Published on August 17th, 2012 | by Steven Hansen10
Persona 5: A fan’s hopes and dreams
I dig Persona. The series remains a highlight of the halcyon PS2 days, Persona 4: The Golden is probably my most anticipated game of the dense holiday season and as soon as I finally play Persona 4 I will be diving headlong into Persona 4: Arena, despite not being much of a fighting game guy. With the news that Persona 5 is in the works, I’m excited, though with that excitement comes something close to concern.
It’s a motherly concern. I simply want what’s best for the series — for it to reach its peak potential. Persona 3 is fabulous, but not flawless. Atlus’ Persona Team got much closer to perfection with Catherine, which only raises my expectations for Persona 5 that much higher. They’re fair and reasonable, I think. Save for my secret desire for the fifth game to merely be a 100+ hour jaunt in which I win Mitsuru Kirijo’s heart, and that Atlus won’t let anybody but me play it.
Persona is traditionally, basically, the story of demon hunting high school students. I’m not looking for that to change. Not too radically, anyway. One of the most discordant experiences I have with JRPGs and anime typically comes when I learn a character’s age. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been watching a show or playing a game, thinking I’ve been privy to the (mis)adventures of some twenty something year old only to hear a casual, flippant mention of said character’s upcoming 15th birthday.
One has to take in consideration that these products are generally being aimed at a younger target market and are typically not being head up by master storytellers, but there seems to be more to it than that. It seems to stem from a Japanese culture in which uncertainty, misgivings, existentialism and general confusion about life is undignified for an adult, as if individuals are supposed to be well-adjusted paragons of maturity, their life arriving epiphanies and sophomoric silliness long since in their rearview, by the time they’re 20 years of age.
It’s a silly notion. It got Vaan and Penelo shoe-horned into Final Fantasy XII, marring its brilliance. Even Basch felt as if he wasn’t allowed to wrestle with much more than samurai style shame, guilt and dishonor, though that fit perfectly well within the confines of his character; maybe more depth would’ve been unwieldy, but not if done well. Ramping up the aging factor in Persona 5 would ideally preclude us from deal with an incarnation of Persona 3’s Ken Amada. It’s one thing to let highschoolers battle with nebulous, evil demons as they scale an impossibly tall tower that springs up from their school during the wee hours of the night, but this kid is like ten years old. And his voice is like an annoying, evil version of Astroboy.
He’s incessantly precocious with a hint of superciliousness, which doesn’t endear him to anyone. He’s a precursor to Final Fantasy XIII’s Hope, who is pretty much the worst. And not in the way that Britta is the worst. In the way that The Big Bang Theory is the worst. The main problem is that he’s as boring as he is annoying. He broods his way through a cliché character arc that’s beyond overdone in anime, putting nothing new on the table. I’m not inherently against super young characters, but in mainstream anime and Japanese games, the loss of a parent is about the only thing that can happen to them, because they’re barely even people. Accordingly, they often fall into the same trope, miraculously “finding themselves” and overcoming adversity at a preposterously young age — he’s barely even lived, so he has no right to be more well-adjusted and less perpetually discontented than me.
My first idea is simple: set Persona 5 in a university. See? Not all that radical. They can maintain the “student by day, demon hunter by night” dynamic, but it would give Persona Team a bit more leeway in edging towards Catherine territory. Students at university aren’t any more put together when compared to high school students, but at least you’re heading in the direction of believability. The team has shown the ability to pen a dark story that wrestles with mature themes side by side the fantastical whimsy and slice of life for contrastive juxtaposition. I merely ask them to do it better yet; to elevate their game. Ideally, having a slightly older cast frees them up to wrestle with more mature themes, while also keeping the team from comfortably falling back into familiar territory as they return to yet another high school after the wonderful, new-territory-charting Catherine.
Beyond this humble appeal, a refined, expanded iteration of the existing framework wouldn’t be the worst thing. Perhaps interactive minigames in the daily life bits, as opposed to having to travel to a different venue just to pick an option from a textbox and get a stat boost. Something that makes the world feel that more alive. Persona 3 was rich with an implicit narrative. How much you experienced was up to you and how well you worked on building your social links. Even what you experience was up to you; completing all the social links on your first run through was effectively impossible, so you could play the game an miss entire tertiary character arcs that enriched another player’s experience.
Outside of this, however, the world did feel bare. Persona 3: Portable’s menu-based system almost seems preferable, given that there was little to do in the game’s environment but interact with static backgrounds, the only evidence of which was in the subsequent text. Catherine was of course on a much smaller scale, essentially taking place only in the Stray Sheep pub and the deathly dream world (in terms of playable sections), but the little touches to that world, like a fully interactive meta-arcade game similar to Vincent’s block moving nightmares, make it feel so unified and complete.
In short, I suppose I just want Persona Team to take heavy cues from their last effort, Catherine, which I desperately need to replay and write about soon, because it’s almost perfect. I want another thoughtful story handled maturely, free of tropes and insipidness. Perhaps I want too much; or, perhaps, dear reader, you do not want enough. Though I will still gladly take Persona 5: Mitsuru Edition. Plus, if she’s a bit older, it’d make my fan-fiction feel less creepy!