Blog: Understanding Persona 5's thematic balancing act

Persona 5, Cartoon Cats, Depthless Evil, and Courting Your Instructor.

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Strap in. This may get a tiny bit bizarre.


I write lengthy RPGs for a dwelling. But, I’m probably the most jaded RPG gamer on the planet. I are likely to hate enjoying them. But, I pressure myself to play an extended RPGs, as a result of in the event you turn into completely divorced from enjoying the kind of game you write, you’re misplaced.

That’s the reason I lately spent ninety two (ninety two!!!) hours finishing Persona V, Altus’s cool, quirky, cult-hit JRPG. I did not play it. I sunk into it, like a heat tub. For 1-2 hours an evening, for months, I led my band of oddball Japanese highschool college students via their routine of going to high school, courting, capturing demons, crushing evil, and being the most effective darn flower salesmen and half-time curry cooks they might probably be.

It is actually bizarre. Once I look again on the obscene period of time I spent on this game, I keep in mind so many flaws. Storylines that have been uninteresting and uninspired. Repetitive dungeons and combats. A flawed translation. Plenty of padding. Lots of content that was genuinely disturbing.

But, let’s be clear, this game took over my mind. It’s the perfect instance I’ve seen on this medium of a piece that’s a lot stronger than the sum of its elements. Should you love this style, it’s actually value enjoying, no less than by means of the top of the primary chapter.

So please permit me to go on about it for some time, as I course of the expertise and check out to determine why it really works. As a result of it type of should not.



I freely admit that I may be very juvenile in my video game choice requirements.


So What Is This Factor About?

Persona 5 is a part of the (deep breath, bear with me right here) Shin Megami Tensei media franchise, a sprawling net of books, anime, video games, and so on. which were very fashionable in Japan for 30 years or so. The final video game on this world to realize traction on my continent was the cool and completely bananas 2011 puzzle courting game Catherine, which I nonetheless consider doesn’t truly exist because it was merely a fever dream I alone skilled.

I need to attempt to clarify what Persona 5 is about in a method that may in all probability agitate Megami Tensei followers to no finish however will even have an opportunity of getting civilians to grasp it.

So that you play a youngster in highschool. You spend your days deciding what to do. You’ll be able to research, or work at odd jobs, or go on dates, or hold with buddies, or go see films together with your clever speaking cat.

However you’re additionally a, I do not know, a soul wizard. You’ll be able to journey with your mates to the “Metaverse,” which is the place everybody’s souls hang around. There, you possibly can summon demons referred to as Persona and struggle the souls of dangerous individuals. Should you can beat up their souls sufficient, you possibly can change them and make them be much less evil (or simply kill them).

Nevertheless, these enemies are additionally capable of summon their very own Persona demons. However then you’ll be able to seize and use them your self, in a course of that performs out like Pokemon on shrooms.

So it is a JRPG, mixed with an anime courting sim, with heavy Pokmemon parts. I’m now stepping out of the best way of these of you stampeding towards the exit.

What actually sucked me in to this game was the primary chapter, the place you do battle with that the majority sinister of foes, your faculty’s volleyball coach.



Simply do not forget who, in the long run, your actual enemy is.


The First Storyline

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt was, by video game requirements, fantastically written. Which means a lot of the writing was merely nice, however it has one storyline (the notorious “Bloody Baron”) that was genuinely good. In game writing, one good story can go a great distance.

In Persona 5, if you discover ways to summon demons and punch the souls of your enemies, your first foe is the evil volleyball coach Kamoshida. As a famed Olympic athlete, when he retired from competitors, your faculty eagerly snapped him up as a instructor. After which proceeded to look the opposite means as he repeatedly assaulted his college students, the boys bodily and the women sexually. He is well-known, so no one does something about it.

You uncover that he drove one in every of his college students to aim suicide. You confront him. He then swears to make use of his place to get you expelled. Thus begins a race, with him making an attempt to destroy you in the actual life when you attempt to put on down his spirit and alter his character within the Metaverse. In the event you lose the race, the game ends. Badly.

