“Because they ruined Persona 4”, or something like that. This is a guest post by my partner – you know, I can’t wait to read her impressions of Persona 4: Golden Weebo edition, which I’ve heard actually adds more dialogue of a “comic relief” nature. There are some spoilers here, not *major*, but still, you’ve been warned.
The First Two Hours… When do I FINALLY get to play!? OK – I can walk around the kitchen. Ooh, I can save. What else? “Go to sleep”. Is that all?! GAH!
The Last Few Hours… Finally, the mystery is all wrapped up. Why are they still talking? What, more?! How many behind-the-scenes puppet masters can there be?!
With that out of the way: Persona 4 is full of exciting boss encounters, memorable characters and touching storylines. It is a great game – most of the time. However, the dialogue and the story get waaaay out of hand. Everyone’s got to have their say, on everything, every bloody time. 10 minutes of babble about ice cream here, 10 minutes of chatter on the latest plot development there, 10 minutes making fun of Teddy, Persona 4 has you more than covered in the dialogue department. I would estimate 85% of the dialogue in this game is totally unnecessary, and put there for the sake of “comic relief”, “character development”, etc. There were three script editors hired for the translation, who were clearly sleeping on the job. The fact that every single plot development must be preceded and succeeded with explanations and summaries galore makes for an extremely tiresome experience.
I have my theories as to why the developers felt this was necessary, and this can be summed up in one word… Weebo-isms One of the most distracting things about Persona 4 is the uncanny, haunting feeling that everything you are experiencing – from the music, to the contrivance of wearing non-prescription glasses, to the slick artwork and the obsessive attention to the finer details of (untranslated) Japanese culture and life – stems from a Powerpoint presentation by one of the marketing teams early in development. That presentation stated that only a certain type of person will ever enjoy this franchise. The target demographic to cater for is a male audience, early 20s, with a deep admiration for Japanese art and culture. They will be, in a word, a complete and utter weebo.
Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with being a weebo. And if you happen to be one, Persona 4 is arguably one of the best videogame experiences out there. It’s just that when this abstract weebo figure is being targeted like this, day after Persona day, it gets pretty tiring. Particularly if you’re not a weebo.
Weebo sexual politics
This brings me on to a whole other set of issues, namely the bizarre sexual politics at work throughout the game. Sexist stereotypes abound in Persona 4, with bikini contests here, sly jokes about breast sizes there, and oh, hey, lets make fun of Kanji’s questionable sexual orientation right now. These stereotypes are to be expected and can be done well, and I do think that Kanji’s character is treated pretty sensitively. However the tick-the-box shower scene, the objectification of women, etc, makes me roll my eyes. It’s predictable, not charming.
Let’s take a moment to consider the “meta” of the game in this respect, particularly towards the end when you discover that the images on The Midnight Channel are made from the collective imagination of the gossipy, ill-willed population of Inaba – but hang on a second. Who are the real baddies? The murderer throwing people inside the TV, the TV-obsessed culture that Inaba appears to represent, or the game designers who derive so much meaning/humour from exposing the main girl characters’ inner desires to strip, or for a “hot stud” to “score with” or other demeaning stereotypes. Just sayin’. It certainly makes you think…
Meta-weebo or The Right Kind of Weebo
As I mentioned, the whole TV world is said to be created by the fantasies, dreams and nightmares of Inaba – but the game also implies it was created with the imagined audience of the game-makers very much in mind. The weebos of the game-maker’s imagination are savvy buyers of the fodder the Persona franchise has come to represent: they obsess about sex a lot, they like Japanese culture, etc, etc. The game effectively psychoanalyses the Seths and Geralds of the world (although they prefer their forum names “Arigato-ninja” and “Moshi-Moshi-Itchy-The Killer” respectively).
The TV world base is a TV studio, and all the battles are viewed through the convex frame of a TV. The constant reminder of the frame, and the implication that your characters are being constantly watched forces you to consider the audience, to whom everything is a game – it seems to suggest that the game-world’s dark, twisted (a bit sexist?) content is only catering to the demands of an (weebo) audience. However, Persona 4 is explicit that it only wants to target a specific kind of weebo – one who, ostensibly, is at least a tiny bit self-conscious. For what a “bad” weebo is check out the “videogame” dungeon headed by the copy-cat murderer – A FUCKING MURDERER. Who plays games JUST BECAUSE HE ENJOYS SENSELESS VIOLENCE. Ugh – disgraceful. He is also a creep that doesn’t know how to talk to girls. Figures. He wouldn’t know how to react if he saw a girl in a bikini – not like our ice-cool protagonist who always knows who’s cutest and how to lead the girls and the boys on with a well-timed nod of the head. The boss battle against Amenosagiri (aka “that eyeball fellow”) addresses the audience again, and asks: “Why have you been playing a game about forging bonds when you could have been making ones in real life?!”
This is, of course, hilariously ironic, 45 hours into the game. When you finally beat the boss, you’re defeating the idea that the “friendships” you have made with Yukiko, Yosuke, Chie, Kanji, Rise, Teddy, Naoto and everyone else are not real. Aw. The question is a compelling one, but hardly serious. Otherwise, we’d give up playing videogames altogether and take up farming. Real farming by the way, not the Harvest Moon variety.
Most annoying of all to me is the emphasis, particularly towards the end, on being heartwarming and sickly. Most RPGs have some version of this at the end of the game, when the characters reflect on their journey and the unbreakable bonds they’ve forged in the process…however some games handle this better than others. Consider the understated approach of a game like Chrono Trigger, which to me reflects on the game’s journey primarily through its haunting closing music.
By contrast, the never-ending swathes of dialogue in Persona 4 grate with its insistence on telling you how close everyone has become over and over rather than simply showing you the same. In a sense, Persona 4 has all the ingredients – a decent story, interesting characters, a strong soundtrack – for a great game, but it leaves them in the hands of an English chef who boils it all to death and serves up a soggy mess.