Persona 3 was a revelation. I played Persona 3 initially just to see what all the fuss was about, and to get my quarterly JRPG injection. Given I had played roughly seventeen billion JRPGs at this point, I didn’t speak to any of the NPCs the game didn’t squarely point me at, as I didn’t want to deal with all the “Please save the crystals,” and “I hear fire enemies are weak to ice magic,” banter that clogs up the usual JRPG NPC dialogue. I dove into the dungeons and battle system with aplomb, and participated in the S-Link game, a system whereby you grow stronger by forging meaningful bonds with imaginary digital people, as a perfunctory way to kill time between dungeon dives. And then an odd thing happened: somewhere about midway through the S-Link with Chihiro Fushimi, I realized I was rushing through the dungeons to get back to Chihiro’s story. It wasn’t the most interesting story, mind you, just… very human, and the last game I could remember playing with such a human edge to it was Final Fantasy 8. Don’t get me wrong, say, Final Fantasy 10 is an excellent piece of storytelling, but it’s kind of hard for me to relate to a woman who is literally sacrificing herself for her world when I can barely sacrifice putting on flip flops to drag out the trash. The curb is all the way over there! But the “Social Links” of Persona 3 were, by and large, very human, and, thus, engaging. I’m not making Chihiro-kun my waifu anytime soon (am… am I saying that right? I’m not, am I? I’m okay with that), but it was certainly pleasant to play a game where I actually cared about the world I was saving, as opposed to leveling up to 100 just to insure that that “I are sick” guy has a pleasant evening.
However, despite Persona 3’s reputation as a “Japanese High School Simulator”, I never really believed the Persona 3 universe to actually involve high school students. Much like Cecil Harvey’s command of his nation’s entire air force at the tender age of 20, half the cast of Persona 3 comes off as much older than their given age. Yes, this is likely a side effect of the “you must have this much PTSD to join” sign that hangs above their dorms, but, see, right there? These kids live in their own dorms, with near zero parental/adult supervision, and hang out in weird places around midnight and then struggle to stay awake in class the following morning. This all sounds a lot like to college to me. And while a number of characters in the game do come off as actual high school students (Chihiro included), It’s hard to get immersed in that high school way of thinking when there’s such an overt emphasis on saving the world, dwelling on “your” mortality, and, oh yeah, the robot and the dog wearing a little vest. Persona 3 really did create something human there, but it stumbled just short of the immersive realism goal that could really make it shine.
Which is why it’s no surprise that Persona 4 and its cast have made such an impact on the video game landscape, from its all fighting, all dancing, all corn dog spinoffs to a variety of JRPGs that now lean heavily on Persona’s visual novel similarities. Persona 4 took the high school setting and ran with it, creating a cast of characters that are surprisingly realistic, even across cultures.
And now you’re going to suffer for it.
As you may have guessed, I went to high school. It was about as much fun as licking a fire poker overall, but I did moderately enjoy the social interactions. With that in mind, I am going to inventory the S-Links of Persona 4, and compare the personalities involved to my real life experiences. I hope, with myself and my readers focusing strongly on my high school past, that I can tear a hole in the space-time continuum, fly back to the past, and punch my smug, self-absorbed teenage self right in his handsome face. Join me, won’t you?
Description: Yosuke is the protagonist’s best friend, and the son of the owner of June’s, the local mega store that is destroying small town America… err… Japan. Yosuke is also a complete %^#. Seriously. He’s a such a %^#, that he is in a constant state of trying to be funny, but he’s generally just insulting or otherwise annoying his friends. He claims to have a strong sense of justice, but, have to reiterate this, he’s basically just a running insult machine, and not even a particularly good one! It doesn’t take a lot to insult someone’s sexual preference, it takes a little more effort to note that someone’s mother is so fat, that when she goes to the zeppelin expo, she is immediately purchased by Baron Overcompensatious. What I’m saying is that Yosuke is a %^#.
Did we meet in high school? Oh yeah. Yosuke was pretty much my entire peer group in high school. Hell, on a bad day, I probably was Yosuke, just minus any useful kunai skills. I realize this does not speak well of my high school self, but I’ve changed! I swear! I’ve discovered a whole new array of insults to yell at you jackanapes!
