If you know me at all, you know how much I love the Persona series. I consider Persona 3 one of my favorite video games of all time. I have been so excited for Persona 5 since it was announced, and the style and tone of the game thrilled me. After several delays, the game finally released earlier this month. I barely slept, and I put 100 hours into the game as of completion. While I really did like the game, I had some problems with it as well. With the amount of controversy I’ve seen pop up surrounding the game, I figured that it was time for me to chime in with my personal opinions beyond just what you can hear in the podcast. Keep in mind as you read this review–you can enjoy media and still critique it for things that are done poorly. Spoilers below!
Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Rape, Homophobia, and Child Abuse.
The translation of Persona 5 has gotten the most attention since its release. With a recent influx of attention brought on by the creation of a website which points out the problems with the translation of the game, there has been a lot of dialogue regarding the proper way to translate a game of this type from Japanese into English. While there is some definite positive moments in the writing, and some can be chalked up to the goofiness of dialogue options, a lot is just inexcusably bad. There are moments in P5 that are so unnatural and robotic that it’s awkward to deal with. Direct translation is NEVER a good idea. Ever. 1 You have to change the script to read like actual human beings are speaking. Otherwise, it completely and utterly ruins immersion. An early example is the line Ann says to the MC about if he is as bad as the rumors say. It’s really, really badly translated, and it’s such an easy fix to make the sentence sound right. These types of problems regularly occur throughout that game, and it really is frustrating that a game of this caliber couldn’t have more than six translators and a script that functions better than it did.
This game has some of my favorite characters of the Persona series. I was amazed at the character growth of all the main characters, and the supporting cast of confidants all have intriguing arcs that tie into the major themes of the game. While I didn’t complete all of the confidant ranks of every character, the ones that I did finish made me grow extremely attached to each character–whether it was the “Death” doctor who was broken through hospital corruption while trying to save her favorite patient or Ryuji’s fight to make sure students aren’t harmed again after his track team was disbanded and ruined by Kamoshida.
One of the arcs that most interested me going in was that of Futaba Sakura. I learned before the game came out that she had social anxiety, and I was curious as someone who suffers from the condition how they would treat her character. While some of it is played for laughs, for the most part, they treat it as a serious issue. It is part of her character. Even after her “change of heart”, it is an issue that Futaba struggles with. During her confidant arc, the main character helps her slowly introduce herself to more social situations, such as going to go buy a video game in Akihabara.
I personally chose to pursue a relationship with Futaba, which also felt very real. One of her “promise list” items that she is attempting to work her way through is to be okay without the Protagonist around; however, she realizes that she does not want to do this as the confidant rank increases. This statement feels very familiar, as I am the same way with people that make me feel comfortable. I become very attached, and I related a lot to Futaba at that moment.
My other favorite character was Yusuke. His introduction if one of awkwardness, but also you learn of his ongoing abuse by his guardian. Yusuke is again sometimes played up for laughs, and it is unfortunate that he is often utilized for gay bait. Yusuke has a strong character arc of a man who focuses on art, and his confidant ranks demonstrate how his struggles with coming to terms with the betrayal by his father figure personally affect him and his attempts at art. He also has a lot of really great humor, and some of it is tied to how he is the literal embodiment of a starving artist. He forgoes food for buying DVDs about artists. He buys lobsters for aesthetics. He often worries he can’t afford train tickets. He is written in a way that he feels like a real friend, and Matthew Mercer’s dub really brings Yusuke to life.
I also really enjoyed the dynamic between Yusuke and Futaba.2 They have a somewhat sibling like relationship, with the two of them teasing and arguing with each other.
This section could also be called no, Morgana, I don’t want to go to bed. There is so much wasted time in the game, and it’s endlessly frustrating. There are days where you do nothing but progress the story, but you’re not allowed to meet with people, create lock picks, study, train, play games, or anything that would be beneficial to you as a character to raise stats or confidant ranks. For a game that relies heavily on these to work, it’s bizarre that they’d lock you out of it so often.
