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Persona 4 : Part 1
By Ben
Posted 02.28.13
Pg. 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10
Persona 4, part of the wider Shin Megami Tensei series, somehow managed to pass me by until a couple of years ago. Having just plugged over 100 hours of my life into its predecessor, I caved in and bought it...just as its developer, Atlus, announced that it was going to receive an updated rerelease on the Playstation Vita. Why then, I hear you ask, would I be about to start recapping a game that's very recently received an enhanced port with a metric fuckton of added content? Well, I'd like to spin you all some bullshit lie about recapping the vanilla version in order to stay true to the game as it was originally conceived, but the reality is that I'm too poor to buy a Vita right now. Besides, none of the additional content alters the story in any meaningful way, so it's not like you're missing out on anything. Unless you particularly wanted to read about a million bathhouse scenes, in which case, ew, there are specialist places for that.

In addition to the above-mentioned Vita port, P4's explosion of popularity has also resulted in an anime adaptation, a beat 'em up direct sequel, and a Japan-only stage production (none of which I've had the pleasure of experiencing). In short, this game has a LOT of fans. Many of whom are extremely...passionate in their love for the game and its characters. Which I can kind of understand, because I love the game too, but I also believe it's possible to make fun of something you love. Unfortunately, many people don't share that view, and I'm fully aware that by writing this recap I risk incurring the wrath of the superfans who think this game, with its HoYay, J-pop soundtrack and goofball characters, is Serious Business. But hey, I think I can handle it. Also, in the four years since its release, the game has already been discussed, LP'd and parodied to death by people far funnier than I could ever hope to be, but hopefully putting a unique VGR spin on things will still make it somewhat amusing (not that I'm promising anything here...you don't get your money back if the recap turns out to be awful or anything).

I think they sell these in adult stores.
 

With all that disclaimer-y crap out of the way, let's begin! The opening sequence starts off by showing a stack of TVs (get used to this) as a catchy J-pop song kicks in (get used to that, too). We then see a hallucinogenic sequence of anime clips, none of which are actually played in the game, depicting various impossibly good-looking teenagers enjoying everyday teen activities such as riding an elevator, performing at a pop concert, and punching out a gang of punks. Rites of passage for all of us, I'm sure you'll agree. At one point, a redheaded girl (the aforementioned singer) knee-slides across the stage, shoving her crotch squarely into the camera. Thanks, game designers. Really, it's pointless to describe anything else as we don't know any of these people yet, and the confusing, drug-trippy nature of the intro pales in comparison to what we'll be seeing later.

After selecting New Game, I'm immediately asked to confirm the difficulty level. I go straight down the middle and choose Normal, since I've already played the game and therefore can't really justify picking Beginner, and I'm not masochistic enough to plump for Hard. Next thing, we're in the middle of a dense fog. Well, watching a limousine driving through it, to be precise. Inside the limo, we see a close-up of a pale blonde woman wearing some kind of body-hugging blue dress. Her eyes are closed to begin with, but they suddenly open, just as we switch to...

 
Penis!

Holy shit! Sitting next to the woman is a hunched-over old man with THE most phallic nose I have ever seen. Seriously, the thing is about four inches long (and now I'm wondering whether he's a grower or a shower, much to my own disgust). After lingering on said nose for a few seconds, all the better to let us bask in its cockitude, the camera pans up slightly as Old Man Dicknose opens his eyes and purrs, in a suitably creepy voice, "Welcome to the Velvet Room". We switch from anime mode to regular gameplay mode, affording us a full view of the limo interior for the first time. There's a spacious seating area along with a well-stocked drinks cabinet -- it says something about my priorities as a recapper that this is the first thing to catch my eye -- and that mysterious fog is swirling around outside the windows. I would ask why this place is apparently called the Velvet Room and not the Velvet Limousine, but since I've been asking a similar question since the previous game, where it was an elevator instead, I'll move on.

