Patrick Hope: Character Issues III: The Fallen Idol
NOTE: Spoilers for any part of “Persona 4” focusing on Rise Kujikawa follow. Also, her name is pronounced REE-say.
The first time you see Rise Kujikawa will be in the intro cutscene. She will be sliding on her knees to the front of a stage while performing on live TV. That’s how the world sees Rise or more accurately, her idol persona of Risette.
Risette is a huge star of stage and screen, singing and acting her way into the hearts of Japan with her bubbly, flirty personality. She comes to the small town of Inaba, the game’s setting, ostensibly on a health sabbatical. But this is a “Persona” game, so obviously there’s more to her than meets the eye.
The big theme in “Persona 4” is embracing one’s true self. Each of the main characters has to undergo some sort of transformation to accept who they really are. While most of the characters deal with some part of their identity buried deep in their psyches, Rise’s dilemma is a little different.
As an extremely popular actor, Rise is constantly taking on new roles and as an idol, she has to always be in Risette mode. This has caused Rise to take a sabbatical as she doesn’t know who the real her is. It’s lost in the shuffle of her work. In the main plot, Rise is having trouble reconciling the whole teen sex symbol aspect of Risette with her true self, before she eventually admits that Risette is a part of her, for better or worse. Rise’s story doesn’t end here, though.
A major aspect of “Persona 4” is building up relationships — called social links here — in order to make yourself more powerful in battle and unlock new abilities, with each one corresponding to a card of the Major Arcana of the tarot deck. Rise gets, perhaps not surprisingly, the Lovers, and through spending time with everyone’s favorite idol, you get more insight into her past and her true self.
As a child, Rise was extremely shy and bullied, so a relative decided to enter her in an idol competition, which Rise won. Hoping this would make her popular, Rise threw herself into her work, taking role after role until she couldn’t see who she was anymore. Her various characters became more parts of her psyche, which apparently does actually happen, as I asked an actor friend about Rise’s experience, and she confirmed that it happens, so hey, points for realism. Of course, being a national star means that Rise’s problems are even more pronounced as she has to sort through her problems in front of a massive public. And being in show business, Rise isn’t afforded the luxury of slowly figuring herself out.
While the protagonist becomes closer with Rise and helps her out, the outside world is actively moving on from Risette. When the two of you visit a nearby city, other teenagers don’t even recognize Rise as they’ve moved onto the newest sensation. Her agent wants her to come back, but Rise — still in self-discovery mode — doesn’t want to, so he moves on as well, but only after telling Rise that the sky could have been the limit for her career had she not suddenly walked away from it all.
And that’s when it happens. Rise finally breaks.
Up to that point, she does a good job of holding herself together. Even when faced with possible death and her inner self taunting her, Rise managed to keep her smile and move forward with the hope that she’d figure things out. But now she’s lost everything. Her career, the Risette persona, they’re all gone.
And in that moment, Rise realizes those were all a part of her and she starts crying. And she can’t stop. And she doesn’t know why. Luckily, the protagonist is there to comfort her, with your options being to hold her (why would you not choose this?) or to do nothing, because standing there awkwardly as Rise bawls her eyes out seems like a great move. But in thinking she lost everything, Rise also realizes that she finally got what she wanted all along. The other main characters love her and accept her for who she is. And that gives her the strength to move on.
At the end of her character arc, Rise does decide to return to show business, difficult as it may be as she’s been gone for a year.
She’s accepted that she’s an amalgam of all those selves she’s played. She realizes that she loves the protagonist — this happens regardless of whether you choose the friendship or romance route. She’s at peace with who she is. And she’s ready to start over, knowing that she can succeed as long as those who care about her believe in her.
Being a huge pop star isn’t exactly supposed to make for a character most of us can relate to. But Rise’s motivations do. They’re among the most basic of human needs. All she’s wanted from the start is to be loved and accepted for who she is. There’s just a problem that she got worried that she lost herself along the way. Haven’t we all been worried at some point that someone wouldn’t like the real us or even who we really are?
Behind all the glamor, once the cameras and lights are turned off, Rise is like anyone else. And there’s something almost comforting in knowing how universal her struggle is.
There really wasn’t any other way to conclude this series on characters. Rise Kujikawa is my favorite video game character ever. And you always save the best for last.
Hope is a Dickinson attorney and video game enthusiast. Read more of his video game columns at bonusstage.areavoices.com.