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How Pokémon and Persona 4 helped me feel young again

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When I was a teenager, if there was a mysterious string of deaths involving people appearing on the much-rumoured “Midnight Channel,” my school friends and I would’ve been the first ones to investigate.

Well, at least, that’s what I like to think anyhow.

Persona 4We were never a cliquey bunch. Sharing the exact same interests — whether they were sports, videogames, or the desire to make other people’s lives a misery — wasn’t required. Only a genuine bond of trust and friendship was needed, one that was bigger than any mutual interest. We were, and still are, true friends.

I think that’s part of the reason why I loved Persona 4 so much. Besides all the deep Persona fusing and classic dungeon crawling, not to mention an intriguing murder mystery and catchy J-pop soundtrack, Persona 4 had teenagers being teenagers: hanging out, playing pranks on each other, dating, and talking about their problems with people they could trust.

Playing it made me feel young again, as if I hadn’t yet finished school and gone on to university. Just like in my teenage years, the gathering of friends in Persona 4 was a mishmash of people from different backgrounds and with different interests who all came together through circumstance and formed a closely knit group.

 

I played it obsessively for weeks and maxed out as many social links as I could just so I could form yet another unbreakable bond with the game’s array of great characters. Some of them, however, I skipped. I didn't do anything with Ai because I found her to be quite bitchy, and I ignored the ones that centered around employment. Yet, whether I maxed the social links or ignored them, I finished the game with no regrets.

So, for eighty-or-so hours (which felt more like a year), I was transported to Inaba. I lived and breathed its location, events, and activities (or lack thereof). I made friends, and when the time came I was distraught to leave. In fact, I was a little misty-eyed. The experience was a self-contained masterpiece of spending a whole year with great friends.

When I first arrived, I knew I only had from the beginning of the game to the ending credits, but that never stopped me from growing attached. The game's perfect conclusion had me whisked away in a train, just as I’d arrived. Now, for me, that experience is abruptly over. There’s no more. It was a lengthy, but ultimately limited, trip back to school, and I loved it.

Pokemon BlackAfter that, I moved on to Pokémon Black, a game which made me feel even younger again. I was taken back to my first year of high school, when the Red and Blue versions came out on the Game Boy. A group of fellow Pokénerds and I used to spend many of our breaks and lunch times hidden in the spacy area underneath the C-block stairs — a place officially off limits, but our presence was tolerated — to trade, battle and discuss all things Pokémon. Outside of school I used to invest every penny I could spare into the trading card game, and I religiously watched the anime.

Pokémon Black brought all of that back. While I was missing the social aspect of the older games — playing online just isn’t the same, and meeting up with other Pokémon fans around my age would be weird (and don’t even get started on the creepiness of meeting younger people) — the general aesthetic of the game combined the charm of the anime with a first time player’s discovery of 150 Pokémon. It amalgamated all my happy Pokémon memories into one game card and created a fresh yet nostalgic experience that captured the original’s feeling of childhood wonder and exploration.

But it also had slightly more grown up twist — one which constantly reminded me of aging. The trainer you play as this time, instead of being ten or eleven years old, is closer to fifteen. The game’s theme of growing up pervades the whole experience: What are you going to do when you grow up? What’s changed over time? Are you ready to leave home?

While these questions have been asked in every Pokémon game, it’s mostly been a future that you never quite see or experience; players are constantly trapped as a child, with all the innocence that comes with it. In Black & White, that future is more of a reality. Backpackers (young graduates on a gap year) are exploring the big wide world on their own, children are discovering Pokémon for the first time, and adults are settling down and starting a family or dealing with loss. These things happen with time.

In short, the game feels current, nostalgic, and looking to the future at the same time; it has less of the freeze-framed environment and lacks a simple black and white view of morality on the world. There’s a lot of grey, a lot of learning and a lot more sadness in this world. That’s not to say growing up is entirely miserable and depressing — we all know it isn’t — but the maturity of Pokémon Black & White is welcome. The series is finally growing up with its audience.

However, for someone who is 23 years old, it mixed the memories of my teenage years with my early high school ones. It was a nice, refreshing dose of nostalgia that felt more real and more current in a way that Generation 4 (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold and SoulSilver) ever could. For the sixty or so hours I’ve sunk into it thus far, I’ve grown young again. With all the issues that comes with young adult life (relationships, student debt, employment, and finding an identity), going back ten years was welcome.

I think that once I’m done with Pokémon Black, I’ll have to move on to something more mature. Whether that be a more adult game such as L.A. Noire, or reading a long and engrossing book, it can’t remind me too much of my younger years. Sure, the memories are nice, but I’ve got too much going on with my life to simply reminisce all year round.

However, I will treasure both of these games for the memories and for helping me, if only for a month or two, to grow young again.

Persona 4


This story marks my return to Bitmob after a two month absence. My personal site is down for maintenance right now, but you can find me on Twitter.


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