Persona 4 Golden comes out today, and though it's a portable port of a four year-old game, it's the only thing I've been craving for the last couple weeks. Yes, forget Halo 4, forget Black Ops 2—Persona 4 Golden is the new old game of the holiday season.
Okay, so don't forget those games entirely, since once in a while I do still like to take a break from all the thinking in Persona 4 and go back to games for which I rely more on my instincts.
Yes, Persona 4 is a thinking person's game, despite combat often boiling down to a simple hit-the-weak-spot contest of trial and error. Persona 4 follows a group of Japanese high school students through almost an entire year of their lives, during which they solve murders like the gang in Scooby Doo and wrestle with such adolescent conundrums as how to get chicks and what part-time job to take.
If that sounds a bit too much like real life, then you might be a boy (or girl) detective. But you might also be right. Persona 4 does do an admirable job of emulating real life, and real life as a high school student in a small town in Japan, no less. Days are divided into morning, lunch, after school, and evening, and you've got to decide how to spend your time.
Doing so isn't as easy as it sounds, with social links and stats like courage and knowledge to level up, errands and side quests to complete, and a mysterious and terrifying world inside your television to explore. Determining how best to spend time so that a single hour isn't wasted is the most difficult and thought-provoking aspect of Persona 4.
Spending time with friends (and girlfriends) ensures you'll have more power in battle when you create new "personas" (like Pokemon based in real Japanese mythology), and being more powerful in combat means you'll get to spend less time fighting and more time leveling up those social links. See how the pressure can get to you?
In the TV world, residents of the quiet country town of Inaba are forced to confront the shadowy parts of their psyches—the parts that want to shirk responsibilities, or that feel *gasp* homosexual inklings—made manifest in forms that will eventually kill them. You, as the silent protagonist, have to save them before that happens and their bodies mysteriously appear draped across power lines or antennae around town.
But you've also got to nurture those relationships, an experience that's made all the more alluring by the (as Kotaku points out) "perfection" of the world of Persona 4. Jason Schreier wrote earlier in November:
The real fantasy of Persona 4 is the seductive lie of perfection. This is a world where building friendship is a quantifiable activity, where you can start a relationship just by selecting the right bit of dialogue from a list of three options. Relationships are straightforward and concrete, even when the characters are ambiguous and confused.
It's that perfection, even if it is a lie, that will allow you to so easily become attached to the characters in Persona 4, and thus to their plight. It's not a short game or a small investment; I've played for almost 30 hours, and I've only just made it from April to July, with several months left in the game's year. But abandoning the gang now would mean leaving the mystery unsolved, and leaving the fate of Inaba in the hands of a shadowy killer—and that's simply not an option.