Old Man Dicknose (identified by the text box as "Bizarre-looking Man", although I prefer my description) continues, in his child-molester voice, "Ah...it seems we have a guest with an intriguing destiny". He then reveals his actual name to be Igor, but since he has that Pinocchio-like nose and reminds me of a pedophile, I'm going to call him Pedocchio. I do hope I haven't offended any Igor fanboys. Pedocchio informs me -- or whoever he's supposed to be addressing -- that the Velvet Room "exists between dream and reality, mind and matter..." So in other words, someone's tripping. I probably shouldn't be surprised. "It is a room only those who are bound by a 'contract' may enter," he breathes, and I shouldn't have to tell you that I instantly wonder whether this contract involves his nose in some manner. No need to thank me for that mental image.

The first time I played the game, I didn't have a clue what was going on here, and if truth be told, I still don't. I should add that the background music for this scene -- and indeed, all events in the Velvet Room -- consists of a female vocalist singing a haunting aria with a piano and strings accompaniment, adding to the overall surreal effect. I wonder if it's playing all the time, in which case I'm glad I'm not Pedocchio or his lady friend. I mean, it's a gorgeous song and all, and I'll be hearing it a lot throughout the game, but I would likely be driven to murder if it was all I had to listen to 24/7, much like retail workers who end up with a pathological hatred of Christmas music after having to listen to it every waking hour between November and January. Before I can ponder this any further, Pedocchio asks me to name the main character.

Now, a little explaining is in order before I confirm the name I've chosen. We haven't met the main character yet, but take my word for it -- he's a total Gary Stu (or, if you prefer, Marty Stu). All the women want to be with him, all the guys want to be with him, he has a special power that's even more special than the special powers of his friends, and he quickly becomes one of the most popular people in school despite being the new guy. Therefore, Gary McStu is now his name, with the "Mc" serving as my feeble attempt to turn Stu into an actual surname. If you need to, you can fanwank that he has, like, Japanese-Scottish heritage or something. Or email me to tell me how shitty my choice of name is and that I should have kept his canon name, Yu Narukami. You know how much I'd love that.

It also represents a penis.
 

Once he knows the identity of the guy he's going to groom, Pedocchio asks Gary whether he believes in fortune telling. I don't get a choice here, so I assume Gary just nods. With a wave of his white-gloved hand, Pedocchio produces a number of tarot cards and spreads them on the small table in front of him. I'll warn you now -- the tarot, and the occult in general, feature prominently in this game, so if you're one of those hyper-sensitive people who think such things, rather than being a harmless piece of fun, are EVIL and AGAINST GOD'S WORD!!!, then 1) Feel free to click the Back button on your browser, and 2) What the hell were you doing here to begin with?

Pedocchio flips one of the cards with another magical finger flick, revealing it to be "The Tower in the upright position". Insert a joke of your choosing involving Phoenix Wright and Edgeworth here. This card, Pedocchio alleges, represents a terrible catastrophe in the immediate future. Well, since Lightning Returns: FFXIII isn't scheduled for release until later in 2013, it can't be that, so maybe it's the whole "end of the world" thing. I'm sure there are some people still holed up in their makeshift bunkers just in case the Mayans were out by a year. Pedocchio flips another card, revealing the Moon (also in the upright position), which signals the future beyond the imminent catastrophe and also represents hesitation and mystery. I am having such fun describing all this, so I hope it isn't lost on you guys.

"It seems you will encounter a misfortune at your destination, and a great mystery will be imposed on you," Pedocchio gloats, his bloodshot eyes twinkling. "In the coming days, you will enter into a contract of some sort, after which you will return here." I bet Gary can't wait for that. "The coming year is a turning point in your destiny...if the mystery goes unsolved, your future may be forever lost," he finishes ominously, adding that his job is to provide assistance to the Velvet RoomLimo's guests to ensure this doesn't happen. I suspect the benefits of 'accidental' groping of their buttcheeks are an added incentive.

Tarot reading over, Pedocchio waves his hand once again to remove the cards -- I'm hoping the novelty of that particular trick wears off soon for him -- and finally decides to introduce his lady assistant. "My name is Margaret," the woman monotones, sounding for all the world like she's reading out the letters during an eye examination. "I am here to accompany you through your journey." Well, this day just gets better and better for Gary. Maybe Tidus is going to flag down the Velvet Limo and hitch a ride, just in case being trapped in an enclosed space with a pseudo-mystic pedophile and his dead-eyed assistant wasn't an ordeal enough.

