By Aaox 11 Comments
God, it's been ages since I last wrote a blog post on this site. Even longer still since I wrote a good one (that time being approximately never ago), and who knows if this'll buck the trend. But enough self-pitying whinging; let's set this up. It's very long, also, so... you know. Be warned all ye who enter here.
With the recent announcement of all that Persona stuff - Persona Q: Where Are You?, Persona 4: Tunoku Don't Dance, and Persona 5, I found myself nowhere near as excited as I thought I would be. I've been worried about the franchise ever since Persona 4: The Animation was announced, and the recent explosion of Persona gave me pause for thought. I decided to sit down and try to write down what I felt about the franchise, and suddenly, an hour later, I'd written a 2,085 word long essay on the subject. If you care to read it, please do! If not, who can blame you; thank you for bothering to check this in the first place. So, without further ado:
Persona 4 may very well be my favourite game of all time. It has characters I love, some I still borderline obsess over. The setting was perfect, the gameplay pretty good for a turn based RPG, and the story was excellent. It is unique and beautiful and I care about it intensely. So, I ask myself, why am I worried about Persona 5? It's not simply a fear of the game not living up to the lofty expectations the last game set - I played Persona 3 FES after I finished 4 and still very much enjoyed it, even if I didn't like it as much. So why the fear? It's been troubling me for some time, and I figure the best way to sort it out is to write it down. Shake the tree and see what falls out, as it were.
I was first introduced to Persona 4 with, like many others, the Giant Bomb Persona 4 Endurance Run. I knew straight away that it was a game I had to play, and by episode six, the game was out in the UK. I borrowed my Uncle's Playstation 2 to play it, as I had found that mine had stopped working. Over the following two weeks I found myself sucked into the world of Inaba, hopelessly in love with Rise Kujikawa, and desperate to spend more time with the characters that populated that world. And that's not to say watching the ER alongside my own play through of the game - or several play throughs, if we're being specific - took away from the experience; it was the opposite - having two people I respect and look up to enjoying the same game I was didn't take me out of the experience - it simply made me enjoy it all the more. It felt like I was not only having this wonderfully immersive experience, but was sharing it with Jeff and Vinny. It felt like we were all in on it together, and it was wonderful.
So, some preface; I grew up in a small, rural village. I went to a relatively small countryside High School, The closest town was twenty minutes' drive away, and that town was very much like Inaba - nothing to do there except "hanging with my friends or getting part time jobs." That was pretty much my world. I had aspirations of greatness and big plans for the future, but as a 16 year old approaching the end of my compulsory schooling, I was stuck there. So straight away there were parallels; rural town, same age, same situation, and with a father that constantly goes overseas - my life was very similar to the mundane of Persona 4, just with a lot less social linking. As an introverted 16 year old who doesn't drink or enjoy going to parties, I was living a life of escapism, more or less. And then here comes Persona 4; also known as 'My life, but way, way more interesting." I could sympathise with Yosuke feeling like life was inescapably boring, I could sympathise with Kanji for feeling he didn't fit in, I could sympathise with Rise for having a lot of personas that she had to change between, and I could sympathise with Yukiko for feeling like she was trapped in her surroundings - every part of that game, every character, spoke to me. To an introvert with not much going on in way of mad friendship, and one who's always preferred a small group of very close friends than a large group of acquaintances, the Investigation Team felt like home to me. Familiar enough in both character and setting that I could simply become the blank, faceless protagonist, of whom I named 'Ben Tunoku', supplanting the name from the Giant Bomb Endurance Run with my own first name.
To me, Inaba was home, and the characters in that game were my friends. That made the ending all the more poignant - when Tunoku left the station to go back to his city life, leaving his friends behind, his situation mirrored my own, because it WAS my own. I was leaving the characters and fond memories behind me and returning to my real life. Ben Tunoku wasn't just my persona in that world - he WAS me. I inserted myself into that world, I fell in love with Rise, I saved the people who fell into the TV, I spent time with the characters - it was an intensely personal relationship that was brought about by having the protagonist being a blank slate, a veritable tabula rasa that one could impose themselves on and adopt the position of. Going into the TV became more than a little bit literal for me. It wasn't just playing a game, it was going into another world - living in Inaba, if only briefly. Persona 4 came along at the perfect - or, depending on your point of view, perfectly wrong - point in my life. My experience with Persona 4 was entirely reliant on me being in that state when the game came along. It was a perfect storm, and I suppose it's fair to say that my experience was rather unique - at least, insofar as my own personal life. That's not to say others didn't have the same experience, I just haven't heard from them.
So, Persona 4 ended, and then, months later, the Persona 4 Endurance Run ended. I said goodbye to my friends and went back to my ordinary life, sad, but happy for having had the experience. It felt like I really did go away to Inaba and come back. I felt sad that I had to leave the people I cared about behind, but what a beautiful, albeit bittersweet, ending to a wonderful experience. It was incredibly special, and I doubt I'll ever have that experience with another game for the rest of my life, unless Persona 5 is about a jaded 20 year old in University afraid of the impending, colossal unknown of the future.
