Sunday, January 18, 2015

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4's Adachi Lost the Element of Surprise

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4’s villain, Adachi, was really a very good antagonist, but he would have been a little better if SMTP4 had come out before SMT Persona 3. Not by any significant measurement, I suppose, but...well, if I had played SMTP4 first, then I think that the realization that Adachi was the murderer would have hit me with a satisfying sense of surprise, as I feel the game intends. But after the revelation of Shuji Ikutsuki as a villain in Persona 3, Adachi’s role as the villain was just, well, kind of obvious.

It’s kind of weird, because in general, there really isn’t much of a connection between Adachi and Shuji. Sure, they’re both villains, but that doesn’t mean much by itself--types of villains are as varied as types of heroes. And these 2 guys don’t really have much in common. Ikutsuki’s an insane fanatic who wants to bring forth the end of humanity for reasons that are vague and hurried past. Adachi, on the other hand, is a cold and self-satisfying murderer, a sadistic monster who kills for kicks. Adachi also may not exactly be of entirely sound mind, but there’s no question that he’s ultimately mentally competent and aware of reality and self--he’s not a villain because he’s crazy, like Shuji, but rather simply because he’s a malicious, murderous asshole.

But there is one aspect of personality where Adachi and Shuji do meet, at least somewhat: their cover identity. Shuji Ikutsuki spends most of his time in the game pretending to be a helpful leader/mentor to the protagonists, a friendly and quirky fellow who loves a good terrible pun. And Adachi, well, he’s not exactly the same, but he’s pretty similar in the regard that he’s an ever-affable, quirky, helpful guy. He always seems ready to provide a lead for the protagonists to follow, and his comical laziness and slacker attitude does for him what terrible puns did for Shuji--it sets him apart in a lightly amusing, harmless way.

And that’s what did it for me, what gave Adachi away. They’re both playing the trustworthy, peculiar adult. Even if their true selves aren’t particularly comparable, Adachi and Ikutsuki’s quirky, seemingly harmless cover personalities are similar enough in the role they fulfill and how they subvert any suspicion you might have had about them that, after seeing Shuji’s betrayal in Persona 3, I knew early into Persona 4 that there was a good chance that Adachi was up to no good.

It’s a damn shame, too, for a couple of reasons. First of all, if I had to have the surprise of either Shuji or Adachi be spoiled for me, I’d rather have seen Shuji coming than Adachi. Frankly, Shuji Ikutsuki’s betrayal is a real low point in the otherwise generally terrific SMTP3. It comes from nowhere, it’s poorly explained, it lessens his character by replacing the character we know him as with an inferior individual that we don’t have a chance to explore, and it comes off as just being conveniently inserted because the writers needed some way to characterize Aigis and add the drama for Mitsuru and whatnot. Ikutsuki’s betrayal doesn’t feel genuine, is the problem, and until the utterly absurd plot twist at the end of The Last Story, Ikutsuki’s backstab might have been the least believable, poorly done betrayal I’d seen in RPGs. With this, the surprise of Shuji being a villain just adds to the negative. Adachi, on the other hand, is well-developed in both his personas, and has many aspects of his cover personality that you can actually see connecting to his true, nasty self when you’re looking for them, so instead of feeling like a character who pulled a 180, Adachi as a villain feels like simply seeing the other half of the same coin. For him, the intended surprise of discovering that he was the murderer all along would have been a cool and enjoyable moment.

The other reason that the surprise would have benefited the SMT Persona 4 situation more is that SMTP4 is in large part a murder mystery.* In that kind of story, the major, climactic point in the tale, the huge part that everything is working up to and everyone is fixated on, is the revelation of who the dastardly dog was what did the dirty deed. It was substantially more important to the type of story Persona 4 is to be taken by surprise by the true nature of Adachi than it was for the somewhat more general storytelling style of Persona 3.

It’s not a big problem, or anything. Adachi’s still a solid villain. The revelation of him is still handled well. I can still appreciate the virtues of the story even if I saw it coming. But still, I think it would have been that much better of a twist if it had caught me by surprise as it was, I think, intended to, and I also think I wouldn’t have normally seen it coming. But after seeing Shuji Ikutsuki pull the Helpful, Amusing and Quirky Adult = Evil plot twist, it was easy to see the possibility that Adachi was up to no good just as Ikutsuki had been. Too bad.

