It’s only dawned on me over the past few months at how fascinated I am with Japanese culture. This is hardly a revelation for someone who loves videogames, but it never seemed quite so obvious to me until I started Persona 4. That’s not to say it offers an authentic Japanese cultural experience – because it certainly doesn’t. But it offers a glimpse into that other world, one rich in honorific’s and tradition that is immediately intriguing.
So this is my first, and at the moment, only criticism with the game and is probably borne out of ignorance for the series. But I really wish the game had been totally Japanese rather than being a curious blend of Western characters and Eastern settings. If it had been set in Middle America then it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have noticed any difference. This is something I noticed the Yakuza series didn’t fall into. Everything about those games is unquestionably Japanese and the move to simply provide subtitles for a Western release is something I much prefer seeing, rather than a full English voice track.
Despite this I’m totally hooked by the game. Its accessible nature really surprised me and the first three hours were a thrilling and intimate introduction to the story. I say thrilling because every time something spooky happened I got a cold, chilling feeling going up my back. Not because my office is draughty (although it is) but the world of Inaba feels very real at the moment. Doing the mundane school-things gives it a real grounding in reality. So when the fog lifts and the murders start to happen it has an effect.
What I found more unsettling was the first journey into the TV world. After watching the midnight channel a couple of times (I’ve always found TV’s eerie things at the dead of night – turned off of course), entering this Otherworld was pretty spooky. Finding rooms covered in pictures with the faces cut out is reminiscent, to me, of far more deliberate survival-horror games. Only Persona achieves in making me feel far more unsettled by this.
Part of this is how connected I already feel to the other characters. Having such an emphasis on relationships strengthens the impact of what happens. Although the gruesomely toothy teacher (his name escapes me) is quite correct in accusing me of being a flirt, having the bonds of friendship actually mean something and strengthen my attributes is a great way to care about the characters. I’ve already grown attached to Chie and Yosuke. Having a guy who had the same bladder problems as me at school makes me immediately sympathetic. Although I would of gone through with urinating in the TV world no matter what!
At the moment the game has just opened up and I’m free to join clubs, wander around town and try to build my relationships further. Although it was nearly two hours before any combat happened, I was surprised how happy I was in just following the story as a silent protagonist. But when we got down to fighting the overblown nature of the Persona’s was a wonderful contrast to the ordinary grist of the real world. If I fall into a mysterious otherworld then I’d certainly want it as mad as possible.
The first time Izanagi throws up the Fool card and my Persona goes into battle was immense. I actually mistook the huge blade being wielded as a guitar and for a brief moment assumed that the Persona was in fact, a Rock God. After realising it wasn’t going to be a progressive rock, battle of the bands combat system, I was still happy with the turn-based nature of the encounters. I know many people feel that system should be left behind in favour for real-time and fully integrated combat, but I can’t help but love it. The way I can methodically plan attacks or switch Personas when needed would be a chaotic nightmare any other way.
To finish off this first entry in the diary I have to comment on the use of the Tarot. There have been a few instances of Tarot cards being used in videogames without any regard for their actual meaning. So to see their relevant use in various parts of the game was refreshing and intriguing. The few cards drawn out so far – The Fool & The Chariot suggest the game might well be following the path of the Major Arcana to its end. I’ve no idea if it will but it was another part of this game that has seduced me further.
Apologies for such a long post. I hope to be a bit more concise with future entries but sometimes, when you have such a good experience as this, you can't help but splurge the words out!