Last year I wrote extensively about the incredible Japanese role-playing game Persona 4 Golden. At the end of it all, I concluded thus: “I had done everything I needed to do in Inaba, made the most of my relationships there, and I knew I had discovered the truth.”. Despite how good I thought this ending was, I was wrong. I had not done everything I needed to do. I hadn’t discovered the whole truth. And more importantly, I hadn’t said goodbye properly.
(If you’re a Persona 4 veteran, for best effect I recommend playing this while you read this article!)
Since finishing the game last summer, I played again in New Game Plus mode (where some of your experience and attributes carry over, making the second play-through faster and easier). Without the need to spend my precious time on part-time jobs, I could instead concentrate on maxing out as many social links as possible, to unlock the best personas (avatars summoned in combat) and the best story moments.
I chose Naoto, naturally
I also took the opportunity to play the cad. In my first (and, as far as I’m concerned, canonical) play-through, I dated budding actress Yumi. This time, I decided to see what would happen if I dated everyone I could (I even teased Yosuke a bit, but no luck there). I managed to get all of the girls in the investigation team to go out with me, plus terrible trombonist Ayane.
This all went off without a hitch until Valentine’s Day rolled around and all the girls wanted to profess their love at the same time. Forced to choose (and I chose Naoto, naturally), I left the other girls who I had led along feeling miserable and rejected. It was interesting to see how the game dealt with the possibility that the player would say yes to every girl’s confession, but it left me feeling pretty disgusting, which is an odd emotion for a game to elicit.
You can see how the worst Valentine’s Day ever plays out in this video:
The biggest changes came towards the end of the game. My first time through I hadn’t reached level 10 in my social link with otherworldly amnesiac Marie. She vanished one night and I never saw her again. This time, having maxed out her social link, I was able to track her down and discover her true identity. Marie’s story didn’t add a lot to the glorious whole of Persona 4 Golden, but it was a nice bonus, if only for the delightful bit of comedic fan-service that follows the successful completion of her mission.
More important was my choice on my last day in Inaba. After walking through town and meeting everyone who has been important to you during your year in Inaba, the game prompts you to decide whether you have finished your day. On my first play-through, I assumed that I had done all I needed to do, and that further exploration would yield nothing more. I was mistaken. This time, I opted to continue exploring. When I returned to the food court at Junes, I initiated the game’s final act.
Everyone has changed a bit since you saw them last, each manifesting what they had learned during their year with you.
Yes, I had missed an entire act of Persona 4’s plot my first time around, and I was still satisfied with how it turned out! How many games could you say that about?
The final act leads you and the investigation team to uncover the mystery behind the Midnight Channel, the fog that covered Inaba, and the world of shadows that threatened to destroy everything. A mysterious agent had been prodding certain people in the right direction, including our protagonist. In the end, you must do battle with this agent to prove humanity’s will to face itself honestly and to free Inaba from the threat of the shadow world forever.
With the final battle complete, you leave Inaba as normal, but are then blessed by a wonderful epilogue. It’s the summer holidays and you get to return to Inaba, as you promised you would. You get to see how the town has changed since you left: there’s a new openness and spirit of optimism in the air. Even the beleaguered shopkeepers on Inaba’s run-down high street are pleased to be finally co-operating with the franchise newcomer Junes. You get to meet all your friends again, and your awesome uncle and niece. Everyone has changed a bit since you saw them last, each manifesting what they had learned during their year with you.
Rarely does a game take the opportunity to show you what your time and effort has meant to the game’s world and characters.
It reminded me strongly of Mass Effect 3’s “Citadel” expansion that allowed you to spend an extended amount of time partying and chilling with your crew members before embarking on your final one-way mission to save the galaxy. It was a time to review and reflect upon what these people mean to you and to each other, and what had changed in the years between the first Mass Effect and the finale.
Rarely does a game take the opportunity to show you what your time and effort has meant to the game’s world and characters. Persona 4 Golden’s use of the epilogue is a magnificent reward for a hundred and thirty hours of gaming (over two play-throughs). It left me with a very different feeling from my first play-through, which ended with me leaving Inaba, possibly for good. Returning to Inaba was like returning home, and showed that the best way to say goodbye is with a welcome back.