4 years in Persona 4: pursuing my true self (2011-2013)

, | Game diaries

That’s right — two years in this entry. We’ve got a lot to cover, and that’s not even counting all the stuff I had to leave out just to make sense of everything.

Also, I gotta say, it really killed the mood to fixate on Chie like that. Not when Persona 4 gives you the chance to be a player and go romantic with all the female S-Links. Truly, this was the land of opportunity, Japan. Opportunistic lands out there. Really fertile stuff, if you go for it — girl-wise. Game-wise, though, Persona 4 may as well have been dead to me by February of 2011.

After the jump, two more years closer to the end.

Its predecessor had struck a chord with me, not just by virtue of Stockholm Syndrome or some other mind game, but in its dark, nocturnal nature. The obsession with suicide, characters summoning personae by shooting themselves in the head was swapped out for kids smashing trading cards in an outstretched hand. Where’s the bite in that?

The new dungeon format was also taking some getting used to. Persona 3 had laid out its routine timeline by giving each dungeon a moon cycle to complete, but Persona 4’s weather-based timelines subverted that routine. We don’t get the same weather cycle every 30 days, after all, unless you live in California where it’s drought central. Sometimes we get a fire, though, so I guess I can’t complain.

April 8 arrived, marking my rendezvous with the in-game start date of 4/8/2011. It had now caught up with me, offering the once-in-a-lifetime chance of playing it alongside the chronology of real life. Sure, playing a bit once a day sounds tedious. It even sounds like a hassle, and on top of that, a hell of a way to drag things out. Ultimately, it would have just been a novelty to attempt.

I didn’t know it at the time, but attempting that novel stance on playing the game would have been at least twice as productive as how things would eventually turn out.

At some point, peer pressure lead to me playing The Witcher. I quickly ramped up into the first game’s story, and by the release of The Witcher 2, I was in the final stages of completing one of the few RPGS I’ve ever finished. 45 hours, just like that, committed to a game in just a few months. Meanwhile, Persona 4 was gaining traction on a variety of websites you may or may not have visited at some point. Apparently, this game was more of a phenomenon than I expected.

By May, it became clear to me that if websites like Giant Bomb were marathoning a JRPG that I was about to have taken a year to play more than 10 hours of, I’d missed something. What have they got that I don’t? Jobs? Families? That’s even less of an excuse, seeing as I was still unemployed. I had a leg up on everyone, with nothing to stop me. In fact, I was coming back around to the summer setting that nurtured my completion of Persona 3. Then it hit me: the stars were re-aligning for me to finish another Persona game.

First, I had to break up with my girlfriend.

It was so obvious. We weren’t dating when I originally moved to Juneau, and all I had to do was find a summer job where I’d park myself on another throne of fake independence and earned security. Maybe it was Fresno this year, but it could happen. We’d be dating again in no time, and I’d have another JRPG under my belt.

Stupid life; I’d solved its riddles. If only it hadn’t turned out that she was done too. Wait, what?

My plan had come undone thanks to free will, and while Persona 3 taught me a valuable lesson about palette cleansers, my follow-through to taking out post-relationship withdrawal on someone was to sit on the internet at home without a job, without a girlfriend, and without a clue of what to do next. It was clearer with games, there was just a sequel to play. Certainly, relationships have sequels, too, but that didn’t happen to be on standby like a piece of software you can tell Amazon to deliver to your door.

Sounds like life gets in the way again, huh, reader? Luckily, I don’t thwart so easily. I was determined, and finally threw caution to the wind, drew the shades against the summer sun, and played a video game. I didn’t need things to fight for in order to play something. Being alone is almost enough fuel to last me an eternity. Inspired by single life and the notion that one day I could read the Hiimdaisy synopsized comic about Persona 4, I managed to play a whole 10 more hours until I was double-thwarted.

A few weeks after things had settled down in June, I met another girl. Not thinking, I relocated to California with the help of some friends, and was re-introduced to explaining myself to new people. After being locked in a room for months on the end, spent talking to a half-dozen people mostly online, there’s not much to tell strangers about who you are.

