Rating: M for Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence
Available for: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PS Vita
This post will contain spoilers for the True Ending of Persona 4 and will probably make the most sense to someone who has finished the game/seen the anime. Yes, I know the game is almost 10 years old, but seeing as I picked up the game only 2 years ago, hey, maybe someone still wants a spoiler warning. As another brief note, I have not played the Golden version of Person 4, so these will be spoilers specific to the vanilla Persona 4.
The Persona series has always been the oddball of my trio of favorite video games. It does not take place in a world of swords and shields, dragons and wyverns, and where the protagonist can fall in love with a prince. It takes place in modern day Japan, focusing on a group of high school students trying to figure out life and the world…all while battling demons and shadows, of course. (Both symbolic and literal.) Persona 4 (2008) is no different, this time with the plot of a murder mystery. (I can already hear the distaste for bringing up Persona 4, but hold on a minute.)
I know, I know. It’s the “Scooby-Doo” Persona game. It wasn’t as good as Persona 3. It was “too anime.” But hear me out, because while there were a lot of execution problems with Persona 4’s theme (and treatment of some characters), there are some good elements to it, too.
Persona 4 takes place in the town of Inaba, where soon after the arrival of the protagonist Yu Narukami (or Souji Seta, depending on your canon preferences), several bizarre murders take place. At the same time, the local high school students are fascinated by something called the “Midnight Channel,” which, rumor has it, will show you a picture of your soul mate if you watch a turned off television at midnight on a rainy night. In a series of events, Yu and his friends find that they can travel into the Midnight Channel, and furthermore, this world is home to something called “Shadows.” They also find that this world is directly related to the murders, where the victims trapped in the Midnight Channel are found dead in the real world if left too long there. Using Persona abilities, Yu and his friends are able to save each of the would-be murder victims and eventually find the killer.
Like I mentioned before, Persona 4 has been highly associated with Scooby-Doo. Let’s face it, you could easily compare Yu, Yukiko, Chie, and Yosuke to Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy in terms of character design. You’ve got the mascot character (though I would 1000% would have preferred Scooby over Teddie any day of the week). And you’ve got the murder mystery where you’re waiting for the culprit to say “And I could have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” But here’s an interesting contradiction: Persona 4 is not a mystery game. At least not in the typical way. You hear “mystery game” by itself and you immediately think of finding hidden objects, questioning subjects, and taking oh so many notes (and failing car chases if you’re me playing LA Noire). Persona 4 allows the player none of that responsibility. Instead, your only responsibility is battling Shadows to save your kidnapped future companions. Sure, there are some dialogue choices that are important to solving the mystery and in one particular case, choosing the culprit, but in the overarching scheme of things, you are the passive observer in the mystery solving.
It’s an interesting choice, and perhaps it says something bigger about the theme: Finding the Truth. Merriam-Webster defines truth as: “the body of real things, events, and facts” and concurrently: “a judgement, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true.” Persona 4 acknowledges both these definitions in its uncomfortable, contradictory form, even going so far as to symbolically represent the latter definition as fog throughout the story.
There is a point late in the game, when the Investigation Team apprehend a man named Taro Namatame, who has been “throwing people into the television.” By all appearances, the Team has their culprit and Yu’s detective uncle corroborates this assumption. When the Team decides to take justice into their own hands, some of the group (including Yu) have a moment of hesitation, feeling that something is off about the whole matter. Yu and Yosuke get into an argument and depending on what dialogue choices you make, you will wind up going down either the Bad Ending paths or making your way to the True Ending.
Going down the True Ending path, Tohru Adachi will be unmasked as the culprit, and he argues for the case of the latter definition of truth, much to the Investigation Team’s ardent refusal. That concept ironically plays out if you end up deciding that Namatame was the culprit without pursuing the matter further. Should you choose Namatame, the game abruptly moves through to the conclusion with varying degrees of negative consequences, and that becomes “your” version of the truth. Namatame is put in jail, and Yu leaves town at the end of his year, leaving the player with the uncomfortable sensation that something is still missing. However, all the characters believed that Namatame was the real murderer, so it must be “true.”
However, the other definition of “truth” also comes into play. There’s a reason the “True Ending” is called what it is. It was the ending you were supposed to get. It was the place the writers intended for you find if you did everything correctly. In fact, if you failed the first time, you probably even asked yourself: “wait, did I fail the game because I didn’t look further?” I know that at least happened to me, when it was still nagging at me that this might not be the end of it all but I chose not to pursue the matter further. As a result, I chose the wrong dialogue choices with Yosuke and was left with one of the Bad Endings. All through the final battles, the Investigation Team fights for the first definition of truth, preventing people from being enshrouded with a false view of reality. The true “truth,” as it were.
Persona 4 does not play like a typical mystery game and it was never supposed to. Series game mechanics aside, Persona 4 has you grapple with the definition of truth while moving through a linear narrative. How well the writers accomplished that goal is up to interpretation of the player, but it is interesting to see how the very structure of the game plays into Persona 4’s proposed theme.
Persona 4 Official Website (it’s still open?!)