* Although as a murder mystery it kind of sucks. Damn fine RPG, don’t get me wrong, but its presentation and process of the whole solve-the-murder aspect ain’t exactly Agatha Christie.


  1. A bit of development history Originally Adachi was going to be another Red herring and the actually Murder would have been good old Uncle Dojima. It was changed because a focus group said that living with a murder was too much a mood whiplash, to dark for a game of that nature or something similar to that.

    Which I kinda agree on considering Nanako's and Dojima's relationship was probably one of the best think about that game and too take it away...I don' know how that would turn out after all there is a thing as too dark

    Then again we also got Persona Q which has a similar twist that changes the Mood drastically so who knows?

    1. Interesting stuff. I'm frequently learning more about RPGs from doing these rants than my readers are, it seems.

      Dojima as the true villain would definitely have caught me off guard, and I'm sure it would have been interesting, but much like Disney's decision to adjust Elsa's role in Frozen from what was originally intended, the change from the original plan was definitely for the better. As you say, Dojima and Nanako's relationship is one of the highlights of SMTP4, and Dojima in general is a solid character as he is now. Additionally, even if he doesn't surprise me, Adachi makes for a great villain, and he has both depth and subtlety.

      I can't really agree with the focus group on the reason for the change, but I'm certainly glad for the results.

  2. Suggesting that P4 would have been better had P3 not existed is quite damning, actually. You suggest that P3's betrayal is a low point of the game, and I don't disagree. All the more heinous a sin to retread such steps, even in a loose sense. It's not even Scooby Doo in terms of subtlety, either.

    The issue with P4's mystery is that there is absolutely no other named NPC to suspect. Alternatives are removed in good speed or given a telling amount of non-attention. That Adachi ever does anything of any suspicious note leaves him as the sole suspect. That alien-eyed creep was a decent secondary until you remove him, and nothing develops out of that empty month. Namatame is a straightforward enough option, but he'd have been nearly as unexplored as Ikutuski had he been the true villain.

    Let's pretend Ikutuski wasn't straight up out of nowhere for a minute. P3 doesn't suggest that you be looking for a nefarious individual. The Full Moon shadows are already explained, and Strega is a persistent enough presence to not have the downtime of idly screening people. P4 is always in need of a suspect. It's what drives the plot. That and no other goddamned thing.

    Mystery, like horror, is hard to write for a reason. It encourages people to blink the glaze from their eyes and engage. Squandering that attention with multiple months of character recruitments that play out in identical fashion and not dropping more layers on the actual plot - the mystery - is a shame. These characters may be entertaining, but they collectively mean fuck all to the plot with the sole exception of Yosuke, but I can give the writers the benefit of the doubt and assume the plot was a side venture separating social links and comedic scenes. The focus always seemed to be the cast, at least.

    Like you say, Adachi remains a great character, better than great IMO. Just questionably utilized.

    A day or two may be a day or two more. Apologies and such.

    Irrelevant minirant: that endgame moment where they list everyone with a name was just insulting. As if there was ever anyone else after Namatame is cleared.

    1. Well, at the risk of betraying my stupidity, I still greatly doubt, even though what you say about a lack of alternative suspects is entirely true, that I would have been able to discern Adachi as the villain on my own without SMTP3's preparation. Perhaps the reason I don't much go for mystery as a rule is because I'm just terrible at it, heh.

      I didn't mean to imply that I would have wanted SMTP4 more than/before SMTP3 in any other regard, you understand. I know that, though I do like SMTP4 quite a bit, there is a clear and spacious divide in quality between them. Just in this 1 circumstance, that's all.

  3. Is this bizzaro world? I thought everyone on the net preferred P4 over 3.

    Also there's a reason P4 is referred to as anime scoobydoo in some circles

    1. Yeah, the masses do seem to generally favor the fourth game over the third. My guess is that SMTP4 has a much stronger focus on the teen vibe, providing its biggest audiences more to relate to, despite SMTP3 being the far superior work. Ah, well, they're both terrific, so it doesn't particularly bother me which is preferred, so long as both are experienced by many.

      Also, I have to giggle at that. I mean, "anime Scooby Doo" harshly undersells SMTP4, but at the same time, it is so right.