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It took 93 hours for me to realize that I’d been tricked in thinking I was capable of completing Persona 4. Where I was once unable to settle into the game, it had recently made a home upon me, as does a cat who’s decided to nap. I hadn’t noticed, and in standing to take my leave, we were suddenly tumbling to the ground alongside each other, its claws caught in my clothes as I tried to escape. It pondered a lifetime in seconds, “How did I come to be owned by this person?” before we hit the floor.

And this time, it was personal. Find out just how personal after the jump.

So it wasn’t really that personal. The ratio of personal to impersonal was about even, actually. Probably the only person legitimately upset about having more to do in Persona 4 was my girlfriend, who only saw forecast my being doomed to repeat history for ever and ever. Within the last year I had gradually taken a legitimate liking to Persona 4, as my idle obsession with it was eclipsed by the legitimate investment of playing on a semi-regular basis. We were almost semi-serious at one time.

At this point, there’s a tidy little dungeon left over. The fizzle of what appeared to be the final boss had dissolved into a secret layer of the game — what I estimate must be the adaptation of Persona 3 FES’ “The Answer” epilogue. The Answer was about 30 hours long, however; an extension which Persona 4 condenses into itself as an optional dungeon that should only take up to another five hours — if that. I’m already at floor 7 of 9, where at the top awaits the actual last boss.

This time, I’m sure of it.

The characters in this game face their “true selves”, settling a balance with the demons they turn away from on a daily basis. By accepting those flaws they become stronger and get a bunch of magic superpowers, but that’s not how real life works — the rewards are much more subtle. We’re just accepting failure in order to live with ourselves. How do we live with being imperfect? Do we struggle to change the past, or decide it’s the differential blessing that makes us who we are today? Are we unique, or incomplete?

Over the last four years, the one thing that’s become clear is how life becomes harder. As we grow old there’s more to lose, more at stake, and less to gain. Time is a finite thing for us, narrowing our options as we refine our purpose. So what am I supposed to do? Finish Persona 4? I know that’s what I’m supposed to do, but that’s closing the chapter on a book that’s become a silver lining in life. It’s a constant; it’s been there for the ups and downs, and it’s been reliably static in the interim of playing it. Doing so would pare down the ongoing parts of my life.
It’s also just a game. One I really enjoy having on in the background.

Whether there’s solvency my completing of Persona 4 isn’t really important. At some point a handful of spinoff titles like Persona Q will release across various platforms, and Persona 5 will be out in Japan by the end of the year. If history is cyclical, then it should take a grand five years to finish that one. I still have the fighting game to look forward, to as well.

You probably want this to end with me talking about the end of the game, but I haven’t finished it yet. You probably just want it to end in general. I don’t blame you. I once wanted it be over, just as well, but there’s a calmness in surveying the final dungeon. In that prior weekend, believing I’d reach the end gave me butterflies, precipitously sliding towards the game’s inevitable close. A cold realization at the game’s fake finale marked a sensation that didn’t set well with me.

In a way, it’s nice to know it’s not over yet. It also… doesn’t ever have to be, if I don’t want it to…

… And then I lost my job.

—–TRUE ENDING—–

It’s not like I needed that to happen. I certainly wasn’t demanding to wake up in the dark of night, rap music playing loudly in the street as a 3AM reminder of how little control I have in life. Nor was I praying for a jab to test my reflexes — I knew they’d become dull in the security if steady work, Netflix, and routine.

Like most unemployed adults, I was now without purpose or professional identity. I may as well have taken up a career in poetry, baffled on a cosmic level at how I’d ever gotten so far as to find work in the first place.

Fueled by circumstance, I spent the weekend making my resume look presentable, scouting for work, and when Monday morning came, I awoke fresh-faced and full of energy to face the world. After all, the last spell of joblessness lasted nearly half a year. Who knows what this one has in store?

What came easier than a job was a couple weeks later, on a Friday morning where I could be found sitting on my couch, afraid of rejection, and intent on doing the one thing I knew I could accomplish that morning: finishing this fucking game.

We all know that if I can do that, then I could do anything; find work, become a prolific filmmaker or whatever I studied in school, win the county pie-eating contest, even train a dog. Even finish Persona 4. That’s the whole point of this story, isn’t it? For me to Captain Ahab my whale and get on with my life? I wonder if I’ll ever read the rest of that book?

My party was at a point where they recovered a percentage of HP and SP after each battle, making grinding a cakewalk and my time well-spent. From 9:30AM to 10:45AM on March 18th, I fought the game’s final boss, enjoying a freshly-pressed cup of coffee as I breezed through the battle’s paces. Maybe it didn’t even take that long; it’s hard to gauge time when you’re combining caffeine with boss battles.

So there I was again, a ghost of 2010, watching the final cutscenes of another Persona game. Unlike Persona 3, the climax has somehow snuck past me. The sense of finality in Persona 3 wasn’t present, and what had I accomplished? It was almost embarrassing to know that this was the line in the sand for the game’s end, almost 100 hours later.

Do I have anything to show for it? Have I just ushered out a major point of comfort on the heels of unemployment? Am I soon to be single, as well? At this rate, maybe I’ll just become the vehicular manslaughter news in tomorrow’s paper when crossing the street for lunch. I may even break my neck out of impatient fate when descending the building stairs. Better yet, there could well be a carbon monoxide leak at this very moment.

In fact, I hadn’t died. Instead, I’d finally beat Persona 4. I killed it, through and through, my secret four-year affair. They would talk about it in the papers, the courtroom procedural drawn out exhaustively over months of due process. Neighbors on the evening news, croning about how I was always such a nice, normal person who didn’t cause any trouble as images of my smiling face at a cookout were intercut with b-roll of nearby residential areas. O.J. Simpson’s lawyer would be on speed dial for consultation. I’d gotten away with it scott-free, and knew exactly what I’d do once it was over. If I pre-meditated anything, it was dealing with the loose string I had to leave undone until the moment was right: Persona 4 Arena.

With Persona 4 finished, I did just that.

Persona 4 Arena is the perfect palate cleanser, it turns out. Now a 2D fighter, the game has a choose-your-own-adventure story for each playable character that seems to take an hour or so to experience per-player. They had now named the main character Yu Narukami, and given him a familiar-sounding voice actor. My Jun Seba didn’t take offense to these changes, and neither did I. They were welcome, almost, as the series was now finding its identity in my life and itself.

I didn’t stop there, either; the Persona 4 anime adaptation now ordered on Amazon, I could quickly relive the events that took place over the last four years of my life in the span of 26 half-hour episodes. Great, now I’m watching anime. I wonder how I’ll explain this to my girlfriend? For that matter, how do I explain myself to all of you people?

I booted up Persona 4: The Golden on my Vita later that day to revisit the opening moments of Persona 4, now remastered. Maybe I’ll casually play through it again on the handheld. I’ll probably never finish it. I’m not even worried about finishing Persona 4 Arena, thanks to its schizophrenic storytelling and unreliable narrators.

It’s just a breath of fresh air, anyway, from the same universe I keep poisoning myself with.

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Aaron Vaughn is a Midwest transplant currently residing in Oakland, California, where he is learning to endure the comforts of gentrification by playing and writing about video games, asking if he can try on your Google Glass, and honking at food trucks. His writing can also be found on Gaming-Age, or in the form of some dirty limericks under the far left coffee table next to the register at Coffee Works, located at 107 Pike Street, Seattle, WA.