Description: Yukiko is the gorgeous (this is, arguably, a big factor in her personality, as like three characters hit on her during her introduction) heiress of the Amagi Inn, a successful local business. She’s often seen as very reserved and quiet, but, once you get to know her, she’s kind of a complete goof. Also, a complete pyromaniac.
Did we meet in high school? My first thought is yes, very much yes, and we used to date. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure Yukiko is just a walking stereotype for how most teenage boys see most teenage girls: cold, beautiful, privileged, and unapproachable, but then once you actually get to talking, wow, she’s actually pretty fun and not at all the stuck up jerk I thought she was when she told me to get lost 3,000 times. Hey, baby, I’m not still bitter about the fact that you wouldn’t give me your screenname for like six months, it’s coo’, please don’t light me on fire.
Margaret of the Velvet Room
Description: Margaret is the enigmatic Velvet Room attendant for Persona 4. She’s basically a cross between a caring adult and a robot that won’t stop bothering you about, “What is this thing you humans call love?” Much like Yukiko, she also has this weirdly goofy side, which I’m starting to think is some kind of eerie kink with the Persona 4 writers…
Did we meet in high school? It’s easy to give this one a flat “no,” as Margaret is fairly alien. On the other hand, 90% of teachers I had during high school seemed to have been beamed here from some other planet. I may be giving the writers too much credit, but part of being a teenager and growing up is acknowledging that these adult authority figures actually are humans, no better or worse than yourself, and Margaret’s gradual slide from otherworldly to mundane might be a very deliberate move. On the other hand, might just be an easy excuse for yet another woman to hit on the protagonist, so who knows.
Description: Overcompensation, thy name is Kanji. Kanji’s defining trait seems to be that, in order to hide the fact that he has fairly feminine interests (sewing, naked men), he portrays himself as an over the top street thug that can bash the world into submission. He eventually mellows and proves to be one of the more reliable members of Team Snoops, and even makes little adorable dolls for his friends.
Did we meet in high school? So very much yes. I’m pretty sure we met last week, too. I’m pretty sure I’m talking to him online right now. Man, is the whole “overcompensating masculinity” thing an ingrained part of Western Society. I kind of feel bad for all the men that suffer from this, though I don’t have to worry about it, as I have an enormous penis.
Description: Hard-boiled detective Dojima plays double duty throughout the plot as the chief investigator on this whole murder spree going on and surrogate dad for the protagonist. When he isn’t complaining about his dull-witted coworkers or coffee choices, he seems to spend time trying to better connect with his daughter and his nephew, the protagonist.
Did we meet in high school? Dojima is supposed to be a model father, right? Or some model of a father? This is the first character that seems to be significantly written from an adult’s perspective, as his difficulty connecting with his young daughter and teenage nephew seems like something out of some 40-50 something’s rambling about kids these days. I don’t really know how to rank this one, as I met my own father before high school for some reason. Dude has just always been around.
Description: “Risette” is a national star, but taking a break to slum it with all the hoodlums around Inaba. She claims she’s not the hyper, bubbly star the media portrays her as, but pretty much her every interaction past her introduction… portrays her as a hyper, bubbly young lady. Her optimism in the face of the literal end of the world is… unsettling. Also, I’m not one to judge fashion, but pigtails? Really?
Did we meet in high school? This is kind of weird, but I don’t think I can recall a single person, male or female, who was ever this “on” in my teenage years. If Rise is your favorite character, more power to you, but I know a few literal cheerleaders who would ask Risette to dial it down a notch. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever hung out with a national celebrity, so maybe she’s completely normal. I’ll update this article after I become famous.
Description: Chie is kickass. There, got that out of the way. Beyond the obvious, Chie has a tendency to come off as “one of the guys” in social interactions, and is the animus to Yukiko’s anima. Chie wants to grow up to be a police officer, but will likely be disappointed when the job does not involve as much galactic punting as Dojima alludes to.
Did we meet in high school? Yes, a thousand times yes, and I’m sorry. Look, in retrospect the fact that we were frequently playing basketball, despite the fact that you were like five foot nothing, just seemed like an entertaining thing to do, okay? And all those times we were playing Marvel vs. Capcom, and I was complaining about “why don’t girls like to play video games,” while you were RIGHT THERE? Look, I’m just… I’m starting to think I might have had brain problems. Alright? I’m… I’m just so sorry.
