I’ve been playing Persona 5 for weeks now, and I’m finally getting close to the end, as I’m just a few rooms away from the final boss and the true ending. I’m even considering streaming the last battle, if only to spite the abusive bastards at Atlus, who have the gall of trying to set limits on the game’s broadcasting and recording and even block out PlayStation 4 features.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today.
In the Persona series, the protagonist’s relationships with party members and important NPCs appear in the form of Arcanas, represented as Tarot cards, with the protagonist often taking the Fool card, number 0 in the Tarot. This is the wild card, representing innocence, creativity and also inexperience.
A way to understand the Tarot is the Fool’s Journey, which takes you from Zero to the last card, from the Fool to The World, in a narrative about that card’s journey to find itself and overcome its own weaknesses. In Persona 5, you even hear this explanation and how each confidant, each NPC holding an Arcana, contributes to the protagonist’s personal Journey.
So let’s talk about those characters and what I think about them. Note: Below you’ll find spoilers on character story arcs. You have been warned.
1 – The Magician – Morgana: One of your first teammates in Persona 5 and the obligatory animal mascot, Morgana exists in the real world in the body of a cat. He’s desperately trying to regain his human body, though he remembers little of his past, his memories locked somewhere in the Mementos, the endless dungeon created by the collective consciousness of Tokyo citizens.
Morgana is a pretty damn good character, with credible motivation and sometimes feeling even more human than the rest of the cast, particularly in that desperate desire to find who he is in reality.
Also, his special skill, allowing the crafting of infiltration tools is not too shabby either!
2 – The Priestess – Makoto: She starts off on the wrong foot, an annoying member of the student body, more concerned with following the rules and obeying those in power than to live for herself and experience things that other teenagers take for granted. She’s partly sheltered but also trapped by those around her.
But when she becomes a member of the team, she comes out of her shell and shows just how badass she can be. With her biker gear, motorcycle Persona and incredible determination, her confidant quest is all about new experiences with her, including helping her make a new friend, something she didn’t have in the past.
Makoto grew on me through her personal quest, as she understands just how little she knows about social interaction, stemming from pressure from her sister on focusing on her studies only and not waste time with anything else. Always a little awkward but very genuine, I liked how she developed.
3 – The Empress – Haru: The heir of the Okumura Foods conglomerate and one of the last members of the Party, Haru cares deeply about others even if she is in a desperate personal situation, stuck in an arranged marriage to a rich thug, one who abuses her seemingly with her father’s permission. Yet she takes the time to help others, to grow the plants in school and be a really nurturing person…who doesn’t really understand that people don’t have hundreds of servants on call.
I really didn’t dig Haru that much, though it was because by the point she joins the party and the group of friends and confidants, the game is no longer holding your hand about the connections, so you can miss her Arcana entirely. I only got to it very late in the game, so I didn’t learn more about her than I already knew. She’s a good character, but I didn’t see the depths of the characterisation.
4 – The Emperor – Yusuke: The fourth party member, the artist Yusuke—voiced by Critical Role DM Matthew Mercer, though I played the game in Japanese so that little nugget of information is worthless—is a complete weirdo, and I mean anime-obsessed-with-his-craft weirdo. Art and paintings are the only things he sees and in fact his first interaction with the group is due to him stalking Ann to ask her to be his model, even requesting she go full nude on their second meeting.
Very few social graces and no tact whatsoever, Yusuke is the Drax the Destroyer of the group, jokes and nuanced language completely going over his head most of the time, though he’s much more delicate than Drax.
I should’ve taken more time to work on Yusuke’s arcana, maybe get him out of his shell or drive him deeper into weirdness, but I didn’t, I focused on other Arcanas thinking I would have the time to do them all, a big mistake in the time-sensitive persona series.
As such, his character never really grew on me., he was just that other weirdo in the room with the occasional off-putting or off-topic comment about art, much to everyone’s chagrin.
