Today is a special day. It technically has already passed in Japan because of time zone differences but where I live, it’s still July 10th, 2018 so that still gives me cause to celebrate! Today marks the 10th Anniversary of my favorite video game of all time, Persona 4.
It’s a joyous occasion for me though I must admit to have been introduced to Persona 4 a few years after it came out. Oddly enough, it was when my high school anime club started screening Persona 4 the Animation that I got interested in playing the game. Even stranger was that one of my best friends happened to have gotten two copies of the original PS2 version in the mail by accident so he gave one of them to me for free. Yeah, Golden was out by now but I was just interested in playing the game and really, it’s free stuff. Of course I’ll take it.
Simply put, I fell in love with the game. Every day after school, making progress in it was the first thing I did when I got back home. Pretty much every other game in my backlog was put on hold until I reached the end of the game. Frankly, I’m not sure how I even got high marks on my report card that term because I definitely studied a lot less because of this game.
There’s a part of me that wishes I got into Persona 4 back when it came out in the US, if only for silly hipster points. The truth is though that I’m glad that I played the game when I was actually a teenager. To me, Persona 4 is a game that really captures adolescence. I do love the purely combative elements of the game. The MegaTen battle system where you deploy multiple beings at your disposal and exploit weaknesses for extra turns is incredibly addicting. But what surprised me was how living through a year as a high schooler was just as appealing as hopping inside the TV world to fight Shadows with your Personas.
On paper, this ought to have deterred me. Why would I want to go through school in a video game when, at the time, I was dealing with it in real life. As I put more hours into the game though, I began to find the routines its expects me and you to do awfully cathartic. Sitting through class, devoting time to hang out with friends, figuring what to do right when you get back home. Sometimes, you get into a groove and sometimes a few curve balls get thrown at you. The weather forecast is off and people you wanted to talk to are suddenly unavailable. A different friend asks you for a favor and you choose to hang out with them instead. You find a new lead in the case and you have to focus on that instead. Not prioritizing what you want to do in the game leaves you feeling aimless and there’s something satisfying about maxing your Social Links before you finish the school year the game allotted to you.
Is it a photorealistic experience? Hardly. I’m pretty sure your social abilities and affinities with people are not stats that you level up. That isn’t necessarily detrimental to Persona 4‘s design though. There is something very familiar about its school simulation aspect. It’s the kind of cyclical daily life and time management that I ran into a lot during high school and even college. And the concern of whether or not you’re not using the time wisely is one that I completely relate to (especially when I was in college). I think I admire the experience even more because it’s really something you could only properly convey through game design. Other mediums of art, be it books, films, or TV shows would abridge its depiction of a school year. It has to in order to be properly paced. As much as I love, say Harry Potter, it would’ve been a huge mess if it tried to show every single day of Harry’s time in Hogwarts. Video games on the other hand, are designed to present a world in which you are a direct participant of. It’s not restricted to abridging the lives of its characters because the one who will ultimately dictate its progression is you anyway. Thus, a day to day cycle can be easily implemented and in Persona’s case, lived through.
Thematically, every Persona title, at least the ones made under P-Studio, have a distinct core theme. In the case of Persona 4, it’s the theme of truth. The main plot itself is framed around finding the truth — the quest to uncover the identity of a killer on the loose in a world covered in fog so thick that you can’t see through it with the naked eye. Truth is also internalized in Persona 4‘s character development. The dungeons in the game visualize the repressed thoughts and feelings of the victims it houses. The Shadows present a part of those people’s egos that they don’t want to acknowledge. The fact that Shadows can go berserk and transform into hideous monsters symbolizes how unhealthy it is to lie to yourself. Even after accepting their Shadows for what they are, the principal cast of Persona 4 is still left to sort through what they were truly feeling. Yosuke’s left to meditate on the thrill seeking his Shadow claims he’s subconsciously holding. Chie ponders if her protectiveness over Yukiko makes her a selfish person. Yukiko is compelled by her Shadow to consider if she wants to inherit the family inn or leave it behind. The list goes on. And without spoiling anything, a lot of the character development tends to end on a bit of an open note and with good reason. You never truly stop learning about yourself as a person.
That is the message that Persona 4 sends to its player: be honest about yourself even if it’s about something you’re not proud of and be willing to sort through it. It’s a message that means a lot to me. For the better part of my life, I was given academic support classes to accommodate and a therapist for my extreme case of anxiety. Looking back at it now, I’m thankful of the people who helped me get that far but I’ll admit that, at the time, I sometimes struggled with asking for their help. For whatever reason, I always felt that the support was too kind and I’d rather tackle any academic or social issues I had on my own to not be a bother. It’s only thanks to the encouragement of friends, family, and even the people hired to support me did I begin to open up and seek help whenever I think it’d be most appropriate. I honestly grew more as a person when I was being honest about myself than when I wasn’t. I thus find Persona 4‘s theme something that really resonates with me. And my own experiences aside, I think it is a great message to give to the player, especially if they are a teenager, a time when they’re really trying to figure out who they are.
I could honestly go on and on about so many things about Persona 4 if I wanted to do. The specific character arcs that I enjoyed. The addicting battle system that I only gleamed on here. The superb art direction and sense of style. How the localization team at Atlus USA preserved as much of the Japanese culture displayed in the game as they could. How Shoji Meguro is a God among video game composers. Hell, I could even talk about what few things I actually didn’t like about Persona 4. Even the things I love most have flaws if you ask me. Maybe one of these days, I’ll write some more but for today, for Persona 4‘s 10th anniversary, I really wanted to give some idea as to how this game feels special to me. Happy Anniversary, Persona 4 and thank you to the creative team at Atlus for creating this wonderful, wonderful game.
Thanks for reading!
Persona 4 was originally released for the PlayStation 2 while its enhanced remaster, Persona 4 Golden is officially available for the PlayStation Vita.
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