4 Years in Persona 4: fast times at Gekkoukan High (2007-2010)

, | Game diaries

I’m going off memory for most of this, so things aren’t 100% accurate. Fortunately, it being my own memory means nobody will know how right or wrong I am, leaving me to falsify information as I please. Vote for me in the primaries.

But yes, I’ve been playing Persona 4 for the last four years. It’s still the same PS2 disc and original save file. What’s wrong with me? Maybe we’ll find out. Before that, we have to talk about Persona 3. Numbers come in a certain order, according to some scholars, and it just so happens there’s some groundwork to lay here.

Jump ahead for the story I gotta tell ya first…

To be fair, my relationship with Persona 4 starts three years before I ever opened it, when in 2007, a weird JRPG called Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 caught my attention on the 1UP Show. All I’d ever known JRPGs to be were 70+ hour-long games about youngsters wielding weapons, taking turns to fight, and gambling with apocalyptic odds. After all, I’d played most of FFX. If that doesn’t make me an expert then I don’t know what would.

What did it for me was the music, of all things. That’s all it takes, developers. Before I knew it, I had preordered a 70+ hour game about kids with weapons, taking turns to cast spells, and gambling with apocalyptic stakes against the Midnight Hour.

It took me three years to finish Persona 3. Not by coincidence, not by intent, but by way of distraction. It was at that time, in 2010, that I was working a summer job at a helicopter company in Juneau, Alaska, where our story finally begins.

Juneau is a temperate rainforest, flooded with either rainstorms or tourists in the summer months– sometimes both. When it’s not raining, you’ll find seasonal workers and locals out exploring for miles yonder; taking advantage of the rare sunny weather. Otherwise, you could look forward to seeing one of the on-average 230 days of rain in the state capital; perfect weather for bedding down in front of a game and counting your blessings for not being employed in the enduring guided tours and forestry functions of the city.

This is how I came to find the time to play games– something I hadn’t been in the mood to do with the months of post-graduate unemployment leading up to a job some 2000 miles away. While I had begun Persona 3 in 2007, I only managed to play about 18 hours of it before re-committing with a new save sometime in early 2009, where college life permitted for nocturnal gaming so long as you were awake enough to stumble into an 8AM course.

Turns out, if the game isn’t hooking you, it’s the nostalgia that keeps you coming back. For me, that comfort was found away in Alaska, halfway between reconnecting with a girl I’d known and desperately accepting the first job anyone offered me. I was living on my own for the first time, away from the world, and learning a lot about what it’s like to think you’re an adult, which meant there was a need for equity in learning to deal with things.

Of course, this came in the form of video games. I’d played Read Dead Redemption to completion for review, as with the new release of a game called Alan Wake and some other stuff like Mario Galaxy 2. What none of these games had in common was that they didn’t previously hold that special place in my heart, but Persona 3 did. It was an old standby without ever having been finished, and I was becoming pretty good at commitment.

I managed to pick up about 30 hours in on my new save and ramp up to playing 12 hours a week. Tartarus would be mine, and after resorting to a guide for fusing personas, I was meeting Elizabeth’s requests at a quick rate. I became Yukari’s boyfriend, and we even shared a moment. At some point the routine motions of attending school at Gekkoukan High became comforting in their own right, trading my mainlining nostalgia for a genuine affection of Persona 3 itself.

Coincidentally, things in my own life were coming into their own; I had not only patched up a tumultuous relationship with the girl I knew, but I was organized, focused, and finding time to play games while working 13-hour days in a place where the sun only set from 12:30AM-3:45AM. Wait– can we go back? I wanted to try a “Coincidence? I think not” line and get some ironic laughs but don’t want to use the word twice in a paragraph.

Anyway, on August 6, at 6:18PM, it was over.

I was suddenly fighting the final boss in Persona 3. I mean, I saw it coming, but like a pitbull tackling a kid, you don’t really know how you’ll feel until it happens, and then it’s there. You’re on your knees choking up corn, now off the cob, between breaks of laughter and drool. This was like that. It was one of those extensive, hour-long battles which consternate players even further each turn, but mostly, it was the last time I would play Persona 3. At level 93, after 71 hours and 50 minutes, I watched the final cutscenes play out.

Looking at this save file, I realize I thought it was 90-ought hours put into the game. Let’s hope I was right about all the other numbers and dates that I don’t have access to.

Persona 3 wasn’t a second coming to me. The writing was pretty cheesy at times, some of the voice acting was full-on weird, and the overall look was simplistic after having spent five years in a new console generation (except for Wii games, which don’t count). I’m not even sure what made Persona 3 stick other than the fact I was intent on seeing it through at times in my life, but at some point I got used to it being around, and in watching the last moments of its cutscenes, was hit with a wave of emotion.

Then equal parts satisfaction and enfeeblement.

I could never relive this thing, and I wouldn’t dare try to play it again after the way I dragged my feet. Fortunately, there was the much-hailed Persona 4 awaiting me. I had always known this, and secretly used it to motivate my finishing of Persona 3. I never told Persona 3 about these feelings, and I never plan to.

By late August, the rainy season was kicking in, with weather and low ceilings preventing flights from leaving, and employees from being needed at work. These little treasures were like a summer version of “snow days” from the Midwest, where the universe may as well have begged you to luxuriate indoors. I’m sure Alaska probably has something like those, too, but they’re probably called something else like Wednesday.

On a day like this, I started Persona 4.

Next time: Escape from Juneau

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.