 4 in-game months of gameplay.
The secret final boss who turns out to be the actual culprit, which is only accessible on the last day, is one thing, but willickers.
At first, I questioned us pushing Namatame into the TV because he seemed genuinely distressed and confused. Perhaps he was crazy, or perhaps there was something we were missing. So, amidst like 4 or 5 other options, I picked "We're missing something.". Sometime later, that same option comes up again and I'm supposed to assume the game isn't having me go around in circles until I choose to either leave or put him into the TV. That's how the game worked up until then, afterall. Illusion of choice.
Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that. But, I digress.
I was able to save Nanako on my second attempt, but I still couldn't trigger any of the future events that I knew could happen.
"Time to start up a second playthrough and then look up what it was I must've done wrong at some other point in the game.", I thought to myself while gritting my teeth, watching those opening moments for probably the 5th or 6th time since first purchasing the game 2 years ago.
I then discover that I just wasn't picking the exact right phrases during every one of the 6 choices at that point I was just at.
Lemme tell ya, I almost gave up right then and there. I almost gave up again, about 20 hours later, after forgetting to save 1 or 2 hours of story progress. I especially almost gave up when it seemed that tons of grinding was just about required for Very Hard (there was no way I was repeating the game on the same difficulty), even with starting fresh with some very powerful Personas.
But, I put my faith in the game to give me enough to look forward to after the in-game November and to give me a closure worth experiencing first-hand rather than over YouTube.
As it turns out, my faith was not misplaced. My favorite part of the game, in fact, didn't happen until mid-February with the ski trip and the following dungeon. It was such a splendid surprise, even though I was more than aware of some sort of Golden-exclusive dungeon happening soon enough.
They really blended the new content in with the old incredibly well. While the mechanics around this new dungeon were a tad monotonous (if not interesting and/or symbolic), the build-up and context surrounding it made it all the better. Marie turning out to be far more essential to the main plot than I could've ever imagined, it was very interesting witnessing the reveal of her true self.
I simply cannot fathom a Persona 4 without Golden's updates. Between the many new music tracks, the new story content, the new dungeon, the new Personas, and so on, the game now feels "finished" and I'd like to think that criticism holds some weight. The original might've felt a little lacking had that been the entry I started with.
With that said, in pushing through, I did become far more critical than I was of the game the first time through.
The "romantic" relationships. Endgame for our waifu aspirations. While I don't think they amount to much else outside giving the player something quick to see during Valentine's Day, these things would've still been better off completely done away with.
For one thing, there are zero romantic options that cater to homo/bisexual preferences. This wouldn't be a problem if we were controlling a character clearly defined without our input and they had a very specific arc in mind. But, "Yu" is practically silent. At the start, even nameless. Much of what he does is either what the player would do, for plot convenience, or is not done at all without you choosing that particular act or phrase. Like Link in Legend of Zelda, he is essentially you.
You can name him Fuckthis Shit, have him be a complete asswipe, but God forbid if you wanted him to be a peter puffer.
As much as I would like to bone or be boned by Teddie, I'm not asking for any of the main boys to be romanced. Not even Kanji, who's debatably bisexual. Not every character needs to be bi/pansexual. Just... something. As is, much like Tomodachi Life's dating aspects, the whole thing feels very outdated.
Sadly, this is about as close to loving Teddie as I'm going to get.
There are also no females, outside Marie (correct me if I'm wrong), that can't keep their hands off of the MC. They all eventually, and almost inexplicably, go ape over him. Even the side links, such as Yumi or Sayoko (hell, Sayoko can felate Yu offscreen before the very first rank). It's odd, to say the least. It's as if the developers thought I would want this, when all I wanted were the considerably more important benefits of the Social Link system. I get that they are very horny over there in Japan, but this just feels surprisingly shallow from a game that is otherwise incredibly well-written.
Separately, these instances are fine. However, it's so consistent that I can't help but feel their intentions were more cynical than some would think.
As I was saying, they don't even feel natural. Yumi, for example, proclaims her love for you at the very last second. All closure I could've ever wanted from her side story was given, I got the final rank, then immediately afterwards... "By the way, Senpai, I really dig ya. Like, a lot! If you feel the same, that's really great. But, if you hate me, then don't do anything but turn and walk away in complete silence like an ass."
Oh, and here's the real kicker: I actively sought out a relationship with Naoto, who is best girl. No contest. However, it didn't happen. Yet, despite my thorough disdain for Risette, all it seemed to take for her was a friendly hug for support. Then I had to feel like a proper scumbag come Valentine's. So, now, to make sure I don't accidentally fall in love with Risette on subsequent playthroughs, I have to look up a guide.
Suffice to say, it's a complete mess.
To further nitpick, Yosuke's acting felt a tad inconsistent. He was easily amongst the best performances (along with new Chie and Dojima) throughout the game's vanilla content, yet I felt he really hammed up more than several of his deliveries, including a very important line towards the end of the final boss, during the recordings of the new stuff. Like he was suddenly being given little direction or that he was too afraid to emote, speaking under his breath rather than getting into a state that would let his voice quiver or empathize.
On that note, I do fucking adore Nanako. She is such a sweetie and I would absolutely love to have her as a little sister. However, whoever played her didn't sound all too comfortable portraying a cute 6 year old one-hundred percent of the way through. Sometimes very forcibly accentuating sadness or excitement. Though, whether new or old content, her occasionally lackluster performances, were at least consistent.