Otherwise, after playing and loving Tokyo Mirage Sessions last year, it was pretty disappointing that you had to get the ability to switch out characters through a confidant link. It worked much better when you could switch out whoever you needed on the fly, and I wish they had stuck with the Tokyo Mirage Sessions-style. There was also the ability to have out of party members perform a follow up, and while that rarely happened in Persona 5, it would’ve worked better if they had implemented it more.
I was also terrible at demon negotiation. I knew that there was a chart regarding the different emotions of the demons and the dialogue choices you should then choose for them to join you. As I mentioned in the podcast, one of the questions is “what type of food do you eat?” and the responses are “vegetables,” “curry,” and “protein.” I don’t know which of these is funny or serious, but it is incredibly difficult to figure it out. I never figure out the answer of demon negotiation, but I guess it was at least a cool way to try and get personas on your team.
I felt the story of Persona 5 is a strength. With a culture of corruption and social media sway running rampant, Persona 5’s story felt extremely relevant. While the theme of adults being inherently bad was a bit heavy handed, the confidant system demonstrated that some adults can be trusted by the Phantom Thieves. The game does not pull any punches on dark and deep themes, with there being an attempted suicide due to a rape by a teacher within the first few hours of the game. Ryuji’s track career is ruined by the same teacher abusing his students, which led to him breaking Ryuji’s leg. Ann is treated as a sexual object, and she is threatened by that same teacher. Yusuke is continuously abused by his father figure, who also allowed his mother to die so he could steal her artwork. He questions his ability to do the one thing that he loves, art, after Madarame is punished for his wrongdoings. Haru’s father abuses and exploits his workers, in addition to the murdering of political opponents. The political corruption of Shido was fascinating, and I enjoyed taking him down after his inevitable-because-this-is-Persona ties to the misfortunes of the Protagonist. The themes of seven deadly sins are present in the villains of the game, and it worked extremely well.
Most of all, I loved the theme of social acceptability and public opinion as its own villain. Throughout the game, the Phantom Themes are fighting against the public in their quest. At the beginning, it is just a matter of people knowing they exist, then if they are just, and eventually if they’re on the side of justice. The meter at the bottom of the game during load screens constantly reminds you what the public thinks of you. It cumulated into the final bosses of the game, which are literally different forms of a god created by the public you are constantly trying to recruit to your side of justice. It’s extremely effective, and I felt it was a really fascinating take that the final boss isn’t a physical being or anything like that. While it is Persona, so the final boss has to be some sort of god, this is a god of the people. I say all this while critiquing a game, so it feels sort of meta to say that you can never do anything right for the greater public, no matter how entertaining they may be to you. Isn’t that a great piece of dang commentary?
Where I did not like the story is Goro. He was not a good villain. I knew he was a bad guy, despite their plays to make him join the team. He was not subtle in his contempt for the Phantom Thieves, and the pancakes situation made me suspect him immediately. While his voice actor NAILED it, 3 Goro himself pissed me off. The twist where the Phantom Thieves played him like a fiddle in making him think he defeated the Protagonist was one of the most satisfying moments of the game because I wholeheartedly wanted him to go down. My real irritation came in when the writers tried to give Goro a redemption arc. Nothing about this guy was likable, and they tried to give him a positive ending. He sucked a lot, and I don’t think Atlus should’ve tried to make it all better by trying to make him save the crew. He literally tried to kill the Protagonist. He literally murdered lots of people, including two parents of Phantom Thieves. That is not redeemable. I felt like he was a big miss in a sea of hits.
