Ryuji should have been tempted by fame, and suffered for it. He is the one character most vocal about unfairness. Not injustice, but unfairness — a purer, more childlish notion that you deserve something for your troubles. He is the party member most bothered by his negative public image. He aches to be recognized for his efforts, but knows he has to keep his identity secret. This should have made him completely buy into the hype of the Phantom Thieves’ authority, thirsting for approval from the online fans, excited to give them what they want. Ryuji should have been radicalized to the point of believing that the Phantom Thieves had the vision to be the rightful judge, jury, and executioner of Japan.
Imagine in one of the scenes following Okumura’s death if Ryuji leaned back in one of the booths at Leblanc and said, “Maybe he deserved to die.” Sparks fly as the rest of the group try to counter, forcing themselves to ask what their goal in the end really is.
Of course, Ryuji wouldn’t think he’s being ridiculous — he just believes in the mission more than everyone else. It would be up to the player to decide if Ryuji’s thinking makes him a liability to the team. This could make an interesting twist when we get to the end of Shido’s dungeon, when Ryuji makes his suicide run, a decision he makes not just because he can run good or whatever, but because he’s already shown to believe that, in pursuing the Phantom Thieves’ goals, death is acceptable, even his own.
And then Ryuji should actually die. No lame pointless fake-outs. Make the player wonder if Ryuji’s radicalism was foolish (because it killed him) or noble (because it saved everyone else).
This idea of the Phantom Thieves investing too heavily into their own image is only barely explored in Mishima’s confidant story, to no great effect.
Morgana should have been the Grail’s creation, not Igor’s. Discovering that he is made by Igor reveals Morgana’s nightmares to be, really, just nightmares, and that his insecurities were actually nothing at all to worry about. This… isn’t dramatic. Instead, Morgana should have been sent by the Grail to mislead the player. However, much as the Grail was distorted by human cognition, Morgana would have been changed by the player’s, but in this case, reformed, becoming an agent for self-determination. This fits perfectly with the game’s theme of rebelling and defying expectations. This would make Morgana a character. As is, he’s reduced to an inefficient deus ex machina.
Ann should have been smarter, more autonomous, and, generally, better respected by the script. Ann has several lines expressing her dissatisfaction with her catsuit. That doesn’t even make any fucking sense. Why, in a world formed by one’s vision of their self, would she end up with an outfit she doesn’t even like? Let the woman just like being herself, for fuck’s sake.
She’s a professional model, the only member of the group to have a job, and to routinely interact with adults — the very adults so often maligned by this game! She should have maturity and insight that the other character have yet to develop. It doesn’t matter if she isn’t a top student or hacker. Ann shouldn’t be oblivious, she should be smart, and if she’s insecure about anything it makes no sense for it to be her body!
Let’s take that stupid ass scene where she’s asked to pose nude. What would be funnier? If she waved her arms and said, “You want to do WHAAAT?” or if she said, “I always told myself that if I had to pose nude… it wouldn’t be for less than a 200,00 yen.” Exclamation points shoot up over everyone else’s heads. Giving Ann conviction like this gives you so many options when she finally meets up with Yusuke. For example:
- She shows up and immediately throw around her weight as a professional model, making increasingly more ridiculous demands for her comfort. Yusuke, obsessed with the creative process, rationalizes her demands as being for the sake of ART, expounding on his own process.
- When asked to disrobe, she makes a big striptease out of it, coming onto Yusuke hard in attempt to turn him on so much that he has to get up and leave, giving her a chance to snoop.
- Like 2, except it’s revealed that Yusuke is completely cold to her advances, asking that she speed things up a little. Realizing she’s in over her head, she just knocks some paint over and says, “Whoops,” forcing him to clean it up while she snoops.
There are bits like this throughout that script that could be tweaked. Don’t let stuff happen to Ann, let her do stuff.
Yusuke should have been fragile, not bombastic. Yusuke is like the Shylock of Persona characters — potentially interesting, but fucking broken by virtue of being, uh, p r o b l e m a t i c. His monkey cheese antics set him up to be a fan favorite, but it’s all blighted by his entire introductory arc — his treatment of Ann and his static inner motivation of Doing Art — which just makes him seem like a flippant asshole.
