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Is It Worth The Hype? Midnight Channel Edition: Persona 4!

12 min read

Blows dust off this article segment.

Cough.

Cough.

COUGH!

Segment Introduction
I’m the type of person who tries to stay away from things that get a lot of hype. If I’m told repeatedly how awesome something is I get worried that it won’t deliver on its promises and I avoid it like the plague. I’ve been disappointed by “great” things before. I’ve stood in line at midnight only to go home a sad little fangirl, I’ve dropped $60 on a game only to want to trade it in the next morning. I’ve sat through 2 hour long movies and wondered what the weather was like outside because it just had to be better than the crap I had just spent money on. So I’ve decided to do a segment about those popular things we’re all told to watch and play and answer the question, “Is it worth the hype?”

This week’s topic:
Hey look, a television, perhaps I can stick my hand inside and meet a friendly bear. Yep, we’re talking about Persona 4: the video game, the anime, the everything.

Plot summary:
For the next year, you will be staying with your uncle in a quiet town called Inaba. The town, however, isn’t as quiet as you think as unexplained, morbid murders are occurring where people are left hanging from television antennas. As this is going on there’s rumors about watching TV at midnight and finding your soulmate. You — or Yu Narukami (anime name), or Souji Seta (manga name that long time fans had grown accustomed to) — and a couple of classmates decide to test out this rumor about a world deep within their televisions, only to find out its true! Infested within this world are shadows to fight, including shadows of your friends that represent suppressed feelings that they desperately want to deny. But facing your shadow self unleashes an incredible power: the power of the persona.

Oh and that world? It might also hold the key to the murders happening around this once quaint little town. You — Yu — Souji — and friends choose to investigate, gathering clues and facing your true selves… whether you want to or not.

The hype:
Believe it or not, Persona 4 was released back in 2008 on the PS2. So it shouldn’t still be popular right? It should have run its course and now be one of those rare, hard to find, Japanese RPG games that is left behind, disappearing along with the PS2.

But no. There’s an anime series that was released in October 2011 in Japan. Said series has already been licensed and subtitled in the US – currently available on Hulu.com and awaiting DVD release. There’s a fighting game based on Persona 4 with some characters from Persona 3 coming out this August. There’s an ongoing manga series in Japan right now along with a magazine dedicated solely to Persona 4. Let’s not forget the live action stage adaptation; a spinoff novel in the works based on one of the main characters, Naoto Shirogane; a cafe with drinks named after the characters; official sewing kits based on another main character, Kanji Tatsumi…

A… l-live… action… h-h-hentai…

Uh… blush… m-moving on….

Is it worth the hype?

I’m going to try and remain calm when answering this, but…

YES! YES YES YES! OH MY GOD!

Ahahaha… I… like the series, a little… hahaha… allrightIamcompletelyinlovewithit.

Why?
This part will be more coherent, I promise.

A bit of background information, first. The Shin Megami Tensei franchise is full of interesting games. This includes the Persona series. Despite this being the fourth game, the story stands alone, so no need to worry if you haven’t played the previous games — though there are some great nods to Persona 3. The first Shin Megami Tensei game I stumbled upon was years ago, back in college, a little gem called “Nocturne.” Years later, out of college and facing the world, I discovered “Persona 3” and thought it sounded decent enough. However, the whole shooting yourself in the head to summon these creatures into battle concept? I thought, “thanks, but no thanks,” and ignored it. But then a friend of mine came to me and proclaimed with great excitement, “You have to play it. You have to. It’s awesome.”

And she was one hundred and ten percent right.

The thing about the Persona series — 3 and 4 in particular — is that it’s hard to explain why they’re so amazing. When I try and explain the gameplay most people just give me this look. You know the look. That “are you high?!” look, the “you just grew a second head,” look. Most rpgs have you leveling up, getting stronger in battle, and all that jazz. Persona does too, but it also adds to the experience with your daily activities being just as important as dungeon crawling. You go through a Japanese school year, day to day, holidays and all. You make friends, you join school clubs, you get part-time jobs, you fold paper cranes — hey, that’s a thing o.k.? — and other things that a normal, everyday student would do. These bonds you make in the normal world are vital in the “other” world because they level up your persona. So it’s important to keep those bonds strong, hell, it’s even important to get those test questions right in class so your knowledge increases, making you a better person. You’re not only leveling up by fighting off dozens of monsters, you’re leveling up by waking up, going to school, having lunch with friends, going to basketball practice, watching TV with your niece…

… I know it sounds strange, but honestly, it’s fantastic.

