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I’m the kind of person who tends to let himself get overwhelmed with the absolute worst thoughts from time to time. When I’m alone for too long, I fret over my perceived shortcomings and tear myself apart. I obsess over things I cannot fix, and that takes its toll on me. As such, growing up, I’ve never been what you would call a 'social butterfly'.

While other kids my age were out drinking, partying, and having fun, I was usually sitting at home. I still like being at home. Being in my own house is one of my favorite things to do, actually. I’m lazy that way. I used to fear being attached to people, and I was afraid of being viewed as some sort of weirdo just because I saw things differently than the rest of my peers. It didn’t help that I also have an unfortunate habit of talking to myself; even my own family is put off by my rambling tendencies sometimes. Again, this ties into how my mind seems goes into overdrive sometimes.

For a time, I wasn’t sure whether I would ever be able to break out of my self-imposed shell, regardless of the constant encouragement and advice I received from others. Overcoming my issues felt like trying to scale a mountain that grew taller with every step I took. I had some friends, but nobody whose company extended outside of the classroom. My daily ritual became a draining cycle of going to school, dealing with my homework, and then heading home to practice creative writing or watching television before bed. One of the things that helped break that cycle though, was video games. Playing games helped relieve my stress, and allowed me to invest myself in something that didn't involve my social life. And as far as genres go, I fell into RPGs the hardest. They were adventures so far removed from my own life;  whether I was traversing the deep ends of space or slaying dragons, it made me feel a sense of accomplishment.  It might sound childish, but that type of freedom was something I desperately craved.

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I remember one day, hearing about a then-upcoming game that caught my attention. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. That game was called Persona 5. When the first full gameplay trailer released back in February 2015, I replayed it over and over again. Even now, after its release, I still go back and watch it just to experience that mysticism again. I knew that when it came out, I had to go buy it. It looked like it would be the best JRPG I’d played in years. I heard people say nothing but good things about Persona 4, and to hold myself off, I decided to jump into the series with Persona 4 Golden, an updated re-release that came out four years after the original. I grabbed a PlayStation TV from my local Best Buy since it was cheaper than the Vita, and those were the only consoles that the game was available on. I remember receiving the game itself five days later from Amazon. As soon as it came in the mail, I popped it into my PlayStation TV and hooked it up to my family’s home theater system.

Playing through it for the first time was… a unique experience. Persona 4 was completely unlike anything I had ever played before. Instead of an epic adventure exploring realms undiscovered, I was stuck in some crummy Japanese town named Inaba. The game's silent protagonist happened to move to Inaba because his parents had to dump him there for a year due to their jobs. Your character has to attend school almost every day, study for exams, raise social stats by participating in extracurricular activities, and work jobs. Most of these activities are necessary in order to complete certain Social Links: a mechanic in which you get to establish stronger bonds with different characters, which in turn help you in dungeons by unlocking more powerful Personas. And yes, the story is as ridiculous as you’d think. But I’ll get to that later.

You, as the player, meet your uncle Ryotaro Dojima and your cousin Nanako. You go to school and interact with the founding members of what will become the Investigation Team: Yosuke Hanamura, Chie Satonaka, and Yukiko Amagi. There’s also a hollow talking bear suit that refers to itself as Teddie. Sounds stupid, I know, but please stick with me here.

Soon afterwards, two corpses are hung up from TV antennas, the second of which is Yosuke’s senpai and coworker, Saki Konishi. This turn of events motivates him to help you stop the serial killer running amok in the town of Inaba. You soon discover a second world, filled with monstrous beings called Shadows. This world is dubbed the “TV world,” since you enter it by going through TVs with the power of your Persona. A Persona is the physical manifestation of your ego, coming to life to fight on your behalf. Each member of your party must face their Shadow in this TV world before they can acquire their Personas. In essence, they’re facing the parts of themselves they’re ashamed of; and in doing so, they grow stronger. In this mundane setting, the contrast of such a bizarre realm residing within it was visually striking and something I see very rarely in video games. The narrative delved heavily into themes about public image and rumors. More specifically, it tackled how those things can affect the way people view the world around them. It was a huge surprise that a dinky, low-budget JRPG could take such a mature, intensive look at human behavior.

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I’ll be frank here: my first run-through of the game was spent not knowing what the hell I was doing. The most guidance I had was tentatively following an online guide, so I could be as time-efficient as possible, respond to the appropriate characters correctly, and advance their personal stories through the Social Links as fast as possible. I didn't run through the game on autopilot by relying completely on a guide, I only used it for reference. The game was essentially a glorified social sim, one that involved going to school and interacting with people. It revolved around a concept that was terrifying to me in real life. I couldn’t believe how invested I was becoming in the stories of different people who were nothing more than character portraits and text boxes on-screen. How could a game with such a boring concept be so intricately layered?

All of the different characters I met seemed to embody the parts of my own personality that I didn’t want to accept. From Yosuke’s frustration with being forced to live somewhere he doesn’t want to be, to Chie’s envy of Yukiko, which was similar to how jealous I got of people that could easily interact with others. Yukiko herself was, in truth, a bit of an oddball; she laughed hysterically at the most random things, reminding me of my tendency to talk to myself. Running through the rest of the cast, I found more personality traits that resembled mine. Kanji was looking for someone to accept him. Teddie struggled with his desire to be more than just some weird, sentient bear costume. Rise was frustrated with having to put on so many different facades for her job. Naoto had issues in regards to gender. And while I couldn’t relate completely to every single one of those particular conflicts, especially Naoto's, I could easily understand being belittled and misunderstood, especially since I never put in the effort to allow people to understand me. In the end, I grew very attached to every last one of them.

