“Still… Chie told me that red looks good on me.” — Yukiko’s voice
Persona 4 has no concept of free will.
It has the illusion of free will, more so than many other video games. The way you progress through the story and the choices you make are uniquely tailored to your own playthrough. But those “choices” hang in the air next to the designers’ coy reminder that all of this was designed.
I think this is a relevant distinction to make, especially this Sunday. Here we have a huge transitional day for Persona 4, one that loosens its self-imposed shackles. Now that the Investigation Team is formed, the game feels confident in you following its routine. Today, you bought weapons for the first time, you were arrested and met Dojima at work, you found a door to the Velvet Room in the shopping district, and you even left the house after dark.
Worlds are merging in Persona 4, and it’s no coincidence. Until now, you’ve been shepherded from one location to another: the train station to the gas station to Dojima’s house to school to the Junes food court and so on. Now that you have some defined parameters (we need to go into the TV to save people), and now that those parameters have become personal (Yukiko is in the TV; we need to go in and save her), the distinct places of Persona 4 are starting to get some connective tissue.
This, to me, felt like the main theme of the day. Taking individual boxes and drawing a line through them. Just think about your trajectory from morning to evening:
-We wake up, meet Nanako in the living room
-We visit Yosuke at the Junes food court
-We’re arrested and brought to the police station, where we meet Dojima, Adachi and Chie
-Chie takes us to the weapons shop
-The weapons shop leads us out into the shopping district
-We visit the Velvet Room through the shopping district
-We go back to Junes, and…
-Into the TV world, where we meet Teddie and get taken to Yukiko’s castle
-Back out of the TV world, we head home for the night
-Morooka calls us and asks us to meet him in the shopping district
-We go back to the shopping district at night
-We re-enter the house through the front door, still at night
This might seem insignificant, but it helps in drawing Inaba as a place with dimension. Up to this point, we’ve been shown around the town like a tourist. Now, we’re finally starting to show ourselves around.
Alright! I managed to get the theme out of the way, so let’s talk about the fundamentals of 4/17.
At the start of the day, you walk downstairs and see Nanako sitting alone. Not unusual, right? The notable thing is how she’s in her evening-time position on a Sunday morning, sitting by the table in front of the TV. Dojima left early, and you’re about to leave to. Yu clearly feels bad about this (and you should too), but Nanako says she’ll be fine, and turns on the TV.
Nanako is an interesting character in a plot sense, because she might be the only person to emerge from Persona 4 morally unscathed. You never get the sense that she’s contributing to the rumor mill that informs the Midnight Channel. Often, she finds all of that stuff boring. Nanako seems to watch the TV not for pleasure as much as an anodyne. It is a numbing agent, not a fully destructive force. It’s a more nuanced take on the modern information age, and one I’ll probably talk about at length in another essay.
Upon leaving the house (Nanako will be fine), you meet up with Yosuke, who’s intent upon showing off some cool imitation swords he picked up. His boldness in displaying them and his attempt to put out a fire when the cop shows up is played for laughs, but it’s another great example of Persona 4 planting an innate distrust of authority. When you get to the station, you overhear two cops talking about Yukiko’s disappearance with about as much tact as the kids at school. Even the people sworn to protect and serve the public are unwittingly complicit in their distress.
As if 4/17 hadn’t already thrown enough at you, between the introductions to Persona fusion, Marie, and the continued filling out of the shopping district, this is also the first day where you explore a dungeon. A real, honest-to-god dungeon! I occasionally lose the forest for the trees when I’m trying to pick apart Persona 4. Sure, it’s a bold commentary on the nature of agency in video games and an earnest recalibration of many obvious JRPGs’ emotional undercurrents. But it’s also a goddamned video game, with leveling and tough systemic decisions and Bufu. Especially Bufu.
Yukiko’s castle sets the tone for the rest of the dungeons in the game: thick with an embarrassing atmosphere. What’s unique about Yukiko’s castle is that it has another character’s insecurities folded inside itself — that of Chie, everybody’s favorite kung-fu-loving teen. Well, uh. My favorite, at least.
Chie faces her shadow on 4/17 because the part of Chie that she so deeply resents is the part that examines her relationship with Yukiko. We get two sides of the story. Yukiko’s shadow, voice booming from somewhere, is a classic self-flagellation act. Then, just as Chie would step in to comfort her, Chie’s shadow pushes her aside and starts spitting some fire.
Yukiko’s so pretty. Yukiko’s so feminine. Yukiko is everything Chie is not, and that isn’t always a good thing: Yukiko isn’t strong, Yukiko isn’t dependable. Yukiko isn’t forceful. Yukiko is worthless, and Yukiko needs Chie, and that makes Chie feel incredible.
The battle that ensues is neat because it thrusts Yosuke into the spotlight. Chie’s shadow is weak against Garu, the wind spell that Yosuke’s persona can cast. Chie’s shadow also casts Mazio, a lightning spell that Yosuke’s persona is weak against. It reads almost like a passing of the torch. Where Yu was the only one who had Yosuke’s back on 4/15, Yosuke is now emotionally mature enough to help Chie confront her demons.
Watching someone deny, defeat, and eventually accept their shadow is some hardcore bonding. It’s hard to emerge from these scenes without feeling like you know Yosuke and Chie and Yukiko better than anyone else in the world. Persona 4 would seem to agree with the power of these sequences, because now that the main cast of three have suited up, we get our first official indication that the game is afoot.
You form the Investigation Team Social Link! A time for celebration. The road to victory will be long and hard, but if Persona 4‘s taught us anything, it’s that there’s nowhere to go but forward.
Oh, and the arcana of this new Social Link is “The Fool.” Probably not worth thinking about.