4 years in Persona 4: from Juneau to Junes (2010-2011)

, | Game diaries

So there I was, asleep, 8PM, fighting an addiction to caffeine the only way that I knew how: having crawled into a dark corner of my bedroom underneath a pile of blankets and laundry. I’m not a drug addict, but I feel like if I’m ever curious about how withdrawal feels, that I can stifle that curiosity by shutting off my grip on caffeine.

The shock of finishing Persona 3 had rendered me aimless. Without a compass, I was capable of reckless decisions like ignoring my subservience to energy drinks which resulted in three-hour post-work naps. Naps around 6:30PM. All the great decision-making that I’d been doing that summer was suddenly unwound by completing a video game.

After the jump, that could only mean one thing

They’d turned on me. Games weren’t my friends anymore. If they were, why didn’t they solve all my problems? Why was I stuck in a rained-out town three hundred rotten miles from civilization? A relationship? Where was my college degree taking me? Surely it couldn’t be herding some summer job teens around a tour shack while they herded crappy Americans and picky foreigners into a half-hour “standing on glaciers” helicopter trip, could it? Worst of all, video games got a tidy ending, where as I was left with decades on my stupid life.

I lasted about three months before going crazy in August, which is a pretty good run for someone who’s used to being able to drive as far as I want– sometimes even to another city.

Juneau, however, has a main road about 45 minutes out with a sign at the end saying you’re done, and in the other direction I think sits a stunt ramp pointed at a cliff or some deathly rock face 250 feet down. I’m not sure if it’s a message or just a way of celebrating those who welcome release, but it’s worth a gander. Maybe even worth some rock-throwing, if you’re into that.

Persona 4 really knew how to get off to a bad start, considering it decided to enter my life at this point. Not to mention, it welcomed me with open arms to its own version of a rainy mountain town, two-faced in its greeting, and ripped out my cool R&B music for some jangly rock music as a battle theme. Along for introductions were a new crowd of characters (with a cute girl named Chie, I wonder if I can romance her?) and something about fog killing people.

After a half hour of taunting, I ejected the disc and broke up with it. Maybe I saved at the first opportunity, to spare myself the trouble of ever replaying a moment of the game, and that was that.

If you’ve ever been in a long relationship, there’s such a thing as starting another “too soon.” You may think you’re ready to recommit, but what you actually need is a rebound, or in the case of video games, a palette cleanser. I’ll never remember what that game was, but like most rebounds, its forgetful nature came secondary to fulfilling my goal. Some studio probably worked really hard on it, too, with a whole budget and Metacritic score sitting around on the internet just waiting for the right person to finally notice it as a real game.

Whatever it was (Trauma Center: Second Opinion, maybe. Probably, but who knows? Probably, though.), it saved me from ignoring Persona 4 for the oncoming years and possibly forever. A week after rejecting it, I gave Persona 4 a second chance.

If only I could get over the sickly resemblance of Inaba to Juneau.

Minor changes in a series are magnified when the majority remain untouched, and while being able to manually control party members was a welcome change, adapting to the game’s jarring soundtrack was trickier than it should have been. Equally frustrating was determining which orientation I should have the camera’s X-axis on, which lead to me exiting P4 for P3 to compare my camera scheme, re-entering P4, opening Persona 3 to double-check, and taking a picture of Persona 4’s screen on my way back to Persona 3 as my brain was still telling me that something was off.

There was also the trouble of being babied through the first few hours, including the adorable 13 EXP points battles would earn– battles fought with adorable parlor tricks like Bufu and Zio. Persona 3 had just ushered me out with spells powerful enough to revive party members on my own, and with a team so overpowered that I’d either become strategically dumb or lazy in my approach. Persona 4’s first or second boss encounter actually left me at the game over screen several times in a row, either due to stubbornness on my part or a sharp difficulty curve on Persona 4’s.

God help me, six uncomfortable hours into the game, I just know the camera’s X-axis was off. I have to go check Persona 3 again. I just fucking know it. It has to be. Why else does it feel wrong? Why does playing Persona 4 feel wrong? It’s supposed to be an improvement over Persona 3, and I loved Persona 3. I loved it and nobody can ever tell me otherwise. I’ll never love another game like it again.

Once an opportunity to review Civilization V came my way, I dropped everything to devote my time to it. It also just so happened that my escape from Juneau was imminent– although not without being bitched one last time. Winter starts in September up north, which found my girlfriend and I on a snowed-out road below the Yukon, forced to either die in a frigid mess of blood-soaked tree branches and Subaru Outback chunks, or retreat to the ferry port where we could eat $350 each for a last-minute 2-day ferry trip south to Prince Rupert.

You figure out what we decided to do.

From September to the new year, I spent a good amount of time traveling between the Midwest and California, always with my PS3 in tow, but never finding much time or interest to play Persona 4. Juneau lingered in my thoughts with a bitter flavor, and that’s where I met Persona 4. That’s where Persona 3 left me. It left me in places like Riverside, wasting my time on Redbox rentals like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

You’d think at this point I should have done at least something with the game — after all, here we are on a second entry of my time with Persona 4, all the while trying to figure out what that should or could mean. The fact of the matter is that in all my independence, commitment, and newfound worldliness, I only had a little bit of money to show for my troubles. Finishing Persona 3 had shone a light of ineptitude on my life, proving me incomplete in even tending to my hobbies, and all I had going for me was a long-distance relationship.

Meanwhile, somewhere on a media shelf, the perfect storm of escapism was finding its footing, soon to hook me with denial. What good was facing reality when I could make all the progress I wanted for in someone else’s life? The life of Jun Seba, my pet project character who was probably going to nail Chie someday.

Next time: 20 hours of gameplay in under two years
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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.