Persona 4: A Story Full of Stories
Persona 4 is a game I’ve been aware of for a long time and been interested in, and the past few months I’ve managed to borrow a copy of the game from a friend and finally start playing. It’s my first experience with the Persona series, and so far I’m really enjoying it. (Note: I’m playing it on beginner mode since I’m mainly interested in the story, and don’t really care to have to restart dungeons a dozen times when it gets too hard.)
At the moment I am a little past the point where I rescue Rise, so near the end of July in the storyline. And I already feel like I’ve played much more than a full game’s worth of material! It’s a very long game–perhaps even longer for me, since I tend to take my time delving into the setting and trying out everything I can. So don’t spoil anything for me! I want to keep trying to figure out the mystery as the story goes along.
So far I’m really enjoying pretty much everything about Persona 4. The sheer amount of quality content is rather staggering, to be honest, to the point that I feel I could write a full blog post on any one element that makes up this game. The visual style and presentation of the game is absolutely stylish, the music is ridiculously catchy and atmospheric, and the gameplay is not only extremely multifaceted–but even when delving into any one aspect of it, from the battles and the social links to the persona fusions and the quests (and other diversions), there is a tidal wave of engaging, addicting material to be swept away with. Make sure you have a lot of free time before you get into this game. x_x
For now I’d like to focus on how Persona 4 operates regarding its medium of storytelling as a video game. Of course, video games have long had a unique approach to sharing a story with its audience, since it requires interaction on the part of the player to progress through the narrative. It requires some effort to find out what happens in the end, or in this case, to find out who the killer is. Persona 4′s main storyline is a murder mystery, as the protagonist and his friends discover someone is kidnapping people and placing them inside a dimension within televisions, where they are left to be killed by the monsters (“shadows”) that inhabit the realm composed of their deepest fears and negative personality traits.
The protagonist’s friends interestingly gain the power needed to fight through this realm only once they have confronted their shadow selves–entities that exemplify the aspects of their personalities kept hidden from public view. Not only must these shadow selves be fought, but they must ultimately be accepted as a part of who they really are. This subject alone warrants a blog post, really–how many stories have you read with a message like this? Everyone has secrets, bad habits, negative thoughts, fears, and even cruel impressions of those they love most. Many of these things we wouldn’t want to admit, even to a best friend we tell “everything” to. Is there anyone who knows who we “truly” are? Do we even really know ourselves? And what do we mean exactly, when we refer to our true selves? The subject is a major theme of the game, as characters come to terms with the different sides of themselves. For the medium it’s working with, Persona 4 has so far done an excellent job delving into such concepts.
The main story itself has been wonderfully engaging, but perhaps what stand out just as much is the fact Persona 4 also entails many subplots (or side stories) that can be–and really need to be–explored while progressing with the main storyline. As a video game, Persona 4 handles this in a very unique, interesting way. As the protagonist, you get to choose when and how you will progress with all these side stories–or rather, your relationship with the game’s many supporting and secondary characters. You choose who to spend time with, and thus who you get to learn more about (i.e. the character’s backstory and accompanying conflict to overcome are gradually revealed bit by bit). Somehow I’ve become just as curious about what will become of random classmates as I am of the plot’s central mystery! Each of these side characters has both positive and negative qualities, and the whole social link system works really well with the major themes of the game in general. It really gives the impression that every individual in this game has a personal life and a number of pertinent issues to deal with. The choices you make when speaking with them don’t change the end result for most of these little vignettes, but the tone is certainly affected, making the whole process that much more engaging. (Not to mention, it certainly adds a lot to the game’s replay value! I strongly doubt I will be able to go through all the social links by the end of this playthrough, if such a thing is even possible.)
Interesting, multifaceted characters are perhaps the most central element of the Persona 4 storyline(s). I don’t think there’s a single character I’ve met so far that I didn’t like, at least when it comes to main characters and the social link supporting cast. Each of the RPG’s party members certainly have a lot going for them, both as individuals and as a ragtag team of unique yet relateable high schoolers, all interacting with a wide variety of amusing quirks and engaging personality traits. Again, I feel like I could write a blog post on any one of them, though perhaps it’d be best to finish the game before attempting anything of that sort.
On top of the scenes that further the central plot, there are a lot of moments that can be considered “filler,” but do well to establish a sort of day-by-day atmosphere that incorporates more “everyday” events. One scene that stood out to me was when the protagonist takes his sister Nanako to the department store Junes and meets up with some of his friends. They are all friendly with Nanako, but at one point a friend tells her the food is probably not as good as her mother’s cooking–only to learn that her mother had died when she was very little. It’s a small scene that doesn’t affect the plot much at all, and the situation isn’t treated like a huge deal–but the fact it’s included at all was interesting to me, since it felt like the sort of thing that easily could happen in real life.
And for an example of a social link subplot that I’m finding especially intriguing, I think I’m liking the story of Kou the most at the moment. He is on your basketball team (if you choose to join that club), and his situation is an interesting twist on the whole “my family expects this and this of me, but I want to be my own person” story trope. There are nuances to the situation that make it much less black and white than such instances are usually portrayed, and again, it all stems back to characters having both positive and negative elements to their personalities. Persona 4 manages to keep its characters easy to like, all while having them deal with the sorts of things you wouldn’t expect of them in an RPG, or even in video games in general.
So I will be posting more on Persona 4 as I go along, or perhaps I will just write up a final post once I finish. But at any rate, I’m enjoying the game quite a bit, and hope to finish in a reasonable time frame! It really is a looooong game… *_*