The varying mechanics around the dungeons, outside Marie's, were very uninspired and added nothing but minor frustration. Points where you are made to find information on Kanji and Risette before going after them felt almost completely unjustified and mostly served to pad out the game. Some potentiial localization quirks do rear their head a time or two. I also wasn't a fan of the rather mundane Junes concert sequence (it's portrayal in the Persona 4: Golden animation, however, was pretty fun).
Finally, I'm not sure how I felt about Izanami as a final confrontation. Contextually, I mean. The final dungeon and boss most definitely felt appropriately challenging and intimidating (the double take I did with Izanami-no-Okami's form was like something straight out of my time witnessing many of the bosses of SMTIV), but Marie's boss fight, which takes place a couple hours or so before Izanami's, easily felt more important.
Izanami, like the two sagiri's before her (again, correct me if I'm wrong), were simply parts of Marie's original form that, one could say, took on their own motives and warped perceptions of mankind's desires. Just taking care of that last form, rather than Marie's fog-infested "Kusumi" form, felt a tad underwhelming.
I think Adachi made for the best "villain". For as straightforward as his motives originally were, there was something to his pathetic, two-faced nature that really made for a satisfying takedown.
That those were my biggest issues across a game that can easily take 100+ hours to complete on a single playthrough is saying a whole bunch.
Persona 4: Golden still boasts one of the most enthralling narratives in video games (thanks mostly to it's wonderful cast of wonderfully-portrayed characters) and some of the most satisfying gameplay across any RPG. It does so much with so few simple mechanics that it's hard not to fall in love with them. And it's melding of life sim with dungeon crawling is absolutely genius, making what would normally be trivial tasks very worthwhile.
To that, things like the Social Links and fishing are well fleshed out and worth seeking out on their own merits!
Despite it's questionable design choices with one or two less important aspects, Persona 4: Golden is a game very confident with it's own mechanics and knows exactly how to keep you using them with little to no resistance. Unlike so many other JRPG's, it hardly wastes your time, it's localization is generally outstanding, and it respects the player's skills.
I became super addicted to fishing for weapons at the beach.
I was even able to turn Teddie into a twink-ish Big Daddy!
Especially in regards to the game's localization, there is grounds for praise.
Most other localizations I have experienced are filled with characters played up either too much, with zero emotion, or simply very 2-dimensionally. Some critically-acclaimed JRPG's I couldn't get into because of this and, usually, more. Eternal Sonata, Ni-No-Kuni, even ATLUS's own Devil Survivor.
If a character is naive, every line is formed as a question. If a character is cute, they do nothing but sound cute. If a character is soulless, they sound outright dull. Or they're just mediocre actors, often speaking very flat. As if lines were done in a single take and with little direction.
For the most part, Persona 4: Golden's characters perform with subtlety and properly accentuate emotion rather than speak forwardly with "sad" or "excited" tones. Teddie or Nanako may not be the best examples of this, but even they get the job done and are, at worst, inoffensive. In fact, if it wasn't already apparent, Teddie is my favorite male cast member.
Not just content with him being the obligatory mascot character, Teddie had his own issues like everyone else. Suffering from depression and a longing for a purpose, his character arc might have been actually the most apparent. In the end, it rounded out with an "it doesn't matter who you were or what you were born into, it is what it is, you are worth your existence, and you can have a purpose." message that, while lovely and wholesome, in no way, on it's own, fills this game's family values quota.
I literally spat out the chapstick tube I was chewing on when I saw Marie as the weather girl.
There's still so much to talk about, too! Such as Kanji and Naoto, two characters not only well-groomed but completely unconventional to most other types of video game characters. Or it's deeply-rooted imagery in not only Asian history and mythology, but many other's as well. It's time-consuming Persona Fusion system. I could go on and on.
Persona 4: Golden was more of a journey than probably any other game that I've played. Watching these characters grow alongside me as we fought enemy after enemy, struggling to find themselves while I attempted to help them find some sense in all the madness that is the young, naive mind brought me as close to them as one could possibly be for works of fiction.
"Doesn't matter how far apart we are, everyone's bonds will remain strong. Everyone's heart is connected to the ones they know and trust. It's those bonds that let us search for our purpose in life. As long as it's a purpose you believe in, there will always be someone who can help you fulfill it.
You, me, and everyone else... there are no barriers. Our hearts are one. Right, Sensei?"
DAMMIT, TEDDIE! I'M NOT CRYING! STOP I-, I MEAN I'M NOT CRYING! FUCK!
My takeaway from the game was that, thankfully, I do have best friends that I can trust and hold with me until the day I die (unless we somehow find the human secret to immortality before the fact). Friends as close to me as Yu is with his. Not quite as many, mind you, but numbers don't matter. It's hard enough to find just one and I feel very privileged to have found more than that.
I can get myself through the worst that life can throw at me as long as I know I have people counting on me to pull through. It's this game that put that into perspective for me. Any doubts, any issues, anything at all, none of that I have to go at alone. I may be sometimes too stubborn to accept it, but humans thrive in groups. There's your pride, and then there's foolishness.
I wanna try my best to not be The Fool.
I swear to God, I am not going to cry.