I remedied this by introducing people to Persona 4. I didn’t even mind telling them I’d been playing it for a year or so — that was a reasonable amount of time back then. It also saved me from giving the real answer that I was a loser, scraping the barrel for any job I had a shot at — none of which were in the same galaxy as my degree would have wished for. Persona 4 was upgraded from part-time JRPG to an eccentric social lubricant, one of the lowest high points of my life that I wasn’t even high for.

Explaining to a new girl the commitment I made to Persona 4 back in 2010, though, required a little more finesse. Doubly so in knowing how niche this game was; it may as well have been a skeleton in the closet. I may as well have just shown her a leather collection and asked if she’d ever worn a ball gag. Luckily I suckered her with the reveal during the honeymoon phase of everything, saving her effort in feigning interest, and myself the judgement I expected would be passed on me. That must be like meeting a girl who loves sports or something — I’m just not sure I could care for more than a week after we’d seen each other naked a few times. We’d just have to pretend baseball didn’t exist, only after brushing her treasured hobby under the rug as an obligation on my behalf for special occasions.

I have no idea what she ever decided to do about this Persona 4 business, but I know she likes Teddie. He’s kind of a player, though.


By April of 2012, I had played a total of 24 hours and 46 minutes. Life had stabilized and I found a job I half-appreciated and half-hated, logging and editing standup comedy. If that didn’t lead to big things then nothing would.

We’ll also be stopping off here at April 8, 2012, marking the eclipse of real-world time beyond the game’s setting. Wave hi; it noticed us. Okay, that’s enough.

Persona has always impressed me with its Social Link system, wrapping what would normally be padded dialog and character interactions back into the game’s fusion system. The more time spent with in-game characters, the more bonus experience is given towards creating new personas. It’s not only a great motivator for exploring the S-Link sidequests, but Persona 4 brought it to a new level. Leveling up S-Links between party members granted them abilities to recover from being knocked down, take hits for you, and eventually withstand mortal blows.

While I wasn’t keen on the music, and was getting used to the cast and setting, the gameplay tweaks in Persona 4 were slowly becoming apparent. They were more thoughtfully composed, for one, expanding on the S-Link system in P3 by involving it now in the battle system where party members could take a real beating at certain levels. I would also need more Courage points in order to see the cheesecake scenes, and Charisma to access the ballsier dialog options. There were even scenes where the previously one-on-one interactions would invite other S-Link characters in for a stat boost on multiple trees — a real game changer. Really, if you thought hanging out with one person in a game was something, you gotta see a crowd.

I was starting to feel an investment in Jun’s life. 33 hours into Persona 4, it was June and I would be going to E3 — my first ever. Distractions where everywhere, with the constant reminder of Persona 4: The Golden’s release on Vita looming over the Atlus booth.

Wait, really? What’s Persona 4 doing here?

Isn’t there somewhere on earth I can go without being reminded that I haven’t finished this game yet? Can’t I at least be safe at a monolithic conference exclusively about future games and new IPs? What about this Wii U thing? What about Persona 5, you animals at Atlus? It’s been long enough — I should know, being maybe a third through something you people released in 2008.

Instead we got a fighting game spinoff alongside the re-release of Persona 4. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun, Persona 4 Arena. I bought it on release to find out that it has a full story taking place after the events in Persona 4. It’ll be really fun to play that someday.

If I’d noticed a trend, it was in migrating to a new job, relationship, or residence providing a catalyst for playing Persona 4 again. Maybe it was talking about Persona 4 like I’d been dating it that renewed my interest, but once again in July, I’d found a new job working on Dance Central 3. With lots of people to talk to about video games, I had a nurturing environment to whet my interest in continuing Persona 4 on a more serious level. It’s much hotter when you know other people are interested in your games, after all.

I’d play for about 4 hours at a time, progressing in segments through the story, through the dungeons. For weeks on end it would linger in the back of my mind, and then on a given day I’d sit down again to play for most of the evening. While these instances were inconsistent, they were compensated for in the large chunks of time I put into the game. I’d even begun to forget some of my feelings for Persona 3.

November put an end to all this progress in the form of a studio closure. We knew it was happening in October, but I remained to help bury Backbone’s legacy as a low-cost employee. Afterwards, scrambling to find work before the holiday season, playing almost anything was in the back of my mind. The new year was ringing in soon with a sour note for 2012.

We didn’t even get a nice Mayan obliteration to really cap things off.

Next time: 2013 – the year of the grind
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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.