My friends know that I am a long-time Persona fan. However, contrary to they might have expected, based on my long-winded enthusiasm towards the latest addition to the franchise, this post is going to be relatively brief. There are a dozen Persona 5 reviews already, posted the week the game was released, and they do a better job of detailing this game’s strengths (many) and weaknesses (few but existent) than I ever could.
As usual, what I will be commenting on instead how the storytelling Method made ise of the story’s Medium – or more simply, why is Persona 5‘s story best told as a game?
Fans of Persona 3 (Portable) and Persona 4 already know that the franchise ventures into other mediums rather frequently. Persona 4 the Anime was rather well-known, and Persona 5 the Manga has a decent readership. Persona 3 had a movie, I believe, though I don’t believe it was too successful. None of the above are nearly as appreciated as their original game counterparts.
Why is that? Yes, it is a case of ‘the original is best’, but that’s a sweeping answer when there’s actually a highly specific one available. Simply put, the Persona franchise’s stories were designed to be told as video games – that’s what makes them good video games. Of course, that answer isn’t very specific either, so let me try and explain.
1: The Illusion of Choice/Personality
A video game, even ones with linear plots, offer the audience the illusion of a choice. You hold the controller. Though you remain within the confines of the game, you are in control. This is the main difference between video games and other forms of digital media, and this is the main reason the Persona franchise work so well as video games.
The primary theme of the Persona franchise is self-identity, featuring the concept of ‘shadows’ from Jungian psychology and juxtaposing them with the titular personas, what the game proposes to be “the true self”. Paired with the games’ mostly-silent protagonists, the Persona franchise invites you to put a piece of yourself into the game and become involved in your own self-exploration and self-discovery.
When ATLUS as a company creates Persona 4 the Animation and Persona 5 the Manga, what they are then doing is removing that personal element of the Persona games. We are no longer a part of the journey and, instead, become an observer to someone else’s. As such, the theme of identity does not shine through as clearly as it does in a video game medium.
Beyond the theme, the game simply has more to offer due to its interactive structure.
Persona 5 has more locations and activities than ever, offering a subway map to discover and endless ways to spend your in-game school days.
Further, one of the franchise’s most popular selling points is the vast array of personas the player/protagonist can control. Persona 5 has over 200 personas available to the player to use in combat, many of which must be created by the player as they fuse weaker personas into stronger ones (or sometimes purposefully fusing stronger ones into weaker ones!)
There are countless combinations, and filling out the Persona Compendium is a challenge. Spending time exploring the combinations, puzzling out solutions, and designing personas for your playstyle is a good portion of the fun in these games. There’s no way for a simple one or two cour anime or a manga to showcase all 200+ personas, and there’s certainly no way to convey the same fun of fusion without interactivity. As such, fans of the game who watch or read the adaptations often find them lacking.
2: Building Relationships
Further, a huge element of Persona 5, and JRPGs in general, are the relationships you build with the characters. Beyond the story cutscenes, these games offer you the option to spend time getting to know specific characters outside the confines of the main plot, allowing you to explore their personal lives, even to the point of romancing certain characters.
To build friendship with the other characters, you have to actively decide to hang out with them and then figure out what to say to them of the options given. Like any relationship, even a fictional one takes work. As such, the slow reveal of information and the character’s resultant trust in you feels incredibly rewarding.
However, in any other medium, the audience does not invest any actual effort into fictional relationships. The characters and narration fulfill it for them. Furthermore, in the case of the Persona franchise, when turning the game into another medium, the adaptation must make a decision: have the protagonist date one person, no one, or anyone. Regardless, someone in the audience will end up dissatisfied.
There is something immensely satisfying about convincing a fictional character that you are worth dying for – well, perhaps that’s not the best way to phrase it, but that’s what basically happens in Persona 4 and 5, aha. Watching the anime or reading the manga does not invoke that same feeling, as a viewer or reader does not invest the same amount of effort into fictional relationships as a player.
3: A Sense of Accomplishment
Which brings me to the final point as to why Persona 5 is a video game that makes the most of its medium. Persona 5 is arguably the game in the franchise that is largest in scope. The game is a commentary on society, a story attempting to revitalize the struggling youths of Japan and, to a lesser extent through international release, the world. As such, the story of the game is also a kind of underdog tale.
The dungeons are large and can be challenging. Time management is a struggle, especially in the first playthrough. Persona 5 is a game that can take well over 100 hours of gameplay to complete. Completing a Persona game is truly an investment of time, energy, and attention.
ATLUS as a company is aware of this, and so they strive to make sure the endgame is big and bombastic, building up to it from the very beginning. Persona 5 as a game knew how to sell the feeling of an underdog victory, and beating the game truly felt like an accomplishment. Days and days of gameplay culminating into a victory, the end to a long journey of surrogate self-discovery. It feels fantastic.
Persona 5 understands that a video game needs to give a sense of accomplishment, something that many games fail to provide, especially with the inexplicable modern trend that implies that “well-written endings can’t be happy.” Some games sell a journey, holding your hand through a paved experience. Those are the games that are better off TV shows.
Persona 5 is ultimately a story of discovery and hope, a story of reinvigoration and humanity, and it is all the more rewarding because it makes you work for it.
-Will be edited in time-