Let’s be clear. Persona 5 is a very darkish game. Horrible issues occur. A few of the enemies are really evil. Not evil in an summary Sauron/burning eye/save the world no matter method, however in a pores and skin-crawly “Sure, this truly occurs. On a regular basis.” method.

Kamoshida is likely one of the most loathsome characters I’ve ever seen in a video game. He’s so horrifying as a result of he’s so plausible. It occurs in the actual world to the purpose of being mundane. A game like Tyranny can play with evil all it needs, however it’s in a world filled with magic and elves and cat individuals, so who cares?

In Persona 5, the dangerous man is, and let’s not mince phrases right here, a serial rapist. In a seemingly mild courting sim RPG. That is what led me to put in writing this weblog publish. Video games solely not often deal with this type of extraordinarily troublesome materials. So once they do attempt it is value determining if it labored. In that case, how?



Persona 5’s graphic and interface design is relentlessly cool.


Video Video games Have No Limits, However They Have Limits

Right here is the quandary: Video games are artwork, and subsequently no component of the human expertise, regardless of how horrible, is off limits. But, video games are principally adolescent energy fantasies, so some subjects appear too critical for them to deal with. A lot of human expertise, subsequently, have to be walled off in weenie little indie artwork items that no one performs.

Now take a look at Persona 5. It is filled with horrifying abuse. And wacky JRPG battles and hijinx. With a rapist fitness center instructor. And a cartoon cat.

Persona 5 is a monetary and important hit. I’ve learn criticism that there are flaws within the methods it addresses the problems it does, however I’ve not seen anybody, male or feminine, critically say that the game is disrespectful or shouldn’t exist. In the event that they did, I might not agree with them.

This can be a game filled with horrors. It should not work. Individuals ought to recoil from it. However individuals do not recoil, and it does work. This can be a great place for some meaty game criticism. How do they pull off this magic trick?

To point out the way it can work, I am going to level out one tiny, very important a part of the game: how these traumatized youngsters get their magical powers.

How Can a Recreation Have Such Horrible Issues and Foolish Issues Subsequent To Every Different and Not Be a Mess

You is perhaps considering, “How can an RPG include materials like that and nonetheless be bearable and never tremendous-gross and offensive?” A part of it’s that, when coping with sexual assault (and it comes up so much), Persona 5 by no means jokes. It treats the subject significantly.

Extra importantly, they use a little bit of a story trick, which I need to spotlight as a result of I feel it really works extraordinarily properly.

OK, so that you play a band of youngsters who achieve the power to summon demons to assault the souls of evil individuals. Effective. How does this occur?

It isn’t like Harry Potter. A fats man with a beard does not present up and say “You are a wizard!” and also you go off to boarding faculty.

This is the way it works. It’s a must to be betrayed. Somebody needs to be really merciless to you, utterly reap the benefits of your belief and weak spot (and you have been weak and trusting in a means solely a toddler may be). After which you must understand it. You must enter the Soul World to completely comprehend the magnitude of what has been finished to you, and you need to utterly lose your self to rage. When this occurs, a masks will seem in your face, the seen type of your nonetheless belonging to and believing in society. And you must rip it off. It is AGONIZING. There’s blood. And when it is lastly off, you are free.

Here’s what it appears like. (The one at 9:17 is fairly good.)

It is intense and weird and superb and completely foolish and completely honest, in a approach that the Japanese do actually, rather well. It’s filled with loopy animations and cartoon cats, however it’s SERIOUS. I feel it is the key to what makes the game work.



He by no means noticed it coming.


I Love Tonal Inconsistency

Now I do know I’m doing an excellent-crappy job of promoting this game. I imply, I promised you a completely bananas journey the place you journey by means of surreal magic lands summoning demons, and then you definitely return to the actual world to be a seventeen yr previous tending bar earlier than happening a date together with your highschool instructor.

This can be a game with a very inconsistent tone. It may possibly change from bizarre and foolish to darkish and heavy in a second.

I really like that. I feel tonal inconsistency is among the crucial traits of a very good story.

It isn’t simply that, should you by no means permit your tone to differ, your work is monotonous and grueling. It is that, if you’d like your work to in any approach mirror life (and Persona 5, above all the things else, needs to be a life simulator), properly, life itself has an inconsistent tone.

