Last December, when I first got my grubby not-so-little hands around a copy of Persona 4, I positively lived and breathed the game. I spent most of my free time either playing it or thinking of what I would do the next time I could play it – how I’d try to solve a murder mystery while simultaneously learning how to juggle treasure hunting and persona fusing with girl-wooing and good old fashioned studying; one would almost think I was trying to fall into the TV world myself, by sheer dint of the number of hours I spent glued in front of the television. By January, I’d reached the end game, and I knew I was only a few hours away from culminating what, to that point, had been a truly exemplary gaming experience.
Two months later… and I’ve barely touched my PS2.
This isn’t to say I don’t want to finish the game, because I do. I like being able to wrap up a narrative, tie up the loose ends, and have some sort of resolution that makes me feel that the journey I (for in Persona moreso than even other RPGs, it is “me” who is the protagonist) have undertaken has had some weight, some consequence in that other world. There are other advantages as well to finishing the game: I can move on to another game for one thing, and I’d be safe from any game-end spoilers I might encounter in forums or fan fiction.
And yet… I hesitate. I tell myself that there’s no real rush, that I can finish it anytime I want to, when I’m not too tired or too stressed to fully appreciate the ending, when everything is “just right.” There’s always something just a little bit more urgent to be done: work to finish, a show to watch, a friend to visit… and then, lo and behold, months have passed.
I think that the more I enjoy a game, the harder it is for me to write finis to the whole experience. Of course I could always replay it, but while Persona 4 certainly does offer a lot of replay value, I’m a man who plays games primarily for the story, and while the depth and breadth of the narrative may change on subsequent playthroughs, the climax and the “truth” of the narrative will – except for games with truly divergent multiple endings - remain largely unchanged. In Persona 4, I can do different things during the year of gametime – but no amount of variation in my playing will give me a story which happen after the events of the ending.
In Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book,” an adult explains to the young protagonist the distinction between the dead and the living as a matter of potential: the living have an infinite amount of it, and the dead have none. I suppose in some way, I feel that in completing a game, I “kill” it – I have fulfilled its potential, seen all it has to offer. The characters who I’ve grown to love will never again say or do anything I haven’t seen before – oh sure different dialogue choices may lead to different responses for them, but I have to “reset” their lives to see these alternate possibilities – their growth as characters has stopped. The end of the game is the limit to which I can follow the lives of these characters, these friends… and as long as I don’t reach it, their potential remains; their life remains.
I will finish Persona 4. It is too good of a game, of a story, for me to relegate it to the ranks of the never-finished: one can only hold off completion for a certain amount of time before one forgets the details of the story, and the ending loses its impact. Soon, I’ll return to Inaba, put on the glasses, and call out my inner selves one last time…
But not before I will have hesitated at the edge; and, when I do take the plunge… not without a trace of regret.