Persona 5 is great, but its characters…

Current in-game date: 5/27

I know a lot of people are, rightly, ragging on the translation. But, honestly, I think the original script is open to criticism, too. The characters – at least in the first two months – just aren’t real or interesting or consistent enough. I think it’s totally fair to compare them to characters in Persona 4, since they’re based on the same archetypes.

In Persona 4, your Bro is Yosuke. Yosuke has a crush on an older classmate who dies early on, and the rest of his arc constantly refers back to his failures – he didn’t tell her how he felt, and he couldn’t save her. This is also complicated by his family’s background, since they run the big new department store in town which competes directly with the store run by the family of his dead crush. Yosuke has plenty of notable surface-level traits (he jokes, he complains, he’s clumsy, he’s tactless), but the game’s tragic inciting incident forces him to spend the rest of the game trying to figure out what his role is in his family, his circle of friends, and his hometown.

In Persona 5, your Bro is Ryuji. What I get about Ryuji is that he used to be a punk, and now he’s less so, but people still think he’s trouble. On paper, this fits in great with our main character’s back story and the game’s driving theme – in resisting what society makes you, you tend to become it. What’s missing is a tangible action. Ryuji’s misfortunes, it turns out, can actually be blamed on the game’s first major boss, which basically absolves Ryuji of responsibility in his own origin. So what does he have left to learn?

In Persona 4, your next two team mates are Chie and Yukiko. While they’re distinct characters, their relationship beautifully illustrates what makes that game so good. Chie’s perceived image in school is as a boisterous and outgoing (to use a loaded term) “tomboy”. Yukiko’s image is pretty, ladylike, and impenetrable. We meet them as good friend, but when it comes time to actually confront their Shadows, we learn how codependent they are, how jealous they are of each other, and how their attachment might be based on their own respective inferiority complexes. As time goes on, the same feelings that spawn their jealousy also gives rise to a true understanding in each other. It perfectly illustrates the transformation from a childhood friendship of convenience to an adult friendship based on mutual respect.

In Persona 5, Ann‘s role seems to be The Girl. And what do you do with your primary Girl? In Persona 5, I guess you figure out as many sexually comprising positions as possible and go to town. Her reactions to these situations provide no insight and make less sense as time goes on. She objects to these situations, but offers no rebuttals or alternatives because either 1) she’s an idiot or 2) the script says so, so here we are. Her thought process during these moments are never connected to her experience as a professional model. In fact, her profession basically never comes up. Almost as though it’s a flimsy excuse to have a tall, skinny, hot girl hang out with us. Add to this that she was a target of constant unwanted sexual attention just a month prior and, not only does the player and rest of the cast come off as cruel and stupid, but the story feels completely disjointed from itself. Why not use what little we know about Ann’s past experience to inform her current situation, instead falling back on, frankly, typical anime bullshit of a girl waving their arms and screeching, “You want me to do WHAAAT??”

The only party member I actually like so far is, amazingly, the animal mascot. What makes Morgana work is the simple hook in his backstory: he has all this knowledge about this strange new world, but he doesn’t remember who he used to be or what he used to look like, so he’s decided to help YOU so that you can help HIM. This noble quest of self-discovery is what makes his goofy and weird behavior funny, making use of the best parts of Teddy’s story in Persona 4 while avoiding the more, uh, unBEARable parts. It also means a lot when someone who told you up front they want to use you for their own gain starts to actually like hanging out with you.

That’s it! The difference between the Persona 4 cast and and most of the Persona 5 cast is HISTORY.

Persona 4 really captures the feeling of being new in town, because, even when you’re in the moment with your friends, you know they’re all still dealing with their own past, and you’re able to help them work through those problems.

In Persona 5, I don’t feel like I’m missing a damn thing. Ryuji and Ann don’t feel like they have mysteries to unravel. They seem to be exactly what they look like, at least until the script needs them to act some other way.

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