Persona 5 is about broken individuals making an attempt to recuperate and construct glad lives for themselves. It is about having been exploited and having your belief betrayed, and therapeutic and rising above it and constructing a life. So when the characters get well from the newest outrage by going out for fried octopus balls, it isn’t a flaw however the entire level.

Window Right into a Overseas Land

Persona 5 is a piece of Japanese cultural and societal criticism, specializing in the methods through which previous individuals exploit younger individuals (and younger ladies and women particularly). It may well get actually tough.

So if this does not sound like a spot the place you need to spend ninety hours of leisure time, I might definitely perceive.

I valued it drastically, although, as a window into one other tradition. This game is completely and unapologetically Japanese, with Japanese characters commenting on Japanese society, in a really, very cynical method.

Politics within the U.S. within the final yr has been a bit, let’s consider, unsettling. As an enormous politics and civics nerd, I actually favored stepping out of it for a time to be reminded that different societies have arguments and their very own issues. They’re the primary characters in their very own tales.

I really like artistic endeavors that give a view into overseas mindsets and issues, like how The Witcher comes from a really Japanese European viewpoint.



In fact, choosing any character as “Greatest Woman” is offensive and problematic on so many ranges, and I apologize for any inference that I ever interact with a honest work of Interactive Artwork in such a infantile means. Video games, as a real artwork type, deserve higher, and so does humanity.


“Sufficient of This Critical Nonsense. Get to the Necessary Half.”


“Who’s Greatest Woman?”

Makoto. #shotsfired

As for good optionally available storylines/individuals up to now, lots of the aspect storylines are sort of bland. It is sort of an issue, alas. I discovered probably the most fascinating characters to be Kawakami (instructor) and Tae Takemi(physician). There’s lots of room for disagreement right here. Be happy to level out different good bits of writing within the feedback. (Additionally, make sure to by no means miss an opportunity to be imply to Mishima.)

Oh, and as yet one more apart, I’ve by no means favored music in video games. That is the primary game I’ve ever performed the place I actually, actually appreciated the music. I nonetheless love the major battle theme after listening to bits of it ten thousand occasions.

The Enjoyable of Transgression

One of many coolest issues about video games is that they provide the freedom to misbehave. This is among the distinctive issues about vidya as a storytelling medium. It is one factor to examine somebody misbehaving, and one other factor completely to regulate somebody being dangerous. Even when we all know it isn’t actual, whenever you select on your avatar to do one thing loopy or dangerous, for a second, it FEELS actual.

You play a extremely rebellious highschool scholar, and Persona 5 permits you to be transgressive in a approach a western game might by no means permit. You may be accountable and do homework and get a job, positive. Or you will get a job as a bartender, or hang around together with your alcoholic reporter good friend, or, sure, date certainly one of your academics. (In a storyline that finally ends up being weirdly unhappy and touching and is likely one of the higher bits of writing.)

That is only a first bid in choosing aside Persona 5.



Be warned. Whereas Persona 5 will permit you to two-time (or 9-time) your girlfriend, there could also be penalties.


There’s Loads of Flaws

It is a ninety+ hour game, how can it not? It is about 10 hours too lengthy. There’s plenty of bland writing and bizarre translations (in English). The writers had sort of a bizarre obsession with modeling. The mixture of utter weirdness and complete sincerity actually requires some getting used to. The depictions of homosexual individuals are fairly offensive. The character of Akechi (Boy Detective!!!) appears to have been parachuted in from a special, worse game.

However should you care concerning the artwork type and the style, this game is INTERESTING. It swings for the fences. Its attain exceeds its grasp. I have never even begun to type out all the fascinating decisions and concepts on this loopy, overstuffed game.

If nothing else, the subsequent time I hear somebody gassing on about how, “Video games cannot do that,” or “Video games cannot cowl that matter,” I can now simply say, “Persona 5, fam,” and stroll off to a extra fascinating dialog. Persona 5 acquired me fascinated with all of the issues we will nonetheless discover on this younger, bizarre medium, and I am grateful for that.


Our very non-JRPG games are all the time obtainable right here, and I’m on Twitter.

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