5 – Hierophant – Sojiro: Your legal guardian during your probation. Sojiro knows the protagonist’s parents and decided to take him in for the duration of his legal probation period. He’s stern and uncaring at first, but as you progress through his arcana and the main story, you learn how he got to be this way and what he hides behind the grumpy façade.
Sojiro is perhaps my favourite character, the one who fought the fight but when he knew he couldn’t win, he took what little he could and made sure to protect it with his life, even going so far as to hide away in a small café, where he makes amazing coffee to a small clientele.
When you meet him, he’s going on dates every night, giving off an air of sleaziness or lecherousness, but as a surprise to me he’s never inappropriate with anyone, not even the gorgeous teenagers in the party. He’s forever the father figure and I thought that was amazing.
6 – Lovers – Ann: The half-Japanese girl, part-time model and a bit of an airhead at times, especially in her understanding of real work and life, Ann is the second person to trigger their Persona after the protagonist does. Her starting story arc is dark as hell, as it’s directly related to the first bad guy whose Mental Palace you invade. She’s in a bad place, blackmailed by a lecherous volleyball coach into going on dates with him. When you interfere, he’s already demanding she sleep with him or he would take her friend out of the team and ruin her publicly.
When Ann finally steps up to him and says she won’t do anything, he takes it out on her friend…physically. A short time later that poor girl jumps off the school roof in a suicide attempt.
I’ll let that sink in. That’s the first arc in Persona 5.
I liked Ann a lot, particularly because despite her delicate appearance, she’s tougher than anyone gives her credit for, and she pushes through with sheer determination, even if it’s hiding a lot of self-doubt, which is what her Arcana storyline is all about. She’s a hobbyist model and doesn’t really know what she’ll do with the rest of her life. Through interactions with you and other, more serious and even evil models, she decides to take that job seriously and gets rid of her personal demons, of which there are quite a few.
When it comes to the ladies of Persona 5, the protagonist has a chance to start a romantic relationship with any of them at the end of their Arcana storyline. Ann would have been the choice for me had another character not stepped in later.
7 – Chariot – Ryuji: Brash, loud and anti-establishment, I connected with Ryuji at once, mostly because he’s my opposite, but his energy and drive was great counterbalance to the cool detachment of the main character, who acts as a mostly silent avatar to the player.
Much like Ann he’s in a bad place at the start of the game, though in his case it’s being publicly branded as a thug by the lecherous coach. Before having the volleyball team, the school had a Track team and this coach was put in charge of it, and he didn’t waste time dismantling it, ending with him overtraining Ryuji to the point his leg breaks, ruining his chances at competitive track and field for the rest of his life, then spreading rumours about his family, goading Ryuji into punching him. The teenager falls for it, the Track team dissolves and he ends as a social outcast.
Again, first story arc in Persona 5, sheesh.
I liked him for the first few arcs. He has attitude issues and doesn’t see the impact of his words and actions until it’s too late, but I thought they would let him grow past it, especially as the party grows, but instead he dives deeper into folly, becoming that character that’s driven by all the wrong reasons and tries to force others to act the same.
He obsesses over fame and glory, even though their group acts from the shadows and refuses to understand just how wrong his attitude is until it becomes abundantly clear it’s one of the reasons for their problems.
His personal Arcana quest deals with the Track team and his desire to help them despite their hatred of him. He’s found his place and purpose, and wants to help them do the same. It’s a great arc that shows how much he cares, but it creates a bit of dissonance between this behaviour and the one he has during the main story.
Persona 5 has some amazing characters. I liked some of them, some I wasn’t a fan of and most I didn’t complete their questlines, though I’m planning to on the New Game+ run. But I have to say that it’s a very well written game, at least when it comes to its characters, both main and secondary. Hell, it might make more of an effort with the secondary characters than it does with the main, and that’s impressive.
Are you playing Persona 5? What do you think of the characters?
On the next edition, we’ll look at the Arcanas 8 to 14, from Justice to Temperance!