Description: Effectively the protagonist’s little sister, Nanako is there to be adorable and get kidnapped. Oh, spoilers, the most football sized cast member becomes a football. Additional spoiler: Nanako is eventually revealed to be three kittens and a puppy piloting a robot powered by rainbows. I have also decreed that this character is allowed to have pigtails.
Did we meet in high school? Nope. I’m an only child, and any of my friends that had little sisters weren’t THAT little. A complete swing and a miss for this game, but Nanako is more of a plot device than an actual character.
Description: A fox.
Did we meet in high school? See references to “the blonde” in the previous article.
Arcana: Wheel of Fortune
Description: The final member of the player’s party and also its smartest member, Naoto is the genius of the group, always wishing to be defined by cerebral achievements, which is important, as, prior to this detective joining, the cast was just sitting around on the roof repeating the same stupid facts over and over again, like, replace Yosuke with a mildly homophobic parrot and you’d have the exact same dialogue. Also, I cannot imagine the size of the balls on Naoto, who had to inform other party members that a firearm might be an effective weapon here, but maybe you guys should just go ahead and ditch your shoes, chair, and… Christ, is that a fan? Are you trying to combat the monsters of evil with a damn fan? How are you people not all dead!?
Did we meet in high school? Yes, and, I’m going to have to apologize to anyone that was in our Junior English Class. Look, we both self-identified ourselves as the smartest people in the room, and we might have been, but that was no reason to completely destroy any sort of classroom decorum to settle our year long grudge match. In my head, yes, I believed that I was producing all new ways to interpret Hamlet, and I’m sure he was thinking much the same, but, hindsight, I’m pretty sure the rest of the class just saw a forty minute session of two cats hissing over the same meager scraps. I promise to never waste everyone’s time in an attempt to validate my own pretentious ideas again.
Article somehow continues through impregnable layer of irony.
Kou Ichijo & Daisuke Nagase
Description: I’m grouping these two knuckleheads together, and you’ll understand why in the next section. These two are the sports stars of P4, and, while they have distinct personalities and issues (something about dealing with tradition and family, which is like every other S-Link here, and the other one… something about a fear of failure and problems with the opposite sex…man, that’s just lame) they definitely come off as more of a twosome in each of their s-link scenarios. And, whoo, sports!
Did we meet in high school? Maybe it’s just me, and I’m going to go ahead and claim it’s universal, but there’s that feeling where you see two other people hang out, like, all the time, and you just know they’re going to get married at the same time and have kids that play together and oh man they just have this perfect little best friend relationship and why don’t I have anyone like that in my life? While your own best friend is standing right there and is like, oh man, why don’t I have a best friend like that? I feel like there’s this “pairing” push in most media that creates these perfect duos, from Lenny and Squiggy to Nana and Popo, and we’re all left holding the bag because no one is really that in synch with another human being. So, yes, they seem very real, and now I’m skimming this post to see exactly when I started turning it into therapy. Think it was shortly after I used the word “revelation”.
Arcana: Hanged Man
Description: Naoki’s big deal problem is that he’s dealing with the sudden death of his sister, and I feel a little bit bad mocking the poor kid in his time of grief, but then I recover because he’s giving me those eyes. Man, I was trying to be nice, why you gotta look at me like that?
Did we meet in high school? I actually think high school was about the first time in my life that someone would suffer a tragedy, and I’d actually pay attention like, “Wow, that has to be terrible, you need anything?” Kind of funny to remember the first funeral you ever went to because you actually knew the bereaved, and it wasn’t just your Great Aunt Bernie or some such nonsense. Man, need to get back to being moderately entertaining here. What’s the next arcana? Aw, $%@.
Description: A widow who hangs out by the river on Sundays, starring longingly into the abyss and commenting on how she am become Death. Her dead husband had some The Notebook based malady that caused him to forget his true love and wither into some sad shell of a… Good God, why did I ever play this game?