It is also worth mentioning that Persona 5 continues the Persona tradition (from 3 onward) of struggling with homophobia. There are several scenes within the game where the Protagonist leaves Ryuji with two implied gay adult men. They hit on Ryuji, and he comes back flustered and upset. This continues the narrative of gay men as predators, which is absolutely not the case. It also is frustrating that a game series that previously a gay character. 4 With a previous portrayal in the series in a very positive way, it is absolutely unacceptable that this is the material we are getting with 5. It’s 2017. We’re above and beyond this, even if you’re a Japanese company. It’s not okay to play up others sexuality purely for jokes. 5
It’s also frustrating that while Yusuke’s possible sexuality is played for jokes, Ann’s is used for fap bait despite the fact that the entire first dungeon dealing with the issues of the rape of her friend, the attempted rape and coercion of Ann, and that she felt extremely uncomfortable being sexualized. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for female characters in video games to be hypersexualized by the game and artwork, but Ann’s consistently feels uncomfortable due to her back story and reasons for joining the team. It felt cheap, and I honestly felt bad for her. I changed her outfit as soon as I could, but that did not help in cut scenes where characters are specifically sexualizing her. Sex and sexuality also reared its ugly head during a scene in which Ryuji compares breast sizes of Japanese women versus American women. I literally yelled because it was an extremely gross and unfortunate scene to have experienced. I know that the game is playing it up for jokes, but again, it feels extremely juvenile. We are playing as teenagers, but it does not mean that the game was written by teenagers. It can feel real while also avoiding gross tropes.
Lastly, I felt it was an extremely poor choice to make adult women datable in Persona 5. Our protagonist is 16 years old, and he is in high school. While some may argue about age of consent in Japan, 6 it is extremely unfortunate that so many options of datable characters are adult women. Although I am a certified adult7, it feels inappropriate to pursue characters that have age and rank over my Protagonist. He can’t consent to that type of relationship. I understand that the theme of the game is breaking free of societal restraints, but some of these are not meant to be broken.
The vocal themes of Persona 5 are the highlight of this game’s OST. I’m pretty sure nothing in the world can hype me up more than “Life Will Change.” It’s a song that perfectly captures the stylishness of the game, the themes, and it really is a perfect theme to prepare you to change the freaking world. It’s also got a really sweet bass and violin line. It is the standout track of the game, hands down. I can’t mention the music without giving an honorable mention to a late game boss theme, “Rivers in the Desert”, which I felt was also extremely good at hyping me up. These two are the themes I go back to the most often. The theme “Beneath the Mask” is the perfect chill theme of the OST. There always needs to be one theme that feels calm, and this one wins for Persona 5. It also has some great imagery, alluding to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” I’ve gone back to this theme quite often while writing, which says a lot for its lingering power after you’ve completed the game. If you’re wondering what the best dungeon theme is? Hands down–“The Days When My Mother Was There.” That dungeon was already one of my favorites because of Futaba and the themes it went into, but that theme sealed it for me. It was perfect. In close second is “The Whims of Fate” from the Casino.8 Before this becomes a youtube bananza of songs for you all to listen to, I will say that the closing theme sucks. I didn’t like it at all. It was not nearly as memorable as Persona 3 or 4’s, and that was a massive bummer to me.
As I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, I’d definitely recommend Persona 5 to people. It is not without its problems, but it’s a great game. It’s a strong 8/10, and I really enjoyed my time playing it. It has a lot of charm, style, great characters, and it’s fun to play. There are a lot of hiccups in translation, the story has some problems, and the soundtrack isn’t wholly strong. Overall, I felt that Persona 5 was well worth the wait. We all wear our masks in every day life, we all search for validity from others, but do we all seek the emancipation the Phantom Thieves are offering? I’m in.
- If you remember the controversy over the Fire Emblem Fates translation, this may sound familiar.
- Makes sense that I would love the two of my favorite characters interacting together!
- GOOD JOB, ROBBIE DAYMOND
- Jun from Persona 2: Innocent Sin. By player choice, Tatsuya can also be in a relationship with Jun.
- As previously mentioned, Yusuke’s social link is also A LOT of jokes about the Protagonist and Yusuke dating. It’s also not acceptable to gay bait or continue these juvenile-style jokes.
- Don’t. You’re gross if you do.
- Partially because it was kinda cool to just hear the word “sexy” blared at you while you were playing.