When students of Yasogami High School begin to disappear, an urban legend seems to have become creepy reality. Wait until the clock strikes midnight on a rainy night, stare into a darkened TV screen and your soulmate will be revealed, or so the rumour goes. But it's what happens on the other side of the TV screen that transforms Persona 4 Golden into a murder mystery with a difference.
Sent to live with your uncle in the once sleepy town of Inaba, you want to settle into your new life as smoothly as possible. There are friends to make, part-time jobs to hold down and exams to study for. The problem is, dead bodies keep turning up around town. People are jumpy, the air is heavy with panic and watching TV only adds to the sense of unease.
Perhaps Inaba's most mystifying secret is that its television sets act as portals to a parallel world inhabited by bizarre monsters and those missing teenagers. Neither brainwashing nor occult forces are to blame; instead, each teenager is prisoner to his or her own buried emotions. Accepting these fears helps people accept themselves, chasing the storm clouds that circle Inaba and its population away.
Persona 4 Golden is a game of striking contrasts – day and night, school and free time, rainy reality and eerie dreamworlds – which make every day completely different from the one before. Morning, noon and night, you'll meet new faces and discover even more about the surreal town of Inaba.
Neat houses and pretty streets mask your neighbours' secrets. As time rolls by you'll notice changes around town; more shop shutters rolled down out of fear, folk gathered in the streets to exchange the latest gossip and in Old Lady Shiroku's bar, darkly comic determination among the locals to blot out the everyday weirdness.
And when the rain starts to beat down, the door to the colourful place inside your TV swings open and the clock starts ticking on the next pupil's life. Inside this hazy world of unspoken worries, you'll begin to appreciate the simple pleasure of watching a shopping channel in your free time, or listening to sunny Japanese pop music. Even your job folding envelopes sounds appealing – facing 1,000 kilos of bad-tempered tiger in a steamy bathhouse tends to have that effect.
Violence is golden
Like any good student, you must stay on top of a hectic schedule to get ahead in Persona 4 Golden. Tuesday afternoon, football practice. Wednesday morning, Japanese literature. Thursday evening, lethal supernatural combat in a nightmarish parallel world.
During the day, you'll be answering questions in class and joining school sports and cultural clubs. In your own time, you can take on as many jobs as you like, visit Junes department store or tend to your garden with your uncle and cousin. There's almost too much to fit into your life – yet it all helps you form social links, which enhance different abilities. Being popular really does have its benefits.
So, as you prove your skills on the basketball court, you boost your strength in battle. Your powerful Persona alter ego specialises in a number of skills, each of which is determined by the social links you form back in Inaba. And as you get to know friends better, your skills in battle become more devastating.
There are skill cards to be earned, Personas to be fused into more potent warriors, requests to be answered, teachers to be outwitted, tasty lunches to be made and much, much more. The best thing to do is grab your PS Vita and knuckle down to study this incredibly clever adventure.