Fortunately, Pedocchio now remembers he has a prior engagement, or something, because he suddenly declares "We shall attend to the details another time. Until then, farewell..." I like to imagine him asking the unseen driver of the Velvet Limo to pull over, unceremoniously shoving Gary out of the door and then driving off, because I inexplicably find the visual hilarious. What actually happens is a Black Screen of Waking Up, and then we find ourselves, again from Gary's perspective, watching a TV screen.

 
FAP FAP FAP (by the way, she's 15)

Back in anime mode, the very first thing we see is a close-up of a pubescent, bikini-clad girl in the shower. This game is art. The girl is actually the crotch-baring idol singer from the intro, only this time she appears to be advertising a diet drink called Calorie Magic. Yeah, like this girl, with her 16-inch waist, needs to diet. The camera lingers on her half-naked, 15 year old form for a good ten seconds as she frolics in the water, chest strategically thrust into the centre of the frame. "I'm tired of diets! Enough with going to the gym! Good thing there's something even I can handle!" she crams into a single sentence, sounding like Rikku after inhaling helium. This embodiment of pure fanservice is actually one of our party members, but she won't appear in person for a while yet, hence my playing dumb over her name.

When the commercial ends, we switch to the current program, a newscast regarding something called the "Mayumi Yamano scandal". We have no idea who the fuck Mayumi Yamano is at this point, so it's quite fortunate that the camera cuts away after a few seconds to reveal that the TV screen is situated inside the train station of an unidentified city. We hear a couple of random passersby talking about the scandal, which apparently involves the husband of an enka singer having an affair with a TV announcer. I didn't even know what an enka singer was until I just looked it up, which meant this whole scene was even more confusing to me than it should have been. We now catch our first glimpse of Gary, standing on the station platform. He seems quite the cool dude, despite the grey hair in a style that looks suspiciously like a Bieber cut. I want his jacket.

As Gary hops on the train and stares into middle distance, we shift to a brief sepia-toned flashback. Gary stands in front of a class of high school students as his teacher tells them Gary will be transferring to another school at the end of the month. The problem with having voice acting in a game where you name the protagonist is that nobody can refer to Gary by name, so the teacher keeps referring to him simply as "he". It's quite awkward. The news of Gary's imminent departure is met with an outpouring of shock and disappointment from his classmates, which tells us that he's a pretty popular guy. I reckon he's very popular in the locker room, if you follow me.

He's probably tweeting a picture of his jacket. I want that jacket.
 

Gary is shocked out of his flashback by a text message asking him to meet its unidentified sender at Yasoinaba Station. I'm assuming this is his current destination, or he's had a wasted journey. We cut back to the TV newscast, with the female anchor still gossiping about the Mayumi Yamano Scandal (hereafter referred to as the MYS for short). The gist of the furor is that a city council secretary, Taro Namatame, cheated on his wife, the renowned enka singer Misuzu Hiiragi, with the oft-mentioned newsreader Mayumi Yamano. You could be forgiven for thinking the whole thing is more exciting than I made it sound, but trust me -- it isn't. The only reason I'm telling you all about it is because it actually becomes important later, even though we never actually meet two of the three parties involved.

Halfway through the broadcast, we cut to someone's living room. A young girl and her dad are watching the broadcast, even though neither seems to be particularly interested. The dad has black hair and designer stubble, and is totally rocking a grey shirt/red tie combo. The girl wonders if they should leave soon, and her dad gruffly agrees. I won't keep you in suspense: they're the ones meeting Gary at the station. We cut back to Gary -- I don't know about you, but I'm getting motion sickness at this point -- who starts to drift off to sleep. He sees a couple of brief glimpses of a vision which seems to depict Mayumi Yamano in some kind of struggle, followed by a quick flash of Margaret and Pedocchio. God, that defines nightmare fuel. Jolting back awake just in time for the train to pull into a small rural station, Gary vows to stop eating cheese before bed, then picks up his bag and steps off the train.

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