This may or may not came across as a surprise to you, but I’m quite a chuuni back in a day. Maybe I still do now.
I love things all animated, especially shonen anime, and also super sentai or superhero shows. I always wanted to be like one because I genuinely thought they’re cool. Since then, I often create a fantasy scenario in my head where I was a hero and I always try to reenact those scenario. Heck, I even try to write that fantasy down, imagining it’ll be my own shonen manga. If I was born in Japan, I’d probably be one of the many otaku who’ll try to write their own self-insert power fantasy light novel.
Because of those however, I did get a comment from my classmate that I often, “stuck in my own world.” Which perhaps, is something that largely contribute to my social awkwardness.
I generally not interested in my own country’s politic, religion, celebrity and I don’t even follow Indonesian Soccer league, which is something that’s popular to talk about with most people that I know. I also have a pretty poor social skills. In some ways, that makes me feels like I’m an isolated alien (which incidentally, something that my elementary classmate mock me as) and also lonely.
My trustworthy companion for me during those days was video game. Video game didn’t just allow me to escape my problem, but also to make me became something that I’ve always wanted to be in the fantasy inside my head and also to fill something that I didn’t even know it was there back then which is the need to be relied by and connect to others, something that the loneliness took away from me.
In other words, role playing.
Everytime I help out an NPC in a quest, it feels rewarding because it makes me feel like I’m needed and mattered. Every time I pick the good option in a stupid binary moral choice, it feels fulfilling because well, I’ve done something good.
Before Spec Ops: The Line even destroy that notion of power fantasy however, there’s already game who have done that for me. Well, it didn’t viciously deconstruct it, but just makes me ponder on why I play some of these games. That game, is Persona 4.
Or to be more specific, it makes me reflect them through one of their characters. Yosuke Hanamura.
Persona 4, to date, is still one of my favorite games of all time. While the combat system and the dungeon crawling segment are just generally solid (if not repetitive), I really like the way it ties VN to JRPG into creating a weird combination of slice-of-life-romcom-mystery-urban-fantasy gobbledock. The things that I love the most of however, is both the theme, which is both an ode to freudian and jungian psychology, and the characters (specifically the latter). By all means, its not a perfect game nor is it a prime example of video game full potential as medium for narrative (while the mechanic of the VN segment feeds of to the Dungeon Crawler segment, Persona 4 still feels like an anime and a game stitched together), but its still one of the few media that resonate to me and had me almost crying by the ending, and that really count as something in my opinion.
On the broad stroke, Persona 4 characters are pretty much your typical highschool-romcom-VN archetype. You got the Tomboy, the Idol, the ‘Proper lady’, the Delinquent and heck, you even have an Imouto character. But, the game uses those archetype as merely a template or jumping point for the game to inspect what kind of flaws or insecurity (a flaw that tied to the game core theme of self identity and truth) that this archetype may had, and what kind of conflict or drama that could be generated from those flaws. This I think, is the main reason why the cast of Persona 4 are so loveable and resonate with many people, because they’re combination of something that we’re familiar with and also a well realized human being on their own.
Which is all leads back to why I came to resonate with Yosuke as a character.
Yosuke Hanamura (or Brosuke as the fandom nicknamed him) is the one of the few characters that you met early in the game. He’s the MC classmate and also used to be a city boy until his father become the manager of Junes Inaba branch (a department store) and force him to move out along with his father. If we’re going by the archetype once more, he’s definitely fit in to the goofy MC best friend archetype. Happy go lucky, quite cheerful, somewhat perverted, general straightman (or tsukkomi if you’re a weebo) for the rest of the cast and last but not least, a butt monkey. At hindsight, he and I are not quite that similar, though that is until I met his shadow self.
But lets go back a bit. After his belov-err I mean, respected senpai, who work for Junes, died due to mysterious circumstances. Yosuke believe that the mysterious TV world that he, the MC and Chie discovered yesterday might have something to do with it. Believing the cops won’t be able to do anything and want to find out what actually happened to her, he decided to investigate it and of course, as the main protagonist, you went along with him.
Inside the TV world, after we met Yosuke’s shadow self, it was revealed that Yosuke, in truth, is sick and bored of being stuck in a countryside with nothing fun to do, and his happy go lucky attitude is nothing more than a facade to cope with that. Something which makes the murder cases in Inaba a breath of fresh air for him. Most importantly however, Yosuke actually feels excited on the idea of adventuring inside mysterious world and he secretly used ‘investigating his senpai’s death’ as a cover excuse while all he wanted is just to explore the TV world and if things goes right, he can become a hero.
That last line really struck to me (and note that its also quite similar to Konrad’s line at the end of Spec Ops) because Shadow Yosuke wasn’t just simply talking to Yosuke, but it feels like he’s talking to me as well. It makes me ponder what would happen if I were in similar situation to Yosuke and also got me thinking, to some extension, do I really wanted to be a hero because its the right thing to do? Or is it just something I wanted because that fulfill my ego?
Of course, like every of your future companion, Yosuke denied this, which prompt his shadow self to evolve and went berserk. A boss fight later, Yosuke, in the end, admitted his insecurity and his shadow self transformed into his Persona.
The next day after that, he’s the first social link that you get in the game. Most of the event are pretty much just the two of you hanging out and Yosuke coping with his senpai’s death. Its actually revealed that while he did try to kill his boredom through exploring the TV world, he still genuinely care for his senpai. The dude cried pretty hard when it happened and you have the option to comfort him. No homo though.
But the final thing that connect me to Yosuke even more though, is during his social link event before the last one.
So, what happened is, Yosuke brought you to the town’s hill where he reminisce how small Inaba is from there and how he used to hate them. He then tell you, that in truth, he pretty much bored of his empty life in Inaba because he’s lonely and also think that his life only had meaning by only becoming ‘special’. Which is the reason why he’s excited when he got his Persona.
What Yosuke said pretty much sums up the core reason why I like roleplaying in a game or heck, why many of us roleplay in video game. Which is to have a sense of importance or meaning in our life.
Video game is really good at giving player sense of purposes in our ever expanding world where its easy not to know why the things we do matter. If you’re a worker in a large successful company, its hard to see the benefits of things you do in the bigger picture. For a loser like me, who likes to be self-depreciating in a world that seemingly doesn’t care of the effort you put or how much talent you have, video game’s practically paradise for the assurance of reward for effort and hardwork you’ve done in accomplishing goals set by video game.
However, the notion I mentioned above quickly shattered by Yosuke’s next line. In the end, you don’t actually need that illusion of power or importance because just by living your life to the fullest, someday, you’ll be ‘special’ presence for someone, even if you don’t realize or not.
By the end of the his social link, Yosuke let out how jealous he is of the MC’s talent and like the best bro he is, he decided to brawl it out so that they both can become ‘equal’. Yosuke then resolved to live out his life with his friends and family.
All my life people around me told me that video game is nothing more than a entertainment device and a means of escapism. Its both of those things for me and also, subconsciously, I also thought of them as a means for me to have a sense of importance. In some ways, I’m afraid to admit that.
But, Persona 4 taught me through Yosuke and the rest of the cast, that all of us have some ugliness inside, and there’s no shame in admitting it and try to improve ourselves. How we don’t need to feel ‘special’ just to be important. And finally, how each of our actions or every work we’ve done are important and matter. Whether its for the rest of the world or even just for someone close that we hold dear.
And for that reason, Persona 4 is still my favorite game ever.
And also why, Yosuke is the greatest best friend archetype character ever. (So screw you Sunohana.)