Truthfully, I can’t say that my first time playing through Persona 4 was fun. Sure, it was entertaining and intense. But it was different for me. Many times I laughed, but other times I was annoyed by the slow pace of the plot, and how certain social events your character is forced to partake in felt like nothing more than unnecessary padding to make the game longer. I didn’t care for a couple of the Social Links, and I practically forced myself to finish the Link of a character called Marie to unlock extra story content. But my first playthrough of Persona 4 Golden was, all in all, quite surreal.

Once I finished the game, I didn’t know how to feel. Empty? Sad? Happy that the heroes of the story triumphed thanks to my silent protagonist’s composure and willpower? I wasn’t even sure if I enjoyed the game that much, which might come as a shock after what I said about the characters. But I knew I had to come back and play the New Game Plus mode one day, preferably soon after I beat it the first time. Persona 4 had given me so much to think about over the course of its 90-hour journey, and I had a lot to digest. I knew the real reason I had such mixed feelings towards the game at first was because it was eerily reflective of my personal issues. Just like Persona 4’s characters, I wasn’t willing to accept that truth at first.

Over the coming weeks, I realized something; I wanted to be like the cast of Persona 4. Well, perhaps not exactly like them, but… like them, y’know? I didn’t want to be afraid to help others, and I wanted to be more open to admitting the parts of myself I wasn’t happy with in order to improve. I came to realize that before I started the game, I was beginning to hate myself, and lose all sense of self-worth. I wanted to drown in my own self-pity, and had I not become aware of that, I would have lived a very unhappy life for quite some time. I stuck myself in a rut because I let the envy of other people’s happiness get to me. This wasn’t a sudden epiphany like you often see in movies, but it was more of a gradual discovery of mine. That type of stuff is more realistic and is captured many times in the game. The thing is, I came to understand that I was looking for reasons to hate myself. Maybe because it made things easier for me. More than that, I wanted to hate the people I knew at school, and I wanted to hate the world for moving so fast without a care for others like me who had difficulty being the way we were. But hate is something that takes so much effort, and leaves so little to show for it in the end.

I decided to not just change my attitude. I wanted to become a better person; not only because of the people in my life I shut out, but for myself. I couldn’t keep going down the same dark path. But don’t get the wrong idea; Persona 4 isn’t what saved me. It only helped me recognize something: that I had to save myself first. As corny as it might sound, that’s the exact same thing that Yosuke, Chie, and the others did upon confronting their Shadows. This self-fulfillment of mine is what lead me to branching out with different games, dabbling with more obscure JRPGs beyond the obvious ones like Final Fantasy. My passion lead me to talk to other people, both online and in real life, about the games I played. And now I’m the associate editor of this site. I’m somewhere I never thought I’d be, and that’s all thanks to my self-awareness and hard work, if I may be so bold as to say so.

Once I did play through Persona 4 again, I genuinely enjoyed myself. I went so far as to get the Platinum trophy, an achievement I replicated in Persona 5 as well. My dedication to 100%’ing the latter was because I was happy to see my struggle with self-acceptance reflected again in a different way. Persona 5 has such a positive, empowering message for anyone that feels different: it’s alright to be different, and you shouldn’t be afraid of what distinguishes you from others. Sometimes you need to yell at others to get them moving, and not be so stuck inside their own fantasies. Persona 5’s central villain isn’t any of the criminals you face, but the apathy of society; and seeing such a mature approach to those issues helped me appreciate once again how I was able to acknowledge my flaws.

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Many people see RPGs and video games in general as a waste of time, requiring too much investment from the player to be enjoyable for everyone. Maybe that’s true for some people. But I would encourage everybody to try more niche franchises like Persona and the broader Shin Megami Tensei series. You may be surprised. Personally, I've been bugging certain people about playing these games enough that I’ve halfway convinced them, and I will continue singing the franchise’s praises.

My attachment to the Persona series stems from it having such a personal effect on me, and that’s why I’m going to keep talking about how passionate I am for it and other games I love without being afraid of being labelled as strange. Life’s too short to worry about that. Especially when you have so many long games to play.

I don’t wish for people to pity me after reading this piece, and I also recognize that there are millions out there going through something similar, and likely have it way worse. My advice for them would be to find something they enjoy, and draw strength from it. To have the courage to talk to other people, and confront their problems. It’s not the quick, easy fix-all that many people desire, but I think it’s good advice, and I’m sticking with it. After all… it worked for me. And I’m happier for it.

If something like a video game can help me do this, think of what can help you and remember what I’ve talked about here. Second chances aren’t given to us by others; we give them to ourselves.
About the Author
Joshua Volkers
Joshua Volkers is one of Geeks + Gamers’ associate editors, and helps coordinate video-game related content. Growing up in Canada, Josh has come to cultivate an appreciation for games that are more story-driven like RPGs. Despite that, he does still thoroughly enjoy games more oriented around gameplay than narrative. He attempts to champion lesser known games that deserve more exposure and recognition. His favorite video game series include Persona, Mass Effect, Uncharted, and Super Mario, with the chief among them being Final Fantasy.

Josh’s favorite superhero is Superman, and he loves the character so much that he has watched the series Smallville roughly 3 times over all the way through. He also has a lifelong obsession with the Harry Potter series, which is part of what inspired him to take up writing. He hopes to publish an in-progress novel one day, and continues to hone his skills and revise what he has already written in preparation of achieving that goal.