“Do you seek the truth…?”
It seems we have a guest with an intriguing destiny. You, the Hero, are now in my presence… and I am delighted to make your acquaintance.
This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter. It is a room that only those are bound by a “contract” may enter. It may be that such a fate awaits you in the near future.
Now then… why don’t you introduce yourself? Shall we take a look into your future?
Do you believe in fortune telling? Each reading is done with the same cards, yet the result is always different. Life itself follows the same principles, doesn’t it?
The Tower in the upright position represents the immediate future. It seems a terrible catastrophe is imminent.
The card indicating the future beyond that is… The Moon, in the upright position. This card represents “hesitation” and “mystery”… very interesting, indeed.
It seems you will encounter a misfortune at your destination, and a great mystery will be imposed upon you. In the coming days, you will enter into a contract of some sort, after which you will return here. The coming year is a turning point in your destiny… If the mystery goes unsolved, your future may be forever lost.
My duty is to provide assistance to our guests to ensure that does not happen. We shall attend to details another time. Until then, farewell…
-Igor, The Prince of Darkness
Welcome…to the Velvet Room.
When Persona 4 came out in 2008, it was both a critical success as well as a domestic and international commercial hit. Arguably one of the best role-playing-games of the last generation, Persona 4 is a genuine classic that helped cement the series as one of the best in the business.
Recently, Persona 5 was announced for the PlayStation 3—coming to America in 2015. This is exciting news for any fan of the series, myself included. The tagline in the announcement trailer is highly provocative:
On Valentine’s Day this year I got a PlayStation Vita. About two years late to the party, I immediately picked up Persona 4: Golden. Keep in mind, I hadn’t played any Persona game since 2008 when Persona 4 came out for the PlayStation 2. The first time I played it on the PS2, I was impressed by how polished they made the series’ charming social characteristics seamlessly filter into the combat structure—not to mention the overall gameplay mechanics. Enthralled by the updated Golden version on the Vita, I have already finished my first play-through in a little over two weeks. And if you know how long it is, you know that’s a lot of playtime. Needless to say, I’m addicted. Addicted…as a Seeker of the Truth.
If you are unfamiliar with the plot of Persona 4, you may want to steer clear of this editorial. I am going to assume you have played it, and there will indeed be many spoilers ahead.
The Hero, who I named “T,” is a cool, collected individual who is, as Igor says, thrust into a catastrophe and brought into a deep and intricate mystery. Throughout his struggle, he is forced to face not only the truth about the world he lives and the people he knows, but he must also face the harshest and most striking truth of all: his True self.
The core theme of Persona is to “Face the Truth”—and quite clearly, this is done by facing yourself.
Running with a sort of Jungian psychoanalytical theory, a Persona is discovered when the Self faces the Shadow Self openly and affirms it not only as real, but as a part of them.
In Golden, we are presented with a murder mystery. Soon after T moves the small town of Inaba from the big city, a series of murders take place. While adjusting to rural high school life, he lives with his Uncle Ryotaro Dojima and his young cousin Nanako. Dojima-san, the town’s detective, is tasked with uncovering the mystery—keeping him from his life at home and care for Nanako. T is forced into this situation…whether he likes it or not.
Immediately, T is thrown into a web of conspiracy and finds himself nearly at its center. When T enters the Velvet Room, called by Igor, he is “fast asleep in the real world.” What does he have to do with it all, anyway? Is this the crisis Igor spoke of in the Velvet Room?
Eventually, a fog—which seems to have an undisclosed correlation with the murders happening in the town—begins to penetrate Inaba. Soon, you hear a rumor at school of something called the “Midnight Channel”—a television channel that only appears when the fog sets in. Even stranger, soon after the fog and Midnight Channel are seen, a murder occurs.
What could be causing this to happen?
You make friends with a boy named Yosuke, and two girls named Chie and Yukiko. Shortly after these bonds are established, they are thrust into the mystery with you. One day after school while discussing the Midnight Channel, you and Yosuke are sucked into the television at the local big-box department store, Junes.
While this may sound a bit ridiculous, it begins to become sensible in time. The victims of the murders have, after all, been showing up on the Midnight Channel. How did they get there? Once in the TV you immediately find yourself acquainted with a strange character named Teddie. Teddie, to put it simply, does not know who he is or why he is there, let alone what he is.
Teddie is suspicious of T and Yosuke and believes they may be responsible for the murders. Surely, it makes sense to Teddie. Why would T and Yosuke be there at all if there was not some connection to the murders?