Did we meet in high school? I might be an only child, but I did have the reverse pyramid of a family in my teenage years with an overabundance of grandparents. Too many grandmas! As a result, many a Sunday post-church lunch was spent with them and their general peer group. So, oddly, I spent a lot of time with old widows. This might sound terrifying to some, but old ladies are just ridiculous with their occasion attempts to offer life advice. My favorite? My grandmother’s best friend once leaned over to me, and whispered (old ladies cannot, at all, whisper) “You know, Bobby, don’t be afraid of some of the heavier girls. Heavy girls really know how to…” she then winked a startling wink, and said with as much emphasis and innuendo as possible for a woman of her age, “… dance.” Screw this death widow crap, old ladies are our greatest natural resource.
Description: A fresh, youthful step mother who, playing against type, is quite the opposite of wicked. Her kindness and gullibility is basically her downfall, though, as she apparently gets help with relating to her new step son not from a friend or family member, but a random high school student who happens to be hanging around. This, miraculously, works out.
Did we meet in high school? Oh my no. I can tell you right now, if I saw a random post from some new wife about how she was getting such great advice on child rearing from some teenager she met at the park, I’d be calling child services faster than you can say “unfit mother”. I don’t have kids, so I really shouldn’t judge, but I’m pretty good at identifying kooky when I see it.
Description: A naughty nurse that works at the local hospital. She seems to delight in mocking the teenage protagonist with her wealth of “experience” and “maturity”. I will remind you all that I’m talking about an adult taunting a kid who can’t seem to wear glasses correctly. Like pretty much all S-Links, she eventually softens up and runs off to join the Peace Corps or something. You know what? I’m sticking to that sentence as-is. I choose to believe most of the cast of P4 joins the Peace Corps after the game ends.
Did we meet in high school? I dealt with a number of adults in my teenage years, as my “night job” was pretty much what it is now: being the only guy on the payroll who knows how the computers work. I am either known as Goggle Bob or Where Did My Email Go Why Don’t We Ask Bob Bob. That said, I can’t think of a single adult I ever met who vamped on me to the degree we see with Sayoko. This is likely because I dealt with adults who were actually adults, and not teenage fantasies. Despite many years having passed, though, if anyone knows any teenage fantasies I can hang out with, I’m game.
Description: A young boy who is tutored by the protagonist, Shu initially comes off as a complete jackass, but eventually turns out to be the weepy byproduct of an overbearing mother. So Shu is basically every third male you meet on the internet.
Did we meet in high school? Basically. This one seems to be another teenage perception archetype, when everyone younger than age x seems to be a complete self absorbed pain in the ass that isn’t worth dealing with until they ripen to the amazing level of maturity that you yourself have attained in your autumn teenage years. Haha, teenagers have no hindsight. They’re stupid.
Description: Teddy is a magical bear from the world of dreams. He is beary powerful, and has a smeller that is second to none. His combat prowess is potent, and his support abilities are indispensable. He gradually grows his own ego over the course of the game, and hatches an entire additional body as a result. Occasionally, he is worried that he has nothing inside, but, in the end, he becomes an vital member of the team whose ice magic is second to none. After the events of P4, he splits his life between being a department store mascot and living in a miraculous Jungian fantasy.
Did we meet in high school? Yes.
Description: A “bad girl” who cuts class and is generally really, really confusing. If I’m being generous, she’s a girl with significant body and rejection issues, and acts out for attention, any kind of attention, that will satiate her desire for validation. If I’m someone who played the game and is still bitter, she’s a freaking labyrinth of incorrect S-Link choices that is just there to toy with player expectations. Either way, she kinda turns out horrible.
Did we meet in high school? Sympathetic interpretation, she could sort of be any girl, almost a female compliment to Kanji, as western women have body/attention issues like western men have issues with their smaller-than-mine penis compensation problems. It’s practically ingrained in our culture, but I do have a solution available for the low, low cost of $19.99. While you’re grabbing your credit card, I’ll note the general way Ai “works” in the game, that the usual “right” answer is almost never right, even when she’s nearly jumping off of the roof (!) may be there just to mimic the way most high school students feel in a relationship: “I never have the right answer, why is my lover always so upset with me?” Either way, she kinda turns out genius.
Description: Queen Drama of Drama Land. Yumi is the lead actress of the drama club, and lives and breathes the stage. Then, she has some family issue, and realizes that she’s only into drama because it helps her cope with the crap she has to put up with compliments of her family. She quits the drama club after this realization, because she will never have any more problems in her life, and thus no longer needs a creative outlet.