It’s just as fun running around with a sword in my hand as it is figuring out which girl to date. But where Persona 3 started my love for the franchise, Persona 4 solidified it. The sweet gameplay is still there, the music is stellar, the persona are cool, the dungeons are great, but the one thing that makes Persona 4 one of the strongest Japanese RPGs out there (a fine contender for strongest, actually) are the characters.

Now I’ve played a lot of rpgs in my day, have saved a lot of lands and took a lot of last stands. I thought I had seen the true meaning of friendship, teamwork, and other such after school special messages. But obviously, I hadn’t, not until Persona 4 came into my life. I’m the type to roll my eyes when the “we’re friends til’ the end” message plays on screen, but my god Persona 4, I wanted to be there with you as you faced your shadows, wanted to tell you that it was o.k. to be uncertain about yourself and to not feel ashamed.

You get so incredibly attached to all of the characters — even the side characters who don’t enter into this other world and who you only see during your ‘normal’ days. This game was the first game in a long time — even now, not just back in 2008 — where I didn’t want to beat the game because I didn’t want the story to be over. Two big things for me in RPGs are story and character. This is because if I don’t give a shit about the characters or the plot, what’s the point in spending 100 plus hours on a game? The murder mystery was a nice touch, yes, but the team. That goddamn Investigation Team. When I took my last stand with them I felt so close to them, I really really wanted to win the day and have that moment of “WA-HOO” at the end. I truly believe that if it weren’t for them, the series wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is, certainly not four years later. I know I wouldn’t have liked it nearly as much.

But what makes the team so special? Reality. Along with having a good portion of the game set in the real world doing real, everyday things, your characters are everyday people who you can easily picture in your own life. Sure, they’re on a mission to discover themselves and hunt down a killer, but like any normal kids with delusions of saving the day, they decide to jump right in! A world in the TV? A talking bear? What?! We need weapons, right? I brought a golf club! Need something stronger. I brought a sword! Oops, we got arrested for having weapons in the mall.

That… that’s just… wonderful!

And yes, let’s talk about those delightful shadows. The theme of facing yourself is nothing new and you might think, “What do high school kids know about facing themselves?” A lot, actually. Part of me wishes that this game had been released around this time where “bullying” and “It Gets Better” campaigns are so prominent in our culture. Persona 4 has the perfect message to send. These kids face things that absolutely anyone can relate to. They face things that they want to keep hidden, whether it be because of their own personal insecurities or because of the way society would view them. They face these things and the game handles it so well. There’s issues that are brought up that make you think, “No way they’re taking it there,” but then the game takes it there and beyond. Issues of friendship, family pressure, not knowing who the “real” you is, gender, sexuality, all of these things come up and hit you square in the heart. Even now, four years later, these issues are relevant, perhaps especially relevant to kids as young as the characters in this story because the characters are so real. As an adult writing this article I can just see my younger self feeling some of these emotions and wondering, “What do I do?” “Who can I talk to?” “Would anyone understand?” I definitely had some things I didn’t want to face back then, I still do now, and the question is raised in my mind, “What would my shadow look like? Could I face it?”

The game strikes that deep.

The beauty of Persona 4 lies in the characters facing these issues. You watch a tough thug like Kanji facing an extremely effeminate shadow who likes “girly” things and who may or may not be gay. You watch him and the other members of the Investigation team struggle, deny, fight, and finally… accept. And that’s where the game is truly wonderful: acceptance. It’s hard to face the truth, but the point is that you need to face it, accept it, and in the end it’s completely worth it. That’s what the Investigation Team does together, as a group of friends, they see each other’s deepest secrets and accept one another for who they are. Is he gay? Straight? It doesn’t really matter, in the end he accepts himself. The best part? As the main character, you get to watch him develop. He’s so much more than the typical tough guy in rpgs and you’re right there with him, helping him develop into the better person he becomes by the end of the game. Now take that amazing concept and do it six more times with the six other characters on your team. Oh, and also, add those other social links you befriend outside of the television. And as you play you might just learn something about yourself, too.

