Jun Shen talks about how Persona 4 helped him work through some painful personal stuff, and why you should play it too.
Back eight or nine years ago, when I was still in high school I got bitten hard by the Japanese culture bug. I was bored with my life, and to me, Japan felt like this whole other fantastic world. I watched all the anime and dramas, read all the manga, listened to all the music.
It was a comforting retreat, and for the longest time, I told myself that all I wanted to do was move to Japan and live a fucking happy life there (I still hold that dream deep down somewhere). To hell with whether or not I could speak the language, or whether the place that I imagined in my mind and saw in Japanese media was the same as what it really was like in the real world.
But with all the shit and angst that I went through as a teenager, it was a crutch that I just couldn’t let go of.
That was until I moved to university, which was when my life changed for the better and I left all that emo crap behind. I pretty much forgot about all that Japanese stuff too. Sure, I still listen to Japanese music, that shit is good regardless, I even visited the country twice but I essentially grew up and found myself. I thought I didn’t need a crutch like that anymore.
That was until earlier this year, when I learnt of a game called Persona 4.
A lot of people were hyping about it as a thing that every discerning RPG gamer should play. You could live like a Japanese high-schooler? Out in an authentic rural Japanese town? Hang out with friends and do cool, mundane, everyday Japanese stuff? It sounded like something 16 year old me would’ve loved.
So I played the original PS2 game. You can read my thoughts about the game itself here.
Now that I’ve finished the game, the only thing that I can think of is that I wished 16 year old me had played this. Of course, I didn’t need to, because by the time it came out in 2008, I’d already long left my tumultuous high school life and begun anew at university. By then, I didn’t need a game to teach me lessons about how to be true to oneself and to those around me. I had personal experiences that led me to that conclusion. I didn’t need a game to show me what true friendship looked like. I’d made valuable ones of my own. I didn’t need a game to reveal that the way to Truth was fighting with all your heart and being. I cemented my resolve to be a writer in university, and have been fighting towards that ever since.
So why does it feel so damn painful and fresh and beautiful all at the goddamn same time, even now?
Perhaps because in all my life since university, I never once stopped to reconcile with 16 year old me. I kept forcing change, adding more and more layers so that I didn’t have to confront with who I used to be, and how I used to think. I was so embarrassed of that part of me, of that part of my life that whenever someone would bring it up, I’d flinch and change the subject. I avoided high school reunions and stayed away from most people who had anything to do with that part of my life.
After I played Persona 4 though, I knew the right thing to do was to stop running, turn around, look at my old self and admit, “You are a part of me and I of you.”
And when I did, in a sort of non-climatic quiet moment as I looked in the mirror one night after brushing my teeth, I swear I could’ve felt that part of me disappear into the ether.
So Persona 4 means a shit load to me. Not just the lessons to be gleaned from it but also because of all the memories it dredges up. It is a bittersweet reminder of how much of a vulnerable kid I was, so desperate for some sort of meaningful connection with someone or something in a period of time when everyone and everything around me felt so fake that I had to escape into fantasy.
The friendship bonds I forged with the people in the game reminded me of all the real people I knew back in high school who were, like me, so frustratingly guarded, afraid to show their real selves, instead choosing to put up fronts just so they could stand out or fit in. People I considered “friends” back then, I thought of those people and wished that I could’ve, like in the game, helped them confront their inner demons so that we could form the strongest of bonds.
But those people have probably found their own way in life now. This is the real world after all, and our inner demons don’t just manifest inside another world, they are always present in everything we do and experience every single day. Besides, a quick scroll through my Facebook feed confirms that everyone seems to be getting on pretty well. And sometimes I’d bump into them on the streets, and they don’t seem like the shits they once were.
But what’s next – now that I’ve fully reconciled with myself? Get on with life, I suppose. I’m just sad the game is over. I’m contemplating picking up the PS Vita just so I can play the Golden edition – with extra bits and more stuff to do, to hang out more with this bunch of misfits that I’ve come to call friends. I don’t even like fighting games but I got Persona 4 Arena anyway, and am playing it on Easy mode just so I can get to the story bits. I’m also watching Persona 4 The Animation and although it’s fun for someone who’s finished the game, I’d always recommend the game to first-timers to the series because that’s the way it should be experienced. With you in the front seat, driving the story, feeling all the damn feels.
So I guess in a roundabout way, I’ve reviewed Persona 4 again. I swear this didn’t start out being that – but I am always happy to tell someone to give this game a go. Even if you didn’t have growing up issues as I did, even if you didn’t really care for Japan in the same way as I did, it’s still an incredible game about growing up right.
And if there is some part of you deep down that’s hurting right now, that you’re running away from, I can guarantee that this game will make you stop and confront it. And everyone deserves a game like that in their lives.