I’ve been playing the Persona series for a while now, with not a few games under my belt, so when it became known that Persona 5 was finally coming out (and on PS3, no less, since I’m not buying a PS4 to play one game), I immediately pre-ordered it. In the three days I’ve had it I’ve clocked around 17 hours, but I think at least a few of them are when I left the game on and ate dinner. Regardless, I always have a lot of feelings about this game, best to get them out now while they’re fresh. Major spoilers ahead.
You play as a shaggy-haired man (boy), per usual. By 2017 it would have really been nice to be able to play as a female character. It looks like the “support” person is a girl, as freaking always, because it’s a woman’s job to support men, right? Ugh. Anyway, your main character breaks up what appears to be an attempted rape, then gets sued by the guy who’s assaulting the woman, and you get probation. Sounds like rape culture to me. Since it’s Japan (or so the logic goes) you have to transfer schools and live in the attic of a cafe this random guy owns. Thanks mom and dad! At the school you’re immediately labeled as a delinquent because … people don’t want you breaking up their rapes? Then it becomes obvious that the volleyball coach, Kamoshida, is – wait for it – a rapist! Will these rapes I have to break up never end?! The answer is no. A student friend-of-a-friend is raped by Kamoshida and attempts suicide at the school. It’s the job of you and your plucky band of outsiders to stop this monster by infiltrating his heart! Because we live in rape culture and no one will go to the police, this is the underlying message.
This is around the first few hours and I’m already triggered like you would not believe. I don’t go to movies with rape, I don’t watch shows with it, and I do not like it as a plot device at all. That rape is used to basically motivate the characters to action, ie: well, now what he’s raped someone let’s do something about it, is not acceptable. This is because this is the male perspective on rape, you play as a man on a team of mostly men, you have no real idea what it’s like to deal with rape or the aftermath thereof. It’s just a plot device, and it’s a shitty one. Kamoshida is already physically abusive to many students, dozens of them, in fact. No one’s parents care? The game tells you everyone knows and no one cares, but I find that hard to believe. Generally, if parents are okay with someone beating their child, they’re not okay with it being a stranger. Abuse begins at home! Dark but true. I cannot believe that dozens of children are coming home with briuses, and broken bones in one case, and no one cares. Or that none of the girls, not one, tells a parent that their volleyball coach grabbed them. This is why my actual coach in actual high school in real life was fired! Seriously! That the abuse isn’t enough to motivate your team to action is crazy, and then they add rape as a plot point. No thanks. If I had known rape was such a big part of the game I would not have bought it.
It’s not just the rape, but how it’s treated. It’s twofold. One the one hand Kamoshida is simply seen as “lustful” or “unable to control his passions.” This makes it clear that no one on the Atlus team has dealt with rape in anything but theory. Because it’s pretty much never about sex, and always about power. The ability to debase and break someone, that is the point. Kamoshida’s “palace” is filled with statues of female torsos in underwear, just breasts and butts, and your teammate Anne is low-key harassed throughout. A sexualized version of her is the palace’s “Princess” wearing a leopard bikini and cat ears. Ironically, when her persona Carmen awakens, Anne’s in a more than skin tight red leather catsuit, complete with tail and boob window. Is it the Carmen from the opera where she won’t marry a guy so he murders her? It is. When Anne fights in battle she arches her back and sticks out her butt as far as possible, doing the standard back breaking sexualized pose. Her actual character is more sexualized than the Princess of Kamoshida’s fantasy world. Why? She’s also the Lovers tarot arcana … of course.
The first palace itself has other issues. Like how you have to fight a giant penis! The mini-boss before you fight Kamoshida looks a lot like Slime, except it has a penis shaped head that’s covered with … white stuff. My boyfriend looked at it and said, “Not exactly subtle, is it?” Subtle it was not. Then the penis monster (called Demon of Lust or something similar) keeps staring at the only female character in your party, Ann. Yes, the penis monster only attacks the girl. Screw you, Atlus. When you finally, finally fight Kamoshida he turns into a huge naked person monster with no penis and a bunch of baby gimps attached to him, then drinks out of a goblet filled with naked women. When you finally get his “treasure” he repents and goes back to the real world. He admits to physical abuse and “sexual harassment” … just “sexual harassment.” He totally leaves out raping the student. Just leaves it out. So the PENIS MONSTER is fine, but Kamoshida can’t admit to rape? Would that be too unpleasant for players? This is such a fuck you to actual victims of rape. So this guy will rape you, then talk about it in polite euphemism. Rape will motivate the players, but no one want to hear about it, it’s just too unpleasant. Fuck that.
The plot, in general, is way darker and way more violent than previous games, which I do not like. At the beginning you’re the victim of police (?) brutality and “enhanced interrogation” where they punch you, drug you, and try to break your leg. I was like, “I don’t want to see this!” It’s too violent, honestly. Your friend Ryuji/Skull curses like a sailor, and everyone uses a lot more profanity, but if this was the game’s only issue I’d look past it. The Velvet Room is a prison, whatever, and Igor’s voice has been dropped several octaves to the point that it in no way matches his character art. Suspension of disbelief fail.
Additionally, the personas themselves, which are pulled from fairy tales, religion, and myth, have been changed. They’re real, and beg for their lives. When they die, they actually die. This is stupid since a lot of the personas are single gods or goddesses, so why have I seen thirty of them? Second, this is unnecessary, much like Execution Fusion. Yes, when you fuse personas they are cards no more, but actual beings that want to live. To fuse them you have to execute them with a guillotine as they struggle. Not cool. As a pagan I find this insulting because I am not going to execute video game versions of gods or goddess whose assistance I ask for in real life. How would Christians feel when they have to guillotine an Archangel? Bad is what I’m thinking. It shows a lack of perspective and thoughtfulness. Just like the Atlus team can’t imagine playing the game as a rape survivor (“I don’t know anyone who’s been raped, so it’s fine!” they think, stupidly. PS: You do, but they probably never told you because you’re an insensitive douche.) they can’t imagine playing the game as a member of the religion their personas were culled from. They can’t imagine, it seems, much of anything.