Did we meet in high school? Yeah. Minus the whole “quitting drama due to revelations” thing, I’m pretty sure we dated for nearly a year. It was exhausting. And I’d date her again five minutes after we broke up. I was… not a well boy.
Arcana: Sun (Again)
Description: A tiny, female trombone player. An entirely fictional construct. Her storyline involves a song that somehow includes a trombone solo. Another utterly imaginary possibility. She is shy, but, somehow, she’s in the brass section. I’m pretty sure the P4 writers have never seen an actual high school band before.
Did we meet in high school? Give her a flute or a clarinet, and she’s in your high school right now. I don’t care when you’re reading this, she’s there, practicing, and her overture to sadness haunts the halls.
Arcana: Jester or something
Description: Your dad’s whacky friend who always seems to be hanging around and is just an absolute waste. A complete weirdo from stem to stern. Then you find out what this guy is into, and you’re never the same again, mainly because you didn’t know you could possibly vomit that much.
Did we meet in high school? Yeah, though I’ve likely repressed whatever it was that made me puke so very long. I don’t think anyone went to jail, at least. Regardless, Adachi is another fine example of finding out that adults are just as fallible as your peer group, though in this game, there may be a healthy dosage of Wild Arms-esque “the children are our future and all the adults are corrupt meanies”. Or maybe I’m reading too much into yet another story where a bunch of teenagers save the world while the adults order out for sushi.
Marie of the Velvet Room
Arcana: Aeon…. Is that a thing?
Description: A fresh addition for Persona 4 Golden, Marie is an amnesiac who is trying to find her real self. She also writes terrible poetry, dresses astonishingly, and has a fondness for memes. Her big deep secret is important and all, but she’s principally the tsundere archetype that is so popular in Japanese media.
Did we meet in high school? I asked her out like twice, and got a “no” both times. We still hung out quite a bit, though, probably because I am a persistent creep. About a decade after we graduated and thus no longer had anything to do with each other, Facebook distinctly took time out of its busy day to email me and be like, “Hey, bet you know this person,” and there was her picture staring back at me again. This is why I no longer check my email while at work.
Alright, that was sure concise, let’s check the final tally. I count seventeen or so yes’s here, so I’m going to go ahead and claim that Persona 4 resonated highly with my own actual high school experience. Way to go, Persona 4. Unfortunately, now I’m mentally reviewing every terrible thing I ever did in high school, so I have no idea how to end this article or what I was even thinking when I started. Look, I’m going to sit here and wonder why I’m not in jail for crimes against humanity, and you write your own ending. Try to tie it back to something I said at the start, yeah? Try and make it a revelation. Have it on my desk before homeroom.
FGC #14 Persona 4 Golden
- System: Sony Vita
- Number of Playas: One (wink wink)
- Reason you bought the Vita? Pretty much
- Regret the Vita? Not really. You never could have sold me the system on this idea, but now I have a portable system that plays Final Fantasy 1-10 and Chrono Trigger and a wealth of Mega Mans without having to flip a single cartridge. If I was stuck on a desert island with only a Vita and one outlet and maybe an umbrella, I think I’d be okay.
- Favorite S-Link: Honestly? Probably Ai, as the whole thing felt like some kind of weird fight, really distinguishing it from the other S-Links that, while generally engaging, were fairly samey. She’s like hard mode in a system that I didn’t know could have a hard mode.
- There any particular reason you’re so hard on your younger self? Look at this smug bastard.
Don’t you just want to give him what for?
- Yet your high school year book is that close at hand? Quiet you.
- Did you know? Some early drafts of the characters basically cast Rise as a Kanji-like punk that looked a lot like Ai. I would much prefer that version of the game, if only because I would be completely down with the eventual fighting game spin-off featuring a lady throwing a folding chair around.
- Would I play again? On one hand, I very nearly Platinum’ed the Vita version (damn you, book collection), and sunk, let’s see here, 120 hours or so into multiple trips to Inaba, so I want to say I am good and done with the game. On the other hand? This thing sees a new release where Yukiko gets a new hat? I’m there.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Shadow Hearts from the New World. Ah, relationship week ends with the unbreakable bond between a ninja and a cat. Or… something. At least it’ll likely lead to an article that isn’t blowing past 4,500 words… Please look forward to it!