Persona 5’s Rebellion Against Injustice Is Exactly What I Need Right Now

There’s something remarkable about booting up a game, using a weird app to enter an alternate dimension, and quite literally attacking and dethroning God with your best pals, all of whom are wearing masquerade masks ripped straight from Edgar Allan himself. In a world where it seems like absolutely everything is out of my control, taking full ownership of the ability to do literally anything feels pretty damn good – even if it’s just in a video game.

I’m not going to make any of the same nihilistic jokes about the state of the world as a thousand other people have already made over the last *almost a year*. Instead, I’m just here to say that, yep, things are shit, which is probably why it feels so intensely good to rebel against nefarious powers that seem beyond my control and actually emerge victorious. As I already said, you can literally fight God in Persona. And I don’t mean “man with beard in a white toga” – I’m talking about the Old Testament’s Yaldabaoth, the cruellest bastard of all time, who you get to shoot in the face with a bullet made from the Seven Deadly Sins. Pretty badass, eh?

The reason I’m writing this is because I’ve been playing Persona 5 Strikers over the last month – if you’ve read my review, you’ll know I’m loving it. While this is primarily due to elements like art, music (holy shit that music), and combat, one thing I didn’t quite get into in my review was that Strikers has allowed me to regain some semblance of agency in a world that’s stripped it from me. For what it’s worth, I feel the exact same way about Persona 5 Royal, which I’ve played twice since last April – and yes, it is a 100-hour game.

I think this has been most apparent for me during Persona 5’s awakening scenes. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, these occur when one of the main characters summons their persona for the first time. Their persona, a mysterious source of extraordinary power within them, manifests itself as they reveal their true heart – which, in the case of the Phantom Thieves, happens when they acknowledge their source of pain and confront it once and for all.

My favourite awakening throughout Persona 5, Persona 5 Royal, and Persona 5 Strikers is and probably always will be Yusuke Kitagawa’s, which you can watch below.

 

Yusuke, finally recognizing his repression of how his mentor was truly treating him, laughs and begins thinking out loud, much to the confusion of those around him. Acknowledging the reality of the situation, he finally lashes out as the Awakening theme – the best one in the game, mind – starts playing in the background. A mysterious voice calls out. “Have you finally come to your sense?” it asks. “How foolishly you averted your eyes from the truth. A deplorable imitation indeed…

“Best you part from that aspect of yourself! Let us now forge a contract… I am thou, thou art I.” At this point, Yusuke scrapes the floor, his nails bloodied and shaking. “The world is filled with both beauty and vice… It is time you teach people which is which!”

“Very well,” Yusuke answers, raising his arm to the fox mask on his face. “Come, Goemon!”

Yusuke rips his mask off and reveals Ishikawa Goemon, a Japanese outlaw hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. “A breathtaking sight,” Yusuke says as a filthy heavy metal riff kicks in. “Imitations they may be, but together, they make a fine spectacle. Though the flowers of evil blossom, be it known… Abominations are fated to perish!”

Is that not the best written, best choreographed scene you’ve ever seen in a video game? If not, I’d be curious to know what is, because this is by far my favourite, and it’s absolutely the reason I’m writing this piece in the first place.

Yusuke’s awakening in particular stands out to me as an example of true, unbridled rebellion. It’s perfectly reckless, a bold admonishment of a wickedness that seemed so helplessly imposing for so long. And so, playing through this feels not just invigorating, but genuinely empowering. It’s an opportunity to vicariously go up against ridiculous odds out of sheer, borderline stupid courage and be rewarded with the ability to overcome them. It feels incredible.

It’s easy to feel powerless right now. Some of us can’t see our friends, our family, or even the old man down the road who always cracks a joke when you walk by. Playing Persona 5, however, as well as its various spin-offs, has afforded me a bonafide sense of agency and empowerment that is exhilarating and uplifting in equal measure. It’s a serotonin surge like none I’ve felt for quite some time, and it’s entirely derived from the subconscious idea of taking on the ostensibly invincible and actually winning.

I know that people often think that investing in escapism too much or too frequently can be detrimental. However, I’m here to say that I have had the complete opposite experience with Persona over the last year. I’m not just spending time playing a game and ignoring the world – I’m spending time playing a game and using the sense of agency I gain from doing so to face it.

Now that the Persona 5 soundtrack is on Spotify, I’ve often turned on the Awakening theme whenever things start to feel a bit shit. As soon as that metal riff kicks in, I’m immediately reminded of Yusuke’s remarkable scene, and, even if it’s just a little bit, I feel far more capable of overcoming whatever it is I may be facing at the time. It’s important to recognize that immersing yourself in a game’s world isn’t always something you do in pursuit of “escapism.” Sometimes, it’s a way to gear yourself up for the exact opposite – and a lot of the time, it works.

Next: The Best Thing About Final Fantasy 14 Is Its Dialogue

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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