Then, Persona 4: The Animation came out. That was fine; they had to give the protagonist a name, and I wasn't directly influencing it so that was alright. I wasn't being forced to be Yu Narukami; I could still separate him and myself. Yu had his adventure, and I had mine. That was fine. They were just two separate stories.
Then, Arena came out. A spinoff, but after waiting a year to play it because of the odd circumstances that surrounded that game's release in the EU, I was rattled to my absolute core. It shook me. It borderline horrified me, to be perfectly honest; Suddenly, I wasn't there anymore. It was like invasion of the body snatchers was happening right in front of me. I wasn't picking conversation options. I was sitting there watching Yosuke talk with Narukami, not me. I was watching Rise call the person who used to be my existence in that world a 'big bastard with a sister complex' with no mention of the relationship she and I had had in the previous game. All my input was gone; all the choices I made had ceased to be. I felt like I'd fallen into another world where I no longer existed; I was just the player, playing a game again. I completely agree with you if you're thinking that it was my fault that I got so invested that this troubles me, but as I've said, it was a perfect storm of circumstance that led to me being so invested in my time in Inaba that the suggestion that it was entirely non-canonical is completely abhorrent.
But it still stood; as far as Persona 4 Arena was concerned, I couldn't go back to Inaba. Yu came along and took my place. And that hurt, a lot. It worried me. The experience I had had with Persona 4 was something I hold incredibly close to my heart - did they just make everything I'd done completely redundant? Did they just ret-con Ben Tunoku? The time I'd spent in Inaba? My choices? My relationships with the characters? Could Ben Tunoku still exist in a world where Yu Narukami existed?
And there was no answer to that question. There was just a big, empty void, with no suggestion of any continuation of the franchise but Golden, which I bought and loved. Then that bloody countdown clock came along.
So for the past few months I've been worried. Not excited, worried; and that itself is strange to me. Persona 4 was and still is the best game I've ever played and my favourite game of all time, and Persona 3 is definitely in the top ten, so why am I not excited by the prospect of a Persona 5? Why did I try to rationalise that the introduction of the Multiverse in Persona 4 Golden was a method with which to allow there to be multiple stories taking place in different versions of Inaba, and not simply a way to work online functionality into the game?
Well, if you've stuck around to this point, the answer should be obvious. Persona 5 reflects the critical point where I'll find out if Ben Tunoku is still allowed to exist; and, of course, we don't know the answer yet. It doesn't look like Narukami's coming back for Persona 5, but that's all just speculation at this point - five chairs with ball-and-chains attached to them is hardly conclusive. I just think they'd lean harder on the existing characters off the bat if they wanted to hype people up about it. Also, important to note, the main character in Persona 4: Dancing All Night (still the best video game title ever) was referred to as 'Hero', not 'Narukami-kun', so that could be a big positive step at least as far as I'm concerned. And Rise you have never looked so fine. But at the same time, denying Arena and canon could seriously hurt the possibility of a continued franchise, and I hardly want Persona to go Final Fantasy route and have a completely unrelated story every time, reducing the franchise to nothing but a disconnected mess of similar situations. But if there are whole new characters, and I'm playing as someone else but can see Narukami and Rise and to a lesser extent everyone else from a distance, how am I going to feel? I still don't know, and that uncertainty is disquieting.
I don't want my time in Inaba to be over, but it might be. At the very least, Ben Tunoku certainly didn't go back for Golden Week. Or perhaps he did, but with a different name, and with a different personality. Perhaps it's high time I let go of my attachment to the characters and accept that they're not real, accept that it's simply a video game, and that it's impact on me is all one-sided; just lines of code speaking pre-determined dialogue to a faceless, voiceless character who was designed to give me a place. But I care about Inaba, and I care about the characters. Accepting it to be completely unreal is not something I could do lightly, as it was real to me, if only for a short while.
Perhaps this is a part of growing up; letting go even though the thought horrifies you. Maybe I'm just a man child who cares more about his computer friends than going out there and making actual, living friends, but that's neither here nor there - that'll simply be something I have to figure out as I go.
To finish, I'll simply state the obvious and render the entire essay I just accidentally wrote meaningless in a stark metaphor for the impact of canon on my time in Inaba. Persona 4 was a huge part of my life, and my time in Inaba ended with the train ride home. When the credits rolled and the screen faded out with Tunoku looking at that picture of his friends, I found myself looking at that same picture with feelings of regret, of sadness, of hope that I'd see them again. Of fond memories about the time I spent with them. For that one moment, Ben Tunoku and Benjamin Holdsworth were the same person. We didn't want to leave Inaba, but we thought we'd be back again someday.
And now, almost five years later, I've been told that Inaba might be open for business again. And I want to go back. But I'm not sure if I can go back, now. Perhaps the train headed for Inaba isn't waiting for Ben Tunoku anymore.
And there you have it; 15 paragraphs of overly dramatic self-indulgent nonsense, but perhaps you're of a similar mindset and appreciate it. Or perhaps it's an interesting case for study over over-immersing oneself in a video game world, who can say. But either way, thank you for reading it, or at least scrolling past it to see how long it was.