The “other” world, in the TV, is the world of shadows. In here, monsters will attack you like enraged demons. They come at you in a frenzy. You do not know why they act that way and neither does Teddie. But soon after your first encounters, you come to face your own shadow selves. While T does this with valor, this is harder for Yosuke to do.
Yosuke, like T, is a transfer student. His father manages Junes, so he has some measure of clout in the community, but there’s just something about him that’s a little… annoying. He’s hyperactive and also likes to show off in ways that are unbecoming. Making jokes, doing tricks, trying to get cheap laughs…you know, stuff like that. When Yosuke meets his shadow, his ego is shattered and he is forced to see the ridiculous side of himself that he knows is true, but refuses to acknowledge.
Ultimately, Yosuke does. And when he does, his shadow self and true self merge and create a persona. His persona is like a mask he wears in the shadow world, but is empowered by in the real world.
As the story progresses, each one of your friends faces a similar conundrum. They are all forced to face their deepest desires, darkest fantasies, and the realities that lurk beneath the shadows. They are all forced to face the truth.
You see, looking at this in reality, we have an interesting platform to think of people in general. Is it not true that people look at themselves one way, but exist truly as they are? This is the ego self, which is a shade of the true self. An ego is a fragile complex which is created and remembered by an individual. It is, in its truest sense, an identity.
Though this is the basic premise for how personas are created in Golden, the murder mystery goes even deeper. As the story develops, you begin to find things are not quite what they seem. In fact, there is something far more ominous seeping in through the fog. When you finally reach the end-boss (*hint* it’s not the last boss you can face), you are presented with an interesting phenomenon.
The first time you believe you have solved the mystery, you are attempting to secure a high school student named Mitsuo Kubo. Generally speaking, Kubo is an outsider, or an outcast. He makes constant remarks about “being noticed” and having relevance of some kind. Kubo happily takes credit for the murders, with a maniacal laugh as if he is some sort of criminal mastermind.
Each time you enter the shadow world you are presented with a new sort of dungeon. Each of these arenas is essentially a projection of the person’s outer thoughts. For Kubo, it is a sort of videogame. When you finally face him as a boss of the dungeon, he is a pixelated 2D knight, but once bashed in a bit, there is nothing but a whining baby underneath.
Turns out Kubo wasn’t the mastermind he claimed to be. But instead, he was a copycat killer. Why would someone take credit for murders they did not commit?
As people keep appearing on the Midnight Channel, you and the Investigation Team wonder just that…
The next time you think you’ve solved the mystery, you face Taro Namatame—a strange man deeply involved in the mystery, related in certain ways to the killings (including having a love affair with the first woman murdered).
When you reach him, you find he has kidnapped Nanako and claims he is “saving her.” In Namatame’s mind, the outside world is fallen and depraved. He suggests that he is saving these people, not harming them. In your mind and the mind of your teammates, it is clear he is the one responsible since his odd behavior is indicative of a psychopath and indeed, he is in the other world holding Nanako hostage. His avatar as a boss has floating peace signs and he is a formidable enemy. Eventually, you beat him and bring him to justice. It seems the mystery is solved…
If you are not careful, this could be the end of the game. You can throw Namatame into the TV and, essentially, kill him. But if you know what you are doing, you clearly understand that Namatame is not the true villain—he is actually trying to save these people.
Though his intentions are pure, his actions are misguided. He is putting people in danger by bringing them to the other world, which is more dangerous and arguably more depraved even than our fallen world.
But if the murderer isn’t Namatame, who is it?
Without giving away the final killer’s name, we can talk about what the final killer intends.
Ultimately, when you solve the case towards the end of the game, you face a gigantic monster in the shape of the symbolic One-Eye.
Similar to the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, it is a villain who believes he will establish Order out of Chaos. These villains all have a common theme as you face them: there is no Truth. Hence, what is the use in seeking it?
Truth, in Persona 4, is a personal thing. As such, you can only find it by lifting the veil. What if there is no Truth? What if, when you find it, the “truth” is proven false?
The final enemy, before he takes his ultimate form, antagonizes the Seekers by saying there is nothing great about the real world anyway. Humans are essentially corrupted and, effectively, have nothing special to offer. Oftentimes they feel there is something more to the world, but there is not. We can either accept or reject that fact before we die. Rejecting it leads us on a delusional quest chasing the “truth.” Accepting it leads only to despair.