But let’s look at the facts: every facet of his life has pointed him toward a career of painting professionally, and then all at once, his key to that industry is taken away — what if he didn’t have to do that thing every adult in your life told him he had to? Yusuke could have been rendered by this terrifying possibility, the main question of his arc being, if he paints, will it be by rote, or because he chose to recommit himself?
In the script as is, Yusuke has a LOT of insight and confidence for someone whose narrow worldview was just shot to hell. Shouldn’t the artist be dealing the most seriously with their own subjectivity? I think this same question could have made him more reflective on his role within the Phantom Thieves when the shit hit the fan. Would he have the conviction to know when they were going to far? Yusuke should have had a fateful moment when everything looks bad where he says, “I just don’t know.”
A character with conviction is one thing. If a character knows exactly how to answer a hard question, consider if that character is actually just the writer in disguise.
Haru should have been the weird one. Haru’s archetype is “rich girl”. But how would you know that without being told? What about her background informs her personality? How can someone with such a huge asshole for a dad be so nice? At most, Haru should be well-mannered, but she shouldn’t actually be very good at understanding other people, because she’s never really needed anything from anyone else. Through the cracks in her manners, she should come across as tactless and unrelatable. The others should vacillate between being charmed by her, annoyed by her, and feeling pity for her. This difficulty in getting close to people should facilitate her one genuine love: gardening.
I can’t believe I have to explain this, but Akechi shouldn’t have been a super evil sneering villain, but rather, like you, someone striving to make the world better in way that doesn’t look good from the outside. Akechi is implementing a plan that has been years in the making. Despite the fatalities, getting a visionary like Shido into a leadership position must be the best, most realistic chance to improve Japan. To paraphrase the bad guy from Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, Shido should seek to use corrupt shenanigans in the government to END corrupt shenanigans in the government.
Makoto’s strategic mind should be pushed to its limit. Knowing the overwhelming odds they’re up against, and knowing how huge and complicated society is, she should have objectively appraised Akechi and Shido’s plan to reform society through political machinations as being, actually, the best way to bring about change. (This necessitates that the villains have a plan that makes sense) Ryuji and the most outspoken Phantom Thieves would push back angrily, but Makoto would remind them that their mission is to make the world better, and that maybe the mental breakdown plan is the shortest route to that. Makoto would only relent after making it clear to the Thieves that their path going forward may result in failure.
Makoto would still put all of her effort into planning Shido’s heist, considering every edge case, making sure everything will go smoothly, taking into account everything they’ve learned up until then. When Shido shuts down his palace manually, and Ryuji dies, everyone cries, sure, but Makoto, like… hides, not even available for Confidant excursions. She doesn’t respond to request for a Phantom Thieves meeting. She has to be tracked down and convinced that she’s not the reason Ryuji died.
The main characters should have had to make a real sacrifice. The Phantom Thieves never really earned their rosy ending. These are people who chose to wrangle otherworldly powers with the specific goal of changing how the world worked. The player should have been confronted directly with the question of whether or not their choices were rooted in charity or hubris. Instead, the player gets away scot-free, with all of their friends, no mark on their record. What the hell is the moral of the story?
Bad things need to happen to good people. Several times the game does somethings dramatic and then immediately reverses it. Morgana leaves the team, but not for long enough to impact any in-game choices. Ryuji vanishes, and then comes back in the next fucking scene. When people in Shibuya Square start panicking and disappearing toward the end, I thought that I was making irreversible changes in the real world, destroying shadows and killing civilians in the process… But, instead, my actions HAD no lasting effect on the world.
Drama lives in conflict. Conflict is not when the good guys beat up the bad guys. Conflict is when the good guys think the bad guys might have a point. Conflict is when the good guys are tempted to fight each other. Conflict is finding out the premise for your mission might be flawed. As is, Persona 5 is a game dripping with style but devoid of drama.