Thou Art I…and I Am Thou: Persona 4’s Reflections on Human Bonds

The popular JRPG shows how human relationships can make or break a life

Thou Art I…and I Am Thou: Persona 4’s Reflections on Human Bonds
Source: Steam Community.

One of the most painful lessons we learn is how human connections shape our world, though when we are young we often think we don’t need anyone. This clash of thoughts is put under the microscope in Persona 4, especially through the lens of the Social Link system. Through its use of Jungian concepts of self, it illuminates our unique experiences.

This piece contains spoilers for Persona 4

Move With Other Hearts

Persona 4’s procedural gameplay is one of its most addictive aspects. Taking place over the course of a single in-game year means the player is under timed pressure to cultivate relationships with characters, which is a core aspect of the experience. This tension makes each interaction feel precious, and in this sense, it resembles real life.

The Social Link system monitors the player’s progress with each respective character. As one increases rank, new story paths open up, persona fusions become more powerful, and various abilities become available. Persona 4 shows you that relationships make you more powerful.

Apart from just power, these bonds also lead to realizations in the game's world. This is the crux of the story: young people interact with the personification of their fears — represented by their Shadow. According to Jungian thought, the shadow is the repressed unconscious section of a person’s self.

Persona 4: Golden. From BuffMaister.

At first, each respective Shadow is a boss the player has to beat in order to start a relationship with said character. These Shadows emanate such negative feelings that they threaten to sever any kind of genuine connection. It shows that we, as humans, have to confront ourselves before we can reach out to other souls.

Different Flames of Pain

Persona 4’s Social Link system is masterful because it isn’t formulaic. Each character has a different want, wound, and history. The writers use subplots to illuminate the aspects of each.

One example is the character Kanji Tatsumi and his story. He is a tall, gruff boy with peroxide blond hair and a reputation as a delinquent. People draw conclusions based on his appearance. His unconscious realm takes the form of a steamy bathhouse representative of his repressed feelings. As they all do, Kanji’s Shadow looks like him but acts in an overtly sexual manner.

Persona 4: Golden. From BuffMaister.

Kanji’s shadow illustrates this struggle with his gender identity, as he gets involved in fights at school because such acts match his preconceived notions of male behavior. He uses these actions to blanket his true feelings; he's had to bury his true identity for a long time.

Seen from Different Angles

After beating his Shadow, one gets to know more about Kanji's life and what created his inner turmoil. The player sees that Kanji’s mother is the head of a textile shop, so he nurtured a love for sewing from a young age. When he was younger people saw this hobby as a feminine activity, so he hid his skills from the world.

Persona 4: Golden. From JohneAwesome.

During the Social Missions, you help him share his talent with others through, for example, the creation of plush toys. Because Kanji is now able to be his true self, he can create new connections. This enlightened state makes him think more clearly about his former failures.

He realizes that no one wants to get close to him because he pushed them away with a false front. He'd make snap judgments before getting to know people, thinking that no one would like him because deep down he differs from the masculine norm. He never allowed others into his world.

But his thoughts were a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Kanji interacted with people, he kept them at arm’s length (or scared them away) because he thought no one could like him, which made people wary of him. True, not everybody likes everybody – but with acceptance of that fact comes the ability to find one’s tribe.

Windows of Feelings

Self-exploration is how people unlock true power in the real world. In a sense, that makes Persona 4 one of the most realistic games ever created. Carl Jung called this process of discovery "Individuation." As the name implies, it is the process whereby we become individuals; we become more like ourselves.

Persona 4: Golden. From Dancing Labrys.

The aspects that set us apart from others aren’t something to be hidden. In fact, for true growth to occur, it is important that we embrace our uniqueness. Only then can we love ourselves.

This personal journey is clear in the stories of many of Persona 4’s characters. To me, Chie and Yukiko’s arcs were also poignant. Yukiko struggles to make herself be heard over her family’s expectations. Chie learns it takes more than strength to protect loved ones.

Party members who reach the max Social Link rank, rank 10, also experience a persona rebirth. This is a visible representation of the Jungian concept of Individuation – the finding of self.

And it isn't just the main cast that gets this focus; a special feature of the game is that even non-party members’ stories also stick with the player.

Persona 4: Golden. From Bloom Plays.

Hisano Kuroda, a widow who talks with you about her deceased husband, elicits a lot of feelings. Guilt over thoughts she had when her husband had dementia guides her conversations with the player. This interaction, in turn, helps her reframe her own situation, so that she realises the love she had with her husband was indeed special.

Human connections help us understand ourselves better. Trapped in our minds, personal views can force us into a loop that shows a distorted version of the world. An extra set of eyes can help us see the beauty of our unique qualities.

Words that appear during the initial phases of a Social Link ring true throughout the game and beyond it: “Thou art I... And I am thou...”


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