I’ve been looking for a good place to stick my discrete thoughts about characters I care about, narrative moments that speak to me, and other video game-centered rants.
While random thoughts in various notebooks and frantically-written messages to my friends over the years have served as good outlets, I thought it was time to gather my thoughts. Maybe no more cohesively, but at least I’ll have a convenient place to look back at them.
The “Talk to Me About ____” series on my blog will let me have a little chat about a character, a gameplay mechanic, or some part of a narrative element that I think more people need to talk about.
I can’t guarantee that I’ll be covering every single aspect of a game that the fandom isn’t talking about — and I can’t promise that I’ll stay out of the larger conversations either.
I just want a place to put out some feelings and opinions about some of my favorite characters and stories. Maybe other people will come to love them the same way that I do.
Naoki Konishi, Persona 4
Naoki appears in the fourth Persona game as the Hanged Man social link. It’s been years since I first stumbled awkwardly through Persona 4 — still carrying that hardcore teenage angst about the ending of Persona 3 — and a long while since I thought long and hard about Naoki’s social link.
(Although it’s been nine years since the game’s release, I feel compelled to warn you about spoilers. You never know.)
Naoki is Saki Konishi’s younger brother. You can he see him once, having an argument with his sister about eating his food on the day that you arrive in Inaba.
But your interactions with him don’t really start until after his sister’s death.
Saki Konishi is the person who discovers the body of the first victim on the murders that are (or will be) taking place in the small town. She turns out to be the second victim.
There are two people that take Saki’s death the hardest: Yosuke Hanamura, a member of your party, and Naoki, an NPC. You get to work with Yosuke and watch as he finds his peace as you go through the first of several dungeons in the TV world, and as he awakens to his persona.
Towards the end of the game, as you and your friends continue your investigation and figure out the culprit behind the murders, Yosuke learns the truth and presumably finds resolution for Saki’s death.
But what about Naoki?
His social link is entirely optional, although it starts automatically on June 7th or so. But unless you’re a completionist or really want the ability to summon Attis, you’re never compelled to talk to Naoki.
Although rather minor, I find Naoki to be a fascinating opportunity to explore what happens to the people that are left behind in a tragedy. We often mourn the loss of victims and offer support to those that were closest to them, but we’re never privy to the immensity of what they have to deal with.
Naoki’s social link is something of a ten-part insight into what happens to the people that are left behind in the wake of death.
Besides being utterly heartbreaking, there’s something compelling about the anecdotes that Naoki tells about his family and Saki.
Naoki doesn’t just have to deal with living under the expectations of leading an “admirable life” on top of the pitying comments and the constant scrutiny of his neighbors. He also has to adjust living to the void that his sister left behind.
He finds Saki’s presence, or rather her absence, manifest in the physical things that she left behind. The handkerchief that you return to him near the beginning of your relationship with him, the cream puffs that no longer vanish from the fridge, the river where they had played as children.
And even though you’re privy to some of his decisions and provide some comfort to him as he tries to readjust to his own life again, you realize that Naoki is largely alone.
He doesn’t have an investigation squad full of people to fall back on. He doesn’t have a means of distracting himself beyond going to school, going to work, and going home — all places where he encounters pitying stares and the ever-present acknowledgment that Saki is gone.
Naoki doesn’t get to be part of the team that saves the day or learn the truth about how his sister died.
And I think that might be what’s so powerful about Naoki’s story arc. Even though he doesn’t get to learn the insane-sounding truth behind the murders, he learns to find his own peace and resolution.
His is hardly the most exciting social link in the game, but I do find it to be one of the few that fascinates me, many years after I first encountered it.
Never once does Naoki admit that he loves his sister or felt any strong affection for her, but it’s obvious in the little things that remind him of her. His story keeps us grounded in reality and what’s at stake for our protagonists and the small town they live in.
As minor as Naoki Konishi and his social link are to the grand scheme of Persona 4’s narrative, he’s one art of the game that I’ve carried with me to this day.