The game is extremely story driven. If you don't like story in your RPGs then this one isn't for you. The whole game encompasses a year in the life of the unnamed protagonist (you) as you spend a year in a new town as a transfer student.
You move in with your uncle and cousin in the small town of Inaba and start the school year. You begin to make friends with other students when a series of murders happens in the local community and things take off from there.
It turns out there's a whole other world that this one is connected to and inside of it are shadows (enemies) and Personas (positive super-powered versions of people). A lot of the fun is the mystery of finding out what is going on with the connection between worlds as you and your widening group of friends keep finding out more.
There's so much story in this game that I can't even do it justice in a summary, so instead let's talk about Social Links.
Social Links are my favorite part of Persona 4 Golden and from what I've heard they are a staple of the franchise. Every character you form a meaningful relationship with is represented by a Social Link. Every time you spend time with that character you have the chance to advance the Social Link. Sometimes you will and sometimes you won't, but every time your relationship will evolve.
A huge part of this game is about how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Will you spend time trying to improve you social stats like Courage, Understanding, Knowledge, Diligence, and Expression? These will open up more options and more Social Link possibilities in the future. Or you could spend your time at jobs making money. Or you can focus on spending time with people and increasing those Social Links.
You'll end up doing all of the above and trying to find the best thing to do with your time. For me, this is the best part of the game. I love the Social Links system so much. In a way it reminds me of the character relationship system in Fire Emblem Awakening, which I also loved.
The relationships and story are what drive Persona 4 to be what it is. The combat is fine, but nothing too extraordinary for a JRPG. It's serviceable but also kinda whatever. That's not what the game is about. Although I do appreciate the no random battles.
The thing is, you'll only encounter battles when you're in the other world. And you'll spend months of time in the real world without ever visiting the other world. These were my favorite parts of the game. Just exploring this small town and growing my relationships with people in it.
I'm still processing all my feelings about the game but it easily enters my top 3 JRPGs of all time. Right under Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Trigger. It's that good.
Now I know why this game has a cult following and why people are so excited for Persona 5. It turns out I picked a great time to dig into Persona 4 since Persona 5 is coming out later this year! I'm super excited to find out more about this next entry in the Persona series!