I’m leaving today. Leaving for the city on a train I knew would be waiting for me the moment I got to this small town. Yes, I knew it would be taking me away before I even got here. I knew that I’d only be spending a small portion of my life here, knew that any people I met would be people I’d be saying goodbye to in just a year’s time. I’d been through this many times before; my parents like to travel around a lot. I thought I’d be able to deal with it.
My friends, they won’t say that they know me as an emotional type. I’m usually the stoic, quiet one. Serious. On things that matter, anyway.
And so I keep the straight face while my friends all run after my train, one by one, telling me that they’ll never forget me, that they’ll love me forever, that I shouldn’t leave. I keep the straight face–because that’s what leaders are supposed to do, right?–until they fade away from my view. The truth is, I’m just as torn.
I’ve never had trouble saying goodbye. Not to a video game, anyway. The idea sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean, here I am, talking about Persona 4 as if it involved real people and events. I even feel slightly embarrassed talking about this, about virtual people who were written for me. People who are there to be taken advantage of, a means to an end, a way to further my power in-game. Bits and pieces of information meant to relay a human relationship. And yet there I was, watching that cutscene, with actual tears running down my face. To an onlooker, there’s nothing special about what I’m watching. Typical goodbye sequence involving a train.
Not that it’s that simple. Me and my crew, we’d been to hell and back together. We fought all sorts of crazy japanese monsters together. We saved the world together. Christ, we even ate watermelon together.
Let’s not kid ourselves though. There’s nothing that’s actually unique in this regard: how many times had I saved the world with a motley crew of teenagers? I’ve lost count. It’s all par for the course, as far as video games go.
So why do I feel like this?
We don’t have to say goodbye, do we? I can come visit anytime. It’s just a train ride away. It’ll be like I never left. We can do this again. It’ll be just like before.
Of course, that’s not true at all. We do have to say goodbye. The game is ending. We already saved the world. I’m watching the credits roll right now. Whatever could’ve been doesn’t matter, because this is all i get to see. Maybe the idea that everything will be alright was supposed to satiate me, except it isn’t. I don’t just want to know what happens afterwards, I want to experience it. I want to be a part of it.
That’s the clincher, though. There’s a reason I don’t get to experience it. After this moment, our lives will never be as meaningful, interesting or important as the year we spent unravelling mysteries and saving the world. We might never be as close as we are right now. I’ve already maxed out all your relationship ranks. Our worlds are all squared out at age 16. And, maybe, that’s why we have to say goodbye. It’ll never be as good as it was before, and we can’t go any further, so I’d best get going while it still makes sense to. We spent dozens of hours fighting for our right to live out ‘normal’ lives, free of evil or injustice or what have you, but in the end I don’t get to experience the happily ever after because that’s not the part worth playing.
And so I turn the console off, power off the lights, go upstairs to my room. I lie in bed, I stare at the ceiling in the dark. I can’t fall asleep. A year from now, I’ll be graduating college. I knew the date before I ever set foot on campus. But, I don’t want to think about that now. Tomorrow, I’ll start a new game plus in P4. Tomorrow, we’ll pretend I don’t have to leave, hell, we’ll pretend that we haven’t been through this before, that I can still hold on to that fleeting feeling. Tomorrow, I can pretend I don’t have to say goodbye.