As serious as the game is it’s also hilarious. You get to see the team go out and have fun. They laugh together, choke on the girls’ food together, get “drunk” together, forcefully enter pageants together, watch a certain pierced sewing master blush through a not-so-secret crush on a cool detective — Kanji and Naoto forever, o.k.?! — and by the time you reach the end you are completely in love with the group, especially since “you” are the main character.

I feel like I should address the anime for a variety of reasons. For one, anime adaptations to video games haven’t always been the best. A Street Fighter here or there, maybe a Final Fantasy. They’re not terrible, but they’re not really something I would rave about. My biggest fear going into the anime was Yu Narukami. To make a series based on a game where the main character is, well… “you,” how could they possibly pull that off? Especially since everyone’s main character in the game could — and is — different. All of us as individuals approach things differently, how would the creators take a completely blank slate and make him into his own character with his own personality — particularly one that was likable? Maybe with magic, I’m not sure, but whatever it was it worked. Completely.

I love Yu so much. He really becomes his own character: the snarky, lovable son of a bitch with a poker face that can take hot springs barrels to the face without flinching. The animators delight in the fact that he is this “blank” character by giving him this fantastic, “meh,” personality. Crossdressing? Meh. Being kicked over a cliff? Meh. Group date cafe with my best bro sitting across from me? Meh, I’ll just hit on him and make him blush. Along with this new personality comes this emotional side that’s really sad and beautiful, especially in the last few episodes. I know that in the game it’s “you” playing, but there were certain events where I wanted him to just have a nervous breakdown already! The anime satisfies that need because the animated Yu mirrors many of the player’s thoughts and reactions from the game.

The anime also adds a lot of components that weren’t in the game that are just amazing — no, not just Kanji’s need to sprout out hearts when Naoto blushes, or blinks, or breathes air… though thanks animators for the crazy OTP fanservice. The shadows are definitely more vicious in the anime. The team was forced to stand face to face with their shadows in the game. The anime, however, has the shadows getting more up close and personal — strapping Naoto down to a table for a “special operation” or literally locking Yukiko inside of a birdcage. Also, the team only fights with their persona. While this does mean Chie won’t be punting toy robots into outer space, it’s a bit more realistic to not have high school kids with no training in battle suddenly becoming masters of weaponry. This also means that when a persona is hurt in battle, their master feels it. Just like in the game, Yu can control multiple persona, but unlike the game the anime actually asks the question: why does he get so many and we don’t?! Thanks Yosuke, because seriously, how did NO ONE mention that in the game? This and other touches make it a great adaptation for fans who’ve been in love with Persona 4 since the beginning and makes for an interesting series for those just getting into Persona — no, no “real” fan battles here, I don’t care how you got into Persona 4, if you love it then you love it, period. Remember kids, it’s all about acceptance.

Final Thoughts

The hype boils down to this, folks. What makes Persona 4 great is just… absolutely everything, but especially the characters. If you have a franchise where you can get so invested in the characters then you have something that can remain strong for years to come. Vita remake that will require me to buy a new system? Yes please. Fighting game? Sure, why not. Hentai? Well… the costumes look fairly decent… y-yes, yes I’ve looked at pictures, don’t judge me!

Persona 4 is a story you don’t want to end, or rather, it’s a story where you want to see what happens next to the characters even if the mystery has been solved. There’s a reason why there’s still things coming out for it, four years later, and I honestly hope there’s more to come. As much as I want a Persona 5 — especially on a next gen console — I want more story for this group of friends. It’s going to be hard to top the Investigation Team, but Persona seems to be a franchise that gets better with each new installment. I expect Persona 5 to have an awesome cast, until then, I’ll be writing fanfiction in a notebook somewhere about Kanji making cute bunnies that wear detective hats.

Want to see something make it into the segment? Let me know via email:[email protected] Tell me what it is and why you feel it is over-hyped, under-hyped, or hyped just right. Take care, fair readers, I’m off to dive into the meat dimension!

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