Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Has a game ever made you feel right at home?

Have you ever played a game which you could personally relate to? Not one that you just liked so much it holds a special place in your heart, but rather one you truly could understand. One where if you could somehow put yourself in it, you would feel right at home. Unless you are a racecar driver, in the military, or you are into sports, chances are you haven't. Many games out there rely more so on fantasy than reality, and although you may like these games, they don't really connect with you. If you were put into that character's shoes, you would find yourself in a strange new world, even if its an alternate version of the world we live in today.

Up until a year ago, I was in the same boat. Sure there are a lot of games I love, and a lot of worlds I really like, but could I actually relate to them? No, no I couldn't. A lot of them are fantasy worlds with technology either far ahead or far behind the real world, or they were some alternate version of Earth putting me in a role I wouldn't want. Outside of games based on simulation such as the Sims, there was never a game that made me feel at home. That is until I finally picked up the role playing game "Persona 4" for the first time.

Now Persona 4 is fantasy. It's a JRPG where characters can summon their inner self (or Persona) to fight people's "Shadows." The characters jump into a world inside their TV, fight these monsters, and ultimately solve the mystery behind the wide spread murders in town. The game isn't what you would call realistic, but it was something I could still relate to. More so than a lot of people who played it.

The game itself follows the main character's (who you can name) life as he attends a new school in a new town for a year, and it allows you to actually "live" his life. Unlike in a lot of JRPGs, the game focuses more on the personal life of the main character rather than exploration, and it gives you almost full control over what you do. The game is a lot like a life sim in that aspect, and it really helps draw the player into its world. Now, anyone who has attended a new school or gone to college can relate to some of the things the main character has to go through at his new school, but for me, there's a lot more too it than that.

While Persona 3 took place in a larger scaled city, Persona 4 takes place in the small town of Inaba, and the moment I saw it for myself, I felt right at home. Although I live in the US and not Japan, the town of Inaba was strangely a lot like my home town, and the more I played the game, the more I realized just how similar they both were. Even some of the town events, and parts of the story brought me back to my own personal experiences, and for the first time while playing a game, I could truly relate to a lot of what the main character was experiencing.

When walking down the streets of Inaba you don't see much. Going down the main drag you will see a single gas station, a mail box rather than a post office, quite a few closed down shops, a food stand, a small cafe, a bar, and a few very small family owned stores. The town's main street doesn't have much, but you know what? That's what I've known almost my whole life. Driving down the main street of my town all you will pass is, a gas station, a mail box for a post office, many closed down stores, a food stand, a small cafe, a bar, and a single store at the end of the street. Both Inaba and my town also have roads which branch off to areas where events are held, but even these places are very small (Inaba has a shrine, while we have a small civic center area as well as a park). Both Inaba and my town are also surrounded by fields. There are many wide open areas, and both also have two parks. While Inaba has a small scale park, and a larger one only seen during specific parts of the game's story, my town is just about the same. There is a larger park for picnics and what not, but we also have a smaller one where kids can play.

The school in Persona 4 was also a lot like my very own high school; except Persona 4's school had one extra hallway. My high school only held around 400 students at the time, it only had about four hallways, and it only had a few clubs to join. I personally was a part of band, and just like in Persona 4, our band wasn't much. Only around 15 students, and just like the main character, I was one of the few trumpet players. When I first joined the band in Persona 4, I truly was shocked. Especially considering the main character just so happened to play the same instrument as me.

Although both towns were pretty similar, there is one major difference between Inaba and the town I grew up in. While my town has nothing, Inaba has the super market "Junes." The place in game is huge, and has just about everything. It's basically a giant department store, with everything from food to TVs; however, it is also on the outskirts of town. While it may take the characters 15 or so minutes to reach it in game, it takes me just as long to reach the nearest Walmart a few towns and miles of country roads over. Sure Walmart isn't on the scale of Junes, but that's fine. It doesn't change the fact that I could still relate.

While the rest of Persona 4 is fantasy, its world still made me feel at home. Many of the school events reminded me of some of the things I did back in high school, and the fact that you could choose what the main character said, really helped pull me into the experience. It felt as if I had gone back in time a few years, and was living an alternate version of my own past. I felt like I knew the town, I could understand the people who lived there, and I also knew what it was like to be a teenager growing up in such a place. I knew how the main characters felt about it, and I knew the pain of loosing someone as well. In a town that small, everyone knows everyone, so when the murders started happening, I could relate to their pain of loosing someone (sad to say, but it is true). Overall, the whole thing was actually kind of strange, but I still loved every single minute of it. It's pretty rare for a game to get so involved with such a small town, and truthfully I'm still shocked to see that Persona 4 did. Especially with a town so close to my very own.

So, what about you? Have you ever come across a game that just made you feel right at home?

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