Persona 3 may have been a pivotal point in the evolution of Atlus' stunning JRPG series, shifting the tone away from the straight-up bleakness of parts one and two and adding the franchise's now signature social elements to the mix, but it was 2008's Persona 4 that really dug deep into the relationship side of things, providing an incredibly detailed world for players to exist in as they got to grips with Persona powers and once again stepped up to defeat all manner of shadowy evils.
Yes, Persona 5 may be the most recent and flashiest entry in this long-running franchise but, if you were to argue that the now fifteen year old Persona 4 is perhaps the best that this series has ever been, well, we'd find it hard to disagree.
Assuming the role of Yu Narukami, players here find themselves in the fictional rural town of Inaba just as a series of brutal murders are taking place. You move in with your hard-boiled detective uncle, who happens to be working the murders in question, and are soon drawn into a nightmarish mystery as you discover The Midnight Channel, a shadowy otherworld which you and your ever-eager classmates can enter by stepping through their TV sets.
Persona 4 closely follows the foundations laid down by its predecessors with regards to dungeon-crawling combat, but it also introduces a number of elements that fans of the majestic Persona 5 will instantly recognize. Dungeons here are thematically linked to the psyches and inner psychological turmoil of the victims at hand rather than being one great big Tartarus-styled labyrinth - indeed psychology and Jungian themes of the hidden/public self run strong throughout this entire adventure - and your social life and calendar play an absolutely pivotal role in whether or not you succeed when it comes to battling shadows and all manner of great big twisted bosses.
To this end, Atlus has crafted a stunningly deep world, jam-packed full of sub-stories and optional narrative strands to be picked apart as you settle into a daily routine that sees you join clubs, work jobs, hang out with pals, study and just generally live a very busy life, with all of your efforts at socialising feeding directly back into the powers and personas you can wield on the battlefield. Time management is crucial in Persona 4, and picking and choosing who to befriend, what activities to take part in and when to step through your TV set into the Midnight Channel has huge implications and ramifications for how your adventure unfolds. It's mesmerising stuff, utterly engrossing, hugely stylish and still absolutely essential.
Of course, we're getting a port of Persona 4 Golden here, the enhanced 2012 PS Vita version of the original game that adds a bunch of new social links, a new character in the form of Marie, a new epilogue and fancy online aspects that allow you to call in help or check out what other players are doing in order to help you decide what actions you should take next in your downtime between dungeon battles.
It's the best version of an already fantastic game, a game that's aged superbly well for the most part, and one that arrives on Xbox Game Pass with high resolution visuals, a quick save function, gallery mode and the ability to select your difficulty from the get-go. If you've yet to sample the deep delights of Persona 4, we really can't recommend it enough - it's perhaps our favourite entry in the franchise, doing so much that Persona 5 does but without that game's sometimes unnecessary bloat. This is a richly crafted and utterly absorbing RPG, and a game that cemented this series as one of the truly great JRPG franchises.