The main killer’s persona named Magatsu-Izanagi, according to the Persona 4 Wiki “also represents “Emptiness”; [he] himself represents “Emptiness”, distaste for the world at large, in Izanami’s experiment to determine the value of humanity, which further shows Magatsu-Izanagi’s connection to the Fool Arcana.” He is, fundamentally, despondent and therefore bored with our world.
He says, “one day you’ll see…you’ll be faced with the boring reality that boxes you in, no matter where you go.” Further, “everyone turns into shadows, oblivious to all the things around them…” and that it’s “better to let it be swallowed up and for mankind to turn into shadows.” That is, after all, “what all those people who are scared to death really want….”
He believes people are ruled by base instincts, by desires. The shadows only go berserk because you defy them. That is precisely the reason why when Yosuke faced his shadow and denied its relationship to him, it attacked him.
He continues, “both this world and yours will soon be enclosed in a fog that never lifts.” And the One-Eye “shall descend upon the united world…as the Master of Order.”
“It will be the peaceful world that mankind has longed for…”
“One who rules the fog. One awakened by man’s desires. Do what you will, but your world’s erosion cannot be stopped…I am the one that shepherds humans to their true desires. Though their hearts longed for peace, it could never be attained…so they tore down the wall between image and reality.”
“Indeed, this is the outcome desired by mankind. And mankind’s desires are my desires.”
The One-Eye also says “this is part of the sea of unconsciousness that exists within human hearts. It is a hollow forest born from bloated desire and false imagery…Still, humans fear what they cannot see. That brief yearning for truth becomes a ray of light which breaks the fog and torments the shadows….” “Mankind abandoned its pursuit of truth, placing itself in the depth of chaos and falsehood. Thus, my strength has grown, and the fog will not lift.”
Finally, the One-Eye says, “It was I who made it possible for you to bring about this destiny….That is what allowed you to come in contact with this world…and you have all done very well.”
After the speech, one of the members of the Investigation Team admits, “I have to say, it must be true…”
But you cannot leave it at that. The One-Eye can be stopped. Indeed, it shall be so.
The thematic core of facing the truth, facing the world in crisis, facing each other, and facing yourself is the distinctive element which makes Persona 4 a modern-day classic.
It is, undeniably, one of the most potent stories in gaming history. And should people awaken to what it’s trying to say, it c
ould be remembered for a long time to come.
False images and wishful thinking perish when we face the truth. When reality is seen under the axiom that “it is what it is,” there is simply no this or that— it only is what it is. No more, no less.
When the enemy is defeated and the mystery is solved, you are thankful for the bonds you made and the ways they helped you face the truth in the other world. Deep in your psychological inner being there is a world that can be faced, but it does not need to be faced alone.
As stated before, Teddie, the mascot of the other world, does not know who he is. But in time he finds out he is just a shadow, too. That’s all he is. While initially this is heartbreaking for him, he comes to realize the truth: if the shadows are projections from the outside world, manifestations of mankind’s desires, then it must be true that mankind desired Teddie, too.
While the other world seems ominous at first, there is a deep attraction to the mystery in which it pulls you through, deeper and deeper. Teddie believes in the gift of friendship and, above all, the power of Love.
This is the sort of Love that binds the worlds, both ours and the shadow world, together in universal harmony. Teddie finds himself over time in an avatar which can travel in and out of both worlds, just as T and the Investigation Team do. While their situation is different than Teddie’s, there comes to be a sort of understanding that both are inseparable and therefore linked in a common, indestructible bond.
In time, your Investigation Team can forge the most powerful persona of the Judgment Arcana: Lucifer, the mythical Light-Bearer. This is the light that penetrates the fog and lifts it out of the darkness, forever bringing together the two worlds and forging a bond between you and your companions that cannot be broken.
While this game is addicting for its gameplay alone, I hope you can go deeper into the truth and see that Persona 4 is trying to tell you something magical and mighty.
If you—like T, the Investigation Team, and Teddie—are a Seeker of the Truth, then ask yourself one question: can you handle it?
Facing the truth is a difficult task, indeed. It is something we rarely even attempt. The One-Eye claims we prefer our base desires, are ruled by fear, and need order thrust upon the chaos in which we live. That’s the peace mankind desires. But if you believe that the power of Love outdoes anything else, then perhaps Persona 4 will speak to you.
So, if you have a Vita or even if you only have access to the PlayStation 2, I ask you the same question Igor asked T:
You are a slave. Want emancipation? The truth will set you free.
That, and only that, is your destiny.
Until then, farewell…