“If you wanna change the world, all you have to do is just look at it differently.”
(*This article contains spoilers for the game. Read with caution!)
Recently, after sitting through 100+ hours of story for the second time, I watched my sister beat Persona 5 again. Although it does not carry the Shin Megami Tensei label like its predecessors, it, like others in the series, is a rather odd game that successfully meshes elements of action/adventure, mystery, human psychology, and slice-of-life shenanigans. I know of no other game that, as the world is ending, requires you to study for final exams and go to the movies with friends. One minute, you’re chasing down sex offenders and murderers and the next, you’re cheering over getting a seat on a crowded subway train. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride from start to finish, but one we were on board with 110%.
(One of these… is not like the others.)
Across numerous sites, Persona received an average of 94%, and the only disagreement I have with that number is that it’s not 100%. If you’re looking for a game that offers a challenge, humor and enjoyment, and a large payoff, this is definitely one to check out (available on PS3 and PS4).
And, with Persona 5: Dancing Star Night coming out in Japan on May 24, 2018, now’s a great time to see what all the fuss is about.
Strap in, kids. This is gonna be good.
THE STORY AND CAST
One of the best reasons to play Persona 5 is the confusing, topsy-turvy, cool-as-hell story. The game begins with the protagonist, a seventeen-year-old charged with assault (after protecting an assault victim) who is forced to move away from his family/friends/life to live out a year of probation in a new city.
But, within days of moving to Tokyo, he rebels against the stereotypical brush people have painted him with and decides he’s going to make his own name for himself. This is when he gains his Persona and embarks on his quest to start “stealing the hearts of corrupt people” to force them confess to their crimes. This is made possible by a lot of magical/metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that is explained loads better than I could manage in this small space, so don’t worry. By the time you’re strolling through the end-game content, you’ll be old hat at it, promise.
(look at this innocent cinnamon roll protagonist mutilating himself for power
jk he’s actually the king of sassy comebacks)
As the game continues, the protagonist acquires a ragtag crew of thieving, rebellious misfits, and strives to physically (or, metaphysically, rather) change the world. Once they realize that their powers can be used to help, there is literally no force that will stop them from trying to do good with their abilities.
As Uncle Ben always says (right around the time he dies), “With great power comes great responsibility,” right?
The team starts by taking down individuals who are focusing on members of your insular group and ends by combating a god who has his eye on all of humanity. And, not only do the protagonist’s targets change by the end of the game, so too does the scope of the theme. At the beginning, the game has you question whether you want to accept your assumed role in society, but eventually, the plot’s internal questions start revolving around the desires of humanity’s collective unconscious. It wonders whether living in a world with free will is better/easier than living in one where a god-like being is the conductor of everyone’s fate—and despite one answer leading to the “true” ending the other leading to the “good,” it leaves the power of choice in the hands of the player.
fanart sourced from here
(look at these beautiful babies who are rushing off to save the world
they didn’t ask to save/damn humanity’s collective unconscious desires, and yet, here they are)
THE FORMAT OF THE FRAME NARRATIVE
Another reason that Persona 5 needs to be bumped the top of your “games-to-play” list is it’s exceptional use of the frame story narrative. The game starts with you getting arrested in the middle of a heist and quickly follows you getting thrown into—and tortured in—jail. Then, it flips the player back almost seven months and makes you play your way to that ill-advised capture, trickling out details and information as you go.
In part, this unusual way of storytelling—a least for video games—muscles Persona 5 away from the typical realm of “Japanese roleplaying game” and heightens the uniqueness of its experiences. Making the story develop in this manner allows for a slow-build of tension, because it consistently forces the player to ask, “How did it all go wrong?”
And, then, once the frame story wraps its way back into jail, the game takes an even swifter turn into crazy town… but we don’t need to mention that here. You’ll have to see that bit for yourself. 😉
I would play the game again for the music alone. Just. Just go listen.
THE GAME’S THEME
Finally, although this was partially referenced above, this point requires its own mention here, too. Regarding the Persona franchise, the Dev Team at Atlus (a subsidiary of SEGA that is also known for creating franchises such as Etrian Odyssey and Trauma Center) claimed to want their games to be relevant to the time during which they were produced. They undoubtedly hit the mark with Persona 5.
In the final area of the game, when the collective desires of humanity have coalesced into a physical realm where it’s no long necessary to think or make conscious choices, the game finally prompts its core question: “Who has the right to free choice—the self or the collective?”
No matter how this question is viewed, it raises some heavy thinking. Ignoring that the game is coded with specific “right” and “wrong” answers, the game still asks the player this question. Is it better for humanity to struggle for survival and free choice—to be hurt and fail and fall to corruption and other dark elements—or is it better for someone to make all the hard decisions for humanity; this way, they don’t have to think and they don’t have to fail?
(Would you refuse, and fight for free will, or agree, and give power to an all-powerful controller?)
Makes you think, doesn’t it? Which would you choose?
Sound off in the comments below!